The Find Every Terrorist at Any Cost Industry

As a thought experiment, replace the word “terrorist” in this paragraph with “soldier” or “military.”

All terrorists fundamentally see themselves as altruists: incontestably believing that they are serving a “good” cause designed to achieve a greater good for a wider constituency—whether real or imagined—which the terrorist and his organization or cell purport to represent. Indeed, it is precisely this sense of self-righteous commitment and self-sacrifice that that draws people into terrorist groups. It all helps them justify the violence they commit. It gives them collective meaning. It gives them cumulative power. The terrorist virtually always sees himself as a reluctant warrior: cast perpetually on the defensive and forced to take up arms to protect himself and his community. They see themselves as driven by desperation——and lacking any viable alternative—to violence against a repressive state, a predatory rival ethnic or nationalist group, or an unresponsive international order.

The paragraph comes from Bruce Hoffman, a Georgetown Professor/ThinkTanker whose studies of terrorism predate 9/11 by decades. It forms part of his explanation, post Boston, for why people become terrorists: because they, like our own country increasingly, see violence as a solution to their grievance.

That’s not all of Hoffman’s description of what makes people terrorists, mind you. He goes onto discuss religion and the human relations that might convince someone to engage in violence. But the paragraph has haunted me since I read it over a week ago for how clearly it should suggest that one of the few things that separates terrorism from our country’s own organized violence is official sanction (and at least lip service about who makes an appropriate and legal target).

Which is one reason why Jack Levin, in a piece debunking four myths about terrorism, offers this as one solution.

Somehow, we must reinstate the credibility of our public officials — our president, our Congress, and our Supreme Court Justices — so that alienated Americans do not feel they must go outside of the mainstream and radicalize in order to satisfy their goals.

Blaming terrorism on our dysfunctional political system feels far too easy, but it’s worth remembering that in Afghanistan, Somalia, and parts of Yemen, Al Qaeda has at times won support from locals because it offered “justice” where the official government did not or could not.

In any case, the common sense descriptions Hoffman and Levin offer haven’t prevented a slew of people responding to Boston — some experts, some not — from demanding that we redouble our efforts to defeat any possible hint of Islamic terrorism, no matter the cost.

Batshit crazy Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert claims the Boston attack is all Spencer’s fault: because FBI purged some its training materials of some of the inaccurate slurs about Muslims (but did not even correct the training of Agents who had been taught that claptrap in the first place), it can no longer speak a language appropriate to pursuing terrorists. “They can’t talk about the enemy. They can’t talk about jihad. They can’t talk about Muslim. They can’t talk about Islam.” Which elicited the equally batshit crazy response from Glenn Kessler of taking Gohmert’s premise as a valid one that should be disproven by weighing how much offensive language remains in FBI materials, rather than debunking the very premise that only people who engage in cultural slurs would be able to identify terrorists. I award Kessler four wooden heads.

Somewhat more interesting is this piece from Amy Zegart, another Professor/ThinkTanker. She admits we may not know whether Boston involved some kind of intelligence failure for some time.

Finding out what happened will be trickier than it sounds. Crowdsourcing with iPhones, Twitter, and Lord & Taylor surveillance video worked wonders to nail the two suspects with lightning speed. But assessing whether the bombing constituted an intelligence failure will require more time, patience, and something most people don’t think about much: understanding U.S. counter-terrorism organizations and their incentives and cultures, which lead officials to prioritize some things and forget, or neglect, others.

But that doesn’t stop her from insisting FBI’s culture remains inappropriate to hunting terrorists “pre-boom.”

But it is high time we asked some hard, public questions about whether the new FBI is really new enough. Transformation — moving the bureau from a crime-fighting organization to a domestic intelligence agency — has been the FBI’s watchword since 9/11. And much has changed. Yes, the bureau has thwarted a number of plots and gotten much better at handling its terrorism portfolio. Yes, the bureau has tripled the number of intelligence analysts. And, yes, the FBI now generates thousands of pages of intelligence reports each year.

