Friday, May 29, 2009

Law and Order OCO ("Overseas Contingency Operations")

Andrew McCarthy, the former federal prosecutor, knows what he's talking about when it comes to prosecuting terrorists. He's the guy who put the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center attack, Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (the Blind Sheikh), in jail.

McCarthy thinks that the Obama administration's decision to have the Department of Justice and FBI edge "the CIA out of the business of fighting international terrorism" means that "[s]lowly but surely, it’s September 10 again, a retreat into Clinton-era counterterrorism, when radical Islam prosecuted a war while we tried to prosecute radical Islam in court, playing cops-and-robbers while jihadists played for keeps." ("Wrong Then, Wrong Now").

As prosecutor McCarthy played a critical role in the government's handling of the 1993 attack as a law-enforcement matter. It was hardly enough when Radical Islam planned to follow up that attack with still more.

[B]y 1994, plans were under way to murder the pope, murder the president, and blow up U.S. jumbo jets in flight over the Pacific. By 1996, Osama bin Laden was publicly calling for the global slaughter of Americans while Hezbollah and Iran were killing 19 members of the U.S. Air Force at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia.

The government’s response? Its obsession at the time was the fear that federal judges might think the FBI was abusing its national-security wiretapping power — using it as a pretext for conducting ordinary criminal investigations. So in 1995, the Justice Department raised a regulatory “wall.” The effect was to bar intelligence agents and criminal investigators from “connecting the dots.” More significant, the wall fostered an ethos of risk-aversion. The message to career-minded agents was: “Take heed: The mere hypothetical (and highly unlikely) possibility of civil-liberties violations is of greater concern to us than the potential of jihadist mass-murder attacks.”

And what good is risk-aversion if you can’t export it? In 1995, President Clinton signed Presidential Decision Directive 39, making the FBI, with its matrix of law-enforcement procedures, the government’s lead counterterrorism agency — even overseas, which had been the preserve of the CIA and the military, agencies operating under the quaint notion that where you have enemies and exigencies, rather than criminals and crime-scenes, you need a different, less onerous set of rules.
The difference between recognizing this struggle as a war, or thinking of it as a crime problem, isn't just in the choice of words we use. As McCarthy said, while we're playing cops-and-robbers the jihadists are at war, playing for keeps.

No comments: