Multiple California men stand accused federal crimes related to alleged terrorist activity. The men are being accused by federal prosecutors of conspiring to join alongside al Qaeda and Taliban militants in Afghanistan for the purposes of training. Three of the men were indicted together on charges of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists. A fourth man has also been charged with federal crimes related to terrorism, but was charged separately.
The three California men recently indicted were arrested in November just before boarding an airplane to Mexico. According to the FBI, the men intended to fly from Mexico to Turkey and then make their way to Afghanistan. Each of the three men arrested are either U.S. citizens or permanent residents. The fourth man is a former U.S. Air Force service member. All of the men pled not guilty to the federal charges in a federal court in Riverside, CA.
The allegations against the men stem from an investigation involving an unidentified paid informant. The FBI apparently paid the informant a quarter of a million dollars and granted immigration benefits to the man for the information. The informant allegedly worked for the federal government for nearly four and half years. The lawyer working on behalf of the three men has questioned the quality of the information acquired by the paid informant.
Whenever the government builds a case based on information obtain through an informant who is not law enforcement there are immediate credibility issues. As the lawyer for the California men pointed out, when an undercover cop is working on a case there is a certain level of trust. When the informant, who is not law enforcement, is receiving certain benefits for providing the information, then you have some very serious trust issues.
Law enforcement is notorious for using paid informants to gather information, particularly in federal terrorism cases. While the method may occasionally be successful, in many cases the informant may say whatever the government wants to hear in order to win favor with the government. Providing information can result in shortened sentences or protection and these quid pro guo exchanges can immediately taint the information.
Source: Chicago Tribune, "California men plead not guilty in plot to join al Qaeda," Dana Feldman, Dec. 5, 2012