A Philosopher's Blog

Creating Terrorists

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 30, 2010
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Domestic terrorism in the United States is rather rare and, as such, it is hardly a shock that the arrest of Mohamed Osman Mohamud has gotten a lot of attention. The folks who have been backing the massive anti-terror machine can point to this one arrest and feel vindicated in their devotion to security.

I am, of course, glad that Mohamed Osman Mohamud was stopped before he could actually harm anyone. However, reading about the situation made me wonder whether he would have ended up in this plot without the active involvement of the FBI.

Based on the information currently available, Mohamed Osman Mohamud seems to have been the only actual terrorist involved in the plot. After all, the FBI provided him with the fake bomb and there has been no mention of anyone else being arrested. The background given for him (he drank beer, liked hip hop, and was reported as not being particularly devout) does not seem to fit that of someone who would mastermind a plot. As such, I do wonder how much the FBI actually motivated and guided him to the point where he was there to receive the fake bomb from the FBI. In short, I wonder how much the FBI had a hand in recruiting and shaping him into being a terrorist.

Obviously, he did make the choice to go along with the plot and hence is accountable for his choices. However, it is worth wondering whether he would have become a terrorist without the intervention of the FBI. That is, did they create the very terrorist that they arrested?

It is, of course, a reasonable and ethical tactic for law enforcement agents to pose as criminals and terrorists in order to gather information and make arrests. However, there are both ethical and practical concerns in regards to how much of a role such agents should take in urging people to commit crimes or acts of terror in order to gain information or to put people in situations in which they can be arrested.

On the one hand, if the person would not have committed such an act but for the involvement of law enforcement, then it would seem reasonable to hold the law enforcement personnel morally accountable. After all, they helped make the person into a criminal and if they had left the person alone, then the crime would not have been committed. As such, they would seem to be accessories to the crime.

Also, law enforcement should not be about creating criminals to arrest, it should be aimed at deterring crime and arresting those who chose to become criminals. To use an analogy, doctors should cure patients who are sick. To make a patient sick and then claim an accomplishment by curing the person would clearly be unethical.

On the other hand, it can be argued that law enforcement needs to be proactive. They cannot wait until they learn of a plot or, even worse, for a bomb to go off. They have to go out and seek potential terrorists and see if they would be willing to become real terrorists. That way they can guide their evolution from potential terrorist to actual terrorist and then arrest the person. It is not quite as good as having precognition of a crime (as in Minority Report), but it is still rather useful to be able to actualize the criminal and thus protect society from the criminal they helped actualize. Otherwise, a potential terrorist could become an actual terrorist with an actual bomb (not a fake supplied by the FBI).

Since this method works so well in the case of terrorists, it should clearly be expanded to include other crimes as well. For example, law enforcement agents should start operating in public schools and urge kids to use and sell drugs. They could assist the kids in setting up drug operations, motivate them, guide them and then supply them with fake drugs. At that point, they could arrest the kids and keep the schools safe. If this works, then they could expand to other crimes as well. This pre-criminal approach could revolutionize law enforcement.

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23 Responses

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  1. ajmacdonaldjr said, on November 30, 2010 at 10:44 am

    Well said!

  2. T. J. Babson said, on November 30, 2010 at 11:32 am

    Mohamed Osman Mohamud made the first move by contacting a Jihadist recruiter in Pakistan and he also penned several articles for Jihadist webzines. It seems clear that he was at the very least a ticking time bomb.

    Perhaps an analogy can be made with child pornography. I know that at least in some countries it is illegal to make pornographic images of children even if real children are not involved.

    Perhaps intent to commit mass murder should be enough to qualify for psychiatric evaluation? I don’t know that I believe that–just throwing it out for discussion.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 30, 2010 at 3:01 pm

      It has been confirmed that he contacted a recruiter? I’m apparently behind the news-they last I heard, he was emailing someone in Pakistan but whether it was a recruiter or not wasn’t confirmed.

      Interesting point. A utilitarian argument could be made for screening people to see if they have pre-criminal tendencies. Of course, the question would be what to do with them? Try to “cure” them by providing government health care? Or just jail them pro-actively? Or something else?

      • Asur said, on November 30, 2010 at 4:18 pm

        I wouldn’t be averse to seeing social support programs for pre-criminal tendencies, but how to fit everyday things like action movies and games like GTA? Socially, entertainment media continually asks us to identify with people engaged in criminal behavior–sometimes specifically because of that behavior.

        Personally, although I agree that a degree of desensitization is going on, I don’t feel that I’ve ever done anything bad because of this stuff. In other words, I don’t think it’s had much of an effect on me.

        Even like with TJ’s example…porn is just another kind of entertainment; just like before, I’ve seen things that were fun to watch, but that I’ve no inclination to ever try.

        Maybe it’s just because I believe these representations (of violence, whatever) to be idealized; because I don’t think that doing them for real would end in the same result, they don’t influence my real behavior.

        • kernunos said, on November 30, 2010 at 5:14 pm

          They won’t influence your behavior if you have a good solid upbringing but if you are raised 99.9% of the time by tv and video games it may be a different story.

