Good piece from Rolling Stone reporting on the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF), and its tenacious battle against something that may or may not exist.

Reporter Guy Lawson finds a history of minor criminal agents provacateur ginning up feckless plans for impossible terror feats, misleading statistics, secrecy behind a veil of "if you knew what we know you'd understand, but we can't tell you" and some truly scary excrement setting off a radiological attack monitor in Chicago.

Some summational excerpts:

The expenditure of such massive resources to find would-be terrorists inevitably requires results. Plots must be uncovered. Sleeper cells must be infiltrated. Another attack must be prevented —or, at least, be seen to be prevented. But in backwaters like Rockford [Illinois], the JTTFs don't have much to do. To find threats to thwart, the task forces have increasingly taken to using paid informants to cajole and inveigle targets like [convicted domestic terrorist Derrick] Shareef into pursuing their harebrained schemes.

..........a closer inspection of the cases brought by JTTFs reveals that most of the prosecutions had one thing in common: The defendants posed little if any demonstrable threat to anyone or anything. According to a study by the Center on Law and Security at the New York University School of Law, only ten percent of the 619 "terrorist" cases brought by the federal government have resulted in convictions on "terrorism-related" charges —a category so broad as to be meaningless. In the past year, none of the convictions involved jihadist terror plots targeting America.

....In most cases, because no trial is ever held, few details emerge beyond the spare and slanted descriptions in the indictments. When facts do come to light during a trial, they cast doubt on the seriousness of the underlying case.

Of course, when there's no threat, that means that the people responsible for keeping us from the threat must be doing something right. Right?

When I ask what kinds of cases his CT squad has made, [Special Agent Robert] Holley cites the example of a local cab driver who came up on the JTTF's radar some time back —he won't say how or why. The man was East African, Holley says, a suspected Islamic extremist "connected to known bad guys overseas." After being interviewed by the JTTF, the cabbie decided to leave the country. Nothing criminal had occurred, and no charges were laid. The cab driver had simply come to the attention of the JTTF, and that in itself was enough to dispose of the matter.

"Can we consider that a success because we didn't put him in jail?" Holley asks. "Absolutely. This guy is no longer here. He is not a threat to one person in the United States."

..........

"Have you ever found a terrorist cell?" I ask.

"That's kind of a vague question," [Master Sgt. Carl] Gutierrez [of the Illinois State Police] says. "There are certain things we can't talk about, because it leads to more."

"Do I believe there's a cell in Chicago?" [Sgt. Paul] DeRosa [of the Chicago Police Department] asks. "I bet you there is. Do I have any direct physical knowledge? No. But I think there is one, and that's why we're here."

The story has more detailed discussions of such supposed terror plots as the JFK jet fuel conspiracy, the "Albany pizza" case, and the "Liberty City Seven" case. Read the whole thing.

I wondered where's the terror? here on 9/11/06.