But the silent killer of innovation in the FBI has always been culture — specifically, a century-old law enforcement culture that glorifies catching perps on a street rather than connecting dots behind a desk, that prizes agents above intelligence analysts, and that views job number one as gathering evidence of a past or ongoing crime for a day in court instead of preventing the next attack. Culture can have serious real-world consequences, coloring how talented people in the FBI do their jobs and, perhaps more importantly, what they think their jobs actually are.

Case in point: What exactly does it mean to “investigate” a terrorist suspect like Tamerlan Tsarnaevbefore an attack transpires? Sounds straightforward. It isn’t. The FBI has always been world-class at investigating a terrorist attack after the boom. Investigating before the boom is another matter.

In the FBI’s traditional law enforcement view of the world, pre-boom terrorism investigations are supposed to hunt narrowly for evidence that someone has committed a terrorist offense or is in the midst of breaking the law right now. In the intelligence view of the world, these investigations are supposed to search widely for information that someone could be a terrorist next month, next year, or next decade — or that they are somehow connected to others who might. These are two radically different perspectives.

Part of me would respond to her post — which, initial caveat notwithstanding, implicitly assumes every successful terrorist attack is an intelligence failure, which in turn seems to assume that all such attacks are preventable — with Bruce Schneier’s take.

Connecting the dots in a coloring book is easy and fun. They’re right there on the page, and they’re all numbered. All you have to do is move your pencil from one dot to the next, and when you’re done, you’ve drawn a sailboat. Or a tiger. It’s so simple that 5-year-olds can do it.

But in real life, the dots can only be numbered after the fact. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to draw lines from a Russian request for information to a foreign visit to some other piece of information that might have been collected.

In hindsight, we know who the bad guys are. Before the fact, there are an enormous number of potential bad guys.

How many? We don’t know. But we know that the no-fly list had 21,000 people on it last year. The Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, also known as the watch list, has 700,000 names on it.

We have no idea how many potential “dots” the FBI, CIA, NSA and other agencies collect, but it’s easily in the millions. It’s easy to work backwards through the data and see all the obvious warning signs. But before a terrorist attack, when there are millions of dots — some important but the vast majority unimportant — uncovering plots is a lot harder.

Schneier’s always good, but this one is particularly worth reading in full. So, too, is this column about how the investigation into Tamerlan would have looked from within the FBI’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, which I believe is already too lax.

But I wanted to add one thing.

Zegart offers, as proof, that the FBI was (in 2011, when it got Russia’s tip on Tamerlan Tsarnaev) too focused on prosecuting post-boom rather than pre-boom, the fact that the 2008-2009 investigation into Nidal Hasan’s emails to Anwar al-Awlaki only took 4 hours.

Nearly a year before the attack, the bureau learned that he was emailing Anwar al-Awlaki, the dangerous and inspirational al Qaeda cleric in Yemen who was later killed in a drone strike. Yet the FBI’s investigation of Hasan took just four hours.

Set aside whether you’d want to use events that happened in 2009 as proof about the state of the FBI and “intelligence” in 2011 (particularly given the amount of second-guessing that followed both the Nidal Hasan and UndieBomber attacks, not to mention expanded use of investigative tools after the Najibullah Zazi attempt) for any argument.

I’m fascinated by the notion that we’re going to measure the adequacy of follow-up on leads based on how much time FBI officers spend (especially given that we know the San Diego FBI Agents had to spend 3 hours a day monitoring the Awlaki feed just to identify leads). No one ever calculates how much that time — whatever the appropriate amount of time to follow up on such a lead would be — would add up to across the (in the case of the Awlaki feed) 1,500 potential leads a month.

Between March 2008 and November 2009, the JTTF team in San Diego reviewed over 29,000 intercepts. And the volume was growing: in earlier phases of the Hasan investigation, the San Diego team was averaging 1,420 intercepts a month; that number grew to 1,525 by the time of the Fort Hood attack. The daily average went from 65-70 intercepts a day to 70-75, though some days the team reviewed over 130 intercepts. And while he obviously had reasons to play up the volume involved, the Analyst on the San Diego team considered it a “crushing volume” of intercepts to review.

