The Fund for Investigative Journalism

Supporting investigative reporting projects around the world

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    Monday, February 2, 2015 - 5pm EST
  • The Informants

    For Mother Jones, Trevor Aaronson writes: “The FBI has built a massive network of spies to prevent another domestic attack. But are they busting terrorist plots-or leading them?” Here is an excerpt from his article, “The Informants”:

    “Here’s how it works: Informants report to their handlers on people   who have, say, made statements sympathizing with terrorists. Those names   are then cross-referenced with existing intelligence data, such as   immigration and criminal records. FBI agents may then assign an   undercover operative to approach the target by posing as a radical.   Sometimes the operative will propose a plot, provide explosives, even   lead the target in a fake oath to Al Qaeda. Once enough incriminating   information has been gathered, there’s an arrest—and a press conference announcing another foiled plot.

    If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because such sting operations are a fixture in the headlines. Remember the Washington Metro bombing plot? The New York subway plot? The guys who planned to blow up the Sears Tower? The teenager seeking to bomb a Portland Christmas tree lighting? Each of those plots, and dozens more across the nation, was led by an FBI asset.

    Over the past year, Mother Jones and the Investigative  Reporting  Program at the University of California-Berkeley have  examined  prosecutions of 508 defendants in terrorism-related cases, as  defined by  the Department of Justice…”

    Click here for the main article, a searchable database of terrorism prosecutions, a sidebar on the making of an FBI superinformant, a glossary of terms, and a transcript of a conversation secretly recorded by an informant.

    Click here for the National Public Radio report on Aaronson’s findings.

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