Good Old-Fashioned Police Work

Gordo’s post about The Path to 9/11, that movie from which no continuous path to reality exists, has brought out a commenter who has decided that police work is ineffective and ought to be scrapped due to trivial observations.

That, of course, is what I have been saying about the film, from pre-showing information: that it depicted the pre-September 11th policies of using law enforcement methods to combat terrorism. In the dramatized version, Mr Yousef assumes that we will change our policies to protect our country; a good deal of the remainder of the film demonstrates that we did no such thing.

At 8:58, Richard Clarke (?) is depicted saying that our goal is to eliminate the sources of funding for terrorists, and to deny them safe havens; he says nothing about hunting them down and killing them!

Hunting down and killing terrorists is very spectacular, just like terrorism itself. But whereas terrorism can work because it uses media perceptions to further its goals, anti-terrorism, which needs real results, can’t. After the initial attack on Afghanistan, which crippled Al-Qaida, