The American news website the Intercept has an engrossing article out today (March 16) that might read familiar to anyone in Canada who has followed the trial of Surrey residents John Nuttall and Amanda Korody.
The B.C. couple stands accused of plotting to detonate explosive devices outside the Victoria legislature on Canada Day of 2013.
The trial remains ongoing. But since their arrest, media columnists have learned enough about their circumstances to ask whether the two comprised a terrorist cell sophisticated enough to mount the operation they allegedly planned.
Nuttall and Korody lived in poverty in a messy basement suite. They both struggled with past addiction issues and were on methadone prescriptions. Questions have since been raised about whether the two are mentally fit to stand trial.
As the case has proceeded in recent weeks in the B.C. Supreme Court, more has been revealed about the extent to which undercover RCMP officers were involved in various stages of Nuttall and Korody’s supposed scheme.
Over the course of a five-month operation, police chauffeured the couple between stores where they were shopping for bomb supplies, and helped film a video in which Nuttall and Korody explain their motivations.
Now, from today’s article by the Intercept’s contributing writer Trevor Aaronson:
If [Sami] Osmakac was a terrorist, he was only one in his troubled mind and in the minds of ambitious federal agents. The government could not provide any evidence that he had connections to international terrorists. He didn’t have his own weapons. He didn’t even have enough money to replace the dead battery in his beat-up, green 1994 Honda Accord.
Osmakac was the target of an elaborately orchestrated FBI sting that involved a paid informant, as well as FBI agents and support staff working on the setup for more than three months. The FBI provided all of the weapons seen in Osmakac’s martyrdom video. The bureau also gave Osmakac the car bomb he allegedly planned to detonate, and even money for a taxi so he could get to where the FBI needed him to go. Osmakac was a deeply disturbed young man, according to several of the psychiatrists and psychologists who examined him before trial. He became a “terrorist” only after the FBI provided the means, opportunity and final prodding necessary to make him one.
Some of that might sound like conjecture, but it’s supported by some 2,000 words running further down the page.
A psychologist retained by the defense, Valerie McClain, testified that Osmakac’s psychotic episodes, along with other mental health issues, made him especially easy for the government to manipulate.
It’s also supported by statistics on similar FBI operations.
Informant-led sting operations are central to the FBI’s counterterrorism program. Of 508 defendants prosecuted in federal terrorism-related cases in the decade after 9/11, 243 were involved with an FBI informant, while 158 were the targets of sting operations. Of those cases, an informant or FBI undercover operative led 49 defendants in their terrorism plots, similar to the way Osmakac was led in his.
(Mother Jones has published exceptional work on the FBI's surveillance and [what it calls] "entrapment" of Americans that culminated in a series of articles published through 2011. A page for that special report is here: "Terrorists for the FBI".)
Later, there is this, from Osmakac's family:
“If my brother was truly part of a plot to kill people, I’d be the first one in line to condemn him,” Osmakac’s brother Avni says. “But my brother was mentally ill. We were trying to get him help. The FBI got to him first.”
In the trial of Korody and Nuttall, the defence lawyer has not yet had the opportunity to question the RCMP officers involved in his clients’ arrest. Previously addressing the jury, he did however request members pay special attention to the extent to which the couple “became ensnared” in RCMP officers’ operation.
The Intercept's article is headlined, "The Sting: How the FBI created a terrorist". When Nuttall and Korody's lawyer takes the courtroom floor later this month, he might argue the same premise with his questions for the RCMP.