FBI arrest
FBI Agents taking suspect into custody. Photo credit: FBI

The new Peter B. Collins podcast looks at the similarities involving surveillance and paid FBI informants in five San Francisco Bay Area “domestic terrorism” cases.

Are undercover FBI agents responsible for pushing some of the terrorism suspects it arrests toward acts of violence?

That is the question Peter B. Collins tackles in his brand new WhoWhatWhy podcast. In this premiere episode he talks with investigative journalist Darwin BondGraham of the East Bay Express in Oakland, CA, about his recent report “Terror or Entrapment?”

BondGraham looked into five recent cases of “domestic terrorism” in the San Francisco Bay Area that seem to follow a predictable script, involving social media surveillance, paid FBI informants and the “pre-crime” strategy used by the Bureau.

Collins says these five cases are among hundreds that represent a national trend. The investigations often seem to be tainted by undercover agents posing as terrorists, and by “recruitment” methods that verge on entrapment.

All of these cases appear driven by a deep-seated Islamophobia, and arguably siphon off FBI resources that might better be used for more worthwhile counterterrorism investigations.

At a time when the FBI is under the microscope, it’s a must-listen.

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Full Text Transcript:

As a service to our readers, we provide transcripts with our podcasts. We try to ensure that these transcripts do not include errors. However, due to time constraints, we are not always able to proofread them as closely as we would like. Should you spot any errors, we’d be grateful if you would notify us.

