Cops And Bombers

It’s now becoming even more clear how exceptional a job law enforcement did in apprehending the alleged Times Square Bomber. In barely 53 hours, they identified him, located him, and arrested him before he could flee the country — albeit at the last minute, just as he was about to board a plane out of the country.

This has led some to crow about how the Democrats’ favored “law enforcement” model of fighting terrorism won this one, and how the Republicans’ “military” model didn’t.

But that overlooks a few key items. Items that tell more of the story.

There were quite a few things that law enforcement officials did not do:

  • They did not pick up on Faisal Shahzad’s radical Islamism.
  • They did not notice he spent several months in terrorist training camps in Pakistan.
  • They did not notice him buying the vehicle he used in the would-be bombing.
  • They did not notice him buying the bomb-making materials.
  • They did not notice him building the bomb.
  • They did not notice him delivering the bomb to Times Square.
  • They did not notice him leaving the scene.
  • They did not notice the bomb before it almost went off.
  • They did not notice him making his flight reservation without a credit card.
  • They did not notice him buying his one-way ticket in cash.

What caught Shahzad was his identification, his being added to the no-fly list, and an enterprising agent checking the flight manifest of the Air Emirates flight he was on and spotting his name.

Law enforcement, it cannot be stressed enough, is a reactive force. It is intended to solve crimes, to capture criminals, to enforce the law. It is not a proactive force, seeking out criminals before they can put together their plans and carry out their crimes.

That’s what the military and intelligence agencies are for.

Law enforcement didn’t catch Shahzad during each of those preparatory steps before the would-be bombing because not one of them was illegal. (Well, excluding the bomb-assembly and illegal parking, and the bomb components were individually legal; it is only the assembling that constitutes a crime.) So there was no overt crime for police to react to and investigate.

The police did a phenomenal job in this case, and deserve all the praise they’ve been given so far and more. But what few seem willing to say is that should never have been necessary.

Shahzad could have been identified as a potential terrorist well before. This success by law enforcement was only possible because others failed.

Both groups are needed. The only reason we can chalk up last Saturday’s attack as a success, like the Christmas underwear bomber attack, is strictly the incompetence of the attackers. In brief (so to speak), we were lucky. We’ve been lucky many, many times.

We can’t always count on being that lucky. We need to be lucky every single time; they only need to be lucky once.

Like they were lucky on September 11 nine years ago.

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