“… out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety”
King Henry IV, part 1
The FBI has stealthily uncovered and arrested two dangerous New York terrorists of the gentler sex, who were conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction – another victory in the war on terror. The originality of the case – which distinguishes it from about 150 other “sting” operations – is that it starts with a poem.
I don’t wish to mislead the reader. Neo-con inspired anti-intellectualism reigns supreme in the institution. And the exceptionalist arrogance, deriving directly from the rights of the exceptional state, creates a privileged space for undiluted bullying. While the institutionalized anti-intellectualism finds particular scope for expression in the FBI anti-terror, sting operations.
Gross entrapment, disguise and dissimulation are respectable skills, but the uniformity of FBI life must be sometimes diversified, and the vacuities of inspiration must be filled with a draught of novelty.
Here, novelty comes in the shape of the two arrested ladies, Noelle Velentzas, 28, and Asia Siddiqui, 31 who shared a residence. Noel is a Puerto Rican who converted to Islam. Asia writes poetry and in 2009 submitted a poem to an online Islamist blog, published by Samir Khan.
Samir is (was) a US citizen, assassinated in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen, along with the Imam Anwar al-Awlaki. The 16-year old, Colorado-born son of Anwar was equally assassinated in a subsequent drone strike. Nobody, as yet, knows why, because of “national security.”
Neither Samir Khan nor Anwar al-Alwaki had committed terrorist acts, but with their writings they proved “virtual spiritual sanctioners” of violent Islamist acts – so said a neo-con congressman. Whereas the actual material performers of the assassination of Palestinians – we must assume – deserve praise rather than death. But I digress.
As in just about all arrests, prosecutions and sentences of this type, the affair was instigated, nurtured and manufactured by an informant posing as a terrorist facilitator.
In the instance, the operation involved an undercover agent working with the Joint Terrorist Task Force (JTTF), a super-agency symbiotically coordinating the work of a host of other agencies.
Asia’s poem was published online, but the blog originated from Yemen. As per the publicly available FBI complaint leading to the arrest, this was enough to conclude, with no evidence whatsoever, the existence of a “close relation between the poet Asia Siddiqui and the Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).”
Ironically, Al Qaeda is presently an indirect ally of the United States, in its proxy war against the current Yemeni rebels, but let that go.
Neither Noelle Velentzas nor Asia Siddiqui had expressed or left hints of any interest in bombs or in “obtaining parts to construct an explosive device”. At least, not until they met with the undercover agent (UCA), in 2013. He convinced them that it was a good interest to have and a good thing to do, 4 years after the publishing of the poem.
Quoting directly from the complaint, “In 2013, the UCA met with Velentzas on multiple occasions. During these meetings, which were not recorded, Velentzas expressed violent jihadist ideology and an interest in terrorism.”
That may have well been true, but why was it not recorded, given the wealth of technology available to the FBI for the purpose? It is reasonable to suspect that it was the UCA who expressed proselytizing “violent jihadist” ideas, inviting or asking the two ladies to concur.
Whether recorded or not, it is plausible that the ladies expressed anger, jihadist or otherwise. For, now buried under the collective mantle of “terrorism”, is the very human notion of revenge against injustice or prevarication. Hollywood is full of it, with the “Godfather” series in the top 10.
With collective injustice, the desire for revenge is magnified and, when conditions are favorable, it leads to revolutions. But when revolutions are impossible, collective simmering fury expresses itself in individual acts of revenge. Calling revenge “terror” does not change it, though it assuages self-righteousness.
Nor we need to be Muslims to harbor similar sentiments. Before being killed by the Lancastrians, the defeated York says,
“My ashes, as the phoenix, may bring forth
A bird that will revenge upon you all:
And in that hope I throw mine eyes to heaven,
Scorning whate’er you can afflict me with” (1)
There were no suicide-bombers or hijackings prior to 1967, when Israel militarily invaded, occupied and colonized Palestine, with the authorization, connivance and blessing of the exceptional state. That terror is counter-productive and usually punishes the wrong people, for the revenge seeker is irrelevant.
But to return to our domestic terrorists. In subsequent parts of the complaint there are notes on various statements, indicating that they were heard but not recorded due to a “malfunctioning” recording device.
Now suspicion creeps into incredulity. For stealthily proceeding with his cunning plan, the agent, as a gift to his hosts, downloaded and printed a copy of “The Anarchist Cookbook,” which includes sundry recipes for bombs and home-made explosives. He also gave them a printed copy of “Inspire,” an Internet blog linked to the now ever-more-perplexing and puzzling Al Qaeda.
During a meeting in December 2014, the UCA suggested that a good occasion for terror would be the funeral of the two New York City policemen shot to death in their patrol car by a madman, who later killed himself – there would be thousands of policemen in attendance.
For the record, the policemen were killed by an African-American called Ismaaiyl Abdullah Brinsley, in revenge for the previous choking death of the unarmed Eric Garner at the hands of NY police. Garner was guilty of selling cigarettes individually rather than in a pack.
