[Ppnews] Profiles of Provocateurs

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jun 10 14:27:19 EDT 2011

Profiles of Provocateurs

by Kristian Williams
Thursday Jun 9th, 2011 8:54 AM
Recent case studies; warning signs; practical advice

A recent article in Seattle's Stranger detailed a 
long-term police operation to monitor, 
infiltrate, and entrap activists in Seattle: "The 
Long Con," by Brendan Kiley, May 4, 2011: 

The story is long, convoluted, and more than a 
little absurd; it's all rather like the plot of a 
Coen Brothers' movie. But the short version is 
that an undercover Seattle cop infiltrated an 
after-hours party scene -- what prosecutors 
called "underground illegal gambling enterprises 
(concurrent with illegal liquor sales)." (All 
quotes in this section are from the Stranger 
article.) The SPD hoped to find some dirt on 
local politicians, the FBI hoped to find a 
connection to the Earth Liberation Front, and 
after two years they finally managed to hook someone with a drug scam:

"Bryan [Owens] had been pushing Rick [Wilson]­and 
everyone in their social set­for years to help 
him buy ever-larger amounts of cocaine. . . . he 
tried to play on people's greed. 'He's like, "I 
can make you a millionaire,"' Rick remembers. . . 
. 'He said he would pay for the drugs and I would 
take no financial risk. I told him to go fuck 
himself. He kept pestering me. I did, to my 
eternal shame, help him out,' Rick says. 'I asked 
around to some people who asked around to some 
people who eventually gave him some.'"

Owens then asked Wilson to come along when the 
exchange happened, just in case things went bad. 
On the way, a SWAT team surrounded Wilson's car and arrested him.

It turns out Bryan Owens, purported trust fund 
kid and environmental activist, is really Bryan 
Van Brunt, Seattle Police Detective.

When Wison was interrogated, the cops were 
particularly interested in asking about the ELF. 
They told him, "We have hundreds of hours of 
surveillance, wire, video. . . ." The Stranger 
adds, "SPD surveillance logs show that police 
were following the families of suspects, their 
sisters and mothers, and that some family 
members' homes . . . were raided and turned upside down for evidence."

Wilson was convicted of the drug crime, and also 
of an unrelated offense he'd committed years 
earlier -- running guns to Chiapas for the EZLN. 
He was sentenced to 40 months. A handful of other 
party regulars were charged with "professional gambling in the first degree."

The usual criticisms -- that these sorts of 
operations waste money, only stop crimes that the 
cops themselves create, and threaten our freedom 
-- have already been made elsewhere. So I want to 
turn instead to the question of how activists 
might avoid this sort of infiltration and 
entrapment. After all, it makes no difference 
whether you take technical precautions like 
encrypting your email if it is your 
co-conspirator who is collecting the evidence against you.

With this in mind, I will sum up three recent 
cases involving the use of provocateurs against 
the anarchist and radical environmentalist 
movements. And I'll point out some of the warning 
signs that should have made people wary.

Provocateur Profile 1: "Bryan Owens" / Bryan Van Brunt

Looking at the Seattle story from the outside, 
and with the benefit of hindsight, one of the 
things that most stands out is the number of (if 
you'll pardon the phrase) red flags that should 
have signaled that something was awry. For example:

1- Money issues: Bryan's habit of throwing around 
cash meant that, even though a lot of people 
didn't like him and were annoyed by his "blustery 
bro-dude personality," they were willing to put 
up with it. He bought drinks, he took people out 
to dinner, he helped people out with their rent. 
And it sounds like Bryan paid for everything 
concerning the party space: "Rent, paint, locks, 
lumber, drywall, new plumbing­it all came out of 
Bryan's pocket." (At the same time he was 
"insisting that it turn a profit (when everyone 
in the group had been taking losses for the 
parties). . . .") Bryan also covered the 
expenses, including plane tickets, for a pair of 
activists going to St. Paul to demonstrate 
against the 2008 Republican National Convention.

