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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My love of New Jersey and my love of This American Life collide in this week's replay of a TAL episode I've mentioned before about Hemant Lakhani, controversially arrested and sentenced to decades in jail for selling one U.S. government informant a fake missile provided to him by a different U.S. government informant. Turns out the U.S. attorney in the case and interviewed on the program is Chris Christie, currently leading the polls against Jon Corzine for governor of New Jersey. The case is misleadingly highlighted on Christie's Web site as one of his "cases that made a difference":

Obscure businessman and British citizen, Hemant Lakhani, came on the radar screen of the FBI because of his desire to broker the sale of shoulder-fired missiles to shoot down American passenger jets. His independent efforts to find an arms buyer and his persistence in completing a deal that would result in a terrorist attack in the United States sealed the image of someone predisposed and motivated to follow through with terrorist acts.

Chris Christie led the team that prosecuted Mr. Lakhani, ultimately securing a conviction and putting him behind bars for the rest of his life.
If you listen to the episode you'll see almost none of this is correct; in particular, the "deal" would certainly not have resulted in a terrorist attack on the United States because everyone involved but Mr. Lakhani was working on behalf of the United States government. Lakhani is a fool, but almost certainly not an arms trader and probably no danger to anyone—and to all appearances the Lakhani case is an debacle and an embarrassment for the DOJ, making no "difference" at all in the context of the larger prosecution of al Qaeda and highlighting the danger of career prosecutors who seek convictions over just results.