Here We Go Again

It is entirely possible that the government has just foiled a plot that would have led to immeasurable loss of life and property. It is also entirely possible that the government once again is trying to sell us a pig in a poke; trying to make much more out of a terrorism investigation than the facts warrant. Right now there is just no way to tell.

The Justice Department announced today the arrests and indictments of seven men in Miami who have been charged with conspiring with a person they thought was an Al Qaeda operative (but who was in fact a government informant) to plan to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago. But already doubts exist about how serious the plot was; how far along it got, and how much it really had to do with Chicago.

The thing to remember as you absorb all of these terror-law announcements is that the government has a sorry record in these cases of overselling what it has just accomplished. The feds told us that Jose Padilla was a dirty-bomber but he wasn't. They told us that Zacarias Moussaoui was the 20th hijacker and he wasn't. And even the language of the indictment itself in the Miami case doesn't scream out "looming catastrophe averted" the way the feds made it seem earlier on Friday. What did the so-called "Miami Seven" actually do? They talked a lot to the informant. They asked for a bunch of things, sinister things, but received from him only a digital camera and some army boots. And they never got anywhere near Chicago.

It's a good thing that they were arrested. Clearly, from the indictment, they had bad intent. But don't pop the champagne corks just yet. This may be a big victory in the war on terrorism. Or it just may be another overblown attempt by the White House and Justice Department to convince us that the government is doing better than it really is in the fight.

Have a great weekend and thanks for reading.

By Andrew Cohen |  June 23, 2006; 3:44 PM ET
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I will only say that I find it odd that the group was breaking up even as the informant was telling them that they are approaching the goal. It seems like some of these jihadists were nothing more than small men (accounting for their current station in life) who did what they are used to doing: shirking. Two or three of the guys may have been serious; or they may have been thinking of a way to get the 50k that the informant promised he could get.

Posted by: | June 23, 2006 04:34 PM

We're hearing that young men with grandiose ideas, already noticed by neighbors as being oddly militaristic, and a charismatic leader reached out for terrorist support but had no clue how to do so without tripping upon an informant. After several months of collaboration they apparently had accumulated little or nothing in the way of vehicles, explosives, or funds, and commitment to the cause was softening.

Disclosure of more facts could convince me that this was more of a threat than I'm perceiving so far. I'm glad they got caught and will face charges.

The media fuss seems overblown, though.

Posted by: Steve Boese | June 23, 2006 04:51 PM

Those "doubts" you point to, Mr. Cohen, are merely statements that the plot never progressed so far that the Sears Tower was in imminent danger.

They are NOT doubts about how serious the plot itself was.

But one has to wonder why you're jumping the gun and trying to make your readers think this plot wasn't serious. You've certainly raised some doubts there...

Posted by: Josh Levy | June 23, 2006 04:54 PM

The indictment sounds like it was written by SNL staff.

What on earth are the boots for? And they wanted terrorist "uniforms"? What does a terrorist uniform look like? Of course, as any intelligent person knows, if you are planning to blow up the Sears tower in Chicago, one of the best ways to close in on the target undetected is to travel from south Florida in combat fatigues. However there is no doubt these guys are very efficient terrorists given that they need a budget of only $50,000. to wage war on the entire USA. Maybe they learned their budgeting from Dr. Evil, who demanded a ransom of "One million dollars!" or he would destroy the entire world.

Posted by: wstander | June 23, 2006 05:41 PM

Re: "home grown terrorists"

I guess we are fighting them there so we can fight ourselves here.

Posted by: MC | June 23, 2006 05:42 PM

This latest expose of a terrorist gang is laughable. The gang who can't shoot straight happens to be our government. Gonzales and his prez must get their kicks out of watching people they can depend on to lap up this nonsense.

Posted by: Sally | June 23, 2006 05:43 PM

I sent you my comments about this gang that
could not even shoot straight. But apparantly my comments were not even printed

Posted by: Carl L Tendler | June 23, 2006 06:02 PM

Why is Al Qaeda so overblown in the US media? Here is a few pointers for Americans..
a) Al Queda is about the smallest terrorist cells in Iraq, there are dozens of larger ones
b) Being "Al Qaeda linked" can mean anything from having read a single web site page to having a great uncle who once lived with a criminal in Pakistan.
c) "Stay tuned for your security" CNN proclaims.
Sitting up here in Canada, I see a nation that gets nothing but twisted news.

