Wednesday night four wanna-be terrorists were arrested in New York. As you probably know by now, they were arrested after planting what they believed to be bombs outside two synagogues.
The law enforcement MO in capturing the four sounds similar to that used in the arrest of the Liberty City Six. Five of the six in Florida were recently convicted of various forms of conspiracy to terrorism.
Wednesday night also saw the arrest of seventeen in Bilbao, Spain accused of financing terrorism.
Earlier in the week Rodolfo Lopez Ibarra, aka El Nito, was arrested along with twelve associates. CNN characterizes El Nito as “a top Mexican drug cartel suspect.” Originally only ambitious criminals, over the last two years the cartels have used violence to achieve political purposes. For me political intent is an important element that distinguishes terrorism from the only criminal.
Last week Italy arrested two French nationals suspected, according to the BBC, of “being key al-Qaeda figures.” (See a related report by TIME.) On the same day, May 12, a man suspected of involvement in the 2004 Madrid train bombings was extradited from Syria to Morocco to stand trial.
This week Moroccan prosecutors opened their case against eight suspected terrorists. (See more from Magharebia.com)
Over the last two weeks the trial of the so-called Saurland Cell has listened to police transcripts of conversations between the accused while planning (or at least conceiving) attacks on the US air base at Ramstein, Germany.
The month of May began with Ali Sahleh Kahlah al-Marri, after years in military detention, pleading guilty to several terrorism related charges in a Peoria, Illinois federal court.
Thursday morning former Vice President Cheney told us that the 1993 bombing of World Trade Center, “was treated as a law enforcement problem, with everything handled after the fact – crime-scene, arrests, indictments, convictions, prison sentences, case closed.”
Mr. Cheney went on to explain that this law-enforcement approach was discarded after 9/11. “From that moment forward, instead of merely preparing to round up the suspects and count up the victims after the next attack, we were determined to prevent attacks in the first place,” he said.
The former Vice-President might have contrasted pre-9/11 law enforcement to post-9/11 law enforcement. He did not. Rather, during his remarks at the American Enterprise Institute, Mr. Cheney seemed keen to contrast the limitations of law enforcement with military capability.
“To make certain our country never again faced such a day of horror,” Mr. Cheney continued, “we developed a comprehensive strategy, beginning with far greater homeland security to make the United States a harder target. But since wars cannot be won on the defensive, we moved decisively against the terrorists in their hideouts and sanctuaries, and committed to using every asset to take down their networks.”
To be sure, the former Vice President was focused on justifying the harsher aspects of military capability. He was not directly addressing the inadequacies of law enforcement. But his argument seems to expose an inaccurate understanding of law enforcement capability as only responsive and defensive.
Above is a very partial and quite recent list of proactive counterterrorism activities by law enforcement. Before 9/11 and — especially — since then, the law enforcement community in the United States and elsewhere has been on the frontlines of preventing terrorist operations.
As our military leaders have been the first to explain, our struggle against terrorist adversaries will not be won through military action. Military operations are crucial to a full-spectrum strategy. But it will be an effective mix of military, diplomatic, intelligence, law enforcement, and a very wide array of community-based prevention activities that will win the war and secure the peace. (And the communities will reach across the planet.)
Fundamental to containing and limiting terrorist ambitions is undermining any pretense of wide-spread support for terrorist operations. This is more likely as we are able to starve terrorists of funding and recruits by undermining justification for their plans and actions. International law enforcement is essential to this success.
In what Mr. Cheney may see as his keystone argument (certainly it is the paragraph with the most underlining for emphasis), he said, “But in the fight against terrorism, there is no middle ground, and half-measures keep you half exposed.” The former Vice President seems to ignore the value of the high ground — almost always a strategic advantage — while over-valuing the strength of a single measure and under valuing the scope and potential of multiple measures.
There is something in Mr. Cheney’s style that can easily seem monomaniacal. A careful reading — rather than watching — of his remarks can correct that impression. But the same reading finds a strategic and operational myopia. The short-sightedness begins with an inaccurate perception of law enforcement and then, as one looks about, excludes more and more.
As any cop, firefighter, public health professional — or Marine — will insist, really seeing — fully seeing — what’s going on is the first step in both self-protection and preventing the worst.