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Tilting at Windmills

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November 28, 2010

DETAILS EMERGE ON THWARTED OREGON BOMB PLOT.... Following up on yesterday's item, additional details are coming to light about Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a 19-year-old naturalized American citizen, who intended to detonate a car bomb at a packed Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon.

From the outset, Mohamud, a Somali-born immigrant, was never close to actually obtaining dangerous materials, dealing with undercover law enforcement officials over the course of nearly six months. But there's little doubt that the would-be terrorist was, as one official put it, "absolutely committed to carrying out an attack on a very grand scale."

We're also learning how the accused came to the attention of the FBI in the first place.

The F.B.I.'s surveillance started in August 2009 after agents intercepted his e-mails with a man he had met in Oregon who had returned to the Middle East, according to a law enforcement official who described the man as a recruiter for terrorism. According to the affidavit, the man had moved to Yemen and then northwest Pakistan, a center of terrorism activity.

Mr. Mohamud was then placed on a watch list and stopped at the Portland airport in June 2010 when he tried to fly to Alaska for a summer job.

Later in June, aware of Mr. Mohamud's frustrated attempts to receive training as a jihadist overseas, an undercover agent first made contact with him, posing as an associate of the man in Pakistan. On the morning of July 30, the F.B.I. first met with Mr. Mohamud in person to initiate the sting operation.

The planning for the attack evolved from there, with Mr. Mohamud taking an aggressive role, insisting that he wanted to cause many deaths and selecting the Christmas target, according to federal agents. Reminded that many children and families would be at the ceremony, Mr. Mohamud said that he was looking for "a huge mass" of victims, according to the F.B.I.

The identity of the man Mohamud exchanged emails with is not yet clear.

Aware of entrapment legal defenses, undercover agents offered Mohamud multiple alternatives to mass murder, including mere prayer. But he insisted he wanted to play an "operational" role, and even picked his target. Told he'd likely kill a lot of children, Mohamud said, "Yeah, I mean that's what I'm looking for." Pushed him further on whether he's prepared to commit such an act, Mohamud told agents, "I want whoever is attending that event to leave, to leave either dead or injured."

That the law enforcement process appears to have worked flawlessly to stop this monster is very good news.

With that in mind, there appear to be some on the right who consider this story evidence of America getting "lucky" on counter-terrorism. I don't think good fortune had anything to do with it -- law enforcement identified, approached, apprehended, and charged a young man prepared to commit mass murder. If Mohamud had nearly detonated an actual car bomb, but screwed it up in some way, that might constitute "luck." But that's not what happened.

I realize there's a temptation on the right to discount the notion of Obama administration counter-terrorism successes, but when officials get it right, that's cause for congratulatory praise.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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The folks who read and laud "Liberal Fascism" are hardly the sort who might be relied upon to find a proper response to the moon landing , or the second coming of the messiah . Just a bit more fodder from the central hate ink , thatz all .

Posted by: FRP on November 28, 2010 at 8:14 AM | PERMALINK

This may be just me being overly semantic, but I continue to take issue with referring to this as a "plot" that has been "thwarted".

I'm not saying that this guy does or doesn't have a legal defense of entrapment. Although I would argue that such a defense would be measured by how much prodding was required to get him to initially agree, rather than how many attempts to back out were provided AFTER he agreed to the plan.

But my point is that, even if this guy was genuinely radicalized with violent propensities, he doesn't yet appear to have been plotting anything specific prior to the FBI's involvement. IOW, absent FBI intervention, he may very well have come up with a bomb plot. Maybe next year. Maybe the year after. Maybe on his own. Maybe he would have gotten training.

But to say that a plot was "foiled" when the plot -- if not the jihadist -- was 100% concocted by the government and had a 0% chance of success strikes me as overselling what happened. I suppose the agents could have given the guy a fake nuke and then the FBI could clam that they saved the city from nuclear destruction.

Posted by: square1 on November 28, 2010 at 8:30 AM | PERMALINK

@square1: I couldn't agree more.

For eighteen months the FBI developed this disaffected young man, then they groomed him to identify a target. They continued meeting with him -- alone and with no other co-conspirators -- until his plan suddenly seemed achievable. They cut him off from employment by blocking his ability to travel based on a single communication with a person who later went from Qatar to the northwestern territories of Pakistan.

How long are we going to let the cowboys shoot up our country with their false terror plots and ginned-up operations that wouldn't go anywhere without their instigation, planning, and coercion?

Why do we allow our own Feds to justify their recklessly inflated budget by permitting actions like this to develop, fester, and grow operational? This is state-sponsored terror, designed to make people compliant and fearful, and grateful to their federal government. We need to put a stop to it!

Posted by: msmolly on November 28, 2010 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, dear, we "cut him off from his employment". Oh my, oh my, how cruel.

This creep bragged about seeing people leaping from the Twin Towers as being "Awesome" and wanted to re-create seeing body parts of children and adults strewn throughout Pioneer Square. The FBI didn't just hand him a bomb, they gave him money to buy crucial parts of both the bomb and the triggering mechanism.

