A Philosopher's Blog

Terrorists in America-Recruited by the Feds?

Posted in Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on May 20, 2007

The Bush administration has poured billions of dollars into its “war on terror.” As part of this war, there have been extensive efforts to find terrorists in the United States. The results have been less than impressive and, in many cases, it seems that the government actually took a very active role in creating terrorists.

Pages 26-29 of the May 21, 2007 Newsweek provide the details of these activities.

In one recent case an American doctor and a jazz musician named Tarik Shah were arrested on terror related charges. They had pledged to be soldiers of Islam. Interestingly enough, the person administering the pledge was an undercover FBI agent.

In another recent case, six men were arrested for plotting an attack on Fort Dix. These men are not exactly cream of the crop terrorists-they were caught because they brought a DVD of themselves firing guns and shouting, in Arabic, “God is great!” These men eventually ended up speaking with federal informants about acquiring weapons.

In many other cases the FBI has arrested people who have allegedly been plotting (or at least endorsing) acts of terror. However, there is often little evidence that the alleged terrorists truly intended to go through on their alleged plots and even more doubt if they would actually have the means to do so. In many cases, as critics have pointed out, the alleged terrorists have been goaded by FBI informants who pretend to be radicals. This does raise some serious concerns.

On one hand, the use of informants as “bait” is a common and proven tactic in law enforcement. If you want to find terrorists or criminals, posing as one can be very effective.

On the other hand, there is the concern that the Feds are doing more than merely luring in people who are terrorists. In the cases described above, the informants were not simply observing and reporting-they were very active in getting people involved and moving them towards being terrorists.

This seems rather morally questionable as can be shown in the following analogy.  Suppose I am concerned that students are cheating in my classes and I want to stop this. So, what I do is send emails to the students pretending to be a disgruntled student named Bob. In the emails I go on about how hard and unfair the grading is and how bad a teacher Dr. LaBossiere is. In my assumed identity, I then start encouraging the students to cheat and I am as persuasive as I can possibly be. Then, I set the trap. As Bob, I send faked (but plausible) answers to an upcoming test that I claim I was able to steal. After giving the test, I then see to it that all the students who used the fake answers are expelled for academic misconduct.

In this case, the students did do something wrong-they shouldn’t be cheating But, I am partially to blame for their cheating-without my concerted efforts to persuade them into cheating and without my providing the means to cheat, many of these students probably would not have cheated. By contributing to their evil action I have, it would seem, also done something immoral. Further, encouraging people to cheat and then punishing them does not seem to be a very effective means of combating cheating. It would be better to show the students the value of not cheating and taking the proper steps to deter and prevent cheating. After all, if I want to do good, then I should not be encouraging evil.

This applies to the situation regarding the terrorists. As noted above, the Feds seem to be taking a very active role in recruiting and encouraging terrorists. This certainly seems to be immoral. Someone more cynical than I might suspect that the Feds are doing their very best to create terrorists. After all, if they did not find terrorists here in America, then it would seem that billions of dollars have been wasted and civil liberties have been trampled for nothing.

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2 Responses

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  1. zerog said, on May 25, 2007 at 9:59 pm

    Great analogy and a fine post.

  2. The Imugi said, on June 8, 2007 at 6:00 pm

    And hey, let’s not forget Osama bin Laden was trained and armed with CIA approval. And there’s that photo of Rumsfeld shaking hands with a Mr. Saddam Hussein back in the 1980s. How’s that for State-sponsored terrorism?


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