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How We Catch Terrorists

A lot of folks on the Internets aren’t too happy with how the FBI is catching terrorists these days, by seemingly manufacturing them. I can’t say it’s a perfect method for catching terrorists, but I’m not sure what they are doing isn’t the least evil of the options available. First off, suggesting that the FBI is manufacturing terrorists is probably a bit of a hyperbole. Generally speaking, what constitutes entrapment is pretty well defined, and if the FBI wants to have a case, they will be careful to avoid it. So what are the elements of entrapment?

  1. The idea for committing the crime came from the government agents and not from the person accused of the crime.
  2. Government agents then persuaded or talked the person into committing the crime. Simply giving him the opportunity to commit the crime is not the same as persuading him to commit the crime.
  3. The person was not ready and willing to commit the crime before the government agents spoke with him.

If this turns out to be entrapment, I’ll jump on board in criticizing the FBI’s methods. But I don’t really like the idea of violent jihadis wandering around the United States, with only a lack of materials standing between themselves and the next Oklahoma City. If you think about it, the alternatives are probably worse than what the FBI is doing. What alternatives would there be?

  • More controls over explosives and explosive precursors. Given how many chemicals are explosive precursors, this method doesn’t enthuse me. Plus, much like gun control, it’s not going to stop someone determined. But it will definitely be annoying for people who lawfully use explosives or their precursors.
  • More domestic spying. If you’re going to keep close enough eye on them to catch them when they finally do hook up with Ahmed the Truck Bomb Maker, you’ll need to keep a close watch on them and anyone they associate with. Without thinking about the manpower issues involved here, it’ll be a big problem if one of these jihadists manage to slip away from his FBI watchers after securing an uncomfortable amount of Semtex.
  • Widen the GWOT to ensure terrorists have no places to train, hide, or get radicalized. This would be my preferred option, but it’s not politically or economically feasible. You’d have to send troops into Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, and Yemen. The only way we’re paying for such an expansion of military action is either through massive tax hikes or adding even more to our deficit. That still doesn’t stop the problem of people who are already over here and already radicalized.
  • Doing nothing as long as terrorism is a low level problem. I’d probably be OK with this too, but the first time one of these guys manages to get his hands on something and executes another Oklahoma City, I can promise you there will be all kinds of restrictions put on not only explosives and precursors, but many civil liberties.
  • Institute extreme violations of civil liberties for Muslim Americans. I don’t find this option to be remotely acceptable, and don’t think anyone else should either.

So as much as it might feel better if we catch terrorists just before they are about to trigger the detonator on the truck bomb Ahmed built, setting the bar at that height seems to have an awful potential for someone actually pulling it off before agents can intervene. You can’t just think of what your reaction would be to a potential truck bombing. You have to think of what the now frightened population is going to let the civil servants get away with, and it can be guaranteed they will try to get away with as much as they can. Last time we went through this, our wonderful civil servants almost ended model rockery as a hobby in the United States, among other things.

So for now, provided the FBI isn’t unlawfully entrapping people, I’m fine with the FBI hooking up people who have the will to commit violent jihad with what they think is the means, and then busting them. It’s probably the lesser of available evils at the moment. It’s not the explosives that are dangerous, but the jihadist who has no issues murdering men, women and children as they go about their daily lives that’s dangerous. That’s generally been our philosophy when arguing against gun control right?

24 Responses to “How We Catch Terrorists”

  1. Tam says:

    First off, suggesting that the FBI is manufacturing terrorists is probably a bit of a hyperbole.

    I would never in a million jillion bazillion years engage in hyperbole!!!!!

  2. I was troubled by what the FBI is doing when the first case came to light in Dallas a few years ago. However, after researching it and finding out everything I could, I changed my mind:
    1. The FBI agents wait until the suspects actively seek help in blowing something up.
    2. They ask the suspect if they are sure they want to do this.
    3. They don’t arrest the suspect until he pushes the button the detonator. In other words, the suspect (in his mind) knowingly attempted to kill hundreds of people.

