Saturday, June 03, 2006

Lax border security?

j.d., my conduit to the conservative bloggyspher, asks war on terror, eh?, and says of alleged perpetrators of several terrorist attacks:
all took advantage of lax U.S. and Canada immigration enforcement and border security.
This phrasing, intentionally or unintentionally, plays into the rhetoric about tightening the borders. It also turns out to be false:
"They're all residents of Canada and for the most part, they're all citizens." [RCMP assistant commissioner] McDonell said.
Furthermore, none of the 9/11 hijackers snuck across the border, and most had valid visas to enter the country. This wasn't accidental; al Qaeda tends to use operatives who are relatively clean, so that they can get through the screening processes for visas, ticketing, etc. Of the many reasons to improve border security, counter-terrorism winds up not being the best.

It's true that these terror suspects crossed the border while under surveillance, but given that they were under surveillance, that's not quite lax security, is it?

There are a variety of reasons to worry about this discovery, but border security really isn't on the list. These plotters appear to have been inspired by al Qaeda, not trained or officially affiliated with al Qaeda. It's a home-grown terrorist group, and similar groups of disaffected citizens and legal residents may be pondering their options right now.

Recall that, according to a report from the Times, FBI agents felt that "a new bunch of tips [from the NSA's illegal wiretaps] meant more calls to Pizza Hut." Instead of wasting investigative resources running down the terrorist masterminds at Pizza Hut, let the FBI and NSA focus on tracing known terrorists, developing informants in the Muslim communities, and tracing the flow of money and material from terrorist sources.

Of the major terrorist attacks in the US, most are committed by citizens and legal residents. The perpetrators of the OK City bombing, Eric Rudolph of the Olympics bombing, the Unabomber, clinic bombers, snipers and arsonists, and the DC snipers were all citizens. The authors of the 1993 and 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center were not, and the 2001 anthrax attacks were of an unknown source, but FBI agents seem to be focusing on domestic sources for that as well.

I'd be surprised if the next attack in the US didn't involve US citizens. Let's keep our priorities straight.