Sunday, October 31, 2010

Not Quite Getting It

Andrew McCarthy is a smart guy, and, as I usually say, much smarter than the alleged Smart Guy, Erwin Chemerinsky. But McCarthy has missed the solution to the problem he so eloquently describes in his most recent post on NRO, but more sadly, he touches on the solution, but cannot bring himself to it.

It will not stay an afterthought forever. On Friday, two packages containing explosives were intercepted on cargo planes en route to the United States. President Obama announced that the targets were Chicago synagogues, and the source was al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — Osama bin Laden’s affiliate in Yemen. The alarming discovery capped a week in which the FBI disrupted a plot to attack Washington in a manner reminiscent of the atrocities in Bombay two years ago. Those were carried out by a Pakistani jihadist group, Lashkar-e-Taiba. In the Washington case, the prime suspect, Farooque Ahmed, is also a Pakistani native, and he himself is much more interesting than his plot.
That’s because the plot appears to have been steered by informants after the government learned that Ahmed and another man (elliptically described as “an associate” in an agent’s affidavit) were trying to join a terrorist organization. More worrisome is that Ahmed, like Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber and another Pakistani native, is a young, naturalized American. Like Shahzad, he is in his early 30s, became increasingly radicalized while living in the United States, and acquired citizenship — making it easier for him to plot against us while living among us.

Even if our security precautions were better conceived, even if our agencies consistently performed at their maximum effectiveness (and ask yourself if you do that, or if anyone does that), the odds against continuing to prevent every one of these attacks, or even to dodge them, are too long. The suspect pool is too extensive, it is too easy for those who mean us harm to get here and stay here, the motivating Islamist ideology is too widely disseminated, and the necessary materiel is too readily available. It is little wonder that intelligence services report a noticeable uptick in the chatter that signals an imminent attack.

Eventually, our safeguards will fail. If they do, it will be the other chatter — about Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, the rest of the 2012 intrigue, and even the economy — that recedes from our attention. The uncongenial fact that we remain the target of very determined enemies will push its way to the fore. The new Congress, whether it is under Republican control or merely stronger Republican influence, will need to give our security a good deal more attention than it has received during the campaign...

Agents must furthermore perform amid squabbles over whether terrorism should be treated as part of a war being waged against the United States or as a crime. I have strong views on that subject, and thoughtful people have contrary views they hold just as strongly. But let’s not kid ourselves. Investigations always suffer when beset by philosophical arguments about how they should be done.
This is a matter on which being right, while important, is secondary. The security mission goes on, regardless of the noise around it. As long as the debate is unresolved — and it’s been going on for a decade with no end in sight — we have to ensure that it doesn’t interfere with the mission. Those of us who think war criminals do not belong in civilian courts must nevertheless rally around the civilian prosecutions when they occur. Of course, we should strive to be persuasive in arguing about policy. The goal, however, is to stop the terrorists, not to win the argument over how they should be stopped. Even if we think there is a better way to do this, we want our agents and prosecutors to succeed.

McCarthy thinks the problem is the method of trying the terrorists, as if a military tribunal or an Article III court will end the problem.

Similarly, those who are passionate about civilian due process must not look at every case as an opportunity to demonstrate the effectiveness of the civilian system. Again, the goal is to stop the terrorists, not win the argument. There is plenty of time after a war criminal has been apprehended to debate the forum in which his case should be tried — civilian or military court. But it is abundantly clear that imposing civilian due-process rules too early (Miranda, appointment of counsel, indictment, etc.) can fatally undermine intelligence collection at the most critical stage. Contrary to what some proponents of the law-enforcement approach seem to think, it would not betray their core convictions about the value of civilian trials to green-light aggressive intelligence collection and concede that some due-process protections designed for ordinary criminals are not a good fit for war criminals. It would be pragmatic, which is what they like to tell us they are.
As if matters weren’t politicized enough, agents are also being forced to persevere through stifling political correctness. From the command level, their marching orders make it taboo even to mention terrorism’s catalyst: a mainstream, fundamentalist strain of Islam that we gently call “Islamist” ideology. That makes factoring the ideology into their intelligence assessments impossible. But try outfoxing someone when you’ve been instructed not to consider his motivation, or are told to pretend that it is something other than what it is. It can’t be done. You don’t know whom to look at, where to look, or what to look for.

But, sadly, McCarthy sees both the problem and the solution, but fails to follow through:

That’s because the plot appears to have been steered by informants after the government learned that Ahmed and another man (elliptically described as “an associate” in an agent’s affidavit) were trying to join a terrorist organization. More worrisome is that Ahmed, like Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber and another Pakistani native, is a young, naturalized American. Like Shahzad, he is in his early 30s, became increasingly radicalized while living in the United States, and acquired citizenship — making it easier for him to plot against us while living among us.

Even if our security precautions were better conceived, even if our agencies consistently performed at their maximum effectiveness (and ask yourself if you do that, or if anyone does that), the odds against continuing to prevent every one of these attacks, or even to dodge them, are too long.

And the real problem he alludes to:

The suspect pool is too extensive, it is too easy for those who mean us harm to get here and stay here, the motivating Islamist ideology is too widely disseminated, and the necessary materiel is too readily available. It is little wonder that intelligence services report a noticeable uptick in the chatter that signals an imminent attack.

There we have it, both the problem and, obviously, the solution: Reduce the suspect pool and make it less easy for the suspect pool to enter and remain. Perhaps McCarthy is daring to approach the line but not cross it. I think so, much like Mark Steyn, he seems to know the score, but Ramesh Poneru and Reihan Salam might excommunicate McCarthy, as NPR did for Juan Williams, for his speaking somewhat truth to power. We shall see.

3 comments:

TSB said...

A sad example of "crimestop" from 1984, defined by Orwell as: "The faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. In short....protective stupidity."

Federale said...

Excellent observation. Thank you for improving my blog with quotations from accomplished writers.

Would you care to expand on this thought for publication?

TSB said...

I don't know if I can expand on that thought. But I sure do see intellectual crimestop occurring a lot today, and occurring all across the political spectrum. People will tiptoe up to the point of making a politically incorrect observation and then stop short. We'll know that the Tea Party movement has made a difference if and when writers and spokesmen lose those intellectual inhibitions.