    There is nothing even remotely like entrapment involved in these cases. It would be like someone popping up on a message board asking help killing his spouse. The cops investigate it. Actually make sure that the moron is going to try to kill his spouse. Then arrest him when he pulls the trigger on the gun loaded with blanks.

  3. terraformer says:

    You are forgetting something. The FBI found out about this kid from violating the civil liberties of american citizens through their use of eschelon/carnivore based spying of email originating in the US.

  4. mike says:

    “You are forgetting something. The FBI found out about this kid from violating the civil liberties of american citizens through their use of eschelon/carnivore based spying of email originating in the US.”

    Is this true?

  5. I don’t know which kid terraformer is referring to. I know the one in Dallas they learned about from public postings he made on an internet forum.

  6. craig henry says:

    The tactics used here strike me as similar to those used to catch people who are trying to hire a hitman. Husband tries to put a contract out on his wife and then stars in a candid camera video with an undercover cop.

  7. Sebastian says:

    I think one of them they found out about because they intercepted his e-mails to someone they were watching in Pakistan. I generally take eavesdropping on the communications of enemy countries as a given.

  8. Dogboy49 says:

    Sorry, Snowflakes, can’t disagree with you more on this.

    All of these solutions are great – as long as they are applied to Ahmed. Unfortunately, the Police community and the National Security community have a long history of using their newfound powers against the ‘problem of the day’, which sometimes can include ‘anyone they don’t like’.

    We need to keep a very tight rein on our public servants, lest they morph into the bad guys. The less powers they have, the better I like it.

    I would much rather live in fear of terrorists than in fear of a SWAT team that has somehow decided that I am one of the bad guys. ‘Lesser of the two evils’ is still the road to ‘evil’.

  9. What does this have to do with SWAT teams? All of these guys sought out assistance in bombing civilians. If you don’t want to run afoul of this, don’t seek to blow up civilians. Don’t push the button on the detonator for what you think is a bomb targeted at civilians.

  10. Alpheus says:

    Timothy Covington’s last comment, “Don’t push the button on the detonator for what you think is a bomb targeted at civilians”, reminds me of a Twilight Zone episode where someone is given $1million for pushing a button, knowing that, if he pushed the button, that someone was going to die…when he chose to push the button, and got $1million, he was told that his time to spend that money was limited–the next button-push would kill him.

    Since that’s the case here, I say: lock up the kid.

    This also reminds me of a case in New York State, where someone, distressed that his niece had been raped by someone, was talked into hiring a “hit man”, who was really a police informant. When it came time to “pay up”, this person decided to back out, but the informant said “I already have the gun, so you should at least pay for that!” so the person paid $500…and then got into a lot of legal trouble.

    In that case, it was entrapment: the informant took advantage of this person’s grief, and the person, in the end, didn’t want to go through with it.

    I have no qualms about “helping” someone who clearly has a desire to commit a crime, though there is a danger that the kid might find another source of weapons, and the FBI might get an unexpected “kaboom”…but even then, they would have an immediate suspect.

  11. mariner says:

    The problem with this is that we KNOW, to a CERTAINTY, that the FBI has abused this tactic in the past.

    We KNOW, to a CERTAINTY, that they lied their asses off when it blew up in their faces, and not a single FBI agent suffered even an indictment over it.

    But now, we should trust them. “Jihadists”, you know. I wonder how many of those are like “white separatists” and “child molesters”.

    I have a hard time with that.

  12. Sigivald says:

    Terraformer: Show us. Asserting it don’t make it true.

    (Also, “Carnivore” is so-named because it’s programmed specifically to “only eat the meat’, and pick up precisely what the warrant

    And of course what they use now isn’t even the “Carnivore” system.)

