I used to watch The X-Files in the 90s. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t too keen on the show in the beginning but my brother wanted to watch it and it was on after The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. so why not just leave the TV on?
I soon got into the show and thought that Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully were cool. Granted, Scully was principally there to keep tabs on Mulder but still, as FBI agents, they got to the bottom of things. Well, not everything as they were being thwarted by the Cigarette Smoking Man and other folks within the FBI that didn’t want Mulder* to discover the truth about [fill in the blank].
The FBI has been portrayed in many TV shows and movies and everyone probably has one opinion or another about the organization based on these media platforms. In real life, the FBI has been responsible for bringing a number of criminals to justice here in the United States. And for bringing a number of manufactured criminals to justice as well.
Journalist Trevor Aaronson explores this latter phenomena in his book The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism, which has just been released. In the book, Aaronson chronicles the quest for the FBI to catch terrorists in the United States after 9/11 using handsomely paid informants who involve mostly Muslims in made-up terrorist plots. The people that are caught up in these so-called plots and arrested never had the means, opportunity, or even the desire to follow through if it were not for the informants.
There are a lot of stories contained in the book that sound so out there, that it almost borders on the unbelievable. I’m convinced that the story of Liberty Six could be made into a really good screwball comedy caper based solely on when the informant tries to get the group to make an allegiance to Al-Qaeda. It’s pretty hilarious, minus the fact though that most of the group ended up in jail for a really long time because of how the informant set them up.
These informants are clearly in it for the payday without regard for the person they entrap. In addition, some of them have committed crimes, like getting caught on tape trying to buy heroin, and yet are still allowed to stay on the FBI payroll. Some of them may have even been coerced to become an informant by agents from the FBI, who may have used information or other crimes as leverage to force someone into becoming an informant.
Aaronson also goes into the “why” such things are even allowed to happen. For instance, the amount of pressure that the FBI has had to justify the money that they are provided to go ofter these terrorists means you have to show results. Why not make them up?!
This all essentially affects everyone in this country, Muslim or not. Aaronson points out that the FBI has built so much distrust with these shenanigans while also diverting money and resources into manufacturing these plots when it could have been instead used for real issues of domestic terrorism and other such problems this country faces. Aaronson gives an account of one such heartbreaking story regarding “sovereign citizens” that could have been prevented had it not slipped through the holes.
Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism is a book that needs to be read, especially since many of the cases mentioned are ones that had been all over the news when they first happened. This is your chance to see the fruits of actual investigative journalism and find more about plots that you may have thought were the real deal. This is the way journalism is meant to be. Besides, the details of the cases are downright fascinating.
Read a story adapted from the book on Mother Jones.
* I’m pretty sure that Mulder is responsible for making “TrustNo1” one of the top passwords used since he used it in the first episode of the second season.
SIDE NOTE: Whenever I think about the responsibility that journalists have, I always think about this talk that David Simon, creator of the show The Wire, gave in UC Berkeley a few years ago. Within the talk, he holds journalists accountable for not asking the right questions. The talk is over an hour so it’s somewhere in there but I think the whole talk is really good.