A new hour-long documentary from Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit delves into the secret world of FBI informants’ counterterrorism activities.
The documentary, called “Al Jazeera Investigates: Informants,” will premiere on Monday, October 27 at 10pm ET/6 pm PT.
Al Jazeera investigative reporter Trevor Aaronson brings the story of informants, posing as Muslims, who encouraged Americans to join plots created by the FBI.
The documentary questions whether these “professional informants” provide truthful information to the government and whether their activities violated Americans’ Constitutional rights.
Following 9/11, the U.S. government recruited thousands of informants, many from Muslim communities. “Informants” tracks the case of an alleged Al Qaeda cell – the Liberty City 7 in Miami, Florida – where seven men from a low-income Haitian and African-American community were charged with conspiring with Al Qaeda to wage war against the United States.
“My first response was laughter,” said Rory McMahon, a legal investigator in South Florida who worked on the case. “After this massive FBI raid [on Liberty City 7], the total take on what they recovered was a ceremonial sword…These people weren’t much of a threat.”
Ex-FBI informant Elie Assaad, a.k.a. “The Closer,” spoke to Al Jazeera about his efforts to befriend Liberty 7 leader, Narseal Batiste, a former Chicago street preacher who ran a construction business. Assaad, posing as a member of Al Qaeda, persuaded members to join a fictitious plot to bomb a skyscraper in Chicago and also take surveillance photos of government buildings in Miami.
He agreed to give the group $50,000, and had them take oaths of allegiance to Osama bin Laden.
Continues on next page
Rothschild Augustine, one of the convicted members of Liberty City 7, told Al Jazeera: “We just wanted to get money from [the informant] because we didn’t believe he was a terrorist…It was messed up, it was a stupid idea, but our mind frame [was money]…We were broke.”
The FBI arrested the plot members three months later, and five of the men were convicted on charges including conspiracy to provide material support and resources to Al Qaeda.
Across the country in Orange County, California, home to some of America’s largest Muslim communities, Craig Monteilh, also known as “The Bodybuilder,” used the ruse of inviting Muslim men to the gym to get them to talk. Monteilh pretended to convert to Islam to work the counterterrorism beat for the FBI, telling Al Jazeera: “I wanted to be in on the big game and be paid top dollar for it.” With Operation Flex, he brought listening devices into mosques and recorded conversations. Later, members of the Muslim community in southern California reacted with anger when they learned of the surveillance programs within mosques and students groups in the area, saying the FBI had violated their constitutional rights. Critics say the botched operation may have undermined the relationship between law enforcement and the Muslim community in southern California.
Finally, “Informants” travels to Toledo, Ohio, home to one of the oldest Muslim communities in the United States. There, we learn the story of Darren Griffin, a.k.a. “The Trainer,” a former special ops soldier who offered to teach young Muslim men how to fire weapons. Griffin, posing as a disaffected veteran, converted to Islam and befriended a young man named Muhammad Amawi.
Amawi, also angry about the war in Iraq, spent hours with Griffin watching violent videos and debating U.S. foreign policy in chatrooms; unemployed, Amawi also relied on Griffin for rent and travel money. Today, Muhammed Amawi is serving a 20-year prison sentence for his involvement in the plots Griffin created, including training to use firearms, bombs and combat tactics and smuggling laptops to Jordan.
“The Informants” explores the methods and motivations of former FBI informants on the front lines of the Bureau’s counterterrorism activities. The film features never-before-seen video from FBI undercover sting operations and shows how these informants conducted sting operations, with varying degrees of success, and their confessions that they spied for money, not for country. The documentary reveals new information about crimes these former informants committed while working for the U.S. government.