Four points. One: There was little danger of an actual terrorist attack:
Authorities said the four men have long been under investigation and there was little danger they could actually have carried out their plan, NBC News’ Pete Williams reported.
In their efforts to acquire weapons, the defendants dealt with an informant acting under law enforcement supervision, authorities said. The FBI and other agencies monitored the men and provided an inactive missile and inert C-4 to the informant for the defendants, a federal complaint said.
The investigation had been under way for about a year.
“They never got anywhere close to being able to do anything,” one official told NBC News. “Still, it’s good to have guys like this off the street.”
Of course, politicians are using this incident to peddle more fear:
“This was a very serious threat that could have cost many, many lives if it had gone through,” Representative Peter T. King, Republican from Long Island, said in an interview with WPIX-TV. “It would have been a horrible, damaging tragedy. There’s a real threat from homegrown terrorists and also from jailhouse converts.”
Two, they were caught by traditional investigation and intelligence. Not airport security. Not warrantless eavesdropping. But old fashioned investigation and intelligence. This is what works. This is what keeps us safe. Here’s an essay I wrote in 2004 that says exactly that.
The only effective way to deal with terrorists is through old-fashioned police and intelligence work—discovering plans before they’re implemented and then going after the plotters themselves.
Three, they were idiots:
The ringleader of the four-man homegrown terror cell accused of plotting to blow up synagogues in the Bronx and military planes in Newburgh admitted to a judge today that he had smoked pot before his bust last night.
When U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisa M. Smith asked James Cromitie if his judgment was impaired during his appearance in federal court in White Plains, the 55-year-old confessed: “No. I smoke it regularly. I understand everything you are saying.”
Four, an “informant” helped this group a lot:
In April, Mr. Cromitie and the three other men selected the synagogues as their targets, the statement said. The informant soon helped them get the weapons, which were incapable of being fired or detonated, according to the authorities.
The warning the warning I wrote in “Portrait of the Modern Terrorist as an Idiot” is timely again:
Despite the initial press frenzies, the actual details of the cases frequently turn out to be far less damning. Too often it’s unclear whether the defendants are actually guilty, or if the police created a crime where none existed before.
The JFK Airport plotters seem to have been egged on by an informant, a twice-convicted drug dealer. An FBI informant almost certainly pushed the Fort Dix plotters to do things they wouldn’t have ordinarily done. The Miami gang’s Sears Tower plot was suggested by an FBI undercover agent who infiltrated the group. And in 2003, it took an elaborate sting operation involving three countries to arrest an arms dealer for selling a surface-to-air missile to an ostensible Muslim extremist. Entrapment is a very real possibility in all of these cases.
Actually, that whole 2007 essay is timely again. Some things never change.
Posted on May 22, 2009 at 6:11 AM •