Jose Pimentel faces state terrorism charges for allegedly building a pipe bomb that he planned to explode. Informants carried out a sting operation that eventually led to his arrest on November 18, 2011. Now, according to the New York Times, documents turned over to his lawyers show the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) played a larger role in the operation than was previously known.
FBI agent Greg Ehrie “sought a search warrant for Mr. Pimentel’s email accounts.” Though the operation was reportedly carried out by the New York Police Department’s Intelligence Division between 2009 and 2011—with the help of “two confidential informers and one undercover officer,” the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force also had someone interview Pimentel.
Pimentel, who is twenty-eight years old, moved from the Dominican Republic to the United States. He had apparently seen witches before moving to the US but, after moving, began to see “spirits.” This ended when he converted to Islam in 2004 at a Manhattan mosque. He lived on $2/day allowance from his mother, which was not enough for carfare to the mosque where he wanted to pray. And Pimentel had a blog with a link to material that came from Inspire, the online magazine of al Qaeda.
Hours of recordings from the FBI feature Pimentel conversing with a “confidential informer.” In a September 7 conversation, the “confidential informer” says, “I’m going to build an atomic bomb…Like Einstein,” which is insane. Pimentel reacts, “We don’t really have to do anything that crazy.” And then, he suggests building “little bombs” to “take out little areas.” That would still hurt the government, he added.
Pimentel apparently urged the “confidential informer” to build the bomb because he lived with his parents and the “confidential informer” did not. The “confidential informer” lived with his wife. Pimentel decided, “As far as making it, it’s you do it in your house or let me do it with you in your house. You feel me?”
There are numerous reasons to consider this case bogus. Once again, the individual who is the target is a mentally unstable person, who converted to Islam. As the Times report notes, his neighbors found him to be a “somewhat lethargic figure. He would often sit on a bench for hours with a “blank look” on his face.
Talking Points Memo confirmed Pimentel smoked marijuana with the NYPD informant. Pimentel also tried to circumcise himself. Prior to the sting operation, he had a felony conviction for purchasing a computer with stolen credit card information.
For the New York Review of Books, Michael Greenberg looked at various cases like Pimentel’s:
…Intel twice approached the FBI to become involved in the case—partnership with the FBI and, by extension, the US Attorney’s office helps ensure that a case will go to federal court, a crucial measure of its importance. Both times the FBI refused, concluding that Pimental was “not a serious terror threat” and that, according to an FBI official who works with the NYPD and asked to remain unnamed, he lacked “the predisposition or the ability to do anything on his own.”3 The New York Timesreported that federal investigators “were concerned that the case raised some entrapment questions.” Some agents “wondered whether Mr. Pimentel had even the small amount of money or technical know-how necessary to produce a pipe bomb on his own, had he not received help from the informer.”4 The case is currently in Manhattan Criminal Court—a highly unusual place for a terrorist case to end up. Alleged crimes involving attacks meant to harm the US economy or military are almost always handled in federal, not local, courts…
The case of Pimentel bears a similarity to another sting operation that took place in Chicago ahead of the NATO summit in May. The operation led to the arrest of five individuals (one of whom has pled guilty and will be serving four months in a prison boot camp for falsely suggesting he had a bomb in a Harry Potter book). Neither of the cases charging terrorism are being brought in federal court, despite the fact the Federal Bureau of Investigation was likely involved to some degree.
Three particular individuals—Brian Church, Jared Chase and Brent Betterly, were charged with plotting to “destroy police cars and attack four Chicago Police district stations with destructive devices, in an effort to undermine the police response to the conspirators’ other planned actions for the NATO Summit.” Authorities, like Illinois state’s attorney Anita Alvarez, cast the three as “members of the ‘Black Bloc’ group” and appeared to point to a home beer-making kit as a device that was used to make Molotov cocktails. The attorneys for the three men had not seen evidence that this kit was ever used in this way.
There were informers involved named “Mo” and “Gloves.” Michael Deutsch, lawyer for Church, suggested the informers met up with Betterly, Chase, and Church at a May Day demonstration in Chicago. He contended these informers then went about trying to convince the three men to engage in a terror plot against the NATO summit. When they failed, the informers planted materials for the authorities to find when they raided the apartment, making this case “worse than entrapment.” it abandoned the case leaving the state to decide to pursue state terrorism charges under a statute that has yet to be tested in court.
Either of these state terrorism cases in Illinois or New York could fall apart, but it is likely that the state’s attorney, especially in the case of Pimentel, would be able to at least resolve it with a plea deal. Though this might mean he was not in jail for a long period, he would at least be convicted of one of the terrorism charges, even though he never blew up any bomb.
What Pimentel’s case points to is the transformation of the NYPD into an espionage agency that carries out clandestine operations under the guise of fighting terrorism. The Associated Press has reported extensively on documents showing the pervasive and intrusive surveillance being carried out by the NYPD to map out Muslim communities. Surveillance powers expanded since the September 11th attacks give the NYPD the capacity to arbitrarily select any individuals they want for sting operations, especially those that are vulnerable and may have shown some interest in propaganda written by Muslim extremists. However, there is proof that targeting people who never had the mental wherewithal (let alone the intent) to launch a terrorist attack helps keep the country safer and, in fact, all it does is transform law enforcement agencies into pre-crime divisions that become more willing to violate the rights or civil liberties of Americans.