Monday, December 7, 2015

Got paranoia? San Bernardino edition

Moses and the Messengers from Canaan. Giovanni Lanfranco, 1621-24, Getty Center via Wikimedia Commons.

Last night's post (wound up while I was trying to watch President Obama and cook a family meal—yeah, we eat late, like Spaniards—at the same time) was meant to be about Jonah Goldberg, not the San Bernardino incident, and I don't feel happy with it, though it has scored a pretty substantial audience by my pathetic standards, as a matter of fact. I feel it wasn't funny, as Suzan noted in comments; I think because you can't make it funny and about Goldberg; you can't make it not about San Bernardino, because that's too large and Goldberg is too small.

On the other hand, Goldberg's prose is waddling around in the context of a real journalistic question about what happened on Friday. Whatever preconceptions you bring to it, it doesn't make any sense; it's composed of two halves that don't fit together.

On the one hand there's what you may call the rightwing side, the picture of the little Salafist cell assembling its arsenal of guns and pipe bombs for some spectacular coup, under the constant direction by email of handlers in, what, Raqqa? On the other, nominally leftwing side, the coup itself directed not against a symbol like the World Trade Center or an actual agency of power like a military base or a politician or a gigantically public event like a marathon race, but a humble county health department—if the shooters had been Republicans, maybe that could have symbolized the runaway regulations destroying our country ("Don't tread on me, meat inspectors, Constitution says I can eat all the E. coli I want!"), but they weren't, and one of them actually worked there, as an apparently conscientious meat inspector, and the situation sounds a lot (and more so, the more you find out about it, as Acharn0 suggested) like a common "going postal" workplace horror.

How do you be an aspirational jihadist warrior on the one hand, focused on preparing for a heroic martyrdom, and a taciturn bureaucrat driven insane by a toxic office atmosphere on the other?

There's a simple, though paranoid, answer that came to me by ordinary word association, when Suzan said "CIA" and I immediately thought "FBI". Because that's where our Islamist terror cells always used to come from, before ISIS, right? As we've had occasion to note before now, most of the terrorist plots we learn about in the US involve would-be terrorists who are clearly incompetent to carry out their evil plans without the aid of the helpful FBI informant effectively running their cell as a sting operation; the purpose isn't, obviously, to murder people but to display to the public how great the FBI is—the perpetrators are indoctrinated, furnished with weapons, led to the scene of the attack, and then caught with a flourish and a well-prepared media stable, and we are all to mop the sweat from our brows and heave a sigh of relief that we are in fact protected.

Only it could happen that once in a while the would-be terrorists are less inept than they look, couldn't it, and might manage to act without the informant's guiding hand, and really commit some of that mayhem. That's what I imagined could have happened with the Tsarnaev brothers and their attack on the Boston Marathon:
when you think about it every last one of those deadly conspiracies was manned by people of such an appalling loserness that they could barely be expected to tie their shoes without help, who had no idea what to do or how to do it. Without their FBI informant guiding them at every step, they would never have made it to the point where the FBI had something to arrest them for. Indeed, you could almost say the FBI created every one of those radical Muslim terrorist conspiracies, entrapping the loser Muslims into taking part, except of course that would be entrapment, which is illegal, and I can't imagine the FBI would ever do anything to break the law....
What if Tamerlan and Johar were just that least little bit smarter than your average FBI-recruited terrorist gang and able to go the last mile on their own, with an Internet recipe for pressure cookers and ball bearings? What if they dumped Misha, or missed a meeting with him, and then went ahead? What if the bombing of the Boston Marathon was one colossal fuckup on the part of Misha and the Bureau? Think anybody might go to jail over that?
Not sure whether I'm still willing to entertain that one. Even the most hardened paranoids seem to have dropped interest in the "Misha" character, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's lawyers have been focused on the idea that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was the FBI inciter, which doesn't fit my narratological scheme—the informant never does the deed, merely prepares it up to the point where it can be dramatically halted—of course if they did fail to halt it, allowing the killing of three and maiming of dozens through their FBI ineptitude, they would want to disappear, wouldn't they?

