As you may have heard, yesterday the FBI “uncovered” yet another of its own terrorist plots, the latest in a very long line of “terrorist plots” the FBI has “uncovered” — in which the details always show that it was an undercover FBI “informant” (often doing this to get off leniently for some other issue), who more or less goads hapless, naive people, into a “plot” that had no real chance of ever happening. This appears to be the same sort of thing.
Still, politicians never leave an opportunity like this unexploited, and so in jumps Senator Dianne Feinstein, arguing that the only proper way to deal with this is to, of course… censor the internet:
I am particularly struck that the alleged bombers made use of online bombmaking guides like the Anarchist Cookbook and Inspire Magazine. These documents are not, in my view, protected by the First Amendment and should be removed from the Internet.
For what it’s worth, Dianne Feinstein’s “view” is wrong. The Anarchist Cookbook is very much protected by the First Amendment. While the book is banned in other countries, who don’t have the equivalent of the First Amendment, it’s perfectly legal in the US. The FBI/DOJ has extensively investigated the Anarchist’s Cookbook in particular over the years, and as far back as 1997 directly told Senator Feinstein that she could not ban it. This is from the DOJ back in 1997:
Senator Feinstein introduced legislation during the last Congress in an attempt to fill this gap. The Department of Justice agrees that it would be appropriate and beneficial to adopt further legislation to address this problem directly, if that can be accomplished in a manner that does not impermissibly restrict the wholly legitimate publication and teaching of such information, or otherwise violate the First Amendment.
The First Amendment would impose substantial constraints on any attempt to proscribe indiscriminately the dissemination of bombmaking information. The government generally may not, except in rare circumstances, punish persons either for advocating lawless action or for disseminating truthful information — including information that would be dangerous if used — that such persons have obtained lawfully.
And yet, Feinstein’s first response to the FBI uncovering yet another of its own plots is to go back to trying to censoring the internet in direct violation of the First Amendment? Yikes.
Oh, and even worse… in keeping with the fact that this plot was actually created by the FBI itself, guess where the two “terrorist wannabes” got the Anarchist Cookbook? From the undercover FBI agent! From the criminal complaint itself [pdf]:
On or about Novermber 2, 2014, the UC [Undercover Officer] met with VELNTZAS and SIDDIQUI. When VELENTZAS was reading a book called “Chemistry: The Central Science,” the UC asked how this book was going to benefit them. VELENTZAS stated that they could practice at her house, but could not leave any residue. The UC stated that practicing at the house was not a good idea because the people living in the apartment below VELENTZAS might hear loud noises, referring to noises from explosions. VELENTZAS said she could always tell her neighbors that she dropped some bookshelves. The UC and VELENTZAS then discussed the fact that the UC had downloaded The Anarchist Cookbook. VELENTZAS suggested the UC print out the parts of the book that they would need. During the conversation, the UC stated, “We read chemistry books with breakfast. Like, who does that?” VELENTZAS responded, “People who want to make history.”
The complaint also lists many other books and magazines and web pages that the various people read throughout, and later has one of the wannabe terrorists thanking the undercover agent for introducing The Anarchist’s Cookbook to her.
As for the other document that Feinstein wants to censor, Inspire, is Al Qaeda’s magazine. And, again, reading through the complaint you see that it was actually the undercover agent who brought the magazine. The wannabe terrorist did ask the undercover agent to get it, and eventually it was the undercover agent who actually got it. Velentzas keeps asking the undercover agent to find a copy of Inspire, over and over again in the complaint until eventually the agent complies:
On or about December 24, 2014, the UC visited VELENTZAS and brought the Spring 2014 issue of Inspire magazine, as previously requested by VELENTZAS.
In other words, in neither case did the would be terrorists get the “bad” material from the internet. In both cases it came from the undercover FBI agent.
Meanwhile, it seems like the only real result of this ridiculous statement will be for Feinstein to drive ever more awareness to the old Anarchist’s Cookbook, so yet another generation of teenagers can discover it and think they’ve found something totally cool online.