FBI Overwhelmed by Terror Suspects
FBI Overwhelmed by Terror Suspects

by Russ Wellen

Not only that, it seems to be fighting yesterday's terrorists.

After 9/11, domestic spying became the law of the land with the Patriot Act, which granted the U.S. government the right to search citizens' telephones, e-mail, and financial records without a court order. Edward Snowden's leaks revealed the vastness of the surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency.

In spite of the powers granted it -- and taken illegally -- the United States has been unable to stop attacks by both the American far right and Islamist extremists (or those who use the latter as a pretext for an attack, such as Omar Mateen in the Orlando shooting). In Politico magazine, Garrett M. Graff explains.

Particularly in the wake of the Edward Snowden scandals, we tend to think of the FBI and the sprawling homeland security apparatus as a giant surveillance machine. ... But the circumstances behind the Orlando shooting, counterterrorism experts say, underscore the very different reality: The FBI actually isn't big enough to tackle the new era of online radicalization and independent-acting lone wolves.

In fact:

It's not that the FBI didn't recognize Mateen as a threat; it's that there are too many people like Mateen and Tsarnaev and Hasan across America today for the FBI to track them all.

For instance:

The Bureau has repeatedly said over the last six months that it has had more than 1,000 active probes related to the Islamic State. But, of these 1,000 or so suspected terrorists, the FBI only has the resources to thoroughly monitor a select few. ... sources familiar with Bureau resources say that the number is "shockingly" low, only in the dozens.

As a result the FBI is turning to that recurrent subject of civil liberties nightmares -- sting operations -- to compensate for its shortfalls in manpower and other resources. But there's another reason the FBI is struggling to stay atop domestic extremism. In another article at Politico magazine, Michael Hirsch writes:

... critics say the tally of missed clues from Boston to Orlando is evidence that to a disturbing extent the FBI and intelligence community are still fighting the last war, one in which "radicalization" follows a predictable path (e.g., growing a beard, praying more frequently) and the telltale signs of a terrorist in the making are organized links to terrorist groups and plans to travel abroad.

Lorenzo Vidino, director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University's Center for Cyber & Homeland Security, says it's "in the FBI's DNA" to pursue such criminal links to terrorist groups and build a case in the way law enforcement traditionally does, with questions like: Who did you meet with? Who did you talk to? Can you account for your actions for such-and-such period of time?

True, over the past few years the FBI has begun to alter its approach to this homegrown terrorism.

... But the changes don't appear to be fast enough. What Mateen's attack, and the FBI's failure to track him, suggest is that the terror threat appears to be evolving more quickly than U.S. authorities can keep up with it.

What if the United States were a person who had many enemies and who made more each day? He or she would be told to look in the mirror and ask himself what he or she is doing to alienate others to that extent. In fact, there is another option besides a police state and budding terrorists germinating across the land. It's called ... having fewer enemies.

That means less U.S. intervention in the Middle East, unless sanctioned by the United Nations (or a future, more powerful world body that holds the concept of the sovereign state in less awe), discontinuing U.S. alliances with states that support Sunni extremists, most notably Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, as well as with states effectively aligned against Islam, such as Israel.

While President Obama succeeded in dialing back our codependent relationship with Israel, if Hillary Clinton is elected president, expect regression on that front. Meanwhile, the United States needs to ask itself: Do the benefits of our relationships with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan exceed the harm caused by the support of those two countries for the likes of Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and the Taliban?

This is not a call for U.S. "appeasement" in the face of attacks by Islamic extremists. But how many Americans believe we should die on our own soil because of an ill-advised war in Iraq and our alliances with states such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Israel, none of which seem to have any pretenses whatsoever of being a world citizen.

Courtesy Foreign Policy in Focus.

 

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