the blog of DC Drinking Liberally

July 9, 2005

Your FBI at Work


This American Life devotes its entire hour this weekend (the archived audio won’t be available till next week) to the bizarre case of Hemant Lakhani, a 70-year-old Indian small-time salesman and braggart who the FBI decided was a major arms trafficker worth hundreds of millions of dollars — thanks to the work of an unreliable informant. The FBI informant, pretending to represent a terrorist organization, approached Lakhani and asked him to procure weapons. Lakhani assured him he could get whatever he wanted — armored personnel carriers, submarines, plutonium — but they settled on acquiring a single shoulder-launched antiaircraft missile to start with.

After more than a year and a half of Lakhani’s being unable to get anything — and accidentally alerting Russian authorities during his bumbling attempts — the FBI became impatient and eventually cooperated with the Russians to supply Lakhani with a fake missile, then arrested him when he delivered it. The August 2003 arrest was trumpeted as a great victory in the war on terrorism by US Attorney Christopher Christie, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and of course the president:

“We are doing everything possible to protect the homeland,” said Mr. Bush. “And the fact we are able to sting this guy is a pretty good example of what we are doing in order to protect the American people.”

I have little sympathy for Lakhani, who did after all think that he was supplying a missile that would be used to blow up a civilian airliner, but I really hope that Bush is wrong and that this farce was not “a pretty good example” of what’s being done to protect us.

Note what happened. This was not a case where a fake terrorist approached real arms smugglers and made it possible to round up a gang of people who might supply weapons to real terrorists. Nor was it a fake arms smuggler approaching real terrorists and thus allowing the arrest of a dangerous terrorist cell. This was the resources of the American and Russian governments being used to have a fake terrorist get a fake missile from fake arms smugglers, through a real middleman recruited more or less at random — someone who had no previous connections with terrorists. No real terrorists or real weapons were involved, and no crime would have taken place if the FBI hadn’t made one happen through the use of untold amounts of money and agent time.

I realize that mistakes happen, but I hope that the other people among the few dozen “terrorists” actually convicted in law enforcement’s part of the war on terrorism are a bit more of a threat to the United States than this schmuck.

Update (7 Jul 2006): Here’s the link to the archive.

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