<< How real was the threat? >>
Also see: Dept of Justice, "US Attorney Announces Unsealing Of Charges Against Three Men Arrested For International Plot To Carry Out Terrorist Attacks In NYC," http://tinyurl.com/y722eq2q.
This case like many (see below) involved the active participation of an FBI handler; They're 'sting' operations. Would the plot have matured or even occurred otherwise? In many other instances, no - although such cases add to pervasive public fear of terrorism, and they give false assurance of effective counter-terrorism policies. What stings mostly turn up is some degree of 'proclivity' to terrorist action or 'susceptibility' to terrorist influence.
Obviously, the threat of US terrorist attack related to overseas wars is real. The problem is that sting operations give the false impression that US law enforcement agencies are effectively containing it.
- Kansas City Star (2017), "FBI undercover stings foil terrorist plots - but often plots of the agency’s own making," http://tinyurl.com/jbswpl7. "Of 126 Islamic State-related cases prosecuted by federal authorities across the country since 2014, nearly two-thirds involved undercover agents or informants." (And many others involved no US attack plans.)
- New Yorker (2016), "Do FBI Stings Help the Fight Against ISIS?," http://tinyurl.com/y8b9wdmg.
- Guardian, "How terrorist 'entrapment' ensnares us all," http://tinyurl.com/y7meuk99.
- Al Jazeera, "US law enforcement accused of using entrapment to ensnare ‘terrorists’," http://tinyurl.com/nxpuezw.
- Mother Jones (2013), "Inside the Terror Factory," tinyurl.com/y8h5evqa. Edited excerpt from author interview (http://tinyurl.com/yamshotd):
"In the 10 years after 9/11, there were 500 defendants who were charged with federal crimes involving international terrorism. About 250 were charged with things like immigration violations or lying to the FBI... Of the 500, about 150 were caught in sting operations; these operations were solely the creation of the FBI through an FBI informant or undercover agent providing the means and the opportunity, the bomb, the idea, and so on... Only about five people of the 500 charged...were involved in some sort of plot that either had weapons of their creation or acquisition or were connected to international terrorists in some way... Those are the five that you can point to in the decade after 9/11 who seemed to pose a significant threat... That’s a handful compared to the more than 150 who were caught in these sting operations."