Posted by: John Vickers | June 23, 2006 06:28 PM

I'm guessing that the closer we get to the November election day, the more these plots will be uncovered.

It will be certainly tough to tell which are real and which are wishful thinking (on both sides)

Posted by: mkolb | June 23, 2006 07:15 PM

well, that color code thingy is no longer useful in fear-mongering; much better to round up some hapless goofballs in miami -- even better that they are BLACK MUSLIMS(?!)


worth reading juan cole for a more insightful deconstruction of this rather pathetic abu gonzalez special. what a truly despicable man.

link to cole:

Posted by: linda | June 23, 2006 07:26 PM

First they came for the people "linked" to terrorists, and I said nothing because I wasn't linked to terrorists...

Remember innocent until proven guilty. If there was a serious threat, it's over now. The problem might be that if this was just a plan, with no real capability to pull it off, can they be put in jail for thinking about commiting a crime. And was the idea theirs or the undercover agent? Can they be convicted of agreeing with an agent of the government? (entrapment)
Make no mistake, if they are guilty I want them in jail. But the opposite must also be true.

Posted by: TP | June 23, 2006 07:33 PM

This is the latest version of WMD.

There was NO plot. A plot requires a plan. These guys were talking like a lot of guys talk with too much time on their hands. Chicago.... they probably couldn't find it on a map if there lifes depended on it.

These guys were all out just to scam a few pairs of free boots. For Gonzo to trumpet this as a great threat to the US is bizarre.

Posted by: Daniel Wishnatsky | June 23, 2006 07:59 PM

How many more times is the MSM going to fall for repetitive government propaganda. "Another home-grown terrorist cell!" (that never did anything or had the capacity to do anything. Like Jose Padilla, the Lackawana slackers, the Sacramento dumbos, the Oregon goners -- and those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. This is just like the headline about "troop withdrawals from Iraq might start soon." With each of these press releases, you should print a sidebar detailing all of the identical episodes that added up to zero. You make a useful mouthpiece for the powers that keep the people fearful so they are more easily controlled.

Posted by: Bukko in Australia | June 23, 2006 08:11 PM

For almost six years now, I have followed the Bush Administration's announcements and how they are reported religiously. I read everything from the Wall Street Journal to the New York Times, DailyKoS to Andrew Sullivan and everything inbetween.

In that time I have come to two, undeniable conclusions.

If the Bush Administration denies something is true, then I will bet my left nut that it is true.

If the Bush Administration, however, INSISTS that something is true, then I will bet my right nut that it is false.

Posted by: J. Crozier | June 23, 2006 09:13 PM

Why After the MSM Installed Bush back in Office DID All the "TERROR" Threats Seemed to STOP.Now another Election and ALL SUmmer Americans will Be Dealing with whatever Rove can Pull Outta His ASS.GEEZ in the Last 2 Days There are Threats Everywhere ,Finding WMDs in Iraq that were there for 20yrs Buried in the Desert,Then 7 "TERRORISTS" arrested in the USA,and 6-7 "Terrorists" Killed in Saudi Arabia I think ole Karl is going into "TERROR OVERLOAD".MSM in the US is such a JOKE.And the Comedy Channel is where the Public can get a Honest Assessment of the Days Events.I think Capitalism is Going to be the Downfall of the US Not because of the AVERAGE American but the GREEDY Corporate Government Handlers.Just Read on CBC that each Canadian is WORTH $148,000!!!!!How Much Debt has BUSH put on the Soulders of the American People???Canada has the Best Economy of ALL the G-8 nations and We have FREE HEALTH CARE and all this Happened under a "LIBERAL" Government.Now we got the Conservative Party It won't be Long Before He Spends My $148,000 along with everyone Elses.Oh I think the "TERROR' threat here in Toronto was a Little gift from Harper to Bush,of the 17 Men and Youth Arrested ONLY 4 adults remain in Custody HHHHHHHHHMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!!!! They Too were the gang that Couldn't SHOOT Straight.Thankfully our Cable News and Print Press didn't Shove the "TERROR" down our throats 24/7 like CNN has been doing God Help you if the MSM Doesn't get it's Act Together.