BTW, we had close friends who had planned to take their children to the lighting event, but, cancelled due to reports of a light rain coming through the area.

I care less about his fishing trip to Alaska. I do care about his jaunt into Lewis County to conduct a dry run on setting off a bomb. I do care about his fevered desire to maim and kill innocent civilians. I do care about him sitting safely nearby the square and pushing those buttons on his cell phone. There was no FBI person standing next to him with a 9mm pressed to his head. Yes, square1, fly into PDX and defend him, with msmolly at your side, but, at least, this vermin has been taken off the street.

Well done, FBI and the NSA, Well Done!

Posted by: berttheclock on November 28, 2010 at 9:17 AM | PERMALINK

I had a similar thought, square1, when I read the post! The FBI had the Russian spies (Look! A hot redhead!) under observation for two years before thy acted. Similar surveillance would have been prudent in this instance, if only to roll up the conspirators, here and abroad.

-Maybe the pin was pulled on this poor soul, in order to deflect attention from the TSA groping colostomy bags and menstrual pads. . .

Posted by: DAY on November 28, 2010 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

Glenn Greenwald's "The FBI successfully thwarts its own Terrorist plot" is a Must Read.


To quote one paragraph:

"What's missing [...] is an iota of questioning or skepticism. All of the information about this episode -- all of it -- comes exclusively from an FBI affidavit filed in connection with a Criminal Complaint against Mohamud. As shocking and upsetting as this may be to some, FBI claims are sometimes one-sided, unreliable and even untrue, especially when such claims -- as here -- are uncorroborated and unexamined. That's why we have what we call "trials" before assuming guilt or even before believing that we know what happened: because the government doesn't always tell the complete truth, because they often skew reality, because things look much different once the accused is permitted to present his own facts and subject the government's claims to scrutiny. The FBI affidavit -- as well as whatever its agents are whispering into the ears of reporters -- contains only those facts the FBI chose to include, but omits the ones it chose to exclude. And even the "facts" that are included are merely assertions at this point and thus may not be facts at all."

Posted by: Bruce B on November 28, 2010 at 9:32 AM | PERMALINK

Meanwhile in Portland, Mayor Sam "Let's build more bike lanes, no matter how much we increase your utility bills" Adams, has been meeting with the new Police Chief to discuss how to play nice with the Feds and join the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which they dropped out of five years ago.

Yes, Portland is a Progressive Democratic city, but, this does not mean we have given up our sanity in realizing this young man had an extreme hatred of the US and possessed an intense desire to kill and maim as many as possible. Interesting that our city changed the name of the lighting from Christmas to Holiday, but, the alleged bomber referred to wanting to kill during this Christmas event. It must be very easy to sit far away from the PNW and try to put this all down to "Entrapment by the Mighty" and, only label this young man as some poor, sick, deluded, and lonely. There have been many of such who have triggered bombs in Isreal, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bali and other parts of the world. Please, do explain that to the vast number of victims. He may have been all of those, but, one thing he didn't have was the guts to die with them. No, he wanted to be able to "See" the shattered limbs and the gore.

Posted by: berttheclock on November 28, 2010 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, berttheclock, go read the Greenwald piece and then see if all of the stuff you attribute to this young man is actually taken from the FBI affidavits, without independent confirmation.

Posted by: msmolly on November 28, 2010 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

Echoing the above without having gotten to Greenwald yet, even if everything the FBI says is true, it should still be treated with caution. I know Steve is not constrained by the rules of good journalism (God knows the MSM isn't), but all the submitted "facts" should at least be followed by "according to the FBI."

Like wise, phrases like "details emerge" or"details coming to light", which,BTW are linked to a headline that begins "FBI Says..." imply independent revelation, not an FBI press conference.

Of course the details of what the FBI did to avoid entrapment reek of playing the refs before the trial has even begun.

And finally, how, other than via the FBI's description, do we know this man is a "monster"?

Time to bring back the word "alleged" and quit cheering for our side.

Posted by: martin on November 28, 2010 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

Does the FBI do this kind of sting on domestic terrorists? Do they listen in on phone conversations of everyone in the U.S. who talks about armed rebellion or violent action against abortion clinics, etc.? Would they receive universal praise from the media if they set up a similar kind of plot with an abortion-clinic terrorist?

Posted by: skeptonomist on November 28, 2010 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

So let me ask you suare1 at what point do you take someone serious who has proven ties to terrorists and then says they are going to kill as many people as they can including children? After they've done something?

Posted by: Gandalf on November 28, 2010 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

A goodly number of terrorist plans have actually come to execution without being detected, including of course Lockerby, 9/11, Oklahoma City, Ft. Hood, the shoe and underwear bombers etc. The UPS bombs were not detected by screening but by Saudi intelligence. Actual examples of truly dangerous plots being detected by US surveillance and screening are very rare (anyone know any examples?). Even if we accept the FBI's version of this one it is a pretty feeble example of the effectiveness of US anti-terrorist efforts.

