CONSPIRACY AND INTENT: QUESTIONS FROM PORTLAND

November 30, 2010

Community

Mohamed O. Mohamud is a 19 year old sometime college student. He had no known ties to foreign terrorists. He had never been arrested. He was a self-professed rapper and perhaps a metaphorical card short of a full deck.

Apparently, the FBI received a tip concerning Mohamud and undercover agents befriended him, giving him cash and encouragement over several months in the production of a bomb that would explode at an annual Christmas Tree lighting celebration near Portland, Oregon.

According to the FBI, Mohamud was agreeable and cooperative, even “giddy” with excitement, at each stage of the terrorist plot. Mohamud and an agent drove a van to the site. Inside the van was an enormous bomb that Mohamud thought had the capacity to injure, kill and maim large numbers of people. Of course, the bomb was fake and when Mohamud tried to ignite the bomb with a cell phone, nothing happened and the FBI apprehended Mohamud as a terrorist.

The likelihood is that Mohamed O. Mohamud would never have had the resources to build a bomb of this magnitude without the aid of the FBI. He lacked political connections, finances, any evident motivation and some pretty essential pieces of information that might have helped him succeed in such an endeavor. In fact, he probably lacked the intellectual muscle to be anything but a follower.

The FBI removed all of these obstacles and virtually constructed a terrorist out of a shell of malleable discontent. Did they also provide the philosophical motivation to provoke Mohamud? Was there obsessive encouragement? Even threats or coercion? The FBI denies any of this, testifying that they were exceptionally careful to avoid charges of entrapment.

Nevertheless, I find much of this story disturbing. I am absolutely not convinced that Mohamud was an innocent dupe nor am I certain that the FBI’s singular motive was securing a nation against would be assassins.

Eric Holder defended the sting operation, observing that “(this) is not something that is consistent with who we are as Americans.” Of course, this says nothing to me. We are the country of Abu Ghraib, of “enhanced interrogation techniques” and of the shock and awe that we witnessed in the unprovoked attack on Baghdad.

Still, given the climate of the day, can we afford to let people like Mohamud live his life in the expectation that he might never threaten anyone ever? Or do we become inexorably proactive in ferreting out the latent criminal pus in characters of questionable intent?

This is a story worth following. As a human being, I do not possess any compassion for those who would hurt others for any reason. But, by the same token, excessively luring a social malcontent into actions that may have forever remained dormant, is perhaps equally unjust.

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