Posted by: SUE | June 23, 2006 09:54 PM

FBI Watch-List Application Form

OK, George, Dick, Don, Alberto and Co. I think you're full of crap. I think you'd concoct any lie imaginable to justify your innate depravity.
I do hereby sign and date this waiver. I consent to allow your goons to go through my accounts, bank records, tax returns, phone calls, emails, laundry list and shopping trips in pursuit of your self-righteous, morally wretched but highly profitable GWOT. (like you won't, anyway. But maybe you'll go easy on me at sentencing.)
What's the !@*^*$^%# difference.

Posted by: Dave | June 23, 2006 10:43 PM

Yep, I thought the same thing - more B.S. from the White House & Co. They need to look around because everything in this country (besides the Sears building) is falling apart. I think even die hard conservatives must be questioning this one.

Posted by: Susan in upstate NY | June 23, 2006 11:02 PM

...the Bush2 WH play twister with facts?huh?...
playful electioneering for the
coming november mid-terms?...maybe...

...more likely this gang ran afoul of
dick cheney's dreaded "one percent" rule... perhaps would be less cynical if
this current WH regime was less inclined
towards tilting facts or fearmongering... well america...between the phone
taps,internet monitoring and bank records
being "peered at" this WH will protect
you...if it comes across as being a bit
heavy on gestapo style tactics you just
never are being "defended".

...just be careful about what you say
or where...the cheney onepercent rule
may apply to you...

Posted by: an american in siam... | June 23, 2006 11:56 PM

If there are terrorists in Liberty City that warrant the actions taken by the FBI, I shall purchase a hat and eat it. Now Bush and Co. wants us to believe that Al Qaeda has operatives in the "projects". I just think he is too dumb to realize that everyone else is not as stupid as he is.

Posted by: Sandra | June 24, 2006 12:03 AM

Okay this is my take on this: Black Muslims may do something good for the community, but when they fight with a woman police officer, confiscated her gun, then beat her so badly to break her back (all for telling them to get out of the middle of a busy street) my view of them is pretty low. That's what has occurred locally long before al-Qaeta reared it's ugly head.

That they would think and seek destroying lives and property now, my respect for Islam is even lower.


Posted by: SandyK | June 24, 2006 03:55 PM

Didn't these guys get the memo? They're supposed to go to Iraq so we can shoot them there. Sheesh.

Posted by: CT | June 26, 2006 05:33 PM

I find it disturbing that no one here seems to understand the conspiracy laws in the United States. There are many grounds for being disturbed about accusations of conspiracy and the application of those laws. But this group is charged with conspiracy to commit a crime, terrorism.

Conspiracy does not require a plan or even a realistically achievable goal, just two or more people, an desire framed in an idea and an overt act, some attempt, to realize that idea. Suppose I and a friend decided to know out a U.S. military satellite, if we were to go to purchase books on targeting systems and bought a radar gun with an idea to modify it into a long-range tracking radar to knock down the satellite, that might be sufficient to prove a charge of conspiracy. Outlandish, impossible, but indictable!

In this case, there is a clear desire to to commit a terrorist act and a series of overt acts to realize their goal. The classic seems to be people who hire out to have their spouse killed. Rarely does this work, but there is the serious long-term risk that eventually, given enough opportunities, someone with even the dumbest planning and exposure will get lucky.

It may be that the individuals involved were incapable of any future harm to the United States; it may be that in ten years, with extensive experience and greater knowledge one or more of them could have blown up the Sears Tower. Thankfully, we will probably never know.

Based on what has been reported, it appears that these individuals are at least indictable on a charge of conspiracy. We will need to wait a trial to see if they can be convicted.

Posted by: Constitutionalist | June 27, 2006 08:05 AM

Good points, Constitutionalist. Thank you.

Posted by: Josh Levy | June 28, 2006 10:57 AM

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