Oakland desperately needs help. Violent crime has skyrocketed in the past two years and homicides are out of control. Unfortunately, the cash-strapped city doesn't have the money to substantially increase the size of its police force quickly — unless it decimates other public services, like libraries and parks. As such, Oakland could really use assistance from state and federal law enforcement. However, in the past few years the feds have decided instead to waste significant amounts of money on misguided actions in Oakland that have had no impact on crime.
Case in point: last week's absurd "bomb plot" case. In case you missed it, the FBI and the US Attorney's Office made a big deal on Friday of the news that they had foiled an alleged "terrorist" bomb plot at a Bank of America branch near the Oakland Coliseum. Court documents made it immediately clear that the federal government spent a considerable amount of resources on the case.
However, court documents also showed that the foiled "bomb plot" was not really a bomb plot. Instead, it turned out to be a sad affair involving the apparent entrapment of a mentally ill man who was coaxed by the FBI into attempting to set off a fake bomb that it had given him. And the fact that it happened in Oakland, a city in which people are dying in the streets almost daily, provided more proof of how screwed up our law enforcement priorities really are.
For those needing a recap of what happened: In November, an FBI agent made contact with the mentally ill man — Matthew Adam Llaneza, 28, of San Jose. The agent then convinced Llaneza that he was an operative with the Taliban working in the Bay Area. The agent then made a fake bomb for Llaneza, stored it for him, and showed him how to use it. Then last Friday, the FBI arrested Llaneza in a "terrorist bomb plot" for trying to set off the fake bomb outside a Bank of America branch.
The FBI and the US Attorney's Office hailed the arrest as yet another example of how they were working overtime to keep us safe from terrorists. They failed to mention, however, that no one was actually ever in danger because the bomb was inert. There's also no indication to date that the FBI and the US Attorney's Office had any evidence that Llaneza had the wherewithal to team up with actual terrorists working in the Bay Area (if there are any) who would then make a bomb for him and help him detonate it. In other words, the idea that Llaneza could have pulled off a bombing without the FBI's assistance appears to have been extremely farfetched.
Unfortunately, last week's case was not unusual. Since September 11, 2001, the FBI and the US Attorney's Office have come under heavy criticism for allegedly entrapping susceptible people and facilitating fake terrorist plots that never actually endanger anyone. The Llaneza case appears to have been part of that troubling trend. "CAIR has been saying this for years now: It's the FBI's job to stop operational terrorists. It's not the FBI's job to enable aspirational ones," Zahra Billoo, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Santa Clara, tweeted last week.
Wasting taxpayer dollars, unfortunately, is an epidemic in federal law enforcement these days, and it goes beyond fake bomb plot cases. Perhaps the biggest waste of resources has been the federal crackdown on medical marijuana in California. That's especially true in Oakland, where the US Attorney's Office has targeted cannabis dispensaries that have broken no state or local laws and have no connection to the city's violent crime problems.
And the fact that this has all happened during President Obama's administration makes it even more disturbing.
Barbara Lee Speaks for Me
In 2008, Barack Obama campaigned for president on the premise that he would end the abuses perpetrated by the Bush Justice Department. And while the Obama administration deserves credit for not engaging in some of those abuses, such as torture, the DOJ under this president has little reason to be proud.
The leak of a secret DOJ memo last week on assassinations was just the latest example. Obtained by NBC News, the memo revealed that Obama's DOJ believes the president and other high-ranking administration officials have the legal power to order the killing of American citizens whom they believe are terrorists — without due process.
Although these claims are both startling and deeply troubling, the secret memo only made headlines in the national news media for a short time last week. The likely reason was that most Republicans in Washington apparently endorse the administration's use of drones to assassinate alleged terrorists, and so Beltway journalists don't view the memo as a "real" controversy.
But Congresswoman Barbara Lee of Oakland does. Lee has been one of the few members of Congress to criticize the administration's actions, and she called the memo's conclusions not only "overly broad," but said they "should shake the American people to the core."
Lee also noted that the memo's claims were based on legislation passed just after 9/11 in which Congress handed the president sweeping powers in the so-called War on Terror. Lee is now arguing that that legislation should be repealed. She's right. She also was right eleven years ago when she was the only member of Congress to vote against the legislation in the first place.