Much has been said about the FBI tactics used in apprehending alleged attempted Portland bomber Mohamed Osman Mohamud. Was he a dyed-in-the-wool jihadist that would have struck, were it not for an FBI sting? Or was was he an impressionable young man that was goaded toward terror by overzealous feds? The same questions, it seems, might be raised about Lian Yang, the 46-year-old Microsoft-contracted engineer from Woodinville who was arrested on Friday after the FBI says he thought he was going to meet with people who would buy illegal satellite parts, but were really federal agents posing as such.
According to an APreport on Monday, Yang came to the attention of the FBI more than a year ago, when they learned he might be trying to smuggle satellite parts to China.
So from then until his arrest on Friday, federal agents posing as potential buyers were in touch with Yang, continuing their deception while, they say, he furthered his smuggling plot. They say he was even interested in setting up a fake company that would make it seem as if the restricted parts were being purchased within the country, when they were really being shipped elsewhere.
If proven, the crimes are serious and Yang likely deserves to be punished. But the length to which federal investigators are apparently willing to go in order to catch someone in the act of plotting a crime (in this case, a nearly two-year-long sting operation that likely cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in resources) raises questions of whether investigators are unfairly creating circumstances in which a crime may occur that may have never gotten off the ground, were it not for their involvement.
For example, would Yang have continued his smuggling plot if the FBI had not come in and provided what seemed to be a willing and able buyer to his goods?
A question that will hopefully work itself out in court.
In the meantime, Yang stands charged with violating the Arms Export Control Act and could face up to five years in prison--a sentence that, on its own, begs to question whether such a lengthy and ethically questionable investigation was worth it.