2- Legal questions: Bryan had made plans to go to 
the RNC himself, but was escorted off the plane 
by the authorities. The reason wasn't clear: he 
never really explained, and nothing more seemed 
to come of the episode -- no arrest, no charges. 
Of course, it turned out, he staged the incident 
himself to add to his reputation.

3- Bluster: "Several people remember Bryan 
bragging that he had a record and had been 
arrested for political action" -- though again, the details were lacking.

4- Questions about his personal life: One friend 
recalls: "When I went to the bathroom [in his 
apartment], there was nothing in there. . . . 
You'd expect some soap or towels or something. I 
started asking how long he'd been living there, and he got all aggravated.'"

5- Responding to normal inquiries with hostility: (See #4).

6- Pressuring others toward illegal action: 
"Bryan kept pushing Brady [McGarry] toward more 
radical 'real militant action,' asked Brady to 
teach him how to make Molotov cocktails, and 
hinted that he wanted to 'make explosives' and do 
some 'property damage' at Weyerhaeuser or at 
CEOs' houses, Brady remembers. He wanted to talk 
about the Earth Liberation Front. Brady remembers 
telling Bryan to take it easy. 'It weirded me out,' Brady says."
Similarly: "Mia Brown . . . remembers Bryan as a 
guy who 'always ranted about how he hates cops' 
and who tried to talk an enlisted friend of hers 
. . . into stealing weapons from Fort Lewis."

7- Warnings from others: Several of Rick Wilson's 
friends told him something was wrong, including 
one person who reported being followed. But Wilson just blew them off.

Of course, none of these, on their own or even 
taken together, would prove that a person was a 
government agent. (And in one way, this case is 
unusual in that the infiltrator actually was an 
undercover cop, not an amateur recruited for the 
purpose). A person could easily exhibit some of 
these traits and behaviors and not be in the employ of the police agencies.

And naturally, it's only human to assume the best 
of our friends and write off uncomfortable 
details as harmless eccentricities or minor flaws.

But several of these behaviors, characteristics, 
or inconsistencies would be a good reason to hold 
off on engaging in political work, crime, or 
other high-risk activities with the person 
involved. At the very least, it might make it 
seem like a good idea to check up on their background.

Of course, Rick Wilson is not the only person to 
pay the price for failing to take such precautions.

Provocateur Profile #2: "Anna"

Eric McDavid fell prey to a paid FBI informant 
operating under the name "Anna."

(I'm working here from the legal documents, 
especially trial transcripts, available at 
supporteric.org. Unless otherwise noted, the 
quotes in this section are from those documents.)

Anna entered the anarchist scene during the 2003 
anti-FTAA protests, when at the age of 17 she 
infiltrated anarchist Spokes Council meetings as 
part of a class project. A fellow class-mate, a 
police officer, was impressed with her work and 
arranged a meeting with the FBI. As the 
prosecutor in McDavid's case explained: "Over the 
next year or so she attends various functions 
where illegal protests are expected. The 
Republican National Convention, the Democratic 
National Convention, and the G-8 Summit. . . ." 
Ultimately she helped to put together -- and then 
break up -- a conspiracy to attack the "Institute 
of Forest Genetics, cell phone towers, Nimbus Dam 
and possibly the fish hatchery nearby." (Zachary Jenson's testimony.)

Anna met Eric McDavid at a Crimethinc meeting in 
2004 -- ironically, at a workshop on identifying 
undercover agents. She later testified, "At the 
time I thought he was inconsequential. I thought 
he was a college student and not of interest to 
the FBI." But he formed a romantic attachment to 
her, and she later used that emotional connection 
to join a "cell" involving McDavid and two 
others, Zachary Jenson and Lauren Weiner. Over 
the next several months, Anna moved increasingly 
into the leadership of the group. She organized 
meetings, kept notes, covered expenses, pressed 
the others onward when they had doubts, and urged 
them to solidify their plans.

