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Terrorist Plot to Attack NJ Military Base May Have Been Facilitated by Informants


By Richard Walker

When the trial of six Muslim men charged with planning a massacre of soldiers at Fort Dix begins later this year a significant part of the prosecution’s case will rely on the controversial role played by what the FBI calls “CWs”—cooperating witnesses, or federal informants, a euphemism for agents provocateurs.

The term is a confusing one because “CWs” are mostly paid informers. Some of them offer their services to the intelligence community in return for money while others are coerced or blackmailed into betraying associates in return for immunity from prosecution. In some cases, CWs have even been offered U.S. citizenship.

They have steadily become a critical ingredient in the shadowy war on terror in which the FBI and CIA are often forced to rely on people with violent and shady backgrounds to either get inside groups of guerrilla fighters or terrorist organizations or even found them. In many instances informers, or informants as the FBI sometimes prefers to call them, find it easy to blend into a networks because they share religious, racial or social connections with those running the networks or individual terror cells.

In the Fort Dix investigation the FBI used two paid informers to infiltrate a group of young Muslim men. One of the informers presented himself as an Egyptian with a military pedigree. Defense lawyers will no doubt argue that both informers—identified as “CW-1” and “CW-2”—acted as agents provocateurs in their year-long relationship with the accused.

The FBI has already indicated that it had problems with one of its informers two months prior to him being inserted into the Fort Dix investigation, a fact defense lawyers will no doubt seek to exploit. The FBI made the following admission:

“CW-1 has had one instance of not fully reporting fully truthfully information. In January 2006, CW-1 reported to his/her handler that he/she misstated the identity of a friend with whom he/she had contact in an effort to protect that individual. CW-1 was informed by the handling agent that all information must be fully and completely reported. Since this incident, no new derogatory information concerning CW-1 has been reported. In this case the FBI has been able to independently corroborate the information provided by CW-1 through consensual recordings and surveillance operations.”

A classic example of an informer who went off the rails was Mohammed Alanssi, 52, who set himself on fire in front of the White House in November 2004, claiming the FBI had shortchanged him. He survived his suicide attempt with severe burns to the upper part of his body and later refused to discuss his personal problems with the FBI.

Nevertheless, before setting himself alight he provided a glimpse into his history as an informer. He left a note for his FBI handler, Special Agent Robert Fuller, alleging the government wronged him. He charged that some FBI agents promised him he would be a millionaire, yet he only had received $100,000. Before attempting suicide, he also contacted the media and said he had feared at one stage he would be put in prison and tortured if he stopped being an FBI informer.

Many of Alanssi’s claims are hard to verify beyond the fact that he was an important FBI “CW” in a terror case against a prominent Yemeni cleric, Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad, who the FBI believed was funneling millions of dollars to Al Qaeda and Hamas. To get their hands on the cleric who lived in Yemen, the FBI used two informers—Alanssi and a naturalized American who masqueraded as a Black Panther but did not speak Arabic.

Alanssi was the FBI’s key informer in that particular operation.

How the FBI recruited Alanssi to go after the cleric is an interesting story. If one is to believe the official story he was an employee at the U.S. embassy in Yemen but fled to the United States in 2000 after a warrant was issued for his arrest following some financial funny business. Alanssi then settled in Brooklyn where he acquired a reputation for borrowing money and not paying it back. It was said he was good at telling tall tales in order to elicit sympathy. After 9-11, he came to the attention of the FBI, which was desperately trying to recruit informers.

It was not long before his handlers found a bigger role for him, namely luring Muslim cleric al-Moayad out of Yemen to Frankfurt in Germany where the United States could get its hands on him.

Alanssi made several trips to Yemen to talk to the cleric and successfully lured him to Frankfurt. There, Alanssi and his co-informant, who was masquerading as a member of the Black Panthers, secretly videotaped and recorded conversations with the cleric. That evidence was later used to extradite the cleric to the United States and charge him with financing terrorism.

Before Alanssi was due to take the stand in the trial of the cleric, he set himself on fire and was never called to give evidence. His absence, however, did not derail the case and the cleric was sentenced to 75 years behind bars.

Most cases that deal in the murky world of international terrorism now rely on paid informers who have been coerced or encouraged to change allegiance. These individuals are unsavory people with criminal backgrounds. Some have committed crimes ranging from assault to theft, burglary, rape and murder.

But it is their criminality and immorality, allied to their proximity to organized crime or to terrorism that make them so attractive to intelligence agencies. They can be easily inserted into any loosely organized group of people with pipe dreams of orchestrating large-scale attacks.

Terrorist double agents have worked well for the intelligence agencies. That was proven by British intelligence in its undercover war against the IRA for almost 30 years. The British learned that an informer was more effective than electronic surveillance because his roots were in the indigenous population enabling him to blend into that population. An outsider playing the role of an agent was too easily exposed by the IRA’s own informer hunters, its Internal Security Department.

Richard Walker is the nom de plume of a former mainstream news producer who now writes for AFP so he can expose the kinds of subjects that he was forbidden to cover in the controlled press.

(Issue #22, May 28, 2007)

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Updated May 20, 2007