Saturday, December 15, 2007

"Entrapment" Meets "Ocean's Seven"

Before I start this post, let me make one thing clear: I hate terrorists. I think terrorists and criminals that actively plan to reduce the quality of our lives and destroy things precious to other people are the lousiest creatures on the planet.

Now that this is understood, let's discuss the Miami Seven, aka "Ocean's Seven".

That group of supposed would-be terrorists was handed a combination of acquittals and mistrials yesterday by a jury of their peers when defense lawyers were able to suggest that, absent the presence of government agents, there exists a reasonable doubt that there never would have been a crime worthy of prosecution.

Maybe it's the fact that this is taking place just an hour away, but this case has concerned me from the start. This is Ocean's Seven played by seven hapless saps, with a government stooge standing in for Andy Garcia.

As Albert Levin summed up for the defense:

"The entire situation was concocted by the government. The warehouse was paid for by the FBI, and the defendants moved their operations there at the suggestion of an undercover informant who was also paid by the FBI. The [Al-Qaeda] swearing-in ceremony was led by the informant — who at another point also suggested a plan to bomb FBI offices in Miami. The case was written, produced and directed by the FBI."

Now I'm a big fan of the FBI and I'm extremely thankful that these guys exist. But when I take this case and extrapolate this case into the world that I work in - Internet crime - what emerges is a really lousy picture.

Imagine or a moment the government decides that Internet crime needs to be "managed" the same way - by embedding agents and encouraging criminal activity.

In this scenario, the government agent rents an office, recruits computer programmers, moves them into cubicles, gives them PCs, connects them to a network, trains them, guides them, and then encourages them to develop a bunch of malware and unleash a sophisticated criminal action against consumers.

At which point they become criminals.

Assuming the FBI guy is the smartest guy in the room (and a natural leader, whom people feel compelled to follow), should the hired programmers be considered "criminals" or "feckless* pawns"?

As much as I hate terrorists, I hate "fake crime" so much more. Albert Levin made the right summation for the defense. Jeffrey Agron, foreman, and the rest of the jury in Miami, made the right call, regardless of the potential any of these individuals may have had for evil.

Inducing criminals to conduct a crime is the wrong way to reduce terror and the absolutely worst way to run a police force.

The FBI can serve us better by reporting on crime and prosecuting criminals, rather than encouraging the progress of would-be criminals.

Contrary to prosecutor Jacqueline Arango's statement, in which she said "The government need not wait until buildings come down or people get shot to prove people are terrorists" - I'm sorry, but you really do need to wait.

Because a lot of the time, when people say they plan to do something, they don't. Not without a strong leader. The FBI should leave the big talkers underfunded and discouraged - that's the best way to fight crime.

*My thanks to Doug Brunt and Megan Kelly for their introduction to the word "feckless" earlier this evening. "Feckless" (i.e. feeble and/or ineffective) describes this group of would-be criminals precisely.

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