As the Sacramento News and Review put it: 
"Documents from the investigation reviewed by 
SN&R suggest that Anna provided much of the 
financial support, the encouragement and the 
know-how needed to turn their talk into action. 
They also show that whenever the group started to 
lose focus, or to have second thoughts, Anna 
badgered them about being all talk and not sticking to an action plan."

Anna was crucial to forming and sustaining the 
plot, pushing the others to get more serious, 
move faster, and make real plans. It was Anna, 
facilitated by the FBI, who provided the 
instructions and materials for making a bomb. (No 
actual bomb was produced.) Diane Bennett, one of 
the jurors from the case, described Anna's role: 
"providing all of the essential tools for the 
group; the cabin, the money, the idea, the books, everything."

It was Anna who provided the bomb recipe, and the 
materials, and was insistent on moving ahead with 
the plan, even when others were unmotivated or 
expressed reservations. As Lauren Weiner's 
testified: "Anna was most concerned about keeping 
on schedule. . . . She wanted to speed things 
up." Or, as the prosecutor put it: "they discuss 
maybe slowing up this conspiracy, maybe going 
slower, so they don't have these mistakes. Anna 
is pushing to get more organized."

Jenson and Weiner pled guilty to reduced charges 
and cooperated with the prosecution. They got 
five years each. Eric McDavid was sentenced to 
twenty years. Anna was paid $65,000.

Among the many clues that McDavid missed:

1- Money issues: Anna seems to have paid for 
nearly everything -- food, the car, gas, tents, 
plane tickets, the cabin where they were 
arrested. Over the two year period, January 2004 
to January 2006, Anna's expenses totaled $35,000.

2- Vague or inconsistent explanations:

Lauren Weiner: "Anna always had -- she had a lot of $100 bills. . . ."

Q. "And she said purportedly that came from stripping, right?"
Weiner: "Yes. . . . Well, she also said that she 
had money from working in a chemistry lab over 
the semester while she was at school. That she 
had all these jobs. . . . She was very vague about it."

3- Asking about previous arsons, and future 
illegal actions: Anna testified: "I asked him if 
he had any involvement with the actions [an 
arson] that Ryan Lewis took over Christmas, and 
he denied it. I further asked him -- I said, you 
know, I know a little bit about you. I think you 
might have been involved. It seems like something 
you'd be interested in. He says, no, I didn't do 
that. I have my own plans. . . . I asked him what 
his plans were. And that was when he stated that 
Ryan Lewis had made the mistake of doing the 
actions too close to home, and that McDavid's 
actions would take place nationwide. And I again 
asked him, well, what are you planning? And he 
said that he had gotten a bomb recipe for C4 from 
an individual in West Virginia. And his plan was to make little C4 bombs."

4- Documenting incriminating evidence: Anna was 
insistent that the group keep a notebook and 
write down all of their plans. "Anna introduces 
something that we'll come to know as the Burn 
Book. The Burn Book, she says, is something that 
the group can use to record their thoughts, their 
to-do lists, their -- if they need to go buy 
chemicals, they can write a list of all the 
chemicals down there. . . . Why call it the Burn 
Book? Because a couple of the members of the 
conspiracy, specifically Lauren Weiner and 
Zachary Jenson, kind of bridled at the fact that 
we're writing all this stuff down. We don't want 
to commit any of this to writing. Anna solves 
that problem. She says, that's simple. We'll burn 
it at the end. After we're done, we're going to 
burn this book." (That's the prosecutor's 
description, and the Burn Book became important evidence in the trial.)

5- Failure to follow agreed upon security 
protocols: Weiner: "Well, it was stated by Eric 
back in November that absolutely nothing would be 
written down, and we all agreed with that. And 
then all of a sudden everything was being written 
down, and that was obviously very uncomforting to me."

