The FBI's Sears Tower Plot

6-25-06, 9:19 am

In a case purporting to show how much the Bush administration has been fighting terrorism, last week Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced the arrest and indictment of seven African American men in Miami. In a widely televised press conference, Gonzales, other US Department of Justice attorneys, and FBI officials described a plot to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago.

As it turns out the press conference was little more than show. Gonzalez admitted to journalists that the suspects possessed no explosives, and FBI Deputy Director John Pistole admitted that the 'conspiracy' had been nothing other than talk.

Some media accounts of the indictment indicate that the entire 'conspiracy' was likely fueled as much by the undercover FBI agent's suggestions and hints about what kinds of materials he could get for the group as by the group members themselves.

Among the charges is that some of the men provided aid to a terrorist organization. But media accounts of the indictment and government statements indicate that the men would have not been in a position to provide aid to any terrorist group without the assistance of the FBI. Indeed, the widely publicized claim that at least one member of the group took an 'oath of loyalty' to Al Qaeda is put into proper perspective by the likelihood that that the FBI agent probably administered the oath.

Among the evidence of conspiracy, according to the indictment, is a list of requested materials the group allegedly needed to carry out the activities the FBI claims they wanted to carry out. The list appears to be a wish list: $50,000 in cash, machine guns, bullet-proof vests, vehicles, and radios. The list, which was made with the assistance of the FBI agent and was given to him as a request for materials from the group he claimed to represent, seems to have contained no order for explosives, an obvious necessity if a bombing is planned. Officials admitted the group would never have been able to acquire the cash or weapons without the assistance of the FBI.

Some observers of the case have suggested that the 'conspirators' would never have compiled such a list without the assistance, even prodding, of the FBI agent, leaving the government open to charges of entrapment.

Despite early media descriptions of the group as 'radical Black Muslims' conjured up from Justice Department statements and plastered all over CNN and Fox, the men have no ties to any militant Islamic group, let alone Al Qaeda. They are not even believed to be Muslims at all. It is also clear, despite the best efforts of the Bush administration to muddy up the story with the assistance of a compliant media, that the group had no connections to Al Qaeda. Their only connection to any entity with weapons and bomb-making materials was the FBI.

While conspiracies (by Al Qaeda or US authorities) to blow anything up should be stopped, the story smacks not only of shoddy law enforcement, but also of a waste of resources, if real terrorist plots connected to Al Qaeda do exist. And the Bush administration want us to believe they do, especially as the 2006 election approaches and his party seems to be losing ground.

If the administration is interested in rooting out terrorist plots preemptively, why aren't they targeting right-wing militia groups with whom people like Timothy McVeigh associated or the extremist anti-abortion terrorist groups that spawned Eric Rudolph? With their government-hating calls for open violence, they ought to be easy targets for FBI traps.

The supposed Sears Tower plot also smacks of the hype and hysteria fueled by the Canadian government earlier this month when they arrested 17 'plotters' who they’ve accused of planning to bomb numerous targets in Canada.

Despite Canadian law enforcement claims about the dangers posed by the men, it has since become apparent that officials there over-hyped the case. The Canadian men had no clear plans to do anything except exercise their free speech rights prior to meeting with undercover agents. Canadian agents were the ones who provoked them into a conspiracy and sold them bomb-making materials. According to some Canadian media reports, even these goals were unclear as many of the suspects didn't even agree on the use of violence.

In both cases, the respective right-wing governments are using hysteria generated by the arrests, regardless of the facts of the cases, to try to provoke hysteria in the populace and a racial backlash against some minority sections of the country.

In the US, media personalities who simply read administration talking points and pro-Bush administration pundits even began talking last week about the need to closely watch other African American political groups that disapprove of Bush administration policies, but that have no ties to international terrorist groups.

Since 9/11, the administration has targeted a number of racial, ethnic, and religious groups. Initially, they rounded up people they believed were Muslims or Arab Americans. It quickly spread to people of African and Asian descent who appeared to be connected to that region of the world. Since fears of terrorism have faded, the Republicans are promoting new dangers to America and have targeted immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries. Many called for mass roundups, and the administration has complied. Now we see the administration’s racially-motivated net casting an ever wider circle

The administration’s despicable actions are dangerous threat to civil liberties. The upshot is that our basic law appears to protect no one who is simply working and living in this country. Even more dangerous, the right to dissent and disagree with the government – to the point of organizing like-minded people in the community to oppose the government's policies – is being dismantled piece by piece. Chipping away at rights, the hallmark of the Bush administration's anti-democratic methods, isn't effective anti-terrorism. It is simply un-Constitutional bullying.

Further, FBI entrapment cases such as the Miami 'conspiracy' reveal an interesting contradiction in Bush policing tactics. To trap 'conspirators,' do you need to eavesdrop on millions of telephone calls without warrants? Do you need to get large telecommunication companies like AT&T to turn private customer information over to the government without grounds, probable cause, warrants, or the permission of the customers? Do you need large banking companies to turn over their customers' private information to the government without warrants or probable cause and without informing the customers? Do you even need a PATRIOT Act to put an undercover agent in a suspected group and convince them they need to buy weapons and carry out attacks?

The facts are these: This administration has bungled terrorist investigations. It has bungled its so-called war on terrorism. It has shot so many holes in the US Constitution along the way that the only section that appears to remain intact is the one that created an executive branch and gave it command of the military. And the Republican Party in Congress has been the main conspirator in this attack on the American people and the Constitution by abdicating its is legal obligation to check the power of the presidency and to protect the Constitution.

We have the power to stop this violation of the basic laws of our country this November 7th by replacing the party in power in Congress. Let's use that power, or it soon too may be gone.

--Contact Joel Wendland at