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August 7, 2009

Arms Trader 2009

The U.S. government spent two years on a sting operation trapping an Indian man named Hemant Lakhani, whom they suspected of being an illegal arms dealer.

It's one of the first cases that went to trial in the War on Terror, and one the Justice Department pointed to as one of their big successes. In the end, they got Lakhani, red-handed, delivering a missile to a terrorist in New Jersey. The only problem was, nothing in the sting was what it appeared to be. Including the missile.

Prologue

Host Ira Glass describes a recent terrorism case in Newburgh, N.Y., in which four men were arrested after planting bombs in front of a synagogue and Jewish community center. Ira discusses the case with Aziz Huq, assistant professor at the University of Chicago Law School and co-author of Unchecked and Unbalanced: Presidential Power in a Time of Terror. Huq says the Newburgh case isn't what it seems, because without the help of a government informant, the four men probably wouldn't have been able to organize an act of terrorism. The Newburgh case is part of a pattern of sting operations the government has undertaken since September 11th as part of its mandate to catch terrorists before they strike. The first big investigation to test this approach—the case of Hemant Lakhani—is the subject of today's show. (3 minutes).

Act One

Hemant Lakhani, an Indian-born British citizen, had been a salesman all his life. Clothing, rice, oil...it didn't matter to him what, as long as he could spin a deal. Then one day, sitting in a hotel room with a gangster he happened to know, the phone rang. It wasa business friend of the gangster's, calling from America. The man on the phone was rich, Lakhani was told. Maybe he would invest in Lakhani's latest venture. So Lakhani started talking to the man over the phone. Pretty soon they set up a meeting at a hotel in New Jersey, to talk business. But when Lakhani got there, the man seemed to be only interested in buying weapons. Illegal weapons, for Somali terrorists. Lakhani, always eager to make a deal, said he can help him out. What he didn't know, is that the supposed rich business man was an FBI informant, and that he had just walked into an elaborate government sting. Petra Bartosiewicz reports. (30 minutes)

Act Three

Ira talks to Aziz Huq about whether cases like Lahkani's will continue to be pursued under the Obama administration, and why that's problematic. (2 minutes)