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.
Panic would ensue. Merchants would refuse to accept cash, the government would have to withdraw all $20 bills from circulation, our economy would be paralyzed.
If you doubt our ability to over-react, just recall the havoc caused by two idiots with a rifle in 2002. John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo terrorized the nation’s capitol for weeks. It’s not difficult to imagine how much worse the panic would be if, instead of the threat coming from a “white van,” it was coming from the cash in our own pockets.
So how can we defeat such terrorist threats? First, through better intelligence.
The Atlantic airliner plot isn’t the only threat uncovered by British intelligence. London’s Daily Telegraph reports that in one month, April of this year, police were carrying on 70 antiterrorism investigations.
We need to be equally aggressive here and use tools such as the USA PATRIOT Act to determine what our enemies are up to before they have a chance to act. For example, after the FBI broke up a plot to bomb tunnels into Manhattan, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced, “It was never a concern that this would actually be executed. We were . . . all over this.” We need to be all over the terrorists in order to win.
At the same time, we need to win in Iraq.
The biggest threat today isn’t from Christian fundamentalists or Zionists or radical agnostics. It’s from Islamists with a perverted view of their faith. To defeat them, we need to convince the overwhelming majority of Muslims to take back their faith.
Iraq is a big part of that.
It cannot have gone unnoticed in the Islamic world that, for several years now, the story in Iraq has been Muslims killing Muslims, with Americans in the middle attempting to stop the killing entirely. Iraq is swiftly becoming a problem for Iraqis to solve, and that’s as it should be. As long as we leave Iraq with a functioning government, we’ll give moderate Muslims something to rally around.
Defeating terrorism doesn’t mean surrendering our civil rights -- this battle won’t be won by throwing out our rights any more than it will be won by throwing out our shampoo. But to win, we’ve got to be both aggressive and smart. In Iraq and here at home, failure cannot be an option.