Incidentally, the inventively-spelled, Islamic-sounding first names of Brinsley – though he had no religious affiliation – suggest that, however poorly known, incoherently perceived, and wrongly interpreted, Islam has become a symbolic representation of revenge against obvious global (and domestic) injustice.
That the terrorist ladies planned an attack at the policemen’s funeral was sensational fodder for the sensationalist tabloids. Left unsaid, was that the plot was the invention not of the ladies, but of the agent.
The FBI complaint also explains that the two women were “angry at the US military invasions and actions in the Middle East.” Which, given the sentiments of a reasonable number of millions at home and abroad, sounds like the discovery of warm water. The agent, however, tried to channel his suspects’ anger towards an act of revenge, that is, of terror.
Furthermore, the two women also “studied high-school-level books on chemistry and electricity.” A word of warning for US readers at large. Careful about what you read when you go to the library!
Unlike a case earlier described in the blog (http://yourdailyshakespeare.com/comedy-terrors/equalities) the ladies began vaguely suspecting of being the target of a set-up. In a conversation reported in the complaint, Noelle Velentzas characterizes her poet friend as one who has a “beef” with the US government, herself as “an outspoken political person,” and the cop as an “inconspicuous student studying about detonators.” And she said, “You (her friend) got the beef, I got the knowledge and you [the UCA] got the mechanics…that’s how it looks on paper.” Then, referring to the war on Muslims waged by Homeland Security, Velentzas said, “To these people (Homeland Security) we legitimately look like a cell.”
Two things are clear, as journalist Bill Van Auken has pointed out. One, that Velentzas and her friend Siddiqui held political beliefs while the UCA held the “mechanics”, the “detonators.” He was the (proximate) doer, they were the thinkers. And two, that the government may have seen them as a terrorist cell, while Velentzas did not – given that thought, as yet, is not a crime.
What comes next is similar to another sting operation in Chicago, where it is unclear from the dialog whether the FBI is conning the would-be terrorist or vice versa.
For the same Velentzas, according to the complaint leading to her arrest, used her cellphone to “research whether the UCA was, in fact, an undercover officer and to learn how to detect the presence of hidden recording devices.”
And in November and December of 2014 she accessed web pages with titles such as “Learning the identity of a confidential informant,” “How to spot undercover police” and “Is S/he an informant?”
The complaint also states that Siddiqui “has recently informed the UCA that she will be disinclined to inform him regarding her progress in learning how to manufacture an explosive device.”
This argument was used by the FBI to support the authorization for a no-knock arrest warrant to seize the two women from their apartments. But it is not shown that there was any “progress in learning how to manufacture an explosive device.” Probably the two women were uncomfortable with the agent goading them into hatching and carrying out a fake terrorist plot and told him to make himself scarce.
After all, Velentzas, incidentally also a mother of two young sons, shows more acumen than other characters targeted for similar sting operations.
Nevertheless, the evidence was sufficient for New York’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, to praise the police for their arrest and to publicly declare that, “This was a conspiracy that was undercut before it could turn into something more dangerous.”
Whereas, more likely, the conspiracy was organized by the FBI, and fell apart when the women suspected the cop and refused to be drawn into a terrorist plot hatched by the government.
This and various other recurrent events, have such a weight of unreality, show such a lack of common sense and of a sense of basic justice, as to appear fantastical when reading, or worse, when writing about them. If not else for the sake of the international readers of this blog, I wish it could be proven that I have invented everything.
Then, even more sadistically fantastical events become known, as if to show that “so bad begins and worse is (not) left behind.”(2) Literally in the last few hours from the writing of this article, two men who had been on death row for 30 years have been set free, as evidence showed they were innocent. It is their respective 30 year plus in jail that make their story sadistically fantastical.
In one case, Anthony Ray Hinton, two restaurant managers had been murdered in Alabama, 30 years ago. The police recovered the bullets and claimed that they could be linked to the same gun, and that the gun was Mr. Hinton’s.
Hinton worked in a warehouse and had passed a polygraph test, but his lawyer was only paid $1600 to represent him and couldn’t get a competent expert to disprove the allegation. His expert was visually impaired, a civil engineer, who even needed help to turn on the light on the microscope. With proper resources, Hinton would have never been convicted. Furthermore, the investigators who worked on Hinton’s case had been previously charged in federal court for torturing prisoners. All goes to show that it is better to be guilty and rich than poor and innocent.
But it is not finished. Fourteen years after the conviction, and thanks to an organization that occasionally takes on cases of obvious miscarriage of justice (occasionally, because the questionable verdicts are in the thousands), the new lawyers showed evidence that the bullets could not be matched to a single gun and that the gun wasn’t Mr. Hinton’s.
But now the state refused for another 16 years to even retest the evidence. The state (Alabama) chose to risk executing an innocent man over risking admitting they had made a mistake, or that they were “soft” on crime. In an unlikely and rare occurrence, the case reached the United States Supreme Court. Had the Supreme Court not intervened, the likelihood of a wrongful execution was extreme. During his 30 years, spent in a cell, 8 foot long by 5 foot wide, Alabama executed 52 inmates, some on the electric chair. Hinton says that, after an electric-chair execution, the smell of burned flesh remained in the air for a day.
