The FBI Groomed a 16-Year-Old With “Brain Development Issues” to Become a Terrorist - The Intercept

Last week, the Department of Justice announced the arrest of a teenager in Massachusetts on allegations of providing financial support to the Islamic State group.

A flurry of reports picked up on the arrest of Mateo Ventura, an 18-year-old resident of the sleepy town of Wakefield, echoing government claims that an international terrorist financier and ISIS supporter had just been busted in the United States. The Department of Justice’s own press release on the case likewise trumpeted Ventura’s arrest for “knowingly concealing the source of material support or resources that he intended to go to a foreign terrorist organization.”

The only problem with the case and how it has been described, however, is that according to the government’s own criminal complaint, Ventura had never actually funded any terrorist group. The only “terrorist” he is accused of ever being in contact with was an undercover FBI agent who befriended him online as a 16-year-old, solicitead small cash donations in the form of gift cards, and directed him not to tell anyone else about their intimate online relationship, including his family.

The arrest has shaken his family, who denied allegations that their son was a terrorist and said that he had been manipulated by the FBI. Ventura’s father, Paul Ventura, told The Intercept that Mateo suffered from childhood developmental issues and had been forced to leave his school due to bullying from other students.

Contrary to the sensational narrative fed to the news media of terrorist financing in the U.S., the charging documents show that Ventura gave an undercover FBI agent gift cards for pitifully small amounts of cash, sometimes in $25 increments. In his initial bid to travel to the Islamic State, the teenager balked — making up an excuse, by the FBI’s own account, to explain why he did not want to go. When another opportunity to travel abroad arose, Ventura balked again, staying home on the evening of his supposed flight instead of traveling to the airport. By the time the investigation was winding down, he appeared ready to turn in his purported ISIS contact — an FBI agent — to the FBI.

[Based] on the government’s own account of what led to Ventura’s arrest, there is reason to believe that his case is less a serious terrorism bust than one of the many instances in which a troubled or mentally unfit young man was groomed by undercover FBI agents to commit a crime that would not have otherwise happened.

This FBI tactic was a mainstay of terrorism prosecutions for roughly two decades. While its use lately has waned, the Ventura case may indicate that authorities are still open to conjuring terrorists where none existed.

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The Intercept

Organizations: United States Department of Justice (DOJ) FBI ISIS 

People: Mateo Ventura 

Tags: Terrorism Corruption Discrimination 

Type: Headlines