Florida Center for Investigative Reporting Associate Director Trevor Aaronson was a guest Jan. 11 on CBS This Morning. In a conversation with Charlie Rose, Gayle King and John Miller, Aaronson discussed the findings of his new book, The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism, which questions the efficacy of FBI terrorism sting operations. Miller, a CBS News senior correspondent who was formerly assistant director of the FBI, called Aaronson’s book “an amazing piece of reporting.”
In The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism (Ig Publishing, January 2013), which grew out of an award-winning Mother Jones cover story, Aaronson analyzed more than 500 federal terrorism prosecutions from 2001 to 2012 and questioned whether U.S. law enforcement is creating the very enemy the nation fears.
Aaronson found that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has, “under the guise of engaging in counterterrorism since 9/11, built a network of more than 15,000 informants to infiltrate Muslim communities and ferret out would-be terrorists. The Bureau then provides the means necessary for these would-be terrorists to move forward with a terrorist plot — in some cases even planting specific ideas for attacks.”
Few Americans, Aaronson says, realize that since 9/11 the FBI has been responsible for hatching and financing more terrorist plots in the United States than any other group.
“In the ten years following 9/11, the FBI and the Justice Department indicted and convicted more than 150 people following sting operations involving alleged connections to international terrorism,” Aaronson writes. “Few of these defendants had any connection to terrorists, evidence showed, and those who did have connections, however tangential, never had the capacity to launch attacks on their own. In fact, of the more than 150 terrorism sting operation defendants, an FBI informant not only led one of every three terrorist plots, but also provided all the necessary weapons, money, and transportation.”
Aaronson reports that through these elaborate and expensive sting operations involving informants and undercover agents posing as terrorists, the FBI has arrested — and the U.S. Justice Department has prosecuted — dozens of men who government officials say posed terrorist threats. He says evidence suggests, however, that some of those under FBI scrutiny did not have the capacity for terrorism and that FBI undercover agents provided the means, including weapons and logistical support.
Aaronson’s other findings in The Terror Factory include:
- In the 10 years following 9/11, the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department indicted more than 150 people following sting operations involving alleged connections to international terrorism. Few of these defendants had any connection to terrorists, publicly available evidence shows, and those who did have connections, however tangential, did not have the capacity to launch attacks on their own.
- Of these defendants caught up in FBI terrorism sting operations, an FBI informant was the person who led one of every three terrorist plots, and the FBI also provided all of the necessary weapons, money, and transportation.
- Following a post-9/11 presidential mandate to increase human intelligence gathering, the number of FBI informants swelled to 15,000. The increase in the number of informants was so dramatic that the FBI created a new software package to help track and manage its army of snitches.
- Some of the FBI’s informants have strong financial incentives to find alleged terrorists, with the FBI rewarding them with $100,000 or more per case. Other informants are coerced into cooperating with the FBI for fear of deportation or criminal prosecution, records show.
Aaronson’s book has received praise from reviewers, journalists and former government officials. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly described The Terror Factory as “compelling, shocking, and gritty with intrigue.” Lowell Bergman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who founded the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California-Berkeley, called The Terror Factory “investigative reporting at its best,” and James J. Wedick, a former FBI agent who supervised undercover work, said the author “explains just how misguided and often deceptive FBI terrorism sting operations have become.”
The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting will excerpt The Terror Factory in the coming weeks and highlight some of Aaronson’s reporting about Florida terrorism sting cases.
Aaronson will talk about the book at events nationwide in January and February. Upcoming events include:
January 21, 2013, 7:30 p.m.
Powell’s City of Books
1005 West Burnside Street
January 23, 2013, 7 p.m.
City Lights Books
261 Columbus Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94133
A conversation with Monika Bauerlein, co-editor of Mother Jones magazine. C-SPAN’s Book TV will film this event.
January 30, 2013, 7 p.m.
Politics and Prose
5015 Connecticut Avenue Northwest
Washington, DC 20008
January 31, 2013, 6:15 p.m.
Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute
435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
Book launch event hosted by Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute, Council on American-Islamic Relations-New York, and National Lawyers Guild-New York.
February 4, 2013, 7 p.m.
The Half King
505 West 23rd Street
New York, NY 10011
February 6, 2013, 6:30 p.m.
St. Joseph’s College
245 Clinton Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11205
A conversation with Betsy Reed, executive editor of The Nation magazine.