Two key factors have enabled law enforcement to protect us:
• First is that most of the plots thus far have involved either existing networks or people reaching out to terrorist organizations or known radical communities, giving the FBI a chance to monitor or infiltrate the terrorist plots.
• Second is a cultural shift away from the mentality that prevented the FBI from seeking a search warrant to inspect Moussaoui's laptop, which the agency had in its possession nearly a month before September 11.
Unfortunately, both of these ingredients are endangered.
Radical messages of Islamic victimization at the hands of an evil America (or an evil Israel, with the help of America) abound on the Internet and in Muslim communities across the U.S.
The sense that the Islamic world is under attack by the West has been the stated motivation of most captured jihadists, who believe they are acting quite nobly, as they see it, in defending supposedly defenseless fellow Muslims.
Law enforcement's success in preventing attacks—and consequently, jihadists’ failure in executing them—only increases the odds of a “lone wolf” deciding to take matters into his own hands in defending Muslims. Lone wolves are naturally harder to track, as they can more easily stay off the radar until they act.
Despite the preposterous findings of a Department of Defense report this January, an abundance of evidence suggests that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan went on a shooting spree last year at Fort Hood in order to, quoting from his own Internet posting about the virtues of suicide bombers, “help save Muslims by killing enemy soldiers.”
Based on what the public learned about the government’s knowledge of Maj. Hasan’s words and deeds before his murderous rampage, it is clear he never should have been in a position to wage his jihad in the first place. Debilitating political correctness kept him in uniform, as his superiors were more worried about bad PR or potential lawsuits than dealing with an obvious threat.
That’s why leadership matters. President Obama, to his credit, has not enacted many changes to the Bush administration counterterrorism policies. But the rhetorical shift has been pronounced.
Given the Muslim background of his father and stepfather, and his own formative years in predominantly Islamic Indonesia, President Obama actually has the best position of any U.S. leader to tackle Islamic radicalism head-on. So far, however, he has declined to do so. His administration has instead engaged in a coordinated campaign to soft-pedal the threat of radical Islamic ideology.
Most likely, the number of potential lone wolves will grow over time. As we could have learned in far more painful fashion this weekend, even the best policing can fall short. The key to stopping lone wolves is defeating the ideology that motivates them to act.
It’s only a matter of time before our luck runs out.
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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