Even assuming just one in ten intercepts required follow-up, dedicating 4 hours to that follow-up would, by itself, keep 3 Agents busy every month. And all that’s before you consider how many people just follow, rather than interact with, radical sources (as Tamerlan Tsarnaev is alleged to have done with Awlaki’s work). A fascinating JM Berger study of the al-Shabaab twitter feed found that, before it was temporarily knocked offline, it had 21,000 followers. How much time would it take the FBI to dedicate an adequate amount of time, according to Zegart, to ensure none of them go on to bomb a sporting event?

But here’s the other problem with this measure. Even as the FBI missed one guy who would go on to kill 13 people and wound 29 and another guy who would go on to kill 4 and wound hundreds, they also missed a guy who would kill 12 and wound 58 in an Aurora movie theater, as well as a guy who would kill 20 first graders and 7 adults in Newtown.

And it’s not just the first graders whose eventual killers get missed.

As far back as 2008, it was crystal clear that the emphasis on terrorism had gutted investigations into financial fraud and other crimes.

The bureau slashed its criminal investigative work force to expand its national security role after the Sept. 11 attacks, shifting more than 1,800 agents, or nearly one-third of all agents in criminal programs, to terrorism and intelligence duties. Current and former officials say the cutbacks have left the bureau seriously exposed in investigating areas like white-collar crime, which has taken on urgent importance in recent weeks because of the nation’s economic woes.

[snip]

Since 2004, F.B.I. officials have warned that mortgage fraud posed a looming threat, and the bureau has repeatedly asked the Bush administration for more money to replenish the ranks of agents handling nonterrorism investigations, according to records and interviews. But each year, the requests have been denied, with no new agents approved for financial crimes, as policy makers focused on counterterrorism.

According to previously undisclosed internal F.B.I. data, the cutbacks have been particularly severe in staffing for investigations into white-collar crimes like mortgage fraud, with a loss of 625 agents, or 36 percent of its 2001 levels.

Over all, the number of criminal cases that the F.B.I. has brought to federal prosecutors — including a wide range of crimes like drug trafficking and violent crime — dropped 26 percent in the last seven years, going from 11,029 cases to 8,187, Justice Department data showed.

Thus, even as crimes that cost the country trillions and caused millions of families to lose their homes unnecessarily developed, those of us watching in real time knew the FBI would not, perhaps could not, protect the country against such crimes.

Perhaps that was all by design (after all, Congress could have chosen to fund white collar investigators rather than give the people making billions off such crimes a series of tax cuts). President Obama is only now, with his budget request, making minimal increases to financial crime investigations.

But ultimately, there is a limit, both financial and societal, to how much the country is willing to spend on investigative resources. So every demand that FBI take 6 hours rather than 4 in investigating 1,500 potential leads a day is also a demand that FBI shift resources from somewhere else.

And this navel-gazing, following every successful or near-miss attack, only serves to obscure the issue. We, as a society, have chosen to pursue gun crimes exclusively “post-boom.” We have chosen to let financial criminals that have done far more damage than terrorism — at least in financial terms (though their crimes do have physical repercussions as well) — scot free. That may in fact be the outcome our country — or certainly the elites angling for political contributions — might want. But at the very least, we as a society need to be explicit that the choice has been made, not just to invest billions in surveillance technologies that affect us all, but to treat two brothers and their pressure cooker bombs as a far more heinous crime than school kids being gunned down in their classrooms or struggling families having their homes stolen by the million.

The “Find Every Terrorist at Any Cost Industry” is also, whether they acknowledge it or not, the “Let gunmen and banksters go free” industry. And that may well lead to more people turning to violence to address their grievances.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

25 replies
  1. Phil Perspective says:

    You also don’t mention what’s the point of putting Tupac’s godmother(so the reports say) on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. You’re right though. Is Minority Report going to come true? Because that’s what would need to happen, really, to prevent the next Newtown or Boston Marathon bombing.

