Just last week, reports broke across the internet that the Justice Department had taken a teenager into custody in the state of Massachusetts due to allegations he was providing financial support to the Islamic State terrorist organization. According to The Intercept, a series of reports shone a spotlight on the arrest of Mateo Ventura, who is 18 and living in the small town of Wakefield, going on to share claims made by the government that they had just taken down an international terrorist financier and supporter of ISIS in the United States.
A press release that was put out by the DOJ concerning the case blasted out Ventura’s arrest, stating he was taken into custody for “knowingly concealing the source of material support or resources that he intended to go to a foreign terrorist organization.”
However, according to The Intercept, there’s a big problem with how the case was described by the government, as its own complaint says Ventura had never actually provided any sort of financial support for ISIS. In fact, the report reveals, the only “terrorist” that he is actually accused of having contact with was an undercover agent working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who befriended Ventura when he was only 16-years-old.
Allegedly, the agent solicited a number of small cash donations from Ventura in the form of gift cards, going on to instruct him not to tell anyone about the money or their friendship online, not even his family.
Ventura’s arrest has left his family members shaken, all of whom have denied that he is a terrorist, claiming that the boy was manipulated by the undercover agent and the FBI. Paul Ventura, the boy’s father, spoke with The Intercept and said that his son has dealt with childhood developmental problems and had been forced out of his school because he was being bullied by classmates.
“He was born prematurely, he had brain development issues. I had the school do a neurosurgery evaluation on him and they said his brain was underdeveloped,” Ventura told The Intercept. “He was suffering endless bullying at school with other kids taking food off his plate, tripping him in the hallway, humiliating him, laughing at him.”
The charging documents in the case clearly show that despite the narrative being pushed in the media, Ventura only donated small amounts to the undercover agent, sending him gift cards for $25 on some occasions. The FBI later admitted that during his first attempt to travel to the Islamic State, the teenager tried to make up an excuse to explain why he did not want to go.
When a second opportunity to travel presented itself, Ventura balked again, opting to stay home on the evening he was scheduled to fly out. By this time, the investigation into Venture was quickly drawing to a close, however, as it turned out, Ventura was actually getting ready to turn the ISIS contact, who was an undercover FBI agent, into the FBI.
Many are saying that this is yet another example of the FBI using undercover agents to groom mentally troubled or unfit young men to engage in criminal activity they would not have otherwise been a part of.
Back in 2014, an organization known as Human Rights Watch put out a report that slammed the use of informants in terrorism investigations, saying that “In this way, the FBI may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals.”
“There is still significant use of informants and undercover agents in FBI investigations who aren’t just gathering information about potential crimes but are actively suggesting ideas for crimes or making it easier for people to do the things that they claim they want to do,” Naz Ahmad, acting director of the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility, or CLEAR, project at the City University of New York School of Law, went on to say concerning the subject. “There are documented cases where the government has provided people everything that they needed to execute a plot. Informants and undercover agents have often been used as a tool in these investigations to prod things along.”
The young man’s father, Paul, told The Intercept that in 2021, armed agents from the bureau came to his home and said that Mateo was visiting websites “that he shouldn’t be looking at,” before going on to connect him with what they told Mateo’s dad was a counselor. He said that after the first visit, he was unaware that his son was communicating with an undercover FBI agent online.
“Two years ago, the FBI came to my house and they took his computer and said he’s on these sites he shouldn’t be on. We said OK, and he wasn’t arrested at that time or anything. I didn’t hear from them again after that, but I guess over time things escalated,” Paul Ventura explained. “I wasn’t home a lot because I work, and he wasn’t at school because of the bullying. Instead of them telling me that he’s doing what he’s doing online and to take his computer away, they let him keep doing it.”
Ventura talked with the agent, unwittingly, concerning how he might serve ISIS, including joining them on the battlefield in a foreign nation. The pair eventually settled on him purchasing a $25 Google Play gift card and then sending the agent the redemption code.
The FBI, again, totally undercover, then had the 16-year-old boy make an audio recording of himself pledging his allegiance to the leader of the terrorist group and transmitting that audio over the online chat.
During the course of the next two years, Ventura continued to send the undercover agent gift cards, adding up to a total of $965 while he was a minor and another $705 after becoming an adult.
However, despite trying to prepare Ventura to join ISIS physically, he seemed to get cold feet, concocting stories of fake injuries and other measures in order to avoid traveling.
Later, Ventura actually phoned up the FBI on several occasions to try and turn in the agent in order to help the bureau stop a future ISIS terrorist attack and give them additional information about folks who were trying to set up travel for the organization in exchange for money and immunity.
Despite all of this, Ventura was arrested in June and charged on one count of “knowingly concealing the source of material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization.” The 18-year-old could potentially serve a decade in prison.
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