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‘How The Government Created a Terrorist’: FBI-Manufactured Crimes Reveal Urgent Need for Reforms

by Douglas Ankney

In 2008, snitch Shahed Hussain worked as a paid informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”). Hussain met James Cromitie in the parking lot of a mosque in impoverished Newburgh, New York, where a large Muslim population resides. Cromitie, a small-time drug dealer was broke. Hussain presented himself as a member of a terrorist organization located in Pakistan and began recruiting Cromitie. In subsequent conversations recorded by Hussain, Cromitie participated in hateful, antisemitic discussions. But when Hussain approached Cromitie about targeting a location for a planned attack, Cromitie took no action.

Hussain initially attempted to persuade Cromitie with promises of reward in the afterlife. When that failed to pique Cromitie’s interest, Hussain turned to more Earthly rewards by promising Cromitie a new BMW and cash.

But those promises failed to motivate Cromitie to action as well. Undeterred, Hussain then promised Cromitie $250,000, so Cromitie agreed to help Hussain find a potential target. However, Cromitie then backtracked and avoided Hussain and Hussain’s repeated attempts to contact Cromitie.

Two months later, Cromitie lost his job and was desperate for cash. He contacted Hussain to plot an attack. At Hussain’s insistence, Cromitie recruited three other men to act as lookouts. These men, similar to Cromitie, were petty drug dealers who were often broke and had histories of mental illness.

Hussain then selected a synagogue and a U.S. Air Force base as targets. He drove the four men across state lines—ensuring federal jurisdiction—to pick up mock weapons as arranged by the FBI. The FBI and the New York Police Department (“NYPD”) arranged for helicopters and film crews to be present during the arrest of the men who would be dubbed “The Newburgh Four.” The U.S. Department of Justice charged the Newburgh Four with eight felonies—two of which carried mandatory minimum sentences of 25 years’ imprisonment. All four men were convicted.

In the summer of 2023, federal judge Colleen McMahon granted compassionate release to Cromitie’s three “accomplices.” United States v. Williams, 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 129978 (S.D.N.Y. 2023). The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit exposed the truth. The FBI informant, not the defendants, inspired the crime, provoked it, planned it, financed it, equipped it, and furnished the time and the targets. On January 19, 2024, Cromitie’s motion for compassionate release was granted by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Notably, the opinion contains a damning section heading titled “How The Government Created a ‘Terrorist.’” United States v. Cromitie, 2024 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12253 (S.D.N.Y. 2024).

Granted, the “Newburgh Four” are not without blame. They consented to participate in a hideous plot. But the fact is, none of the men were terrorists. None had apparently expressed any desire beforehand to plan or participate in a terrorist attack. The FBI and the NYPD did nothing to prevent a terrorist attack nor anything to protect the public from a real terrorist attack. Instead, they took four desperate, uneducated young men and created would-be terrorists out of whole cloth for a publicity stunt.

Tragically, the Newburgh Four are not a one-off. For decades, the FBI has constructed fake terrorist plots, recruited young Muslim men who otherwise had no motivation or capacity to carry out attacks, and then claimed these plots were “uncovered and foiled by the FBI” to justify the absurd amounts of money given to the agency to “combat terrorism.”

Congress must put an end to this outrageous behavior by passing legislation to counter the FBI’s slack rules that came about in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001. For example, the FBI cannot be permitted to pursue and even badger citizens who have not expressed any desire to commit a crime with promises of rewards and incentives to commit a crime. To do so is a crime itself—known as “solicitation.” And most certainly, when a person declines the FBI’s offer to commit a crime, the FBI cannot be permitted to continually increase the promised reward until the target capitulates and finally agrees to the dramatically sweetened offer.

The integrity of the criminal justice system and the safety of the American people are best served when law enforcement goes after people already engaged in criminal activity or genuinely have the intent to do so and not enticing and even pressuring people to engage in criminal activity. To paraphrase the U.S. District Court discussed above, the government should not be in the business of creating terrorists or any other types of criminals.   


Source: Brennan Center

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Related legal cases

United States v. Cromitie

United States v. Williams



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