Posted by: skeptonomist on November 28, 2010 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

I know that it is 'fashionable' to bash the US for absolutely everything it tries to do (Greenwald are you LISTENING???) but my question is 'what would have happened if they DIDN'T cultivate this young man?' Should they have just kept an 'eye' on him? They didn't have anything to 'pin' on him. Should they have taken their chances that somehow PDX was in danger? Honest to God...WAKE UP. If the FBI isn't good enough for you come up with a BETTER idea. Where is the innovation, ideas to make us more safe? Or is it 'all their fault' and after all I'm typing...

Posted by: SYSPROG on November 28, 2010 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

yes, we should have kept an eye on him. No more. it should not have been hard. why encourage him to act out his insane ideas.

Posted by: steve on November 28, 2010 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Groping Granny at the airport is the last, desperate attempt at foiling a suicide bomber. And, if they DO find a bomb- then what?

Better to focus on the ones abroad, trying to get on airplanes- or put packages on them!

But the REAL issue that needs to be addressed is WHY do these people want to kill us? Unfortunately, the answer(s) are often complex- and uncomfortable.

Posted by: DAY on November 28, 2010 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

["why encourage him to act out his insane ideas."]

According to reports, they didn't. They encouraged several alternatives and he spurned them all to indulge in terrorism instead. He was given numerous chances to back out and decided to plot to blow up children instead.

"Allegedly." Happy, Mr. Greenwald?

Yes, give him a fair trial. Maybe he'll be exonerated. Maybe the FBI is lying. And if that turns out to be the case, I'll be happy to accept him back into U.S. society without any grudges or scorn.

But he is accused of plotting terrorism, a serious crime which is rightfully illegal. And if the information we're given is true, then he absolutely is a criminal who deserves to be locked away.

So spare us any self-righteous ranting, folks.

Posted by: Shade Tail on November 28, 2010 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

"Aware of entrapment legal defenses, undercover agents offered Mohamud multiple alternatives to mass murder, including mere prayer. But he insisted he wanted to play an "operational" role, and even picked his target."

This is based only on the FBI's recount of the conversation. Strangely, due to "technical difficulties", this is the *only* conversation that was *not* recorded, thus there is no actual evidence that alternatives were presented.

Posted by: Constance Reader on November 28, 2010 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

I have to wonder at all the full-throated apologia for Mohamud on this thread.

When you were nineteen, could the FBI have talked you into participating over a period of several months in a plot to blow up downtown Portland? Would you have dialed a number (twice) that you thought would set off a bomb that would kill people unless you were so inclined to do so in the first place?

I really hope those searching for every possible justification to convince everyone that it is impossible for this young man to have really wanted to hurt anyone don't end up in situations where their impenetrable cyncism about "the man" ends up getting them and others hurt.

And Glenn Greenwald,,, sings only one tune, no matter what the news. Nothing is a fact or the truth, unless it is pronounced by Himself. He long ago lost credibility in my book. He stands for nothing except the adulation of those who can be relied on to say "you must read what Glenn Greenwald said!"

Posted by: June on November 28, 2010 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK


And yet our cities still stand, our roadways aren't pocked with burnt-out buses, our subways aren't littered with bodies and bomb fragments, (what remains of) our industry still churns out product, shoppers on Black Friday are in greater danger of being trampled by their peers than blown up with the shop, and the greatest threats continue to be bad drivers, drug-related violence and the wingnuts at war with Recreational Abortionists and Godless Commie Librulz. The US has had far less religious- or politically- motivated violence than many other nations.

I can't tell whether this is proof of the success of our anti-terrorism efforts or proof that the threat was minimal to begin with.

Posted by: boatboy_srq on November 28, 2010 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

The article on the subject in the Wash Po ("FBI foils massive bombing in Oregon", by Jerry Markon) has this fragment: [...]the government is increasingly turning to undercover operatives to infiltrate extremist cells[...]
That fragment had me scratching my head much like square-1 did about the "plots". What "extremist cell"? A single body does not a "cell" make, unless it's a bacteria. There had been no cell *to* infiltrate, until the FBI agents formed it.

It could be that I'm jaded after the previous "successes", like the one in NYC, where the "cell" consisted of several loud mouths none of whom could have tied their shoes without help, never mind conduct an assault without the FBI's help, but I'd want a whole lot more questions answered before I started singing hosannas. But I bet none of those questions will ever be answered -- state secrets.

Posted by: exlibra on November 28, 2010 at 4:21 PM | PERMALINK

More details emerge, including the other shoe dropping and an attempt to burn the mosque:
Also, a stray thought... He's 19 now, FBI has been working with/on him for the past 18 months -- before he even reached 18? During the same time, his parents were getting a divorce, a traumatic event for any teenager, Muslim or not.

Posted by: exlibra on November 28, 2010 at 11:43 PM | PERMALINK

How many people do you know, who, with ANY amount of prodding or encouragement would agree to do such a thing?
I hope the FBI is attempting the same methods with thousands of suspected terrorists. Presumably they are, and presumably their targets refuse to participate - except for the really dangerous sickos like M.O.Mohamed. To the FBI - even if you appear like you are not very good at it, keep it up.

Posted by: Stephen McElroy on December 5, 2010 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK
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