The second case is Glenn Ford’s. In March 2014, Glenn Ford was freed after 31 years on death row. A judge vacated his murder conviction and death sentence.
His exoneration came after new evidence emerged, clearing him of the 1983 fatal shooting of a jewelry store owner in Louisiana. Glenn Ford is also African-American and was tried by an all-white jury – so was Hinton’s.
In 2000, the Louisiana Supreme Court ordered an evidentiary hearing on Ford’s claim that the prosecution suppressed evidence related to two brothers initially implicated in the crime.
Then in 2013, an unidentified informant told prosecutors one of the brothers had admitted to shooting and killing the jewelry store owner.
What is particularly meaningful, in this second case, is that the prosecutor has publicly apologized to Glenn Ford and all but admitted that he knew the evidence was false, but that his ideas in 30 years have changed.
Glenn Ford has cancer and a few more days left to live.
The reported cases show the utmost anguish that human wit can contrive, and human malice can inflict.
Should I add the instance of the death-row guards in Oklahoma? Who, after a botched execution via lethal injection – due to an amateurishly compounded poison (it took two hours for the condemned to die) – asked their colleagues in Texas to send a better working poison for the next execution. Whereupon Texas replied that they would send the poison in exchange for tickets to some football game.
Still, what connects the war on terror and questionable sting operations with death sentences of innocent people? The demonstration exceeds the scope of this article. Let’s say that there is a kind of autism in the public opinion at large. It prevents them from understanding what moves beyond appearances, and therefore from controlling what their own ruling classes are plotting behind their back. Consequently, they cannot discern whether the interests brought forward by the elites are those the citizen takes for granted, or if citizens are considered but intimidatable and possibly expendable pawns.
In the end, it is this kind of attitude that feeds a state of generalized violence and, further, the creation of a “conflict of civilizations” used by Western leaders to deprive their own citizens of the civilization that they conquered.
Leaders, nominally chosen through a demohoax sold as democracy, are individuals genetically predisposed to unbridled ambition, inclined more to ease and superficiality than to general rules of civilization, oriented towards ruthlessness and mendacity, easily permeable to dishonesty, corruption, sycophancy, pathologically uninterested in others, in the common interest, in the common good.
They are devoted to the theocracy of the market and to the gods of profit. For it is the prospect of a rich bonus (see referenced blog above), that inspires the undercover cop to exert his sick imagination in actively converting anger into a crime for his own profit. And it is the prospect of career advancement that prompts a prosecutor to omit, distort and falsify evidence. One more executed inmate, no matter how innocent, is one more credential for the resume, in the prosecutor’s career ladder.
These criteria guide the selection of political personnel, along with contempt for culture, beauty, environment. Add the contempt for memory, useful only as a tool to remind and repeat platitudes proclaimed by the media for the benefit of uncritical voters.
Applied at large, the ethics peddled by neo-liberal, imperialist elites, the cult of the self, the banishing of empathy, the belief that violence can be used to make the world conform, require the annihilation of the communal and the destruction of the sacred. The elites who orchestrate this pillage, like those who pillaged parts of the globe in the past, probably believe they can outlive their own destructiveness.
Unaware or unbelieving that,
“Then every thing includes itself in power,
Power into will, will into appetite;
And appetite, an universal wolf,
So doubly seconded with will and power,
Must make perforce an universal prey,
And last eat up himself.” (3)
In the play. Hotspur comments on a letter he is reading aloud from George Dunbar, Earl of Scotland .
(1) King Henry VI, part 3
(3) Troilus and Cressida
Image Source, https://cbsnewyork.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/noelle_velentzas_asia_siddiqi_0402.jpg?w=625
“Now suspicion creeps into incredulity. For stealthily proceeding with his cunning plan, the agent, as a gift to his hosts, downloaded and printed a copy of “The Anarchist Cookbook,” which includes sundry recipes for bombs and home-made explosives. ”
This probably deserves its own post. “The Anarchists Cookbook” is a semi-legendary grimoire of 1960’s era, Weathermen, counter-culture fame. The “bombs” and “homemade explosives” it details are of the Molotov cocktail and gunpowder pipe bomb kind – in other words, most any 14 year old gamer could find more lethal information online if so inclined. More of its ink is spent on how to cultivate marijuana and peyote and brewing bathtub LSD . It has for decades been a hobgoblin of petit bourgeois law enforcement culture though it has NOTHING to do with Islamic fundamentalism or, for that matter, “anarchy”. In fact the book is almost certainly anathema to fundamentalists (if they would even know of it before being given copies by the FBI which they wouldn’t).. It is to “terrorism” what Lady Chatterley’s Lover is to pornography. That FBI wasps on a sting mission are still using it to entrap their victims is kind of pathetic. Maybe with the budget cutting they cant afford anything newer, but no…the budget for police state operations is never cut..I chalk it up to just plain laziness. And why work harder if you don’t have to ? With US policing gone feral and a US court system now turned into banana-republican style police state processing , they obviously don’t have to