Also, Anna testified: "That night there was a 
discussion, and Jenson specifically mentioned 
that he was very uncomfortable with the fact that 
I still had my cell phone, as the rest of the 
members of the group did not carry cell phones 
and had no desire to carry cell phones, and felt 
that cell phones were a method for law 
enforcement to track them. So they began to 
pressure me to get rid of my cell phone." (Anna 
used her phone to provide the FBI "real time" intelligence.)

6- Pressure toward illegal action: Weiner: "She 
was upset that there were no plans, and . . . I 
was upset because I felt like I didn't know where 
these plans were coming from."

7- Discomfort of other team-mates:

Q. "Do you remember the conversations in that car 
ride? . . . Were any of them about a feeling you 
had that she was leading you and the rest of the group into a trap?"

Zachary Jenson: "I do remember having a conversation about that. . . ."

Q. "Okay. And it was where you said something to 
the effect of, you know, I have this feeling that 
you, Anna, you're leading us into a trap, right?"

Jenson: "Yes."

8- Discrepancies between stated intentions and 
actual activity: Earlier, at a 2005 protest 
against the Organization of American States, Anna 
presented herself as a medic, but she had no 
training and never actually served in that 
function. Instead, she claimed specialized skills 
as a means to gain access to planning meetings and collect information.
According to Del Papa, one of the protest 
organizers, "Anna didn’t seem very interested in 
offering medical care and comfort to protesters. 
She was more curious about the protest 
organizers. . . . She started asking all of these 
really specific questions about who was coming 
and how many people were coming. She got really 
aggressive about wanting detailed information about our plans.”

At the demonstration itself, Anna then used her 
position to push tactics that were not only 
illegal, but contrary to existing plans and 
probably counter-productive: "During the march, 
Del Papa said, Anna started recruiting 
high-school students to stage a sit-in to block 
traffic, right in front of a large group of 
Broward County sheriff’s officers in riot gear. 
Del Papa was sure the provocation would lead to 
arrests and to the police clearing protesters from the area. . . ."
(Del Papa quotes are from the Sacramento News and 
Review article, "Conspiracy of Dunces": 

9- Discovering the bug: Anna testified: "On the 
drive down into Auburn, there was -- a wire had 
fallen out of the dash of the car, and as McDavid 
was fiddling with the wire, the recording device 
in the car fell out of the dash into his hand. . 
. . I took the recorder out of his hand, and I 
shoved it back into the dashboard. And I said, 
stupid old car, just a . . . piece of shit. . . . 
He let it go. He didn't question me further about 
it, but he acted strange as if somewhere in his 
subconscious he knew that that was a weird 
occurrence, but he never pressed me about it. . . 
. He had basically just found me out but didn't quite know it."

What’s remarkable about this case is that McDavid 
and the others failed to challenge Anna on these 
behaviors despite their collective obsession with 
"security culture." The term shows up again and 
again in the trial, as an explanation of why they 
did certain things the way they did. They got new 
email accounts, they communicated in code, they 
used fake names, they went without cell phones 
(except for Anna) -- and on and on. But they did 
not, apparently, think carefully enough about who 
they wanted to work with and what they wanted to do.

They clearly underestimated the level of 
technical skill their plan required, but more 
importantly, it seems they underestimated the 
level of risk involved, and therefore also the 
level of commitment and trust necessary. All four 
conspirators were working far outside the scope 
of their experience, and they don't seem to have 
seriously considered the basis on which they were 
working together. Anna, for instance, seems to 
have been invited in because McDavid had a crush on her.

In this sense, the conspiracy failed twice. It 
failed, first, because the group lacked a sound 
basis for working together, could not agree on a 
coherent plan, didn't have the necessary 
technical proficiency to succeed, and finally -- 
much to Anna's frustration -- were too flakey to 
follow through on their ideas. It failed, again, 
because one of the four was an agent provocateur, 
and two later turned state's evidence. It's worth 
noting, though, that both sets of failures 
occurred for many of the same reasons.

Profile #3: Brandon Darby

Similarly, David McKay and Bradley Crowder got in 
over their heads with activist-turned-informant Brandon Darby.

