The FBI Goes Undercover

The New York Times is reporting on a number of undercover investigations that have lead to charges against people accused of helping or trying to help terrorists. in “Trying to Thwart Possible Terrorists Quickly, F.B.I. Agents Are Often Playing Them.”

The use of undercover agents is an excellent move by the FBI, and should be applauded for two reasons. First, it focuses investigation around techniques which the FBI is good at, not on unworkable and controversial data mining and privacy invasions. Second, because it raises the cost of acting as a terrorist sympathizer, by forcing them to ask “Is this real or a sting?”

There are important questions of entrapment, but in this case:

So when the supposed terrorists sought to have Mr. Grecula build them a bomb that he said could wipe out everything within 3,000 feet, he did not flinch, prosecutors said. “Of course, I don’t like how y’all are killing Americans, but America has asked for it,” he said, according to a court transcript. “They want a war, they got it.”

Oversight of these operations is crucial to avoid disrupting peaceful groups (a la CoIntelPro or CISPES.) We can hope that a desire to avoid another massive attack will be strong enough to overcome the FBI’s habit of letting these operations go astray.