  2. emptywheel says:

    @Phil Perspective: Yeah, that’s another thing altogether. Kevin Gosztola just tweeted that NJ had put up a billboard on her. Which can ONLY be terror/race war porn: Most NJians aren’t permitted to go to Cuba, so could never provide tips on her legally protected whereabouts. And most Cubans aren’t permitted into the US to tell us where to find her–they’re certainly not frequenting the Paramus Mall.

  3. phred says:

    Excellent post EW. I am struck by the utter mathematical futility of the “find every terrorist at any cost” mindset coupled with the complete breakdown of the rule of law. I think there is a reason that so many Americans recently polled about armed rebellion “to protect our liberties” seem to think it will be inevitable in the next few years.

    When officials turn a blind eye to the outright theft of homes, among other offenses perpetrated by the elites against ordinary citizens (such as destroying their middle class livelihoods, access to health care, children’s education, and retirements), while simultaneously rewarding clearly criminal conduct by various elite members of society with various forms of largesse, one might expect more and more people to adopt a vigilante approach within society.

    I keep thinking that sooner or later officials will have to abandon their passionate embrace of austerity and other malevolent forms of social cruelty in order to avert serious social unrest, but I still don’t see any signs of it.

  4. Peterr says:

    When I think of paragraphs about terrorism that stick with me, long after I’ve read them, this one comes to mind from Bob Harris’ 2007 book, Who Hates Whom:

    Tossing complex, violent agendas into giant bin called terrorism is both lazy and dangerous. Instead, let’s force ourselves to use specifics: “national rebels” or “drug-financed paramilitary death squads” or “sex-crazed vegetarian pacifists.” Speaking of which, not enough sex-crazed vegetarian pacifists are invading people. I checked.

    FDL Book Salon chat here.

    I raise this because it dovetails well with your concern about distinguishing between various terrorists, and prioritizing our responses. “Ayn Rand-fueled Capitalist Crusaders” are clearly getting away with a great deal of terror.

    And as I noted this morning at FDL, law enforcement in KS and MO apparently have plenty of time and money to go after the customers of hydroponic garden stores, on the off chance that one of them will turn out to be a marijuana farmer.

    Reading your post makes you wonder what isn’t being investigated on the state and local level, too, with this “War on Drugs/Re-elect Someone Who’s Tough on Crime” push.

  5. lefty665 says:

    How effective at being intimately personally intrusive for all 300+ million of us do we really want the FBI to be? We used to get a comfortable level of incompetence on the cheap. Now it appears we are paying much more for the same level of ineffectiveness in a much more intrusive role.

    Recent domestic US statistics:

    Annual odds of being killed in a vehicle about 1 in 3,000
    Annual odds of being killed in a terrorist attack about 1 in 40,000,000

    Maybe the FBI should go back to hiring CPAs and lawyers, or turning agents into traffic cops. That would save more lives and do a better job of protecting us from the banksters. It’d save FBI personnel to. Every year more hurt themselves and their fellow agents with their own guns than by hostile fire.

  6. orionATL says:

    “… But the paragraph has haunted me since I read it over a week ago for how clearly it should suggest that one of the few things that separates terrorism from our country’s own organized violence is official sanction (and at least lip service about who makes an appropriate and legal target)…”

    i have been radicalized by the emptywheel weblog – a very, very dangerous publication in an emerging plutocratic totalitarian state like our co temporary united states. the “violence” i support, however, is that associated with public information programs that inform citizens

    – about their ignorance,

    – about the current mendacious and destructive model of how our government should conduct its business,

    – about the role of corporate money and enormous individual wealth in pushing that false model to the front,

    and

    encourages citizens to reject the current democratic and republican cadres in favor of leaders like mark udall or alan greyson.

    full stop

    “…But that doesn’t stop her from insisting FBI’s culture remains inappropriate to hunting terrorists “pre-boom.”…”

    and so it is.

    not only it’s well-known multi-layered, rigid bureaucracy, but it tactical and strategic (non-) vision which are essentially police tactics and strategies – use standard police tactics and technology to search for the bad guys post-boom and maintain law and order pre-boom with intimidation, spying, and entrappment.

    just how much a paramilitary force our fbi and police have become was on full display during the boston manhunt.

