PARIS -- In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, it's only natural to ask why some terrorists are only caught after they've inflicted carnage on innocent civilians. What went wrong?
Here are a few significant reasons why authorities still manage to miss terrorism until it's too late:
1. It doesn't help that U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper understated the threat when he told Congress in March that counterterrorism efforts "have degraded core al-Qaeda to a point that the group is probably unable to carry out complex, large-scale attacks in the West." So I guess it's all over now that "core al-Qaeda" isn't issuing official membership cards anymore? I'm pretty sure that setting off a bomb somewhere and talking about jihad with your mom while planning trips to al-Qaeda-infested regions of the globe is all it takes to join up these days.
Naturally, Clapper's words were largely misconstrued to suggest that the terrorist group was no longer a threat. That was just a month before cookware in the hands of junior jihadists using tactics from the official al-Qaeda playbook would send Boston and the nation into a terror panic. As for the complexity of the attacks -- who cares? Does the IQ of the terrorist or the craftsmanship of the bomb really matter as long as it successfully detonates?
2. People who think that everything is a government plot to take away their freedoms are a ubiquitous obstruction to counterterrorism operations. They somehow figure that the same government that loses their tax return every other year and can't manage to pass public-safety legislation is somehow capable of coordinating elaborate terrorist hoaxes as a cover for what they really want: unfettered molestation of every airline passenger.
My personal favorites: those who label every terrorist event a "false flag" -- a term they likely learned via osmosis when they fell asleep while reading a John Le Carré novel, making them instant experts on subversion strategy. It's these morons, becoming increasingly mainstream, to whom intelligence agencies cater when they fail to aggressively pursue leads due to how counterterrorism operations might ultimately be perceived, barring a major investigative breakthrough.
3. A culture of complacency among various government authorities responsive to bleeding-heart baddie-huggers ultimately leads to negligence, with risks festering to the point of full-blown threat. We've learned that there were plenty of warnings about the Boston bombing suspects, notably from Russian intelligence and the CIA.
One of the two allegedly al-Qaeda-linked suspects recently charged in Canada with plotting to target a Toronto-to-New York train had previously faced a deportation hearing, and his refugee claim was rejected because he had already racked up five fraud convictions during his short stay in Canada. He managed to obtain residency by arguing that as a "Palestinian by blood" (despite being born in the United Arab Emirates), he had no home nation to which he could be deported.
As a result, some Russian immigrants aren't recognized as Islamists but rather just "ethnic Chechens," as was the case with the Boston bombing suspects and also with a Canadian citizen of Chechen origin who was among the leaders of an attack that killed several dozen hostages at an Algerian gas plant earlier this year.
5) There's a general lack of understanding of terrorists and the nature of their allegiances. Basically, they have none. They'll work with anyone who will serve their objectives today, then double-cross the same allies tomorrow. Anyone projecting any morality onto their alliances will end up confused at best and dead at worst.
Take Syrian al-Qaeda, for example: Jabhat al-Nusra. Its members loathe the West and Israel as much as Hezbollah does. However, they're fighting against Assad along with the West, and actively attacking Iran-backed, Assad-supporting Hezbollah. It's this kind of convolution that recently made some Canadians ask, "Why would al-Qaeda-linked suspects in Canada wanting to blow up a train allegedly be getting funding from al-Qaeda in Iran when Iran is Shiite and al-Qaeda is Sunni and those two hate each other? This is obviously nonsense!" Right -- because Iran has never funded al-Qaeda against Western interests before.
It helps to remember the terrorist golden rule: Every one of these groups just wants to be in charge. And they will try to knock off any and all other parties systemically until that happens. Go ahead -- just try wedging reason, diplomacy or integrity into that.
Still, some will try -- at our collective peril.