    I’ve seen lots of people all assert that “it/they are violating our liberties”, but it’s always just been assertion that there weren’t any warrants or court orders.

    All the cases that “leak” out seem to involve them, oddly enough.

    (And I’m with timothy vs. Dogboy; I don’t see how the tactics actually described as being applied here could possibly be “applied to you and me” in a harmful way.

    Oh, the State could lie about our “active choice to commit crimes” or the like, but they could do that right now; you can’t stop a frame-up from being attempted if the police forces really want to try one.

    “Less powers” is one thing, but … it’s not like “watching people who are plotting to do evil and then arresting them when they try” is novel; it’s been in the police playbook since before America existed, and somehow the Republic didn’t end because of it. It’s also not problematic, as long as the watchdogs watch the cases as they’re tried, along with good defense lawyers, to make sure nobody can actually be successfully entrapped.

    Sebastian is right, in my estimation, about it being by far the lesser available evil, especially until the international swamp of Jihad-promotion can be drained.)

  13. Do police engage in entrapment? Absolutely. Have they done it in these cases? I rather doubt it, or the news media would be making a rather loud screech about it. Should we be vigilant (especially when we are called to jury duty) about this? Absolutely. But I do not find it at all hard to believe that there are a number of not too bright wannabe jihadis in the U.S. stupid enough to express their desires, and stupid enough to go along with FBI undercover agents.

  14. SayUncle says:

    It’s kinda like drug addicts. No one made them smoke crack that first time . . .

  15. mike says:

    Well, at least they didn’t let the explosion happen this time, like they did at the WTC:
    http://www.nytimes.com/1993/10/28/nyregion/tapes-depict-proposal-to-thwart-bomb-used-in-trade-center-blast.html

  16. Ian Argent says:

    Chalk me up as not terribly bothered either. In the end, he pushed the button; after being given opportunities to back out.

  17. anon says:

    “What alternatives would there be?”

    + Severely curtail immigration from countries know to breed extremists.
    (plenty of issues with this, but as long as it was country based rather than religion based, it would pass muster and help)

    + Declare Islam a death cult rather than a religion, and treat it as such.
    ( constitutionally unacceptable – but strictly speaking, so was denazification in concept – but we didn’t have any problem killing political freedom for them ).

    I think looking at how the post-war Germans have treated Nazis is worth exploring. Declare Islam an illegal organization. I’m kind of sick of the PC bullspit forcing us to ignore the simple truth that this is a problem with ISLAMIC Fundamentalists. We don’t give free reign to any idiot who says his religion requires human sacrifice, do we? We shouldn’t be giving a pass to a religion that open advocates killing ‘infidels’ i.e. anyone who isn’t a member of their cult.

  18. Sebastian says:

    Yeah, why not. We were never very serious about the whole freedom of religion thing anyway :)

  19. Ian Argent says:

    “We had to destroy the Constitution in order to save it,” apparently.

    Do me a favor, replace “muslim” with “gun-owner” in your post, anon, and tell me what you think about it. Because that’s what the Bradies do ever time there’s a shooting incident.

    He deserves to rot in jail for the remainder of his natural life if he did what they say he did, because there are things you Do Not Do, one of which is attempt mass murder. But he did it, not the Somali guy driving the taxi from Newark Airport, keeping his head down and making a living. He did it, not my high-school buddy, star of the wrestling team and now wrestling coach at a school in the VA Tidewater region, and, oh yeah, a muslim and son of a muslim (both stand-up guys).

    We demand that the enemies of freedom treat us as individuals, and don’t lump us in with the likes of the Columbine killers, or the Beltway snipers, or the guy at Luby’s Cafeteria, or Lee Harvey Oswald, &c, &c. How about extending some of that courtesy to others, hey?

  20. Dogboy49 says:

    Only eighteen comments to reach the fulfillment of Godwin’s law.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin%27s_law
    Not a record, but commendable nonetheless.