  7. Frank33 says:

    The whole terrorist and fear mythology was created to to give us a Police State. It is all lies, all false flag ops created by the Secret Government. The latest Boston Bombings has been brought to you by Graham Fuller, Iran Contra Conspirator.

    And Benghazi!. But was that terror? There was not indiscriminate violence. It was very discriminate, to obtain weapons, secret documents and perhaps release prisoners in the Secret CIA Prison. And who killed the Ambassador? It could have been his Blackwater guards as part of a Conspiracy to create a Benghazi-Gate scandal.

    Vickie Nuland, State Department spokesliar has joined the Benghazi-gate Conspiracy. Vickie warned that members of Congress would discover that Susan Rice lied on Sinday tee vee talk shows. They were lies that Gen. Petraeus prepared. And Vickie seems to agree that the State Dept, that is Hillary, was not paying attention to the CIA warnings. Instead they were reporting what the CIA told them to report. They always do. Everyone does what the CIA tells them. The CIA rules America for the Corporate patrons. The CIA creates the terror. BENGHAZI FOREVER!

    The talking points were first distributed to officials in the interagency vetting process at 6:52 p.m. on Friday. Less than an hour later, at 7:39 p.m., an individual identified in the House report only as a “senior State Department official” responded to raise “serious concerns” about the draft. That official, whom The Weekly Standard has confirmed was State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland, worried that members of Congress would use the talking points to criticize the State Department for “not paying attention to Agency warnings.”

    Vickie is married to Robert Kagan, a member of Team Petraeus, and a member of the Secret Government. Vickie also worked for Darth Cheney. She seems to be working for Darth now.

  8. orionATL says:

    the severely degenerative condition of the fbi with respect to competent leadership is becoming clearer with each year. the agency moves from one failure to a folly -or two; from yet another failure to another absurd law enforcement folly –

    how long before the comics start working on thsgency.

  9. Bitter Angry Drunk says:

    I never even read the book, but “Shock Doctrine” — what I’ve read about it — is what sticks with/haunts me. To me the drug war, the terror war and austerity policies can all be classified as kind of a perpetual Shock Doctrine.

    With that in mind, my only quibble with EW’s post is that I wouldn’t suggest that an overemphasis on Terrorism is what made the FBI stop investigating white collar crime. They were obviously given new and betterer priorities by their corporate masters.

    And if you didn’t catch Peterr’s comment, I’ll second it. You should all check out his FDL post on the existential threat that is hydroponic gardening…

  10. phred says:

    @Peterr: Dammit. I’m not meeting my “invading people” quota. I was afraid of that. Time to redouble my efforts… ; )

    By the way, I loved (well, you know what I mean) your piece at FDL earlier. I was going to make a comment about the local constabulary being brought to you by grants from ADM, Cargill, and Monsanto, but restrained myself (fer once).

    Snark ridden swipes at Big Ag aside, I do think this is the inevitable outcome of spending billions on police state infrastructure… They have to have something to do. In NYC, they stop and frisk people. In KC, MO, they stake out garden centers. I bet with little effort we could make a much longer list.

  11. Jeff Kaye says:

    Before it is elevated to the level of a method of political struggle, terrorism makes its appearance in the form of individual acts of revenge. So it was in Russia, the classic land of terrorism. The flogging of political prisoners impelled Vera Zasulich to give expression to the general feeling of indignation by an assassination attempt on General Trepov. Her example was imitated in the circles of the revolutionary intelligentsia, who lacked any mass support. What began as an act of unthinking revenge was developed into an entire system in 1879-81. The outbreaks of anarchist assassination in Western Europe and North America always come after some atrocity committed by the government—the shooting of strikers or executions of political opponents. The most important psychological source of terrorism is always the feeling of revenge in search of an outlet….

