The trial of those involved in the Sears Tower Plot in Liberty City, Florida has ended with one acquittal and a mistrial:
A Federal judge in Miami declared a mistrial Thursday after a jury failed to reach a verdict in the trial of six men accused in 2006 of plotting to bomb the Sears Tower in Chicago and several other government buildings. A seventh suspect was acquitted in what analysts describe as a setback for the US government’s domestic counterterrorism program. Jury selection for a retrial of the other six suspects will start next month.
The case against the so-called Liberty City Seven, named after the neighborhood in Miami where they met, was a preemptive prosecution, as they posed no immediate security threat at the time of arrest. A government official described the alleged terrorists as “more aspirational than operational.” Defense lawyers argued in court that paid FBI informants who infiltrated the homegrown group were strung along for money for an Al Qaeda terror plot that never existed.
Prosecutors said the suspects were recorded on tape boasting that they wanted to join Al Qaeda on “a mission that would be as good or greater than 9/11,” the Guardian reported.
Based on thousands of hours of audio and video recordings, including one that showed some of the men taking an oath of allegiance to al-Qaida, the government case argued that the group planned to sow chaos by poisoning salt cellars in restaurants and blowing up buildings, and wanted to obtain equipment including machine guns, a rocket launcher, military uniforms and bullet-proof vests.
The Associated Press reports that after nine days of deliberation, the jury sent a note to the judge on Thursday that said it was deadlocked and unable to make progress on the charges against six of the men. The judge read out the note in court and declared a mistrial.
The only conclusion I can draw from this entire matter is that the FBI’s counter-terrorism efforts are largely aspirational rather than operational. The key problem, as I’ve suggested from time to time here, is one of risks and rewards. After the 9/11 attacks the bureaucratic incentives at the the FBI aligned in favor of counter-terrorism efforts so counter-terrorism investigations and arrests we received. But the degree of difficulty, i.e. the risks, mean that the FBI’s activities are far more likely to rake in freelancers looking for financing than they are to stop terrorists with knowledge, planning, financing, and motivation.
Others good posts on this subject:
The Justice Department made a collective fool of itself because Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez pulled out all of the public-relations stops and equated these nimrods with the foulest of the Al Qaeda foul. That was just plain silly. No matter, the government plans to retry the six mistrial defendants.
Maybe the FBI should be paid on a contingency fee basis.
It’s not entirely clear what the alternatives are. A military solution doesn’t seem to be the answer, either. But the tactics that have been developed over the decades to combat organized crime — with only modest success — almost surely won’t get the job done against the likes of al Qaeda.
Another point I’ve made before: bureaucracies aren’t built to deal with network adversaries.