Crime, Terrorism and the Lone Wolf
The media outlets seem to praising Canada for its immediate pronouncement that the recent acts of violence committed against two Canadian soldiers were terrorism. They are equally critical of America’s initial reluctance to do so in the cases of Alton Nolan and Zale Thompson. It brings up the question of what is the difference between crime and terrorism and where and if we should draw a line. For those who are fuming about the initial classification of Alton Nolan or Zale Thompson as a criminal act vice a terrorist act, you may want to consider the potential impacts of what you are asking for.
I heard one commentator on Fox explaining his logic for shipping them to Guantanamo under the auspices of the ongoing Global War on Terror. His recommendation is that we turn all terrorism-related activities over the military because law enforcement in this country is not equipped or trained to prevent attacks… The statement reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of how our national counterterrorism (CT) efforts actually work, as well as a functional disconnect with the way prevention plays out both at home and abroad.
Are there differences in the methods we use to prevent crime and terrorism?
From both a social and practical perspective, the two are very different. Local authorities tend to handle crime. They have the option but usually not a requirement to request the assistance of the next jurisdiction up the chain all the way to federal authorities. The ultimate goal is building a case for the prosecution of the guilty. Crime prevention is accomplished by two mechanisms, presence and the threat of prosecution. It is not accomplished by physically preventing an individual act from occurring – in most cases. While there are certainly exceptions to that, the ability to detect and take action to pre-empt is highly limited at the local level.
Terrorism on the other hand is pursued by the national counterterrorism center (NCTC) which is a top down approach. The goal of NCTC is much different. Information is collected with the goal of predicting and intervening before an attack occurs. Am immense amount of data collected, cataloged, filtered and cross referenced. That information is used to detect potential threats, and build targeting packages. Overseas that package may result in the release of a bomb, or in a team dispatched to capture the individual we suspect. Here in the U.S., a very similar package would be handed off to the FBI for arrest and prosecution via the U.S. legal process. If the military or the CIA handles it overseas, it’s a bomb or a detention center. If the FBI handles it, there is legal process and an arrest with the intent of criminal prosecution in U.S. courts.
Without those safe guards in place, we will make mistakes. By mistakes I mean we kill innocent people, we will detain, imprision and interrogate the wrong person, and many others… The ultimate result of those actions overseas is the relative peace and security we enjoy here in the United States. Were we to apply the same prevention tactics here at home that we apply in other parts of the world, peace and security would not be the result. Additionally, we don’t really gain much from it – especially when it comes to these “Lone wolves”.
Do we need extraordinary provisions for these lone wolf attackers?
The lone wolf attacks we have seen in the past few weeks in the U.S. and Canada have people scared. When we look at the individuals involved, they are all repeat offenders with extensive criminal records. The media is using the term “radicalized”, and while popular, I am not sure what that really means. Am I a radical because I read jihadi literature, and have spent time at few mosques here and abroad? Would I need to change my name to Abu Mohammed, and start to precede every other sentence that I post to the Facebook with In-Shah-Allah (God willing), in order to be a radical? Or is any Muslim that commits a violent act a radical? The point here is that the people we seen act out are criminals first, Islamists second.
What we are seeing are violent criminals adopting Islam as a means of justifying their criminal behavior. What we are not seeing are normal, everyday westerners, some of whom are Muslim, suddenly attacking their fellow citizens under the flag of ISIS. We see the criminal elements of our society attracted to an ideology that supports their view of the world. Certainly Muslim culture, as we saw in ISIS – the future of Islam, has a huge existential crisis on its hands, and all of us will have to deal with its support for extremist ideology. The real question we need to determine is does exposure to Islam somehow lower the inhibition of these criminals to commit additional acts of violence? If it does, what means and resources do we have, or does local law enforcement need at their disposal to reduce or eliminate that impact?
Is there a downside to treating these attacks as terrorism?
Calling these people terrorists, immediately brings enhanced publicity and lends an air of legitimacy to their actions as if they were pursuing some a higher purpose. Further, it lends credence to the claims of success on the part of Al-Qaeda and ISIS asking people to act on their behalf. It feeds the illusion that these terror organizations have a substantial global presence and reach, which in reality is fairly limited. It leads to fear on the part of our citizens, and confidence on the part of our foes. It provides “evidence” for these organizations to claim that there is support for their cause in the western world. So yes, there are some potential downsides to labeling them as terrorists.
Additionally, it causes us to make politically based judgments to raise to our state of readiness (or threat level) – as we did last week. Physically this means adding a few more guards to guard posts at federal buildings around the country, which allows the administration to say it has done something to enhance security… What a few extra guards do tactically is almost nothing, save increase the amount of overtime we will pay for. This directly meets the terrorist’s goal of increasing the cost of security in the western world. Worse the increased media coverage is far more likely to encourage other criminals to pick up the banner of Islam to gain notoriety for their actions. Why go down as a common thug, when you can be a terrorist? There is no real upside in labeling them “terrorists” – even if they were, in fact, acting at the direct behest of Abu Bakar Al Baghdadi.
