In an extremely bold documentary, Lyric Cabral and David Sutcliffe put themselves in the midst of a live FBI investigation. The FBI are looking to detect and prevent terrorism within the USA, by using undercover operatives to coerce admissions and expose suspects for what they think they are.
It begins by Cabral and Sutcliffe forcing their way into one specific case, in which an associate of theirs kept his secret of being a FBI informant not so secret. Saeed Torres is a proud father, well-connected and works hard to do what he thinks is right. Above all else, he appears genuine and kind-hearted, which makes him perfect for these kinds of operations. The documentary makers follow him with hidden cameras, gain access to texts and phone calls from the FBI and learn in detail about the target.
The target is Al-Akili, a white Muslim convert who promotes Muslim extremist hate speech on his social media pages. What the film-makers do next is a little unconventional, and some might say could constitute a criminal act, but as the investigation intensifies they reach out to Al-Akili directly and film his side of the story. Whether or not they should be interfering with an ongoing investigation is a separate discussion, one that they do not go into, and one that as viewers we are barely given time to digest.
What occurs as a result of their snooping is a frightful account of the FBI’s counter-terrorism tactics in a post-9/11 world. With the informant showing increasing signs of scepticism throughout the documentary, the suspect acknowledging that he feels like a suspect for crimes not yet committed, and a strong level of coercing and implication applied, you wonder at what stage this theory based almost entirely on suspicion, religion and social media, becomes entrapment.
Much like the documentaries before this one (Crime after Crime, Making a Murderer, Central Park Five etc) that explore the American judicial system, the frustrations of having all the cards stacked against you are laid out for all to see. Although relatively unbiased, it does pick a side. It’s no coincidence that once again it is on the side of those stuck in the system, in this instance they’re either unable to remove themselves from investigations they feel are no longer sustainable, or caught in the crosshairs of religious profiling.
(T)error is a thought-provoking and unique documentary that shines a light on a progressively challenging problem. It’s infuriating to watch, but it has to be kept in mind that this is one example, and given the events occurring around the world, is what takes place in this documentary justified? I’m unsure, but none of this sits right at all.