Deprived of an easily caricatured right-wing villain like Timothy McVeigh or an elaborate plot directed by an al-Qaeda operative in the Middle East, pols and pundits on both the right and left are grasping for ways to protect ourselves from self-radicalized individuals. Ban explosive powder, announces Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (R-Nev.) A senior Republican adviser scoffs: “A background check to go to Home Depot.”
Maybe if we just passed background checks for guns, Islamist radicals would not set off bombs in public. (The Post’s Jonathan Capehart says that those voting against background checks for guns were protecting terrorists.) I suppose it is not sufficient to label such senators as “cowards’; now they must be denounced as traitors.
Then on the right, the answer we are told, is to stop immigration. Or stop immigration reform, which would identify the lion’s share of immigrants, leaving a smaller pool of menacing individuals upon whom to focus.
The country has gone through a great shock, but there is no excuse for such foolishness. We don’t stop Islamic jihadists by forcing background checks for fireworks or closing the gun-show loophole. (I’m not opposed to the latter, but let’s get real: This is not an anti-terrorism strategy.)
Let’s consider three steps that are actually focused on the problem at hand, the radicalization of Americans and non-Americans who become intoxicated with jihadist ideology and thereby take up arms against the Great Satan.
Step one: The president and his administration stop censoring government officials and state plainly that the enemy is in fact “radical jihadists” or “Islamic fundamentalists.” It is not al-Qaeda, per se, nor is it isolated to one region of the globe. Unless we are clear-headed about the enemy we aren’t going to get local, state and federal authorities pointed in the right direction; instead we’ll spend our time on entirely unproductive steps (e.g. blocking immigration reform with border enforcement). Once we have that down we can consider a host of strategies, including reviewing Miranda standards, instituting a drone strategy with proper oversight and funding national security properly. To declare that a decade of war is ending is not only wrong, but dangerous.
Step two: Put New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly in charge of the FBI or at least duplicate his tactics in every locale and at the federal level. Judy Miller explains:
The 1,000 cops and analysts who work in the NYPD’s intelligence and counterterrorism divisions, for instance, would likely have flagged Tamerlan Tsarnaev for surveillance, given Police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s insistence on aggressively monitoring groups and individuals suspected of radicalization.
New York cops almost surely would have monitored Tamerlan—the elder of the two brothers—if they had known that Russia had warned the FBI in 2011 that he was an Islamic radical, that he was potentially dangerous, and that he had spent several months in Dagestan, a Russian republic with an Islamic insurgency, in 2012. “We would have been very reluctant to shut down an investigation if we knew all that it seems the bureau knew or could have known, especially once he had traveled to a region of concern,” says Mitchell Silber, the former director of intelligence analysis for the NYPD, who now works at K2, a New York-based private security firm.
Kelly refuses to be bullied into curtailing his life-saving tactics. He therefore continues to keep “close ties to Muslim preachers and community leaders, as well as a network of tipsters and undercover operatives”; utilize thousands of active video monitors; and “understand Muslim communities and follow tips and leads by sending plainclothes officers to mosques, restaurants and other public venues where Muslims congregate. This effort—which follows court-ordered guidelines—might have secured information preventing last week’s bombings.”
Step three: Get intelligence agencies to cooperate as they were urged to do more than a decade ago by the Sept. 11 Commission. The Post reports:
The CIA pushed to have one of the suspected Boston Marathon bombers placed on a U.S. counterterrorism watch list more than a year before the attacks, U.S. officials said Wednesday. . . .
The disclosure of the CIA’s involvement suggests that the U.S. government may have had more reason than it has previously acknowledged to scrutinize Tsarnaev in the months leading up to the bombings in Boston. It also raises questions why U.S. authorities didn’t flag his return to the United States and investigate him further after a seven-month trip he took to Russia last year.
In short, it’s time to get serious about the enemy and stop pretending our homeland can be made safe from Islamic fundamentalists by fireworks regulations or expanding background checks. The way to stop Islamic fundamentalists from killing and maiming our people is to recognize our enemy and develop a comprehensive national security strategy to intercept, disable and eradicate the threat — which is not a pressure cooker or a gun or immigration.
It is discomforting to some that there is no easier, less comprehensive way to do this, but unless and until someone comes up with a methodology as effective as Kelly’s, I’d suggest we try what we know works.