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Your most trusted source for fake bomb materials

This story ran in the New York Times a few days ago. It didn't get very much attention. These things rarely do anymore:

THE United States has been narrowly saved from lethal terrorist plots in recent years — or so it has seemed. A would-be suicide bomber was intercepted on his way to the Capitol; a scheme to bomb synagogues and shoot Stinger missiles at military aircraft was developed by men in Newburgh, N.Y.; and a fanciful idea to fly explosive-laden model planes into the Pentagon and the Capitol was hatched in Massachusetts.

But all these dramas were facilitated by the F.B.I., whose undercover agents and informers posed as terrorists offering a dummy missile, fake C-4 explosives, a disarmed suicide vest and rudimentary training. Suspects naïvely played their parts until they were arrested.

The Times article raises a good question:

Without the F.B.I., would the culprits commit violence on their own? Is cultivating potential terrorists the best use of the manpower designed to find the real ones? Judging by their official answers, the F.B.I. and the Justice Department are sure of themselves — too sure, perhaps.

Seriously. Of course, in every case the "facilitated dramas" involved people whom the FBI claimed were sympathetic to al-Qaeda or Islamic fundamentalist causes. So in this (still?) post-9/11 world you can see why this potential overstepping the bounds of civil liberties isn't going to get the American masses aroused. Of course, those pesky naysayers always countered that the feds could expand these tactics beyond Islamist sympathizers.

Which, of course, they just did. Just in time for May Day:

Five men have been arrested after a months-long sting operation, charged with plotting to blow up a bridge in the Cleveland area, the FBI announced Tuesday.

CBS News senior correspondent John Miller reports the group had been involved in a series of escalating plots that ended with their arrest last night by FBI agents.

The sting operation supplied men, some of whom were alleged to be anarchists, with what they thought were explosives and bomb-making materials.

At no time during the case was the public in danger, the FBI said.

Of course, left-wing anarchists are about as popular as al-Qaeda these days, especially when the Occupy movements messes with one of America's most sacred institutions, rush hour traffic. Amd certainly there's a place in law enforcement for these tactics on occasions (like, isn't a relief -- and downright hilarious at this point -- to know that every single time a person hires "a hitman" it's really an undercover cop.) Hopefully these suspects will get a fair trial, and maybe they really were hellbent on committing terrorism, in which case they'll deserve a jail term.

But when exactly did the FBI morph into a full-time Department of Pre-Crime? And is everybody comfortable with that?

Because frankly I'm not.