    If we oppose terrorist acts, it is only because individual revenge does not satisfy us. The account we have to settle with the capitalist system is too great to be presented to some functionary called a minister. To learn to see all the crimes against humanity, all the indignities to which the human body and spirit are subjected, as the twisted outgrowths and expressions of the existing social system, in order to direct all our energies into a collective struggle against this system—that is the direction in which the burning desire for revenge can find its highest moral satisfaction.

    Leon Trotsky, “Why Marxists Oppose Individual Terrorism”, Nov. 1911

  12. JohnT says:

    Levin:

    Somehow, we must reinstate the credibility of our public officials — our president, our Congress, and our Supreme Court Justices — so that alienated Americans do not feel they must go outside of the mainstream and radicalize in order to satisfy their goals.

    To steal Tonto’s line in a famous joke, “what you mean we Kemosabe?”

    They’re the ones who’ve trashed their own reputations with free thinkers throughout the world. They’re the ones responsible for their own actions and inactions. They’re the ones who’re going spend eternity going from one circle of hell to the next

  13. Greg Bean (@GregLBean) says:

    If one looks at the industry around terror-attack-prevention as insurance, the whole ‘terrorism’ thing becomes astonishing irrational.

    The chance is 1 in 40 million that you will die from a terrorist act, but 1 in 5,000 that you will die from automobile or gun.

    The amount of money being lavished on this terror-attack-prevention insurance is astonishing.

    Imagine being able to create a business that earns gazillions to ensure that you are protected against a 1 in 40 million chance. An industry that then does not have to pay out when it fails to do so. An industry that with each failure gets to increase the insurance premium by demanding increased efforts in terror-attack-prevention.

    That is insurance fraud of the highest order.

    And it’s based on an insurance-company-induced psychosis; they promote the fear.

    That’s the terror-attack-prevention industry in a nutshell.

    And then there is this angle: http://rt.com/usa/boston-terrorism-government-america-573/

  14. orionATL says:

    it may be dismissed as mere semantics, but i think we would be better informed as a nation if af least some of the killings our media and government officials label “terrorism” of ” terrorist” were instead labelled “revenge killings” or “vengence killings”. after all, we certainly use that phrase here i the u.s. for other killings or crimes.

    it seems to me like the boston bombings were revenge killings and maimings.

    fort hood killings, ditto.

    the effort by the nutty nigerian to detonate plastique in a plane over detroit, ditto.

    times square fizzle, ditto.

    these just come to mind randomly.

    the use of the term “revenge” would give us citizens a much clearer idea of the relationship between us and our assailants.

    our government officials and politicians already understand the relationship implied by this terminology; it’s the rest of us who don’t.

  15. orionATL says:

    @orionATL:

    the change in terminology would allow a distinction between organizations laying plans to damage the american economy and military i fluence in the middle east (ben-laden’s al-q)

    and religious fanatics looking for revenge for western cultural and military attacks on islam. islam.

  16. Lambert Strether says:

    This:

    The “Find Every Terrorist at Any Cost Industry” is also, whether they acknowledge it or not, the “Let gunmen and banksters go free” industry. And that may well lead to more people turning to violence to address their grievances.

    Yes, it’s a self-licking ice cream cone.

  17. jjmacjohnson says:

    Love when so called experts start keeping the lie going no matter how debunked!

    “Crowd sourcing with iPhones, Twitter, and Lord & Taylor surveillance video worked wonders to nail the two suspects with lightning speed.”

