Michael C. Finton, aka "Talib Islam", seems like the type who might have been an able foot soldier in a plot organized by non-morons. But left to his own devices his lack of operational secrecy somewhat undermined his endeavors.
According to the FBI release, after the Bureau learned of Finton's apparent interest in becoming a jihadi, the Bureau learned he was on parole and contacted his parole officer to find a parole violation that would allow them to search his home.
Agents found what seems to have amounted to a small literary shrine to John Walker Lindh. And then after Finton was released from jail, in a January 2008 interview with the FBI, Finton explained that he idolized Lindh. Faced with this evidence that Finton not only had an interest in becoming a terrorist but was also an easy mark, agents preceded to draw him into his own private terrorist plot that led this week to his arrest.
The case of Hosam Maher Husein Smadi in Texas has very different facts but a similar feel. From the FBI release ...
The FBI developed an investigative plan to determine Smadi's true intent while also protecting the public's safety. Smadi made clear his intention to serve as a soldier for Usama Bin Laden and al Qaeda, and to conduct violent jihad. Undercover FBI agents, posing as members of an al Qaeda "sleeper" cell, were introduced to Smadi, who repeatedly indicated to them that he came to the U.S. for the specific purpose of committing "Jihad for the sake of God." Smadi clarified that he was interested in "self-jihad," because it was "the best type of jihad." Smadi was interested in violent jihad against those he deemed to be enemies of Islam. The investigation determined Smadi was not associated with other terrorist organizations.
It makes perfect sense for the FBI to look for and try to roll up people looking to blow up buildings in the US. But these anti-terrorism cases are certainly more comforting when the would-be terrorists turn out to have been in league -- pretty much from the word go -- with government informants rather actual operatives the government has never heard of.