Chapter 64: The 'Newburgh Four'

Previous: 'Little Italy'

James Cromitie
"One would think," I said, "that after such a public display of dishonesty, Shahed Hussain would have been thoroughly discredited."

"But instead," said Sherlock Holmes, "he was was hailed as a hero, set up with an even bigger budget, and sent out to catch more terrorists."

"Seriously?" I asked.

"Seriously," said Holmes. "Shahed Hussain surfaced next in Newburgh, a suburb of New York City, where he started hanging around a mosque and acting in such a way that none of the regulars would have anything to do with him."

"What was he doing?" I asked.

"He started by going to the office and asking for a list of members," said Holmes. "But the staff wouldn't give him one unless he showed a legitimate reason, and he never even attempted to justify his request. Instead he started flashing rolls of money, offering to buy people meals, give them computers, or whatever they said they needed.

"His behaviour was so odd, and so blatant, that the imam never thought to report him to police -- because it was easy to see that he was from the police!

"But Hussain kept coming around, and rubbing shoulders with some of the irregular visitors. And he wound up snaring a four-man 'terror cell' consisting of James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams, and Payen Laguerre.

"James Cromitie was the 'ringleader.' He was associating with Hussain long before the other three came along. And he helped to recruit the others. Cromitie says he knew Hussain was lying, he could tell Hussain was running a scam, and he was lying to Hussain, trying to counter-scam him out of the money.

"Cromitie's first recruit was David Williams, whom he'd known for many years. Their shared criminal past amounted to hanging out together, smoking marijuana and playing video games.

"David Williams says he went along with Cromitie on the counter-scam, but neither of them ever intended to do anything violent. David's younger brother suffers from liver disease and the family can't afford a transplant. Cromitie told David he could have half of the quarter-million dollars Hussain was offering. That settled things; David was in.

"Hussain kept talking about how they needed more men, and Cromitie and David Williams eventually recruited Onta Williams and Payen Laguerre. Onta Williams is no more terrorist than David Williams, or James Cromitie.

"Payen Laguerre, for his part, is described as 'mildly retarded.' His affliction is so 'mild,' Watson, that he was arrested in a room full of bottles of his own urine."

"That doesn't sound 'mild' to me," I interjected.

"Fred says the same," replied my friend, "and I can hardly disagree. None of the story is 'mild' in any respect. Hussain claimed he had access to weapons, and Hussain was always making plans and setting timetables. Meanwhile, Cromitie was doing as little as possible, just enough to keep his 'fish' interested.

"Hussain came up with a multi-pronged plan of attack, using surface-to-air missiles to shoot down military aircraft near an Air National Guard base in Newburgh, and planting bombs at two synagogues in the Bronx. And he kept badgering them until they did it -- or pretended to!

"Of course they got caught, Watson. The FBI rented a storage locker in New Jersey for Hussain and gave him a bogus missile to store in it. Then Hussain drove them all out to New Jersey to see 'their missile,' with an FBI surveillance team in tow, collecting 'evidence' to be used at trial.

"Then they went out to plant the 'bombs.' The bombs weren't real, of course; none of the weapons these amateur terrorists get caught with are ever real. They always come from 'arms dealers' who turn out to be working for the government, just as the instigators always turn out to be.

"The feds were out in force, waiting at the 'target' synagogue for the four knuckleheads to come along so they could bust them. Cromitie and David Williams, following their own plan, had forgotten how to 'arm' the 'bombs,' despite their 'terrorist training,' and Hussain had to pretend to arm the fake explosives himself, just as he'd had to do everything else in the plot himself.

"The knuckleheads thought this would make a difference at trial, that the jury would contemplate questions such as who did certain things, and who didn't really do anything. But as far as they were concerned, the 'Newburgh Four' -- Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams, and Payen Laguerre -- were terrorists, and they were convicted as such.

"For his part, Shahed 'Malik' Hussain was a hero who had infiltrated a terror cell and broken up a dangerous plot -- just in time to save hundreds or thousands of people from being killed or injured in horrendous ways.

"Apparently, the jurors simply thought about what they were told to think about by the prosecution: the death and destruction the bombs would have caused, all the suffering, all the disruption, everything except the most elemental facts of the case: If no government agent had brought these four people together for his own purposes, they wouldn't have been together at all! If the government agent had not been providing weapons, there would have been no weapons! If the government agent had not been dreaming up the plot behind closed doors with his FBI handler, there would have been no plot! And if the government agent hadn't been driving the others, literally in his car and figuratively as well --

"Nothing at all would have happened!" I exclaimed.

"We can't be entirely certain of that last point, Watson," said Holmes. "It would be more accurate to say the prosecution presented no evidence that would have led anyone to suspect that anything dangerous or violent would have happened, had the 'Newburgh Four' been left on their own.

"The press were told that the government had infiltrated the 'terror cell' long ago, and that there was never any serious danger to the public. This is quite a common feature in such cases. But juries never hear anything of the sort. Instead they hear wildly inflated tales of outcomes that were never possible in the first place, and they swallow the stories whole, practically every time.

"Fred talked about a study being done by the New York University Law School, which documents one case of 'terror' entrapment after another. According to the scholars at NYU, more than 200 people have been prosecuted, or are currently being prosecuted, in cases of 'terror plots' which never would have existed had the government not set out to create cells of 'terror suspects' who could then be arrested, charged, tried and convicted.

"As far as I can tell, the 'Newburgh Four' case is remarkable mostly for the amount of money that was supposedly on offer, and for the fact that The Village Voice has done some brave reporting on the case. In most other cases, it seems, the instigator doesn't pretend to be so generous, and the prosecutor's side of the story is the only one to see any ink at all."

"One would think," I said, "that from a government point of view, this sort of entrapment scheme would be seen as counter-productive."

"So it would seem," said Sherlock Holmes, "if justice were the highest aim, or if preventing terrorism were the main objective. But apparently these are not the primary goals of all governments."

"And you think this has something to do with the death of Gareth Williams?" I asked.

"The more I consider the possibility, the more likely I it seems," he said. "The pattern we've been discussing is not confined to the USA. Very similar cases have arisen in Canada, Germany, Belgium, and elsewhere."

"Do you know of anything similar happening here?" I asked.

"More to the point," replied my friend, "did Gareth know of anything similar happening here?"