(A lot has been written about this case, but 
unless otherwise noted, I'm taking my quotes here 
from Michael May's story for This American Life: 

Brandon Darby was a prominent organizer, 
originally in Austin. He went to New Orleans 
during the Hurricane Katrina disaster, and became 
a leader of Common Ground, a grassroots relief 
agency that provided free food, medical aid, 
legal assistance, and home repair -- while also 
fighting home demolitions and police brutality.

In August 2008, Darby traveled with the "Austin 
Affinity Group," including McKay and Crowder, to 
St. Paul to protest against the Republican 
National Convention. When they arrived, police 
searched their van and seized home-made riot 
shields. Darby urged the group to escalate its 
tactics in response: “We’re not going to take 
this lying down. You’ve got to do something about 
it.” (Quoted in Cincotta, cited below.) That 
evening, McKay and Crowder made some molotov 
cocktails, and stashed them in the basement of 
the house where they were staying.

According to McKay, when they mentioned the 
molotovs to their affinity group, they were told 
in no uncertain terms, "what you are doing is 
ridiculous, stupid, and dangerous."

At that point they basically gave up on the idea 
of using firebombs, and went to the demonstration 
without them. Later, though, Darby asked McKay 
what they planned to do with the bombs. "David 
says he didn't want to lose face with Brandon, so 
he made up a plan" about attacking a parking lot 
full of police cars. Darby simultaneously told 
McKay he didn't think he and Crowder were ready 
for that sort of action, and goaded him toward 
it, and offered to help. They agreed to meet at 2 
a.m., but McKay blew it off and stopped 
responding to Darby's messages. McKay was arrested in bed at 4:30 a.m.

We now know that Darby had been giving the FBI 
information since at least February 2007, and had 
actually been on the payroll since November that 
same year. It's not clear exactly when the 
collaboration began, and many people now cite 
suspicions about Darby from much earlier. Darby's 
own story is that he first approached the FBI 
after a Palestinian activist asked him to help 
raise money for Hamas and Hezbollah. That 
experience led him to reflect on his own views 
about militancy, after which he called the FBI 
and volunteered to work as an informer. In 2008, 
the FBI put him to work as part of their campaign 
against the anti-RNC protests. In that capacity, 
he attended planning meetings and regularly wore a wire.

It was during this period that Darby met McKay 
and Crowder. The two younger activists looked up 
to Darby and sought to emulate his militancy, 
while he relentlessly razzed them for being "tofu 
eaters" and "weaklings" -- a dynamic that led 
them to feel that they had something to prove. 
McKay says: "We really didn't feel very 
comfortable about Brandon for a long time, but it 
always came into play that we had never done 
anything, anything like this, ever. . . . And 
that's everything that Brandon was. . . . With 
him we felt like we were legitimate."

Of course it was Darby who told the FBI about the 
riot shields and, later, the molotov cocktails.

The first attempt at a trial ended in a hung jury 
-- the result of McKay's entrapment defense. 
Ultimately, however, both McKay and Crowder plead 
guilty to firearms charges. Crowder got two 
years. McKay got four. Darby was paid $12,750, plus $3,028 for expenses.

In this case, too, there were numerous clues that Darby was not to be trusted:

1- Previous behavior: The Austin Chronicle wrote: 
"ask around Austin activist circles. . . . 
Several local activists describe Darby as a 
troubled, paranoid man with a volatile history 
with women, a penchant for violent rhetoric, and 
a strong authoritarian streak." (Some of the 
quotes in what follows -- those not from This 
American Life -- are taken from Diana Welch's 
Chronicle story, "The Informant": 

Similarly at Common Ground, Malik Rahim, recalls: 
"At the very beginning, he was helpful, but after 
[a point], he became harmful. . . . He did 
everything he could to destroy St. Mary's, which 
was where we were housing the majority of our 
volunteers, by letting a bunch of crackheads move 
in there. And he also drove a wedge between me 
and Lisa Fithian and eventually caused her to 
leave, too. He was doing everything you're 
supposed to do as a government agent in that situation. Divide and conquer."