  18. TarheelDem says:

    Amy Zegart is mistaken about FBI’s law enforcement culture. From the very beginning it operated as the political police. From the Palmer Raids to the civil rights movement, it was not after criminals but fulfilling a nationalist and white political agenda. The ghost of J. Edgar Hoover still walks the halls and the very acts of ethnic and political profiling and entrapment that mark it are what hamstrings its ability to be a counter-terrorism organization.

    Terrorism is a tactic of war; the US itself has in the past used it. One can argue that the US still uses it in the form of extra-theater targeted killings.

    What upsets people is that these are free-lancers instead of governments, which makes retaliation against their co-nationals not work as a deterrent to further acts of violence. The US bombing Dagestan will not prevent another attack like the Boston Marathon; it might incite one. Collective punishment by war is not effective as a deterrent–that fact discombobulates people’s thinking and provides openings for nitwits like Goehmert and his faithhful constituency.

    IMO you deal with the culture and politics that frames the conflict and the key piece that the US is missing is (1) its allowing Israel to act with impunity relative to the theft of Palestinian land and imposition of apartheid, (2) its aggressive stance toward Islamic countries it cannot purchase through arms sales, (3) its favoritism in support of democracy movements and penchant for supporting or tolerating dictators.

    Also, the problem is that law enforcement has so much information that it cannot identify who of the 27,000 people on a no-fly list and 500,000 people in a terrorist database might be threats. And the whole notion of convicting someone for a pre-crime boldlly trashes the Constitutional guarantees of presumption of innocence and due process.

  19. orionATL says:

    “…you deal with the culture and politics that frames the conflict and the key piece that the US is missing is (1) its allowing Israel to act with impunity relative to the theft of Palestinian land and imposition of apartheid, (2) its aggressive stance toward Islamic countries it cannot purchase through arms sales, (3) its favoritism in support of democracy movements and penchant for supporting or tolerating dictators…+

    well, and very directly, said.

  20. lefty665 says:

    @orionATL: @6. To the contrary. I am not a lawyer. I come to EW for informed opinion on law, the rule of law, and the Constitution as framework for identification of wrongs, and prescribed redress. The embrace of our founding documents, principles and methods is the essence of conservatism. To frame EWs effect otherwise is, to my understanding, a mistake, but likely well intentioned.

    Engaging in the rhetoric of watchwords in an era of watching does not further the discussion. It can however draw unwarranted attention to many people undeserving of it. It behooves us all (me, me too!) to think.

    What a strange world the future has become, but Winston would find it sadly familiar in many ways.

  21. orionATL says:

    @lefty665:

    good grief, lefty, what in the world are you talking about?

    my comment at #6 was a slightly sly and humourous, partly honestly confessional
    comment, about the facile use of the word “radicalized”.

    your comment/opinion was as far removed as is possible from my interest. e

  22. joanneleon says:

    Marcy, this is really good work and one of your best, IMHO, especially when considered as part of the larger body of your work in this arena.

    On a narrower bit of this topic, another person to follow on this topic is Bill Black, who has been comparing the numbers of FBI assigned to financial fraud investigations during the Savings & Loan take down. Most people here probably already know that but might not know about his recent work with the The Real News . He has been shouting for years about how there were so many more FBI agents assigned to that investigation, which was small by comparison to the crimes of the past decade.

    Black spoke out a lot during the Occupy protests, and now does a regular report on The Real News that is always worth watching.

    Here is what he said on Moyers’ show in 2009:

    WILLIAM K. BLACK: The FBI publicly warned, in September 2004 that there was an epidemic of mortgage fraud, that if it was allowed to continue it would produce a crisis at least as large as the Savings and Loan debacle. And that they were going to make sure that they didn’t let that happen. So what goes wrong? After 9/11, the attacks, the Justice Department transfers 500 white-collar specialists in the FBI to national terrorism. Well, we can all understand that. But then, the Bush administration refused to replace the missing 500 agents. So even today, again, as you say, this crisis is 1000 times worse, perhaps, certainly 100 times worse, than the Savings and Loan crisis. There are one-fifth as many FBI agents as worked the Savings and Loan crisis.
    Link

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