Peter B. Collins: Thanks for clicking on this WhoWhatWhy podcast. I’m Peter B. Collins, veteran radio host and interviewer based in San Francisco and I’m pleased to join the WhoWhatWhy team. I’ve long respected the independent investigative journalism of Russ Baker and the crew here at WhoWhatWhy.
Today we look at concerns raised by five recent domestic terrorism investigations by the FBI in the San Francisco Bay Area. Today on the WhoWhatWhy podcast I’m joined by Darwin BondGraham. He’s an investigative reporter for the East Bay Express, right here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Darwin, thanks for being with us today.
Darwin BondGraham: Yeah. Thanks for having me on.
Peter B. Collins: You recently published a piece called, Terror or Entrapment? And you recap five recent cases of alleged domestic terrorism that were busted up by the FBI in our region alone. What sparked your interest in these cases and what do you see as the big picture issues related to these investigations?
Darwin BondGraham: I’ve been watching the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the local media sort of unveil these terrorism cases in the Bay Area since about 2012, 2013. I’ve curiously observed that they seem to follow something of a script where there’s a big announcement about some plot that’s foiled. You know the presumption is some evil person has been caught, lives have been saved … And to be clear, I definitely think that happens sometimes.
Peter B. Collins: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Darwin BondGraham: The FBI and local police do catch people before they carry out some sort of dangerous act but in these cases in the Bay Area a lot of people from the very beginning were raising questions about, “Was this really the threat that it’s made out to be? Are these guys really dangerous?” Quote unquote terrorists. Or, iIs there something else going on here? So that’s what got my interest in it so I pulled the … Basically, I waited for several of the cases to be fully adjudicated in federal court. Those ones didn’t go to trial. Then there’s two others that are currently being tried in federal court but I waited a couple years to do anything because the cases are kind of secretive. I was able to get a large number of the court records, read through them, and sort of piece together from that a more in-depth story and try to answer the question of, “Are we really being saved from this grave terror threat or is there something else going on here?”
Peter B. Collins: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And Darwin, first of all, I appreciate that you care about these issues and took the time and effort to carefully write this story. And there’s quite a bit of information in here. I will link to it in the show file for the podcast so people can see your original reporting. But one of the other handful of reporters who covers this beat is Trevor Aaronson who is now at The Intercept. And when I most recently spoke to him he said that by his count there had been about 800 domestic terrorism investigations and prosecutions since 9/11 and he believes that you can count on your two hands the number of cases that are free of any questionable taint of a paid FBI informant, of a provocateur who provided the idea and the means to pull off the alleged crime that was central to a case. And so your skepticism I think is very well placed and it appears that most Americans don’t recognize that there’s a whole lot of theater in many of these FBI stings and the busts that inevitably follow.
Darwin BondGraham: Yeah, I mean you could call it theater. I wouldn’t use that term personally and I’m familiar with Trevor Aaronson’s work and I think he’s done at the national level a really thorough analysis of a lot of these cases. And yeah if you drill down the particular cases you will see that typically they involve an individual who is identified often by a confidential source or random tip to the FBI as having expressed some sort of idea about, “Oh, I want to go overseas and join this group and fight with them,” or, “I want to use a bomb and commit some kind of act of violence,” or, “I want to obtain firearms,” or, “I have firearms.” Once they make that statement that indicates some sort of plan toward violence, regardless of how credible it is, the FBI’s position is, “Oh well we have to follow this and see where it leads.” And so then, yeah, you see the use of confidential informants, paid informants … In one of the cases I looked at, the FBI was paying the individual’s employer who was a plumbing contractor.
Peter B. Collins Right.
Darwin BondGraham: So just routinely informed to the FBI about this individual’s statements on the work site. So yeah, paid informants is a big thing. And then …  I mean if the FBI pulled the trigger on a case and decides they’re going to take it all the way, then you get to a point where you have multiple undercover agents posing as terrorists, helping an individual devise a plan and then literally providing most of the materials. I can’t … Obviously I can’t speak as Aaronson has done. I can’t speak to the total number of cases nationally and patterns I’ve seen in them. But in the Bay Area it’s definitely the case that the limited number of terrorism prosecutions in the last ten years or so, these were not individuals who had some preexisting link or connection to an overseas foreign terrorist organization. They weren’t sophisticated criminals, they didn’t already exist in some kind of terror cell like we saw with 9/11.
Peter B. Collins: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Darwin BondGraham: These were random guys most of them were … Pretty much of all of them were mentally ill or extremely depressed. They made some off-hand statements about wanting to do violence and then that’s what set them on that track. So yeah there’s that … That is definitely the pattern you see in these investigations and prosecutions.
