Friday 29 January 2010

Should police informants also act as agent provocateurs?

An Egyptian-Canadian Muslim, Shaher Elsohemy was paid $4.1 million dollars by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for his role in infiltrating a terrorist plot in the 2006 Toronto terrorism case, though some have claimed he acted as an agent provocateur. He was given legal immunity to ‘knowingly facilitate a terrorist activity’ by helping the youths acquire credit cards and purchase explosives, namely ammonium nitrate fertilizer which is the same explosive material used in the Oklahoma bombing and a place to store the so-called explosives.

Was his motive one in which he wanted to protect Canadians from home-grown terrorists? He told the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that he was willing to infiltrate the group of youths they were monitoring, but he wanted $15 million, and that his help in ‘stopping the terrorist act, would be worthy of that amount’. They turned him down with respect to that amount of money. He returned with an itemized list of his "needs", which allocated $500,000 for his loss of revenue as a result of taking the job, $400,000 to buy his parents a new house, $40,000 to pay off specific debts, and $125,000 for each of his brothers, totalling $4.5 million in the end.

I can appreciate the fact that if he was going to infiltrate the terrorist group, he would need support money but the rest as far as I am concerned was mere greed. Worse yet, he threatened the police by saying that if he didn’t get what he wanted, if he infiltrated the group, he would be a hostile witness at the trials of the terrorists. As a hostile witness, he wouldn’t volunteer information while on the stand. The prosecutor would have to drag the information from him, piece by piece. At their final meeting, the police agreed they would provide more than $4.1 million for his participation, including $900,000 for a new house, $250,000 for his parents, and $40,000 to cover his wife's dental costs. Later, he had the unmitigated gall to defend his hefty compensation for the first time on January 15, 2010 by insisting that he was motivated by his moral and civic duties as a Canadian citizen and not by dollar bills. He said, “I was not in dire need of money.” He also said, “The money did not play any role in my motivation.” When he offered his services, he was broke without a job and owed $188,000 in debts. The deal he got with the police (and taxpayers) included cash, cars and homes for him, his wife, his daughter, his parents and his two brothers, all of whom abandoned their former lives in the name of national security and are now living under false identities. I am forced to ask, did they all have their own homes and cars before this agent of the RCMP made his offer to infiltrate the terrorist group? I can appreciate why a witness who helps solve crimes wants to have his family with him when he enters the witness protection program but I question the need to pay so much towards their entry into the program.

Shareef Abdelhaleem, 34, took the stand at his trial in January 2010 in which Elsohemy testified against him. He said that that the RCMP police informant played more of an active role than Elsohemy described in his own testimony. He said that Elsohemy asked him to rent a house in which to store bomb-making materials. Making that kind of request to a participant in a terrorist plot is acting in a role of a supervisor who is facilitating the group’s intentions to blow up buildings. In doing this, he was certainly acting as an agent provocateur.

I am not saying that his testimony wasn’t useful. He helped put an end to plans of a home-grown terrorist group who were planning to cause death and destruction in Canada. But the man who foiled that crime has some explaining to do, too. What exactly was his motivation? Is he, as many Canadians believe, a heroic figure who left everything behind in order to prevent a catastrophe? Or, as others insist, is he the quintessential rat, a smooth-talking, debt-prone entrepreneur. But the man who foiled that crime has some explaining to do, too. Elsohemy leaves us with some uncomfortable questions that have lingered since the moment he disappeared. What exactly was his motivation? Is he, as many Canadians believe, a heroic figure who left everything behind in order to prevent a catastrophe? Or, as others insist, is he the quintessential rat, a smooth-talking, debt-prone entrepreneur who jumped at the chance to sell out fellow Muslims? As I see it, he was a failed entrepreneur who jumped at the chance to sell out his friend and other Muslims in order to make things better for himself because when he made his offer to the police, things weren’t going to well financially for him at all.

Lets face it, most persons who sell out their friends and acquaintances who are participating in criminal activities do so either because of a deal they made with the police in which they won’t be charged for their previous crimes or because they are getting paid a large amount of money to do it. I don’t have much respect for either of these kinds of informers even though their services are vital in the fight against crime and terrorism. There are however, people who risk their lives acting as informants and don’t ask for anything in return. Unfortunately, Elsohemy isn’t one of them.

Shareef Abdelhaleem was working in conjunction with a police agent (Elsohemy) rather than with the terrorist plot's leader directly, to arrange a delivery of explosive chemicals. This bothers me. A police agent should not go out of his way to bring about anything that would further a terrorist’s or criminal gang’s enterprise. If the leader of the terrorist group had asked him to obtain the explosive, that is one thing but when the police offer to supply it (even if what is supplied is harmless) that is quite something else.

The RCMP provided instructions requesting Mr. Elsohemy to determine whether an address previously identified by members of the terrorist faction would be suitable for the delivery of bomb chemicals, including several tonnes of ammonium nitrate. Elsohemy was purportedly arranging this delivery through contacts of his own. Elsohemy played a key role in what, in spy parlance, is known as a ‘dangle op’ --- an operation to trap would-be terrorists by placing what they want within easy reach. In doing that, he furthers the plans of the terrorist group. He was originally asked by a CSIS officer to literally 'dangle' that he was educated as an agricultural engineer. Soon he became a trusted bomb-plot insider, a man whom conspirators asked to acquire ammonium-nitrate fertilizer and nitric acid, so they could build truck bombs destined to be exploded in downtown Toronto and elsewhere. His main job was to be a terrorist gopher. That meant acquiring the bomb chemicals and arranging the conspirators' travel out of Canada after the bombs went off.

I praise the institution of crown witness as a standard instrument in fighting organized crime and terrorism. Nevertheless, the practice requires a broader interpretation as to the role of informants than is devoted to it. I don’t think the police should make any material substance available to terrorists even if the substance is harmless. This goes with guns also. The police informant should be able to participate in discussions with the members of a terrorist organization or gang but not readily make suggestions that might very well be acted upon. As I see it, a police informant (agent) should be there to observe more that participate and encourage.

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