Another disturbing case of how US intelligence services operate.
On August 23, 2011,Â 46-year-old Marcus Dwayne Robertson, the imam of an Orlando, Florida mosque,Â was arrested, imprisoned andÂ charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He pleaded guilty.
AlmostÂ four years after his initial arrest, Robertson, also known as â€śAbu Taubah,â€ť is still behind bars awaiting sentencing for that crime, as well as forÂ a separateÂ count ofÂ conspiracy to file a fraudulent taxÂ refund claim. He couldÂ be released on time served based on those charges, but the U.S. government is now seeking a â€śterrorismÂ enhancementâ€ť that could result in him serving an additionalÂ 20 years in prison.
Part of whatÂ makes the case unusual is that Robertson has never actually been charged with planning or committing any terrorist acts. Instead, prosecutors are trying to use his possession of Islamic literature as proof of his terrorist intent.Â Citing statements a young acquaintance of Robertsonâ€™s made to a government informant, in addition to passages from a number of e-books found in Robertsonâ€™s possession after his arrest, prosecutorsÂ are arguing that the imamÂ is â€śan extremist seeking to promote violent jihad.â€ť
Robertson, for his part, alleges that he has been a target of entrapment and malicious prosecution.Â More spectacularly, he also claims that he was a covert government operative who cameÂ under scrutiny after refusing to perform certain tasks requested of him by the CIA.Â While this claim may seem fantastical, a sentencing memorandum issued by his lawyers in late April statesÂ thatÂ the government has confirmed a numberÂ of Robertsonâ€™s claims regarding past clandestine activities he conducted on the governmentâ€™sÂ behalf.
True or not, Robertsonâ€™s life has taken a series of improbable turns, from being a U.S. marine, to a member of a New York City street gang, toÂ finally transforming himself into a putative religious leader. Robertsonâ€™s most recent transformationÂ from gang memberÂ to imam began in 1991, when he was sent to prison for a string of robberies and violent incidents targeting police officers and government installations. In the governmentâ€™sÂ sentencing memorandum,Â the prosecution claims that during his membership in a gang known as the â€śFortyÂ Thieves,â€ť he â€śmurdered several individuals; participated inÂ assassination attempts; used pipe bombs, C-4, grenades, other explosives, and automatic weapons.â€ť The government alsoÂ claims thatÂ the Forty Thieves â€śstockpiled weapons and explosives in preparation to fight against the perceived threat of interment of Muslims by the United States.â€ť
Speaking toÂ The Intercept from a Florida jail, Robertson said that many of these government allegations wereÂ false, but conceded that during the early 1990sÂ he wasÂ part of an organizationÂ in New York City calledÂ the Forty Thieves, which he describedÂ as part criminal gang, part vigilante group. â€śDuring thatÂ time in Brooklyn we were dealing with the ongoing crack cocaine epidemic, as well as with pimps and violent drug dealers destroyingÂ the social fabric ofÂ our neighborhood. We formed the Forty Thieves to clean up ourÂ area, and many times the police were on our side in this effort,â€ť Robertson said in a phone interview.
Nonetheless, heÂ added, â€śWe were young, we made foolish decisions, and sometimes we were inadvertently used by people for other agendas. Sometimes ourÂ behaviorÂ crossed aÂ line.â€ť
Robertson testified forÂ the prosecution at the eventual trial of several Forty Thieves members andÂ was released after servingÂ four years in prison.
Once out of prison, Robertsonâ€™s life apparentlyÂ changed course.Â He adopted the teknonym â€śAbu Taubahâ€ť (a reference to a passage of the Quran dealing withÂ repentance for sins), became an imam, and, according to his own account, worked periodically as a covert operative for the CIA and FBI.Â Robertson, who hadÂ previously served in the U.S. Marine Corps, claims to have been a government operative for several years over the past decade, helping conduct domestic terrorism investigations as well as foreign â€śespionageâ€ť operations. The U.S. government, according to a defense memorandum, â€śacknowledges that RobertsonÂ has provided extensive assistance to the authorities.â€ť
While Robertson declined toÂ discuss the specifics of his alleged operations, citing ongoing legal restrictionsÂ in his case, the same defense memorandum states that the government has acknowledgedÂ that between 2004 and 2007, Robertson worked underÂ the direction of the FBI as â€śan extraterritorial confidential source â€¦ sent to Mauritania performing a role that can only be defined as â€?espionage.â€™â€ť The memorandum goes on to state that Robertson â€śserved as a confidential source in domestic terrorism investigations from Atlanta to Los Angeles, wherein he was provided with actual authority to, inter alia: possess firearms in order to maintain his cover and fulfill the objectives set for him by the [FBI Joint Terrorist Task Force] JTTF.â€ť
Robertsonâ€™s latest legal troubles started sometime after he ceased to be a government operative in 2007, according to the defense.