Peter B. Collins: Now you didn’t like my term theater. So let me ask you what term you prefer because I was I think being a little too polite there. I regard these as frame-ups where they find a schlub. As you described many of these people have psychological issues and they set them up and knock them over. So what characterization is something you’re comfortable with, Darwin?
Darwin BondGraham: Well you can say … I mean, I think yeah, there are definitely some cases that it’s more understandable to say straight up: this person appears to have been entrapped by the FBI and by local law enforcement. There’s no way they could have carried this thing out. The number of confidential informants or agents who are getting close to them and maybe helping push them toward that point is overwhelming, but in some of these cases the individuals do in fact express repeatedly before any contact with the FBI to their family members, friends, and acquaintances, a will to carry out some kind of act of terrorism, of violence, or a desire to go overseas and fight in some … In a place like Syria with an organization that the State Department has designated as a terrorist group. So I think with the … The reason I wouldn’t use the term theater is because there’s nothing play acting about it on the FBI’s part. If you give the FBI …
If you approach it … Try to approach it from their perspective, they’re thinking, “Okay, the American public wants us to stop terror attacks before they start, how do we do that?” Well, if you’re very selective in the cases you go after, you might miss the random person here and there who commits an act of violence. I think they’re approaching it from: let’s just go after virtually everyone we possibly can who makes any kind of statements or we think for any reason might carry out an attack.
Peter B. Collins: But Darwin, let me challenge that a little bit and I’m challenging the FBI, not your relay of their point of view. But number one, they’re diverting a lot of resources into people who are not mentally stable, who are very unlikely to actually act out on the speech that they utter or the thoughts that they process and maybe even express on Facebook, and they are missing the real dastardly villains who are out there, because they are tying up their undercover agents and their pipeline of 15,000 paid informants to pursue people who are not a risk to the public.
Darwin BondGraham: Yeah. No and I think that is exactly the case that especially the Arab and Muslim community in the United States is trying to make and I think there’s a ton of evidence supporting their case against FBI that this is a waste of resources. That it’s guided in part by… the society at large is Islamophobic and there’s an accusation that the FBI is still being guided by these sort of Islamophobic beliefs … Not an explicit bias necessarily at the institutional level but that they’re going after these organizations with an amount of resources that’s totally disproportionate to the actual threat that exists. And then the question is, are they pursuing these same types of tactics with other people guided by different ideologies who might commit an act of political violence against the American public.
For example how many times do you see in the news the FBI and the Department of Justice announcing that they’ve caught a white supremacist who was amassing weapons and had plans and appeared to be moving towards some plan to carry out an attack in the United States. You don’t see that nearly as much as you see the terrorism prosecutions of Arab and Muslim individuals who they accuse of the same things. The question is are they dedicating the same kinds of resources- informants, undercover agents, wire taps, and so forth- to the threat of white supremacist violence in the United States as they are to Arab and Muslim populations? Just judging by the number of cases they bring in federal court, it doesn’t appear that they are.
Peter B. Collins: Indeed. So let’s talk about the most recent case, which broke just before Christmas here in San Francisco. And the regional lead newspaper The Chronicle correctly reported in their opening sentence that the FBI had infiltrated and worked with this guy. It reads, “A 26-year-old tow truck driver from Modesto was accused of planning an Islamic-State- inspired terror attack over the holidays on San Francisco’s Pier 39,” … That’s a tourist attraction … “Only to find out that his would be partners were undercover FBI agents.” Now I applaud The Chronicle writers and editors for putting that right up front because often it’s buried ten paragraphs down or on the jump to an inside page of the paper. But what we learn is that this is a veteran named Everitt Jameson, 26 years old, was discharged from the marines, converted to Islam, had a messy divorce, lost custody of his children. And it appears that an informant was paid $2600 to snitch on posts that Jameson had made on Facebook that appear to be sympathetic to the Islamic State.
So the other thing that is reported is that the snitch who monitored Facebook and tipped the FBI was a serial informant, somebody who apparently is out there trolling Facebook everyday looking for questionable posts to turn over to the FBI. And that triggers something for me because I know many people who post on Facebook without filtering or considering that there could be Big Brothers who are watching their posts. So to what extent do you see a pattern where the joint terrorism task forces have the ability to monitor Facebook activity and that is then fed into the FBI sting operations and to the local police who support the JTTF?
Darwin BondGraham: Yeah, that’s absolutely something they do. I interviewed two FBI agents for the story I wrote and they explained yeah our agents and our analysts monitor social media all the time and also receive tips and a large number of tips are observations from both random individuals but also as you say people who have made a practice of informing law enforcement about these statements. So I think everyone who uses Facebook or Twitter or similar social media knows that people often make very hyperbolic statements, exaggerated statements. People often talk about things over social media as though it’s a private setting and they say things that they would probably never really intend to carry out. There’s a lot of bragging on social media. And people don’t realize the extent to which it’s monitored.
