A 21-year-old Bangladeshi national was arrested Wednesday for trying to blow up the Federal Reserve building in New York. But that’s hardly the whole story. The would-be bomber Nafis came to this country in January of this year, and the FBI started monitoring him in July when he tried to make contact with another aspiring terrorist on the internet.
This other aspiring terrorist was an undercover FBI agent. For the next 4 months, the FBI helped him plan and coordinate a terrorist attack that was to take place in the financial district in Manhattan. FBI agents posed as Al-Qaeda operatives, making Nafis believe that he had contact with and the blessing of Al-Qaeda leadership. The FBI provided Nafis with all that he needed in order to carry out the attack, including a van filled with 1,000 pounds of inert explosives, which Nafis thought were real.
Nafis had initially considered doing a suicide attack and wanted to go back to Bangladesh to see his family one last time before being blown to paradise, but his terrorist “partners” convinced him that he should do a remote detonation using cell phones. That way, he could visit his family after the attack and possibly carry out more attacks. Nafis took their advice but still insisted on a “plan B” where he would do a suicide attack in case the police were able to thwart the detonation. On Wednesday, as soon as Nafis called the phone attached to the explosives in order to detonate them, he was placed under arrest for “attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to provide material support to al-Qaeda.”
These kinds of cases always leave me with mixed reactions. On one hand, I’m glad this guy is no longer any kind of threat to us. His Islamic ideology is bent on pure destruction, and he and others like him have nothing to lose. It’s good that he’s off the streets.
On the other hand, these cases only make for great headlines the next day. Even though the FBI essentially foiled their own plot, USA Today ran a story with a headline that read “Federal Reserve bombing plot foiled in NYC.” This has a couple intended effects on viewers.
First, it creates the impression that only a terrorist would be opposed to the Federal Reserve System. If you’re opposed to the Federal Reserve System or question the U.S.’s monetary policy, you will be associated with terrorism because of this Bangladeshi who was also apparently opposed to the Fed. Law enforcement at all levels have been working on that association a long time, and fabricated cases like Nafis’s only bolster their argument.
Second, it creates the impression that our government is really working hard and doing very well at protecting the homeland from terrorist attacks. The media are telling us, “See? This is why we have to have a police state. This is why we have to assume everybody is a guilty criminal and why we have to track and monitor everybody. Otherwise, we might get hit with a surprise attack, and that would be the fault of all those 4th Amendment freaks.”
But once you delve into the story a bit, you find that the FBI held Nafis’s hand the entire way. Sure, Nafis had the right ideology, but he didn’t have the money, resources or know-how to actually carry out a terrorist attack of that measure without getting caught in the interim. The FBI seem to cling only to the young, naïve and vulnerable to encourage them to carry out whatever attack they want. Without the FBI’s help, what would have Nafis been able to do with little money, resources or know-how?
People who have no association at all with terrorism have been arrested and had their cameras/phones confiscated for simply photographing subways or buildings. Nafis had been doing the exact same thing for weeks except he was actually planning a terrorist attack on a government building and taking notes while doing it. The Federal Reserve Bank in New York is heavily protected with security guards and surveillance cameras.
Mere rumors of a “flash protest” a couple years ago were enough to prompt NYPD literally to surround the New York Fed bank with dozens of police officers. So, where were the NYPD in Nafis’s case? Were they told to stand down because it was all an FBI covert operation? If it were anyone else not being monitored and persuaded by the FBI, he would have been arrested and questioned at least for suspicious behavior.
This sting operation tactic that law enforcement use doesn’t really make us any safer. It looks like they’re only trying to justify their existence. Do they have to carry these sting operations out because there are just not enough real ones to worry about? In the future, if we are hit with a terrorist attack, how will we know if it’s a real attack or simply a sting operation gone awry?