The sting that led a Somali-born youth to set off a fake bomb in Oregon underlines simmering questions about the FBI role in fighting domestic terrorism.
There are surely legal reasons for devoting months of manpower to leading a troubled teenager from jihad aspirations to what he did at a Christmas tree lighting and even some strategic advantage in deterring wannabes with doubts about the authenticity of other online plotters.
Yet there is something too pat and comfortable about what has become a pattern–previously in Dallas, Washington and Springfield, Ill.–of cultivating troubled loners and going through an elaborate charade to make a case against them.
Americans want their government to stop terrorism, but this approach puts law enforcement routine (and public relations) ahead of striking at root causes of possible attacks and raises questions about alternate ways of preventing them.
In announcing the criminal complaint against 19-year-old Mohamed Osman Mohamud, authorities trumpet their accomplishment. “This defendant’s chilling determination,” says the local DA, “is a stark reminder that there are people—even here in Oregon—who are determined to kill Americans.”
A national security official adds, “While the public was never in danger from the device, this case serves as yet another reminder of the need for continued vigilance both at home and abroad.”
Yes, but couldn’t the months of manpower spent cultivating and abetting Mohamud been more usefully devoted to covert efforts to uproot the Internet sources in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere that recruit such dupes and make them dangerous? Doing so is not a matter of law enforcement but true national security.