And the thing here is a lot of people also don’t crank up their privacy settings and even if they do they’re friends with many individuals who can share their content through other networks. So people have this sense of social media being a kind of private sphere where they can talk about things amongst their friends only. Well that’s not the case at all. Pretty much everything that’s written or said on social media, regardless of the privacy settings, a lot of it gets out into the public domain so law enforcement doesn’t even need a search warrant to obtain the stuff. And in terms of patterns in these terrorism prosecutions, over the last ten years social media has become an extremely important source of evidence to both initiate assessments and investigations and then also to bring to bear in court against people when they’re prosecuted for material support of terrorist organizations or some sort of plan or something. Social media is a huge asset for law enforcement in all of these cases.
Peter B. Collins: Now you just used the word assessment and that occurs in many of these cases. It’s an internal process by the FBI and it’s law enforcement partners. It does not have any transparency, there are no standards for it. I consider it purely arbitrary and mostly conducted in secret. And if we were to just conduct our own assessment of Jameson here. Let me read two quotes that were published from his reported Facebook posts. One is, “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine.” Now after Trump’s controversial announcement, I could have posted that. I don’t agree with the administration’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. And that’s where I believe First Amendment Rights come into play. And those are not necessarily taken into account in a non-adversarial proceeding like an assessment. Here’s another post that is borderline. He says, “I would rather die standing than live kneeling. If my words threaten those in power so be it. If my pictures alarm the people, that is good. Your teeth come down, my sword goes up. I am not afraid.” Now this is braggadocio. It’s …
Darwin BondGraham: Braggadocio?  Can I intersect?
Peter B. Collins: Sure.
Darwin BondGraham: That sounds like something one of the Founding Fathers could have written.
Peter B. Collins: Yeah.
Darwin BondGraham: That sounds like something James Madison or George Washington would have written in his diary or something.
Peter B. Collins: Yeah good point.
Darwin BondGraham: Yeah. If it doesn’t literally say: I want to assist this organization that has been designated by the State Department as a terrorist group, then what the FBI will say is: well, we don’t move after those people. Or if it doesn’t literally say ‘I want to commit a specific act of violence in the United States to advance this political ideology’, the FBI would say: ‘well we won’t investigate that person’. But as you pointed out an assessment doesn’t require the level of probable cause or reasonable suspicion that’s necessary for what we understand to be a law enforcement investigation. So actually if an individual appears to be Muslim and they say something like what Everitt Jameson was saying on social media, the FBI is perfectly able to carry out an assessment of that and see if there’s more to it and then they can open a full investigation. But that’s sort of the problem with assessments because yeah the FBI can conduct them because they say they’re a national security organization conducting intelligence work.
That’s not just a law enforcement function and that is highly problematic in terms of the political rights of Arabs and Muslims in the United States because if you try to use this same analysis on again let’s take the example of a neo-Nazi organization in the United States. There is no official government list of quote unquote domestic terrorist organizations. There’s no federal law that allows the United States government to categorize domestic terrorist organizations and list them as there is for foreign terrorist organizations. So if somebody is a known neo-Nazi and they say things about wanting to support an organization, some sort of white supremacist organization that’s known for committing violence. The FBI by its own rules can’t really conduct an assessment into that person. I mean I guess they could, but they typically won’t and they can’t open an investigation. They would say it’s protected First Amendment activities. This is sort of a … This is a major issue when it comes to how federal law defines terrorism right? Of course there is such a thing as domestic terrorism but the FBI is reticent to list and categorize domestic terrorist organizations.
Peter B. Collins: And so, Darwin, as we look at the Jameson case one of the questions that comes up is that he was initially charged in Sacramento. He lives in Modesto and then it appears the case was moved to Fresno. Do you have any idea of what the prosecutions tactics are and is the venue significant in your opinion?
Darwin BondGraham: Well, in this case it’s, although the attack he is accused of planning is in San Francisco, the reason he’s charged in the Fresno court is the Eastern US district court … Federal court … I’m not sure how they exactly move around cases in their different court houses. I don’t think there’s anything all that unusual with it.
Peter B. Collins: Well, there’s also a federal bench in Modesto. There’s a single judge in Modesto and this was engineered by the Gallo brothers back in the 1980s.
Darwin BondGraham: Alright. Interesting. Interesting.
Peter B. Collins: So I don’t have the answer to the question. It’s just a head scratcher.
