The recent wave of foiled terror plots has to make you wonder if our military and intelligence networks have finally been rebuilt to meet 21st century demands. While this sentiment is filled with apple pie feelings of confidence and safety, I highly doubt it is true. I don’t know that we have or can build technology or weaponry to win the war on terror. And I don’t know that the size of our army has any correlation to better outcomes.
The current administration, thankfully though, has not used terrorism as a device for manipulating the public and resulting policy as was done under Bush. However, with two wars still waging, the economy drifting along a bottom, and the standard disenchantment of the quality of civilian level public servants, it is hard for me to imagine that US security capabilities have been dramatically enhanced over the last two years.
Alternatively and more realistically I can imagine that some smart folks in the intelligence community may have found a low brow way to combat terrorism. It’s beginning to seem to me that our current counter-terrorism strategy is built on the old adage of “if you can’t beat em, join em”, relying on the common street tactic of “sting” operations.
I feel like I keep reading news stories with the same undertow. In today’s news a plot to blow up a tree lighting ceremony was botched by the FBI who had effectively set up a sting operation and waited until the moron tried to detonate explosives before nabbing him. This must mean that the surveillance was early and ongoing, and that the explosives in the idiot’s possession were engineered not to work. This would lead me to believe that our own government may be luring terror suspects into action with the promise to aid them in carrying out their sick sociopaths plots. Doing so of course with the intent of catching them in the act.
While to some this policy may be morally obscure and create some unease, at another level it is quite brilliant, so long as it works in our favor. After all the only way to successfully fight in a guerrilla war is to use guerrilla tactics. Jihadists are constantly testing Western systems to identify and exploit our own weaknesses. I’m shocked its taken us this long to identify a profound weakness in every holy warrior. The greatest weakness of any god fearing guerrilla is his faith in his mission and his belief that his success is preordained by God. This vanity in martyrdom ought to be terribly easy to exploit if you are willing to walk a very fine line, reminiscent of the television series 24. It seems more than obvious that the best way to catch a terrorist is simply to offer to help him. This ought to be a win-win tactic because the downside is that would be terrorists might simply find it more and more difficult to find people they can trust to carry out their horrid plans. This in and of itself would be crippling to a network that relies on speed and flexibility. With all of our technology and military might, it seems covert operations and intelligence are what will be required to “win” the war on terror.
At the end of the day we are all human and susceptible to our own self confidence. If we can make it easier for a terrorist to become a would be martyr by creating more avenues for then to believe they can carry out their mission then we can both control the outcome of events and obscure the trophy of martyrdom while catching a good number of would be martyrs in the process.
As modern terror networks adapt I wonder how long it will take for them to build the sophistication necessary to outsmart this age old tactic.