So if a scenario of this type were operating in San Bernardino, the Farooks wouldn't have been planning any operations, would they? They'd be nerving themselves up for the big event, amplifying their rage on the usual websites and practicing out on the target range, as the FBI tells us today they had been doing for "quite some time", whatever that means, while their mysterious new friend took care of all the technical issues of selecting the site, buying the weapons, getting the rifles converted to automatics, and so forth. The big event wouldn't be wholly real to them, but the growing cache of guns in their house would be.

And then it looks like the office problem wasn't the kind of who-moved-my-cheese triviality that Jonah imagined, either, but some serious and continuous verbal abuse (that's your link, Acharn0) from a Jews-for-Jesus or Christian-Likudnik fascist type with a voluble hatred for Muslims and Obama that he shared all over his Facebook and Twitter feeds. Not that he or anybody else in the office deserved to be killed, but he certainly should have been reported to the diversity officer and disciplined, because the man was creating a hostile work environment like you wouldn't believe.

And even then you wouldn't have thought of shooting up the Christmas party and murdering your tormentor and all his friends, but Farook had this growing arsenal to do it with—and perhaps the apparent friend who was in fact from the Bureau stoking him up and promising him soon, soon, he'd be getting his revenge on everybody. You see what I'm saying? If there was this undercover agent trying to turn him into an arrestable exotic Islamist terrorist, he might inadvertently have been turning him into a mass murderer of the conventional American office type instead—pumping him up with motivation and furnishing him with ample means.

Is this stuff possible? I don't even want to link some of the Truther sites I've been looking at, frankly, but then again there's this, from another Inland Empire terrorism case, from the San Bernardino Sun:
CAIR’s Greater Los Angeles Area office issued a press release on Aug. 10, three days before trial was to begin. It indicated the informant had been paid $356,645 by the government as well as immigration benefits because he was a convicted felon being allowed to stay in the U.S. to work as an informant.
The government has confirmed their informant served time in federal prison for trafficking in pseudo ephedrine, which is used in the manufacture of methamphetamine.
Sohiel Omar Kabir, 36, of Pomona, and Ralph Kenneth DeLeon, 25, of Ontario, are standing trial in U.S. District in Riverside on five felony counts of conspiring to kill, kidnap or maim American targets, including “officers and employees of the United States” and military personnel, to provide material support to the terrorist organization al-Qaida, and to receive al-Qaida-backed military training to benefit the terrorist organization....
CAIR said in its release that it was concerned about the FBI’s use of confidential informants to entrap alleged terror suspects, and included information from a study by Project SALAM and the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms which concluded that 94 percent of all terrorist plots were fabricated or provoked by the FBI.
That's 94 percent? The report's here, check it out for yourself.

And then there are some of the other little details: the "third suspect" caught running near the scene of the police shootout who was suddenly dropped from the discussion later in the afternoon; the unidentified third person who bought the assault rifles and had them converted to automatics?

I've never believed, as readers know, in at least half, probably considerably more, of the things Snowden and Greenwald say about the National Security Agency, because it just doesn't add up for me narratologically, and because I can't grasp how the technology would work (to look at the data in the way Emptywheel suggests, they'd have to have ten times as many agents as the Stasi in the old DDR, which means most of the population, right?—they will never see your dick pix, trust me, and if they catch any terrorists with this excess of information it will be incredibly lucky), but I don't feel that way about the Ops side of the CIA, or about the FBI, where I can get a clear sense, from their track records, of who is likely to be abused. Meaning, over the course of the last 15 years, particularly Muslims, or people with Muslim names, whose unjustifiable arrests and murders around the world are indeed fueling terrorist recruitment, for one thing, and bringing our Constitution into disrepute for another, and I do want that to stop.

I was around in Cointelpro days (says the old fart), and I mean that much. How much more I might mean I can't tell you, because I'm making it up as I go along. I certainly wouldn't imagine the San Bernardino massacre as a "false flag" operation, or intended to create some political effect, like distracting the public from the evil of certain Christians as demonstrated in Colorado Springs, I really wouldn't; at most as a horrible error (which some political people might be a little overeager to pick up on to distract the public from the evil of certain Christians etc.), brought on because if the Bureau is going to spend time creating terrorists in that way (94%!), in order to defeat them, publicly, and make themselves look good, isn't it bound to go wrong once in a while? If you give an idiot an automatic weapon and work up his rage, isn't there always a chance he might get out of your control and do some real harm? That's how this could have happened.

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