        • kernunos said, on November 30, 2010 at 5:16 pm

          “I wouldn’t be averse to seeing social support programs for pre-criminal tendencies, but ….” Alright I’ll take the bait. This seems to be a very risky proposition. Who will decide these things? This seems like too much power which could be taken advantage of. Humans are involved afterall.

          • Asur said, on November 30, 2010 at 8:31 pm

            Well, I’d be against something like compulsory re-education. I was thinking more like services that were free, voluntary, and confidential…similar to what’s already set up for mental health.

            That and simple public awareness, sorta like the surgeon general’s warning on tobacco: “Doing this stuff for real will lead to Unhappiness, Arrest, and/or Death”. Heh, wouldn’t it be annoying if that was the opening to all the movies, games, and music we experience?

            This is assuming that there’s a real problem to be addressed, though.

      • T. J. Babson said, on November 30, 2010 at 4:42 pm

        Good point. “Suspected recruiter,” and it would not be the first time the FBI lied about something like this. Remember Wen Ho Lee?

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 30, 2010 at 7:37 pm

          In a way it is reassuring that the FBI has had to recruit its own terrorists. This seems to indicate that there is not much in the way of domestic terrorism in the US. Unless, of course, the cells are sleeping deep and just waiting to launch that ultimate attack.

      • kernunos said, on November 30, 2010 at 5:12 pm

        “Interesting point. A utilitarian argument could be made for screening people to see if they have pre-criminal tendencies.” I’m for it if you start with our politicians in DC.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 30, 2010 at 7:35 pm

          Running for office is the screening-if someone does it, s/he has criminal tendencies. 🙂

          • T. J. Babson said, on November 30, 2010 at 7:38 pm

            It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress. — Mark Twain

          • kernunos said, on November 30, 2010 at 8:51 pm

            In theory anyway.

  3. erik said, on November 30, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    Here’s the classic problem.How much proactivity is too much proactivity? How much government is too much gov’t? How much taxation is too much taxation? How much freedom is too much freedom? Etc.

    And where does that damn slippery slope factor in? Even the following progression with a potentially slippery slope finale is not inevitable”. . .don’t you feel my leg ‘Cos if you feel my leg, you’ll want to feel my thigh. Don’t you feel my thigh, you’ll wanna move up high” . Love that song. But it generalizes and may actually negatively affect an otherwise good relationship. Because there are many other factors can change the direction of that activity—a cop’s flashlight, for example, a surprise appearance by the kids, “Viagratic failure”, etc.

    • kernunos said, on November 30, 2010 at 3:02 pm

      How much proactivity is too much proactivity with the TSA groping erik?

  4. WTP said, on November 30, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    Fascinating article there at LA Times.

    “…Jackson Middle School, both in southwest Portland. Jackson’s arts-based curriculum was “inspired by the vision of the great American composer, Leonard Bernstein,” according to its website.” Perhaps it was Leonard Bernstein’s inspiration…

    “It was at Westview that Mohamud detailed a rocket-propelled grenade launcher for his physics class”…”The main thing was the way he said he hated Americans,” Stull said. “It was serious.” But didn’t the article earlier state “Classmates… describe a typical teen”? Must have misremembered that.

    And yet “No one saw this coming. Some people think he was framed.”

    “played a fierce game of pickup basketball” Yeah, I’ll bet it was fierce.

    “That was when the FBI said Mohamud began sending e-mail messages to a suspected Al Qaeda recruiter in Pakistan, drawing the bureau’s attention.” Well, who hasn’t accidentally clicked the wrong name in your address book? Probably meant to send it to Al Roker.

    Funny how elsewhere in the LA Times one can find: “”He was told that children — children — were potentially going to be harmed,” Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday, rejecting the notion that FBI agents entrapped Mohamud.” So, yes, the FBI is the real culprit here.

    • WTP said, on November 30, 2010 at 1:45 pm

      Missed this important part regarding Holder’s comments…from similar article at KOMO News:

      “the FBI affidavit said it was Mohamud who picked the target of the bomb plot, that he was warned several times about the seriousness of his plan, that women and children could die, and that he could back out.”

  5. kernunos said, on November 30, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    Yeah, I’m sure he was setup as he was such a nice boy.

    • magus71 said, on December 1, 2010 at 6:33 am

      Yes, yes. The government made him do it.

      Does anyone see the pattern in Mike’s arguments aboput *every single* high profile terrorist plot?

      • WTP said, on December 1, 2010 at 9:58 am

        Do you mean like where he works hard to find an excuse for the terrorist, but mistakes or even perceptions of mistakes made by law enforcement and/or the US military are either premeditated, intentional, or just plain stupid? Why, no. Of course not. That’s just your perception.

        It does seem a bit odd that while the FBI affidavit said it was Mohamud who picked the target of the bomb plot, that he was warned several times about the seriousness of his plan, that women and children could die, and that he could back out, it isn’t very relevant to the discussion. You even have to dig into the media reports to find this. Which, of course, is an indication of its irrelevance. Perhaps it’s not true?

  6. kernunos said, on November 30, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    Here are some nice comments from the Huffington post on the topic.


  7. […] Creating Terrorists (aphilosopher.wordpress.com) […]

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