Jake J. Brahm is an idiot.
The 20-year-old Wisconsin man is in federal custody. He’s accused of writing on a Web site that “dirty bombs” would explode on Oct. 22 at seven NFL games. Federal authorities detained him before the weekend and announced it was safe to attend football games (which it was, except for Eagles fans). If convicted, Brahm could face five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Still, while the feds are throwing the book at Brahm, he may turn out to be a useful idiot.
Clearly, he got authorities thinking about the possibility that terrorists could attack a sporting event. Did that help investigators identify gaps in our security? Did it force them to keep a closer eye on truck rentals and purchases? Did it encourage them to verify the whereabouts of low-level nuclear material (such as hospital waste)? If so, then this hoax may have been a blessing in disguise.
The United States is doing plenty right in the battle to defeat terrorism. That explains why we haven’t had an attack on our soil in more than five years. But, sadly, terrorists don’t actually have to hit us anymore to cripple us. Even our victories turn into defeats of a sort.
This summer when British intelligence broke up an Islamist ring that intended to blow up airplanes over the Atlantic, that was and should have been a great triumph. But months later, we find that the terrorists, in a way, succeeded.
As anyone who’s flown lately knows, they’ve forced us to add an extra layer of security. Passengers can only bring a few ounces of liquid through checkpoints. That’s slowed down travelers, thus costing the economy money. Meanwhile, countless passengers have been forced to throw away expensive health-care products. And because more people are checking baggage, the amount of lost luggage increased almost 25 percent in August, The Washington Post reports.
Our knee-jerk reaction ignores a key point: We’ll never win this war by making people give things up -- whether that’s bottles of contact-lens cleaner or our basic civil rights.
If you doubt that, then imagine this:
A small terrorist cell, no more than five or six men, soaks $20 bills in some sort of poison. The men drive across the country (in winter), stopping frequently to buy gas with the tainted 20s (because it’s cold, they don’t arouse any suspicion even though they’re wearing gloves).
One week later, they contact newspapers in each city along their path to explain they’ve entered poison bills into circulation. Of course, the terrorists claim they’ve spent hundreds of 20s, not just a handful. One newspaper learns that a gas station clerk along the interstate died mysteriously, and runs with the story.