What we call them is irrelevant, its what we do with them that matters…
Labeling aside, do we gain any prevention or enhanced prosecutorial ability by using the terrorist prevention approachs of the CIA and military to domestic actors. The NCTC currently looks over the masses of data for indicators like posting Islamic scripture, being critical of the U. S. government, and visiting Jihadi websites. We correlate that with other signs this person might be a threat to society such as training received here or abroad in both tactical skills and/or extremist ideology. We cross reference foreign travel to see if the individual had been to countries prone to producing or training terrorists. If the above were true, we may even pull email and phone records and video surveillance where available and attempt to make personal connection between that person and any known terrorists or sympathizers. Welcome to the application of the patriot act.
Ultimately, we have tasked a government employee with looking at the totality of the circumstances and when appropriate, building a targeting package to intervene. Overseas that package would include a collateral damage assessment that would weigh the potential impacts of 250-pound bomb at 4 AM in a quiet neighborhood, against the risks to the team and the chances of successful capture. Based on those criteria, that same government employee should be evaluating me, as I fit the profile. Jihadist literature – check, critical of the government – Check (occasionally), foreign travel – Check, Military training – Check, etc… Because I am a U. S. citizen, even if the package were created, the FBI would then have to convince a judge that I was in fact threat, prior to acting.
Is there an upside to treating a potential lone wolves like a terrorist?
Let’s assume that NCTC determines that I am, in fact, a threat, and we did not have the stop gap of the FBI in place. Were we to pursue a military strategy as our Fox commentator was recommending it would play out like this. Option A – I am determined a priority, but the risk of capture is deemed too high. Do we really want the NCTC making a collateral Damage assessment on U. S. neighborhoods – or do we “just say No” to bombing American neighborhoods? Even if Ayman Al Zawahiri moves in next door to me, I don’t think a 250lb bomb on my neighbor’s house is the right answer.
Option B is the risk of capture is deemed acceptable (which is much more likely the case as I am just not nearly as fast as I used to be). Rather than being sent to jail, I would be sent to a detention center where a younger version of myself would process me with an assumption of guilt. There would be no Miranda rights, no grand jury or right to council, no speedy trials – no legal protections what so ever. There would be interrogation for the purpose of determining established relationships with other potential terrorists, information on potential attacks, methods and tactics and a few sprinklings of information they already had to validate what I was saying. After a few months of limited sleep, lack of food, and a strictly controlled, very uncomfortable environment they would know every secret I was trying to hide – germane to terrorism or not. My psyche may or may not be intact, but if it were, I would never fully recover. Eventually, I would be transferred to a holding center with no defined process for prosecution, detainment or release.
That sounds nothing like the constitution of the America I live in… Let’s apply scenario B to Alton Nolan. He is a grossly uneducated, incompetent criminal who can barely construct a complete sentence. Any detective with six weeks on the job will know everything this guy has to offer with in a few hours. Zale Thompson – kicked out of the Navy, arrested 6 times and a black panther with a long history of publishing anti-white and anti-government rhetoric. Applying interrogation practices to these simpletons is a waste of our resources and time.
Are we violating people rights overseas?
Now don’t get me wrong, I have no sympathy for the terrorists we detain at Guantanamo or anywhere around the world. I don’t have any sympathy for the ones we drop bombs on either. Unfortunately, they choose to associate with the losing side of this engagement. I do, however, believe that our reliance on air power is wholly counterproductive to our efforts and that “Collateral damage” is a euphamism and should be called what it is “killing innocent people out of convenience”. I’m not saying we shouldn’t ever do it, but we should at least be honest about what we are doing, and we should certainly rarely if ever do so, with out competent ground forces to control and take advantage of the gains – which is something we are not doing now.
I do no support applying the rights U. S. citizens have, to anyone but U. S. citizens. By virtue of the fact that you were born here in the United States, or immigrated here legally, you are entitled to the rights granted to a U. S. person. Even Alton Nolan and Zale Thompson, regardless of what they chose to do with those rights and freedoms. More to the point to deprive you of those rights, regardless of the reasons or best intentions will undercut the basic principles of our society, and we will cease to be home of the free.
Crime or Terrorism?
Sure, I would like to a find fool proof system to identify violent criminals and strip away the rights of the guilty and send they for a six-month stint at a foreign detention facility before they act. That is simply a desire to see them suffer for their crimes, but it serves no practical purpose. The protection of all U. S. citizens’ rights, the rule of law and the constitution are what separates America from many places in the rest of the world. Unfortunately, we can’t have it both ways. I would rather suffer a “terrorist” attack on our nation from time to time then become a nation of terrorists. ISIS is a prime example of a “nation” of terrorists. Those nations originate in a dependence-based culture with no respect for individual rights of the rule of law… We cannot allow that to happen here in America.
Aside from Nolan’s choice to behead Colleen Hufford (which was almost certainly influenced by his exposure to Islam), I have seen nothing indicating his attack was prompted by anything other than his being fired at work. Other than the fact that Thompson stated he was a Muslim, there is nothing to indicate an association with Al-Qaeda, or ISIS. More likely his affiliation with the Black Panthers caused him to choose to attack two white police officers… Calling these criminals terrorists buys us nothing. Applying the tactical processes by which we prevent terrorism overseas here in the U.S. would meet the ISIS objectives of destroying our nation and our way of life far faster then they can ever hope to achieve.
The Muslim culture that attracts violent criminals and social misfits to its banner, is what we are dealing with. Alton Nolan and Zale Thompson are criminals, Islam just potentially gave them a flag to fly over their crimes. Be careful what you ask for…
~ Patrick Henry