But the initial reports show the case was based in Sacramento. That’s not so far from Modesto. And then suddenly the dateline is from Fresno and I couldn’t figure that out.
Darwin BondGraham: I mean knowing how the federal courts work it’s just … It’s probably more a matter of the different judge’s schedules, to be honest, and which judge has enough free time in their schedule to handle a case like this which, depending on whether or not he can afford a lawyer or depending on how vigorously he’s defended by a federal public defender, this case could settle very quickly with him just trying to admit guilt to the charges to get a lower sentence or he could decide to fight it and it could go on for years. In terms of where the case ends up and what judge it’s before, it’s probably just the scheduling matter but I’m really not that familiar with the eastern districts.
Peter B. Collins: Your point could be a very likely explanation. So let me ask you to thumbnail the other four cases that you include in your wrap-up piece here. Let’s start with the 22-year-old Berkeley high school graduate Amer Al-Haggagi. And this is a case that broke last summer in 2017. Give us a quick summary if you would, Darwin.
Darwin BondGraham: Yeah. He was identified on social media, again that pattern popped up, as making statements about wanting to commit acts of violence in the Bay Area. But here in this case, the specific statements he made about the violent acts that he wanted to carry out, this sort of … It’s not really … It’s hard to see it as really credible because he’s saying “I want to light the hills on fire and blow up night clubs in San Francisco and lace cocaine with strychnine and distribute it into the underground drug economy to poison people and I want to plant back pack bombs all over UC Berkeley’s campus” and you sort of … How’s one guy going to do all of this? What on earth is he …
And so then he’s contacted by an undercover FBI agent who poses as a member of a terrorist organization and they actually meet up and drive around the East Bay at one point but then later, and this is sort of buried in the case file that emerges a little bit after the case has a couple of hearings in court, turns out that the FBI at one point he just cut off all contact with the undercover agent who was posing as a terrorist. And that agent then tried to just meet up with him on the street like he literally tracked him down and said hello to him on the street and Al-Haggagi according to court records literally just turned away and walked off. So he kind of cut off contact with the FBI at some point and it was shortly after that that they decided to arrest him and move forward with the terrorism prosecution. But in this case he’s accused of material support for a terrorist organization so that they’re saying that he had sort of pledged allegiance to a foreign terrorist group and then planned to carry out attacks in the Bay Area.
Peter B. Collins: And the case is curious because there was a gag order. It was not unsealed for what, seven months after he was arrested?
This has made it difficult and the media hasn’t had much to report on.
Darwin BondGraham: Right, and that actually was conveyed. They arrested him initially on identity theft charges because he was using … Allegedly he was using a stolen and manufactured credit card with someone else’s ID to obtain materials. It turns out those material were actually clothing that he was ordering from a boutique clothing store online. It wasn’t anything seemingly nefarious. And yeah, so he was in custody for a long time. Just like in secret custody of the federal government and then seven months later they unsealed the federal indictment against him on … Regarding the terrorism charges.
Peter B. Collins: You described Matthew LaNasa as having suffered from serious mental illness since the fourth grade and you describe how the FBI put him under surveillance going back to 2010 after he made statements online about engaging in violent jihad and this is reminiscent of a case I’ve covered from Tucson where a 14-year-old boy with demonstrated mental defects was monitored by the FBI, paid informants and agents were calling his house. The mom would hang up on them. They then furnished the kid with a cell phone and when he turned 18 they popped him and he’s got a low IQ, suffers from other issues, and these are the kinds of egregious cases where you just say why would they waste the resources on these kinds of individuals. And you even have agents who write that this guy is not a threat and that he can barely tie his shoes. I made that part up but …
Darwin BondGraham: No no, but you’re right actually. The informant … One of the informants in the case, his employer, he’s working for this plumbing contractor. The plumber who he’s working for, his direct supervisor, tells the FBI he pretty much can’t hold a shovel sometimes, he’s shaking and his own parents explained to the court that he lacks some really functional motor skills. He one time tried to change a bicycle tire and he just couldn’t do it. And so yeah he has a pretty well documented history of some mental health issues. By the time a psychiatrist carried out an analysis of him when he was already in custody and facing these charges, that psychiatrist wrote that he found Matthew to be highly susceptible to suggestion and manipulation. Particularly if he thought that an individual was helping him.
This was kind of a textbook example of someone who had really significant mental health issues who was identified by the FBI as a threat. And so they initiated this undercover sting operation, which resulted ultimately in the FBI building a car bomb, providing all the materials, the storage locker and other stuff. They literally handed him the detonator to the car bomb. So he thought he was blowing up a bank but instead when he pushed the button a bunch of agents just came out of nowhere and arrested him.
