THE MAGAZINE

Tripping Up Terrorists

By Matthew Harwood

But follow-up is important and a valid use of resources, he says. “We don’t leave any leads sitting out there,” Clancy explains. “Even the ones that sound absolutely harmless.”

The reason behind this, he says, is the specter of homegrown radicalization turning violent fast. “They go from aspirational to actually planning an event within days,” explains Clancy.

Not everyone agrees that this is the right approach. Political Science Professor John Mueller, the Woody Hayes Chair of National Security at Ohio State University, argues that suspicious activity reporting programs like Tripwire abandon risk- management methodologies and waste resources. Running down every lead, no matter how absurd, argues Mueller, ignores not only probability but cost.

He’s not just talking about the probability of one tip being valid versus one that’s not, however. Mueller is skeptical about the value of devoting resources toward homeland security instead of basic crimes, which are more prevalent. With the probability of being killed by a terrorist at 1 in 3.5 million per year and the probability of being murdered at 1 in 22,000 per year, the government would spend its resources more wisely if it concentrated on solving murders, he says.

Dr. James Carafano, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, does not agree that just because the risk of a terrorist attack is low, it is a waste of resources to try to spot nascent plots. “The problem is what happens when you pass up the one tip that turns out to be the terrorist attack,” he says.

Clancy says that the FBI continues to broaden the program’s reach to additional industries when new intelligence surfaces that changes the threatscape.

Recently the FBI added construction companies, railways, and farm supply stores to the list. One new addition stands out though: hobby shops. The rationale behind this is the recent arrest of a 26-year-old Massachusetts man, Rezwan Ferdaus, who plotted with undercover FBI agents to attack the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol using explosive-laden model airplanes.

Private security professionals not aware of Operation Tripwire should call their local JTTF, and see how they can get involved.
 

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