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Terror or Entrapment?

Five recent Bay Area terrorism cases by the FBI raise questions as to whether the bureau has enticed young, troubled Muslim men to attempt acts they wouldn't have otherwise committed.



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Llaneza's attorney eventually had clinical psychologist Scott Lines conduct an evaluation. Llaneza exhibited a "high degree of suggestibility," Lines wrote.

"An idea occurs to him, or in the case of his alleged offense conduct, is offered to him, and when he is manic, the irrational idea conforms to the idea to stimulate chaos and disorder," wrote Lines. "This, in turn, makes him easily susceptible to financial or other compensatory manipulation."

Llaneza's case never went to trial, so details about the FBI's investigatory methods were never disclosed. Lines, however, reported one significant thing: Undercover agents offered Llaneza food, clothing, and marijuana, among other rewards, if he would participate in the bomb plot.

Llaneza told Lines, "when [the FBI] asked me to meet the one to do the bombing, I felt more compelled because they helped me out." Llaneza believed that his co-conspirator would send him to Afghanistan where he would be "given a field of weed," a drug he'd previously used to treat the symptoms of his psychiatric disorder.

"In other words, it was the false promise of being gifted with a life of ease and ready access to marijuana, which he has found helpful in managing his mood swings, that influenced him to engage in the alleged offense conduct, rather than any deep-seated criminal or terrorist leanings," concluded Lines.

But defeating the FBI and the DOJ in a federal counterterrorism case is exceedingly difficult. So, on Feb. 27, 2014, Llaneza pled guilty to attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. During the sentencing phase, prosecutors justified their case and dismissed questions about whether the FBI had entrapped Llaneza. "The public needs protection from mentally ill criminals at least as much as it needs it from any other criminal," wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Caputo.

Llaneza was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

As with Llaneza, the FBI first zeroed in on Alhaggagi by monitoring social media. Assistant U.S. Attorney Waqar Hasib told a judge during a December 2016 hearing — a month after Alhaggagi was arrested and seven months before his case would be unsealed — that "an individual who was working for the FBI" struck up an online conversation with Alhaggagi because they "shared an interest in ISIS."

According to the FBI, Alhaggagi made threats of indiscriminate and politically motivated violence. He also disclosed to the FBI informant that he lived in the Bay Area and recently applied for a job with a local police department. The government claimed Alhaggagi wanted to become a cop in order to steal weapons, but his sister told his attorneys he was genuinely interested in a law enforcement career.

Using this information, the FBI canvassed Bay Area police agencies and eventually discovered Alhaggagi's July 23, 2016 employment packet at the Oakland Police Department. That's how the FBI identified him and launched an undercover sting operation. Later, when FBI agents moved in to arrest Alhaggagi, they asked OPD to call him in for what he thought would be a job interview. "That was entirely a ruse by the Oakland Police Department," Hasib explained to a federal judge shortly after Alhaggagi's arrest.

He added that the Oakland police were only "aware in a limited sense" about why the FBI wanted them to carry out the job interview.

Even so, the FBI has forged a close partnership with Bay Area police agencies. The bureau says the law-enforcement relationships created in the JTTF are critical to preventing terrorism.

But the feds and local police are also tight-lipped about details. The FBI denied the Express' FOIA request seeking records about the numbers of Bay Area police officers deputized as JTTF agents and how many cases the JTTF has investigated over the past decade in Northern California, among other information.

When asked about the JTTF, Oakland police have claimed over the years to have no records to disclose or that documents are confidential. In 2014, for example, OPD denied three Public Records Act requests for the memorandum of understanding between Oakland and the FBI that allows OPD cops to become deputized JTTF agents. The MOU was made public this year after the city's privacy commission requested it, confirming OPD's JTTF participation since 2007.

In a recent interview, FBI officials declined to say how many local police departments participate in the JTTF or how many local police officers work on federal counterterrorism cases. But they clarified that local police typically assign one officer to liaison through the JTTF.

Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's San Francisco field office Craig Fair said there are more than 20 different officers assigned to the Bay Area's JTTF. "Most of them are federal," he said, adding that the bureau "would love more local participation."

"We consider local law enforcement to be our partners," said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Marina Mayo. "The expertise those agencies bring is priceless." This includes the eyes and ears of patrol officers and detectives and street-level informants.

Fair used a hypothetical scenario to explain the JTTF's value. In an active shooter situation, "if a task force officer is embedded in a squad, he can quickly provide us with information, such as if there is anyone else out there."


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