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Digital Subscriptions > Newsweek International > 18th March 2016 > AMERICAN SNITCH

AMERICAN SNITCH

In a startling new documentary, an FBI informant lets filmmakers watch him try to catch terrorists

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SINCE THE 9/11 ATTACKS, the feds have won more than 500 terrorism convictions. In nearly half of those cases, confidential informants played a key role in bringing down the alleged bad guys. Of course, snitches have been around since Judas flipped on Jesus. That they are crucial to making cases is beyond debate. How reliable they are is not. Beyond the scattered community of grieving parents, civil liberties lawyers and a few crusading journalists, however, little attention has been paid to the abuses of the system in which the FBI coached informants to build flimsy cases against defendants.

Now comes (T)error–the parenthesis is supposed to emphasize error–an astounding documentary that casts serious doubt on the rectitude of some of the government’s cases. Up to 1 in 10 has been tainted by informants who seduced their marks into plots dreamed up by the FBI, according to Trevor Aaronson, author of The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism. What filmmakers Lyric Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe have managed to do is create an upside-down version of Cops. By trailing along with a key counterterrorism informant who invited the filmmakers into his demimonde—without telling his FBI handlers—the documentary reveals how snitches persuade their marks to move from idle talk about jihad to contemplating—if not actually doing—something more serious. The film drew raves at Tribeca and Sundance last year, but it got a shot at a wider audience when it debuted February 22 on the PBS series Independent Lens.

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