Friday, August 11, 2006

Foiling Terrorism & Lessons to Be Learned

There is much that we do not yet know about the foiled plot to blow up U.S. bound jetliners and may never know. But it is safe to say that based on what we do know, the investigation into the plotters began shortly after the 2005 London transit system attacks and involved intensive surveillance on three continents.
I have been quick to slam U.S. anti-terrorism efforts, but in this instance there appears to have been the intensive surveillance and coordination that sometimes has been lacking in the past.

Perhaps the best news of all is that the tip that led investigators to the plotters apparently originated in the British Muslim community.
That said, Slate's Fred Kaplan says there is an important lesson that Washington could learn from how British intelligence services operate:
Border patrols and detection devices are necessary tools. Like locks on the front door, they make it harder for terrorists to make plans and wreak havoc. But there's always a back door or window that can be pried open. Preventing that from happening requires good intelligence, and good intelligence requires contacts with the sort of people who hang around the dark alleys of the world.

There's a broader lesson here, and it speaks to the Bush administration's present jam throughout the Middle East and in other danger zones. If the British had adopted the same policy toward dealing with Pakistan that Bush has adopted toward dealing with, say, Syria or Iran (namely, it's an evil regime, and we don't speak with evil regimes), then a lot of passenger planes would have shattered and spilled into the ocean, hundreds or thousands of people would have died, and the world would have suddenly been plunged into very scary territory.

It is time to ask: Which is the more "moral" course—to shun odious regimes as a matter of principle or to take unpleasant steps that might prevent mass terror?

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