2- Demanding access to sensitive information he 
didn't need: Fithian says that, during the RNC, 
Darby had to be asked to leave meetings where the 
details of actions were being worked out: "He 
said he was there to do medical, but instead he 
was at all the meetings." She recalls, "I 
actually asked, 'What the fuck is he doing here?' 
. . . I told him he needed to leave."

3- Assumption of authority: Scott Crow, one of 
the founders of Common Ground told This American 
Life: "He doesn't ask. A lot of time he just 
assumed that nobody knew what they were doing. 
And he was going to do it, even though he never 
organized anything -- never organized, never organized anything. Zero."

4- Exaggerating his own knowledge and experience: 
Crow also told the Chronicle: "He inserted 
himself as 'co-founder'; he wanted that status, 
even as people were getting written out of the 
Common Ground history, people who did a lot of work organizing."

5- Taking credit for others' work: Crow, again: 
"If you look at the way Brandon tells it, he did 
the whole Lower 9th Ward with one hand tied 
behind his back, when really there were a lot of 
people who did the work, and the organizing too, 
who you'll never hear about because of Brandon's monopoly on the media."
He explains: "[Darby] made sure that the media 
followed him extensively and didn't interview 
other people. . . . So, did he do that just 
because he's crazy, or did he do that to get more 
credibility for himself so that he could gather more information?"

6- The Hero Complex: Lisa Fithian summed up 
Darby's attitude: "It's all about him. . . [and his need] to be the savior."

7- Bravado: Darby announced, regarding his plans 
to disrupt the RNC: "Any group I go with will be successful."

8- Paranoia and tendencies toward violence: Scott 
Crow: "I'm not a psychologist, but I would 
definitely say that guy's paranoid. I mean, he 
sleeps with guns under his pillow. This is not 
something I have been told; this is something I 
have seen. The guy has a cache of weapons."

9- Machismo: Fithian: "He did a lot of Wild West 
shit – Mister Macho Action Hero."

10- Misogyny: The Chronicle reports: "[O]ther 
sources . . . spoke of a particular romantic 
relationship in Darby's past that they describe 
as emotionally abusive and Darby as paranoid, jealous, and possessive."
Fithian says this behavior was poisonous to the 
culture at Common Ground: "He was a leader of the 
organization. . . and because of that, he was 
able to set some patterns in motion that I 
believe led to systemic issues of sexual abuse, 
sexual harassment, and violence."

11- Bullying: McKay: "We had a lot of 
discussions. . . where he was criticizing us 
about where we were physically. . . . He put 
[Crowder] in a choke hold out of nowhere just to test what Brad would do."

12- Concerns raised by others: People who knew 
Darby described him with words like: 
"megalomania," "manipulative," "very brash, very 
macho," "very confrontational," "violent at 
times," "crazy," "a wing nut," "hero complex," and "pathological liar."

Fithian adds: "I always said at Common Ground: If 
he was not a cop or an agent of the state, he was 
doing their job for them, creating division and disrupting our work."

13- McKay and Crowder also should have paid 
attention to their own reservations: McKay 
remembers saying to Crowder: "I hope this isn't 
one of those 'when keeping it real goes wrong' scenarios."


There's a broad pattern common to all of these 
cases: People passing themselves off as tough, 
militant, super-radical big shots manipulated, 
bullied, or guilt-tripped less experienced, more 
pliable people, and pushed them toward actions 
far beyond anything they were prepared for, tactically or politically.

In the Darby case this dynamic advanced through 
the medium of masculinity. Darby's presentation 
of himself centered on an image of a tough, 
decisive, bold, heroic "man of action," and he 
prodded his younger, more impressionable comrades 
largely by challenging their masculinity. McKay 
and Crowder, then, made some dumb decisions -- 
not simply because they trusted the wrong person, 
but because Darby's influence helped them to 
wrongly conflate radicalism, militancy, and 
personal commitment with an exaggerated 
masculinity and the psychological need to be tough guys.

