Friday, May 11, 2007

Entrapped in the Closet

When I was in high school I saw a movie starring Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones called "Entrapment" with my friend Eike. Other than the fact that the last half of the movie was basically a neverending climax that wasn't terribly exciting it wasn't that bad, I guess. I don't really remember who was entrapping whom but I think it had something to do with stealing diamonds and one of them was a cop but they fell in love or some bullshit like that. But, ever since I saw that movie I've been obsessed with the fine line between entrapment and an undercover agent.

OK, truthfully the movie didn't make me think about that at all but you're supposed to tell a story in your opening paragraph to really grab your reader's attention. This is a device that works much better when the actual subject matter is entertaining but, clearly, that's never been the goal in the Basement.

The issue of entrapment has been in the headlines lately revolving around the case of the six immigrants charged with plotting to attack Fort Dix. The men allegedly made a tape of themselves talking Jihad(!) and shooting some guns which drew the attention of a store clerk tasked with transferring it to DVD and, subsequently, the FBI.

The government then sent two paid informants to infiltrate the group. One of the men claimed to be a former member of the Egyptian military which led to his role as chief planner of the attack. Looking at what I've read the men seemed somewhat interested in carrying out the attack although they did balk when the guy tried to get them to buy rocket launchers and other heavy duty weaponry. Therefore I doubt that it technically meets the threshold of "entrapment" but I wonder about the ethics of seeking out people that would never seek out the crime on their own.

Essentially there are many, many people that love to talk big and then never follow through with any of it. These men had a love of AK-47s but their "training mission" consisted of heading to the Poconos to play paintball. Were these men truly the terrorists that the media and government are making them out to be or are they men who liked to talk tough and found themselves caught up in a situation they, themselves, weren't comfortable with. I guess if they're stupid enough to try to buy the guns they might be stupid enough to try something dangerous.

An even more egregious example is the seven men arrested in Miami for "plotting" to blow up the Sears Tower. These men were provided uniforms, weapons, a warehouse, and other supplies by the FBI. They "planned" their attacks while getting high, did no survellience, and the attorney general admitted that the only way they could have obtained explosives was through the informant sent by the FBI. So, what was their real crime? Talking a bunch of shit until the FBI decided to arrest them?

Certainly with a large terrorist attack I'd prefer they not take chances but I would like them to use some common sense. There are plenty of other examples of this as well.

Take NBC's "To Catch a Predator", for example. Most of you are probably at least familiar with the show. They send people to chat rooms posing as teens trolling for sex and get the men to meet them. The person arrives at the house stunned at their luck when smug Chris Hanson comes through the corner summing every bit of gravitas he can manage. The show has become so popular that many of the suspects know they are busted as soon as he starts talking. Usually they start talking freely as if things will be fine as long as they can explain what happened and they weren't really going to have sex with that girl and those naked pictures weren't sent on purpose and the condoms aren't for her...

Those that defend the show say that these men are dangers to children and should be taken off the street. Certainly we don't want them having sex with underage kids but how often do these situations truly present themselves? Would these men ever have a chance to meet a teen that was dumb enough to want to have sex with them and invite them over to her house? I suppose it's possible and there are lots of messed up and vulnerable kids but many of these people would otherwise lead completely law-abiding lives if this show didn't have people posing as sex-starved kids. It just seems like they're taking advantage of these moron's stupidity to make a boatload of money and hype up a crime that shouldn't be a problem if you're proactive about looking at what your kid is doing on the internet.

My last example comes from one of those dumb shows where they have all the police videos and stuff. They were showing a decoy car set up by the police in Columbus, Ohio, ostensibly to catch car thieves. Makes sense, I guess. However, from my viewpoint they weren't catching car thieves at all. And, again, I'm drawing a distinction between people that actually committed a crime, which these people did, and people that otherwise would never commit a crime if the police didn't set up a completely unrealistic situation. In this case they parked a car with it's door open and keys in the ignition.

Of course there are a bunch of stupid, stupid people that would think taking this car for a joyride would be fun but are they the type of people are stealing locked cars? I doubt it. So, what service is this providing to the public other than to lock people up? Our prisons are overcrowded enough without resorting to creating crimes for people to commit.

"Did you really think we want those laws observed?" said Dr. Ferris. "We want them to be broken. You'd better get it straight that it's not a bunch of boy scouts you're up against... We're after power and we mean it... There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What's there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced or objectively interpreted – and you create a nation of law-breakers – and then you cash in on guilt. Now that's the system, Mr. Reardon, that's the game, and once you understand it, you'll be much easier to deal with."
"Atlas Shrugged"
Ayn Rand

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