Peter B. Collins: Mm-hmm. And like many of these cases he took a plea bargain and so the actions of the government are never fully exposed. They are never tested in front of a jury to determine if entrapment was in fact the case. And so many of these investigations become a brief media story where the FBI has once again rescued us from dastardly terrorists and then these people just go away.
Darwin BondGraham: Right. Yeah no I mean that’s one of the other reasons I wrote this particular piece is that if these cases are unveiled and the only information at the very outset is usually the indictment and the press release from the DOJ or the FBI about what the person is accused of and the media then run with that. Sometimes they will be able to contact family members of the accused person but typically what they get is a statement from an uncle or a parent who is like, “Wow, that’s so out of character. I’d never thought that. That’s not the person we know.” It’s virtually always the same thing every time. And then these cases go dark. The accused person is usually put in an administrative isolation cell or something commonly known as solitary confinement although the sheriffs departments don’t like to call it solitary anymore. They call it administrative segregation.
They’re kept alone for months and years on end while they either try to fight their case or decide on a plea bargain but yeah typically unless they fight the case further information about the investigative methods that the FBI uses does not come forward. And to fight one of these cases is extremely difficult, it costs many tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees. The federal public defenders are quite competent. They’ve defended individuals in some of these cases quite effectively but really the only way to really fight it is to hire private attorneys. And even then it’s terribly difficult to get information because under federal law the government can use things like FISA warrants to obtain evidence in a case and then they don’t have to turn over some of those materials to the defense because it’s deemed an issue of national security. You know we can’t tell you …
Peter B. Collins: But Darwin, you know this is all real fresh now because they just renewed Section 702 of the FISA law without any amendments and it’s pretty clear that the FISA court is supposed to be used when at least one of the parties is outside the United States.
Darwin BondGraham: Right.
Peter B. Collins: And these cases that you recapped are all confined to the Bay Area. There’s no indication that any of them had contact with foreigners that would expose them to the jurisdiction of the FISA court. Am I right?
Darwin BondGraham: Well, some of them did. I mean this is the thing about… the average Californian knows people who live overseas and so in one of these cases, a young man Islam Natsheh.
Peter B. Collins: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Darwin BondGraham: He was also accused attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization. The FBI said he was going to fly overseas and join a terrorist group and fight with them against US allies. He allegedly had been in contact with a Spanish woman for a time it’s mentioned in the court documents. It’s not clear if the US government used FISA to spy on this woman to obtain his conversations with her. Another individual, Adam Shafi, he’s actually fighting his case in federal court right now. He’s also accused of attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization by wanting to fly to Turkey and cross into Syria to fight with the Al-Nusra front, which is a designated terrorist organization per the State Department. In his case the government definitely obtained FISA warrants to get his phone conversations, and text messages, and emails and also those of a close friend of his.
And yeah under the statute it’s not supposed to be used in domestic criminal investigations but in these cases it can be because these individuals are communicating with people overseas. Really the big issue here is their defense attorneys, they’re not allowed to see these warrant applications and the materials that went into them. All they’ll be able to see is… eventually at trial some of that evidence ends up being used in court against their client. And it’s extremely difficult to fight these cases.
Peter B. Collins: So Darwin, you also spend some time in your article helping people understand what I call the vertical integration of law enforcement since 9/11 and these are the entities that have been created by the FBI and by the Department of Homeland Security. They’re nominally to coordinate the spread of intelligence and to support investigations into allegations of domestic terrorism or support for foreign terrorist organizations. And in your view, has there been any serious mission creep where the apparatus that we were told was to protect us from Al-Qaeda following 9/11 has actually been used for other investigations and prosecutions completely unrelated to any form of terrorism?
Darwin BondGraham: Well, there was that report recently about the FBI carried out an assessment of what they termed black identity extremists. They produced a whole report about it talking about basically about African American activists in the US who they said some of those individuals or groups based on an ideology around black power were bent on carrying out some kind of act of violence against the civilian population or against the Government. The thing about that report is it’s pretty flimsy. There’s not actually a lot of evidence that there is such a thing as black identity extremist terrorist organizations. The report itself didn’t have a lot of evidence. It had mainly referred to some isolated incidents of individuals carrying out violence, not a sophisticated network of groups propelled by an ideology.
But that product was definitely a result of the Joint Terrorism Task Force’s work in different cities. There’s probably … When I spoke to the FBI a couple months back now they said … I asked them about that report and they were really hesitant to comment but they did provide a written statement. They also said … They definitely said yeah our domestic terrorism organizations look into all kinds of groups including neo-Nazi and skinheads and animal rights groups and so forth. So they say that they’re looking across the entire political spectrum of anyone who might carry out an act of violence based upon an ideology.