I realize that these cases may not count as 
"entrapment" in the narrow legal sense, but they 
certainly fit the commonsense meaning of the 
word: the government manufacturing a crime for 
the sake of luring unsuspecting people into a 
conviction. In none of these cases would the plot 
have existed, much less been enacted, without the 
intervention of the provocateur.

I've chosen three cases involving the anarchist 
or radical environmentalist movements, but a 
similar pattern has emerged in FBI "terror" cases 
targeting Muslims. In 2009, the Islamic Center of 
Irvine discovered that the FBI had hired Craig 
Monteilh, using the name Farouk Aziz, to 
infiltrate numerous mosques in the L.A. area. His 
activity led to one arrest: Ahmadullah Niazi was 
charged with lying on his immigration application 
to hide the fact that his brother-in-law was 
Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard. In this case, too, 
there had been plenty of reason to worry: Two 
years earlier the Council of American-Islamic 
Relations was so shocked by Monteilh's big talk 
about jihad that they reported him to the police 
and filed a restraining order against him.

Likewise, the 2006 plot to bomb the Sears Tower 
was a creature of two FBI provocateurs active in 
Miami's poor, black Liberty City neighborhood. 
That case went to trial three times before 
producing convictions. As Thomas Cincotta wrote 
in the Public Eye: "Previous juries viewed the 
FBI informant posing as a member of al Qaeda as 
the driving force behind the plot. Despite paying 
informants over $130,000, the FBI produced no 
evidence of explosives, weapons or blueprints, 
only a videotape of defendants pledging an 'oath' 
to al Qaeda, recorded in a warehouse wired by the 
FBI." (Unless otherwise noted, details in this 
section are taken from Cincotta's 2009 article, 
"From Movements to Mosques, Informants Endanger 

Also in 2006, the government took note of a group 
of Albanians who had videotaped themselves riding 
horses, shooting guns, and shouting "Allah 
akbar." The FBI sent two untrained informants to 
befriend the group. One of the informants, 
Mahmoud Omar, quickly assumed a position of 
leadership, and offered to get them weapons. When 
they finally agreed, they were arrested.

More recently, in late 2010, the FBI arrested a 
Somali-born teenager for trying to bomb a 
Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, 
Oregon. The young man, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, had 
tried to get in touch with jihadists online, but 
the FBI responded instead. Over several months, 
federal agents helped Mohamud concoct his plot, 
providing technical advice and financial 
assistance, and supplying both the (fake) bomb 
and the vehicle used to transport it. As Steven 
Wax, Mohamud's attorney explained: "The 
government provided the money, the government 
provided the transportation, the government was 
involved in the meetings." (Quoted in USA Today: 

The Standard Profile

In all these cases, the provocateurs shared some 
common traits which, one would hope, we might 
have learned to recognize by now. Way back in 
1983, the Anti-Repression Resource Team and 
Midwest Research Group studied the available 
information on dozens of infiltration and 
entrapment cases and created a standard profile of the provocateur:

"Extraordinary Agents-Provocateurs are 
individuals who are agents of the state, although 
not usually regular employees, who make a living 
out of destroying ongoing movement organizations 
by disruption and factionalizing a group to an 
extraordinary degree. These individuals are 
extraordinary action people, ready to deal with 
guns and armed struggle, ready to participate in 
direct action in all its forms and to be arrested. . . .
"One of the telltale signs of an extraordinary 
agent-provocateur is the advocacy and use of 
excessive violence. . . . Quite often, 
extraordinary agents-provocateurs gain their 
initial respect by procuring guns for a group. 
Others constantly urge the groups on to violent 
confrontations or armed actions which will be counterproductive.
"Extraordinary agents-provocateurs are usually 
very close to one or more top leaders and make 
sure they get along well with them. But they are 
generally very difficult for others to get along 
with. Their usual social behavior is bad to 
atrocious except when leadership is around."
(Anti-Repression Resource Team and Midwest 
Research Group, Protecting Ourselves from State 
Repression: A Manual for Revolutionary Activists, 
1983. This document is not available online; sorry.)

