A Tale of Two Crazy People February 11, 2013Posted by Sobek in News.
LauraW linked the story of the most recent FBI bust of a would-be jihadi on American soil, this one in Oakland (semi-serious question: if a massive bomb exploded in downtown Oakland, would we really be able to tell the difference?). CAIR is not enthusiastic:
“Did the FBI take a [mentally ill] aspirational terrorist, make him an operational terrorist and then thwart their own plot?” Billoo asked. “CAIR has been saying this for years now: It’s the FBI’s job to stop operational terrorists. It’s not the FBI’s job to enable aspirational ones.”
I do not see eye to eye with Ms. Billoo. I wonder if she would feel the same way if the defendant were, say, a right-wing extremist who had plotted to blow up a mosque. How close should the FBI let such a person get to actually hurting someone before intervening? Perhaps she thinks the best course of action is to quintuple the number of FBI agents in America so that more citizens can be monitored without intervention.
It’s not just terrorist-apologizers like CAIR who think the operation was something less than laudable. The first comment to LauraW’s post, about “the debt we all owe to the FBI,” was a terse “maybe.” Another commenter:
“So the FBI successfully lured a low IQ vot…uh…terrorist into pressing the button, and we should be thankful? Well, ya, I guess. The smart ones, the cautious ones, the well disciplined terrorists, those who have infiltrated our government, they won’t take the bait so easily.
but. ya, we owe the FBI for cherry picking the low hanging fruit..”
So I want to talk a little about the relative merits of sting operations like this.
Let’s start with Adam Lanza. Liberals, as you know, are upset that a gun of some sort forced its way into Lanza’s hands and compelled him to go the Sandy Hook and murder a bunch of children. Conservatives tend to think that’s about the dumbest statement ever, and point out that Lanza was a crazy person. If we had some way of identifying the dangerous crazy person before the attack, then we’d all be safer, but not suffer encroachment on our personal liberty (of course, that assumes identifying the crazy people can be done without encroaching on our liberty – which for purposes of this post, I’m going to do).
What if someone had brought Lanza to the attention of a law enforcement agency which had put him next to an undercover operative, secured his trust, and caught him in a sting operation? Is there anyone who can plausibly deny it would have been better to arrest Lanza in a sting operation than to let him shoot up a school? Even if the sting operation involved a plot (such as building a bomb) that he couldn’t have executed on his own?
We can’t see alternate realities, of course. So in the Oakland case, we’ll never know whether Llaneza would have gone on a shooting rampage but for the sting operation, or otherwise harmed the general public. Conservatives may fear that Eric Holder’s lawless Justice Department could be turned against them for politically-motivated “pre-crime” offenses, thus destroying everyone’s liberty.
I submit that the sting that got Llaneza doesn’t fit that pattern. For a crime to happen, you need intent plus capability. CAIR apparently admits this guy had the intent, but denies he had the capability (calling him “aspirational”). But even assuming Llaneza didn’t have the capability to construct a car bomb, that doesn’t mean he had no capability to do some other horrific crime. I don’t have any reason to believe that Adam Lanza knew how to build a car bomb, either. But that didn’t mean he had no capability – quite the contrary.
I also submit that someone who is willing to commit a greater crime is willing to commit a lesser crime, but not necessarily vice versa. Suppose Eric Holder decides to criminalize all high-capacity magazines, including for pistols (nota bene I didn’t say “Congress”). Some gun-owners would refuse to turn over or destroy their now-illegal magazines. It does not follow that the same gun-owners would be willing to conduct a mass-casualty attack – “from my cold, dead hands” is not the same as “I will murder innocent civilians.” What percentage of typical gun owners do you think would agree to an undercover cop proposing to blow up a building?
Conversely, what percentage of people who are willing to build and use a car bomb do you think would be willing to drive a car into a group of pedestrians? Or shoot random people in a mall, or a movie theater? None of these last plots are technically difficult at all – everyone reading this blog has the capability, although luckily not the intent.
When a sting operation like this begins, the subject who is willing to kill lots of people is taken out of the pool of crazy people who are likely to try a smaller-scale attack, because he thinks he’s working on something bigger. If Llaneza had any thoughts about shooting up a school at any point between November and last Friday, there’s no way he would have gone through with it because he was plotting to build a car bomb.
With a lone gunman-type of attacker, the only difference between CAIR’s “aspirational” terrorist and the “operational” terrorist is the decision to take action – training in an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan or technical knowledge of explosives is not a pre-requisite. Adam Lanza proves that.