    I stand by my original statements. I believe that our beloved elected officials, encouraged by a fearful electorate, are all focusing far too much emphasis on ‘preventing terrorism’. Number one priority in a republic should ALWAYS be preserving individual liberty. Dealing with the bad guys should be a distant second…

    Terrorism can never be totally eliminated. Giving the FBI more latitude to execute arrests that are ‘close to entrapment but not quite’ won’t eliminate terrorism, no matter what anyone tells you. Why should we permit it? What’s next?

    “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither safety nor liberty.”

  21. Ian Argent says:

    In the end, its an exercise in line-drawing. The FBI got close to the line here. Realy close. But they didn’t step over, IMHO.

    My only thought is, was this efficient? How much resources used to nail one guy, and were there better uses?

    And, for the “entrapment” types. Intel showed that this guy was aiming to misbehave. Shoudl the FBI just surveilled him (risking, eventually, letting him know they know and him countering) or giv ehim enough rope to hang himself?

  22. Kim du Toit says:

    “We were never very serious about the whole freedom of religion thing anyway”

    Except, Sebastian, that Islam is not JUST a religion. It’s a political system, in its entirety, with its own set of laws (mostly in contradiction to our own Consitution, by the way). If we could outlaw Communism — and prevent Communists from coming into the country during the Cold War — we could (and should) do the same with Islam. The religious underpinnings of Islam are irrelevant, and just give the Islamists their means to undermine our society.
    As the man said: our Constitution is not a suicide pact, and we allow our enemies to use it against us at our peril.
    as for the entrapment issue and the Fibbies: Randy Weaver was entrapped; these Islamist fanatics weren’t. Their intent was clear and apparent. Despite them being given several opportunities to back down, none of them did.

  23. Ian Argent says:

    I’m not aware that we outlawed “Communism”; ISTR that there’s been a communist party of the United States all along. Nor did we outlaw Communists, nor prevent subjects of the Soviet Union from emigrating to the US, etc. We prevented certain people from entering the US, and punished certain communists for illegal behavior, yes.

    All of the religions of the Book have Law that applies to secular situations, from Judaism through Islam, some of which is antithetical to our liberties. That doesn’t stop them from being religions. Banning religions because some of their adherents are medieval knuckledraggers is a slipperly slope I don’t want to get within a county of, thatyouverymuch.

    OTOH, I’m not arguing these guys were entrapped, either. They were investigated as individuals, and will be tried and punished as individuals for their individual acts; as they should be.

  24. Let me emphasize that the complete neutrality between all religions, or in the ACLU formulation, between religion and non-religion, is not an originalist understanding of the First Amendment. Justice Joseph Story’s early commentary on the Constitution observed:

    The same policy, which introduced into the Constitution the prohibition of any religious test, led to this more extended prohibition of the interference of Congress in religious concerns. We are not to attribute this prohibition of a national religious establishment to an indifference to religion in general, and especially to Christianity, (which none could hold in more reverence, than the framers of the Constitution,) but to a dread by the people of the influence of ecclesiastical power in matters of government…

    The promulgation of the great doctrines of religion, the being, and attributes, and providence of one Almighty God ; the responsibility to Him for all our actions, founded upon moral accountability ; a future state of rewards and punishments ; the cultivation of all the personal, social, and benevolent virtues ;—these never can be a matter of indifference in any well-ordered community. It is, indeed, difficult to conceive, how any civilized society can well exist without them. And, at all events, it is impossible for those, who believe in the truth of Christianity, as a Divine revelation, to doubt, that it is the especial duty of government to foster, and encourage it among all the citizens and subjects. This is a point wholly distinct from that of the right of private judgement in matters of religion, and of the freedom of public worship, according to the dictates of one’s conscience.

    Probably, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, and of the amendment to it, now under consideration, the general, if not the universal, sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the State, so far as such encouragement was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience, and the freedom of religious worship. An attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation.

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