In addition to these characteristics, and those 
mentioned earlier in the case studies, we might 
also note that in most of these cases the 
militancy is accompanied by vague or inconsistent politics:

"Very often their political lines change 
abruptly, without apparent reason or explanation. 
. . . Along with the political disruptiveness is 
a basic lack of solid political growth. When long 
experience with a particular issue does not lead 
to qualitatively better political understanding 
of the issue, there are grounds for security 
suspicions. Extraordinary agents-provocateurs are 
usually action-oriented and press ahead with more 
daring and more illegal activities without any 
increase in their political understanding of an 
issue. . . . [I]nformers often push their 
interests far beyond their political capacity. 
Quite often informers are at events that they 
cannot understand or explain politically."

Proceed with Caution

Here a word of caution is in order. It is totally 
conceivable, maybe even likely, that a person 
could fit this sort of pattern and not be a government agent.

There is a whole range of other possible 
explanations: He could be employed by a private 
agency. He could be sabotaging movement work for 
personal or ideological reasons. He could be 
well-meaning, but misguided, mentally ill, or 
merely very foolish. There is also the 
possibility that the state is not employing him, 
but has made a calculated decision to leave him 
alone while his behavior wrecks havoc in the 
movement. Or the cops might be biding their time, 
monitoring him while they build as big a case as they can.

Usually, all we have to judge by is the actor's 
behavior, and so we just don't know what the full 
story is. It is important, therefore, not to jump 
to conclusions -- and especially, not to jump to 
conclusions publicly. There is entirely too much 
mud-slinging, rumor-mongering, and 
trial-by-flame-war in the anarchist movement 
already. We can't afford to make it worse with 
premature denunciations or allegations we can't substantiate.

For one thing, it is a favorite trick of police 
agencies to make false allegations and spread 
such rumors themselves in order to neutralize 
leaders, sow suspicion, and generate rifts in the 
movement. "Snitch-jacketing" they call it.

For another thing, there is a real danger that by 
overstating the conclusion, one can inadvertently 
overshadow the real concerns that exist. If the 
allegation is "this guy's a fed," then the 
question becomes "Is he a fed?" If the evidence 
doesn't conclusively show that he is, the whole 
affair may be written off as false, even if there 
are genuine reasons to worry.

The answer, then, is to concentrate on the 
demonstrable evidence, rather than peddling 
conjecture. In practical terms, that means 
addressing the person's problematic behavior 
rather than leveling accusations about their intent.

The point that really deserves attention is that, 
whether or not people matching this description 
are provocateurs, their provocateur-like behavior 
ought to be enough to discredit them.


The people entrapped in these recent cases got 
into trouble partly by trusting the wrong people, 
but also by needing too much to impress them, 
trying too hard to please them. ("I was always 
trying to impress her," Lauren Weiner testified.) 
But most of all, I think the victims here failed 
to trust their own better judgment.

The conclusions ought to be commonsensical: Know 
the people you do political work with. The more 
risky the work, the better you need to know them. 
Be realistic about your skills, experience, 
understanding, and limitations -- and those of 
the people you work with. Use your own judgment 
in deciding what sort of work to pursue, what 
tactics to adopt, and the level of risk to 
accept. Don't let yourself be bullied, 
guilt-tripped, or baited into anything that seems 
to you like a bad idea. And don't shrug it off if something seems wrong.

Of course, that still may not be enough to keep 
you out of jail. But it seems to me like the 
least we can ask of the people we work with -- 
whether we're doing anything illegal, or not.

Author Bio
Kristian Williams is the author of Our Enemies in 
Blue: Police and Power in America and American 
Methods: Torture and the Logic of Domination (both from South End Press).

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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