Peter B. Colllins: Did their statement include first amendment protestors of pipelines for example because we know that the JTTF and homeland security
were collecting data on people they thought were likely to go to Standing Rock last winter.
Darwin BondGraham: Right yeah, that’s definitely the case. The agents I spoke to didn’t get into that but yeah, we don’t have a ton of information about what the FBI is doing right this very moment. Their policies, their practices, their internal culture. We know some about it but we don’t know a lot and these things are very difficult to access because again they’re a law enforcement agency involved in national security so they keep a lot of stuff secret. But based on history we know quite well that the FBI is always embedding itself in virtually every social movement in the United States on the left and right but especially on the left. Spying on people. We definitely know from the history of COINTELPRO and what the FBI did around the American Indian Movement, the Black Power Movement, the Anti-War Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, that they’re paying very close attention.
Historically speaking the FBI was not waiting around for anyone to express a willingness to carry out a criminal act of violence. They were very much trying to sabotage some of these social movements that were engaged in civil disobedience and first amendment protected activities. That’s just the factual record in terms of the history of the FBI.
Peter B. Collins: Indeed. Darwin you also note in your article that the city and county of San Francisco ended its agreement for cooperation with the Joint Terrorism Task Force last year. And that many communities, Oakland appears to be considering pulling out, but there are many who do continue to cooperate with the FBI in the JTTFs. You didn’t speculate on this but I’m about to and I’d like your comment. Do you think that the FBI said: “Well let’s pop a case and make San Francisco the venue to show them that they should be part of the JTTF?”
Darwin BondGraham: Yeah, allow me to speculate. I don’t think that the FBI carried out that investigation and then made its arrests and announced its case in response to San Francisco withdrawing from the JTTF. I don’t think that the career agents in the FBI are so politically inclined. I think that they genuinely believe in the work they’re doing. Now, the San Francisco Police Officers Association, the police union in San Francisco, is incredibly politically inclined and after that case was announced they put a ton of pressure on the acting mayor London Breed and other politicians in the city. They’ve been purchasing advertisements …
Peter B. Collins: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. Martin Halloran is the leader, and he does these radio and tv commercials where he pushes the talking points of the police union. Many of them, I think, do overlap with the talking points of the FBI.
Darwin BondGraham: Yeah. I mean the local police union there, they want to be part of the JTTF and they’re politically pushing back very hard against the police commission’s decision not to renew the memorandum of understanding which created that link. But the FBI itself, I know that they very much want access to local police departments because the FBI is a very big institution. They have a lot of agents but they don’t have that deep of a reach. There are literally tens of thousands of police departments in America. The number of police officers is just enormous and they have the knowledge and reach into local communities that the FBI doesn’t have; and this is something that federal law enforcement agencies have always been interested in, is creating these relationships with local law enforcement. That’s their eyes and ears on the ground in actual cities. ICE does the same thing, this is why ICE wants to create these investigative taskforces with local police departments. They want to know … They basically want to get into the local police department to have the local officers do work for them and work with them on their cases.
Peter B. Collins: Well Darwin, I want to thank you for joining us today. As we wrap up, is there anything you’d like to add that I haven’t asked you about?
Darwin BondGraham: Yeah, actually so as I said two of the cases that I’ve profiled Amer Al-Haggagi and Adam Shafi, those two guys are fighting their charges. They pleaded not guilty and they’re going to take their cases pretty far through the court system and so as I said one of the only ways we actually know about … One of the only means of seeing how the FBI investigates these cases is when a defendant fights them in court. And so I’m really curious about these two cases. I’m going to follow them. Hopefully they go to trial because that will bring out a lot more information. I’m going to follow them and probably do some follow up reporting but it’s going to be 6 months to a year more down the road. But I’m looking forward to it just seeing … Holding the FBI accountable for the things they do that are questionable but also things that they might be doing that are productive.
Peter B. Collins: Darwin BondGraham from the East Bay Express, thanks for joining us today on the WhoWhatWhy Podcast.
Darwin BondGraham: Yeah, thanks for having me.
Peter B. Collins: My thanks to investigative journalist Darwin Graham from the East Bay Express for joining me today, and my thanks to you for listening.

Feel free to share this podcast far and wide, and we’d love it if you could support our work with a donation at I’m Peter B. Collins.

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from background (JohnsonGoh / Pixabay) and Peter B. Collins (@pbcsf / Twitter).


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