Take a look at this picture:
This crowd was attending a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in downtown Portland, Oregon, and it’s likely that every one of them would be dead if the anti-anti-terrorists on the left had had their way.
The event was the target of a bombing plot hatched by Mohamed Mohamud, a Somali-born US citizen. After becoming radicalized, Mohamud contacted an Islamic terrorist group in Pakistan. The FBI became aware of their contacts, and contacted him, pretending to be associates of the Pakistani terrorists. The FBI gave him a nonfunctional bomb and arrested him after he tried to detonate it.
We haven’t been told exactly how the FBI became aware of Mohamud’s contacts with the Pakistani terrorists (and it’s good we haven’t), but it seems likely that the government intercepted their messages. Communications such as those, between foreign terrorists and Americans, are the ones we most need to know about. They are also the ones that the left feels strongly we shouldn’t listen to.
No one (well, almost no one) questions the government’s right (indeed responsibility) to capture the communications of foreign terrorists. However, many feel that whenever those terrorists receive a call from the United States, the government should stop listening until it obtains a warrant.
ASIDE: As I understand it, the law provided that the government could listen to communications between foreign powers and US citizens, but a legal gray area arose because Al Qaeda is not a foreign power. The Bush Administration contended that the authorization for military force, which effectively declared war against Al Qaeda, gave the president the authority to use any means against Al Qaeda (including wiretapping) that it would use against a nation-state with whom we are at war.
Fortunately, the terrorist surveillance program survived, albeit on a shorter leash. (Barack Obama voted against it 2007, but voted for it when it was renewed in 2008.) Which brings us to today. If the FBI had not learned of Mohamud’s efforts, it seems very likely he eventually would have made contact with real terrorists and probably would have succeeded in his plot.
Some earnestly feel that listening to conversations between foreign terrorists and persons inside America without a warrant constitutes an unacceptable breach of our civil rights. I can respect that, although I disagree. But let’s be clear about the cost: every one of the people in that photograph. And this is just one incident.
POSTSCRIPT: There’s one additional wrinkle in this story: The city of Portland voted in 2005 not to cooperate with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. Portland is now reconsidering that decision, but even now they won’t admit they were wrong. Rather, the mayor says he feels better about it now that Obama is president. (Via Instapundit.)
UPDATE: We’ve now seen the anti-anti-terrorists’ rebuttal. Astonishingly, they are blaming the FBI. They are saying that if the FBI hadn’t interfered, Mohamed Mohamud would have limited himself to writing angry letters to the editor or something.
This is delusional. Common sense should suffice to recognize that, but if not, we could read the actual story:
Mohamud also indicated he intended to become “operational,” meaning he wanted to put an explosion together but needed help. The two met again in August 2010 in a Portland hotel.
“During this meeting, Mohamud explained how he had been thinking of committing some form of violent jihad since the age of 15,” the affidavit says. “Mohamud then told (the FBI operatives) that he had identified a potential target for a bomb: the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square on Nov. 26, 2010.”
The FBI operatives cautioned Mohamud several times about the seriousness of his plan, noting that there would be many people, including children, at the event, and that Mohamud could abandon his plans at any time with no shame.
“You know there’s going to be a lot of children there?” an FBI operative asked Mohamud. “You know there are gonna be a lot of children there?”
Mohamud allegedly responded he was looking for a “huge mass that will … be attacked in their own element with their families celebrating the holidays.”
To summarize: Mohamud hatched the plot himself, and was only looking for a bomb to set off. The FBI tried to talk him out of it, but he was determined.