We are in the middle of another manufactured-terrorism case, this one in Newburgh, and it was going very smoothly until last week, when the presiding federal judge postponed the scheduled trial indefinitely, ordering the government to turn over more evidence that might be helpful to the defense.
The defendants are four petty criminals, three black Americans and one Haitian, all of whom converted to Islam in prison and upon their release took to frequenting a mosque in Newburgh.
They were recruited into a fake terrorist plot by the same wretch who a few years ago duped two Albany Muslims into an exchange of checks for cash that could be sold to a jury as money-laundering in support of terrorism.
The FBI is still working him. I had thought such efforts to create terrorists in order to arrest them was an artifact of the Bush administration, which seemed unable to distinguish between real enemies and imaginary, but I was wrong. Here we are with a new, supposedly more enlightened, president and it’s still going on.
The wretch is Shahed (or Shaheed) Hussain, a Pakistani who immigrated to this country in the early 1990s and soon began making his living in the Albany area by cheating on drivers license exams for immigrants who knew less English than he did. He was supposed to interpret for them but actually took their tests for them, for substantial fees.
He got caught and faced a string of felonies, to be followed by deportation, when the FBI got hold of him and put him to work in exchange for keeping him out of jail and allowing him to remain in this country. Undoubtedly a great boon to us all.
A miserable liar and cheat who couldn’t distinguish truth from falsehood even when he was under oath in the Albany trial of Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain and was trying his best to make a good impression.
In the Newburgh affair, he presented himself in a black Mercedes, and, in a script apparently much favored by the FBI, let on to have a great deal of money, which he was very free with. Also to be a radical jihadist, or at least in league with radical jihadists.
He recruited these disaffected petty drug dealers and misfits with promises of money and cars, according to the FBI’s own secret tape recordings, some of which have become public through court filings by the defense.
It took him a year to do it, but he did it. He got them to accompany him to the Air National Guard base at Stewart International Airport and take photographs, supposedly with a view to eventually shooting down airplanes with surface-to-air missiles.
He got them to plant what they thought were explosives at a synagogue and a Jewish community center in the Bronx.
There is no sign they would have done any of this on their own or even imagined doing it. Shahed Hussain, acting not as an informant as the government calls him but as an agent provocateur, coaxed them, urged them and bribed them.
“I told you I can make you $250,000, but you don’t want it, brother,” he said to his principal recruit, James Cromitie, a 45-year-old native of Brooklyn with 27 arrests on his record, when Cromitie showed reluctance.
At another point he told Cromitie he would pay lookouts $25,000 each, to which Cromitie responded, “If you can assure them that they gonna see that much money, they gonna go for it … They will do it for the money; they’re not even thinking about the cause.”
Cromitie dreamed of a new car. “You’re getting your car, brother — the Beamer,” Shahed Hussain told him.
A swell way for the government to protect us, no? Bribe some low-life ex-cons to participate in a fake plot and then arrest them on charges of terrorism and conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction. Possible sentence: life in prison.
After which Shahed Hussain will presumably ride off to his next slimy assignment, and the government will bask in glory for having blocked a terrorist attack.
“You should believe me, because I am your brother, I am your true brother,” he told Cromitie regarding the promise of a new car. “I love you to death, brother.”
Which is pretty much the approach he took when he was pressing money on Mohammed Hossain, owner of a hole-in-the-wall pizza shop on Central Avenue in Albany.
The difference: Back then his nomme de guerre was Malik; in Newburgh it was Maqsood.
I shouldn’t be so hard on him, maybe. He’s trying to save his skin. It’s the FBI that writes the script and puts him to work acting it, and it’s U.S. attorneys who prosecute these cases.
How dangerous would this Cromitie character have been in Newburgh without Shahed “Maqsood” Hussain to egg him on?
Apparently not very. The FBI agent running the operation, Robert Fuller (who also ran the celebrated Fort Dix operation), wrote to officials at Stewart Airport alerting them that Cromitie would be out there scouting for a possible attack site but assured them he would pose no danger without Hussain.
It was the revelation of a memo referring to that letter that prompted Judge Colleen McMahon last week to call a halt to the proceedings until the FBI produces all materials that might tend to exculpate the defendants, as the law requires.
She also noted that “the Government has retreated from its original position that the defendants had any connections to any international terrorist organization.”
At this point the legal-minded reader might be asking, isn’t the inducing of criminal activity forbidden? Isn’t it called entrapment, and isn’t it grounds for acquittal?
To which your legal correspondent answers, yes, it’s forbidden, yes, it’s called entrapment, and yes, it’s grounds for acquittal — except in cases of alleged Muslim terrorism, and then all rules are suspended. Not as a matter of law, of course, but as a practical matter.
I know this from the unhappy case of Aref and Hossain in Albany, who were equally induced to do things they would not have done otherwise and which they showed no previous inclination to do — like launder money, which they didn’t even understand — and yet are now serving 15-year prison terms.
The federal appeals court that reviewed their case dismissed the entrapment argument without rebuttal but just with a wave of the hand.
If a government agent cajoles an ordinary citizen into a robbing a bank who had never robbed a bank before nor shown any inclination to rob a bank, that citizen has a sturdy defense and can expect to be exonerated.
But if a government agent cajoles a Muslim man into participating in a terrorist plot, no matter how far-fetched, and no matter how little inclination the Muslim man had previously shown for such activity, that Muslim man is dead meat.
I wait to see if things turn out any differently in Newburgh. And I also wait to see what Shahed Hussain’s next assignment will be.
I hope it’s not me. My car is getting run down, and if he offered me a new Beamer, heaven knows what I would do.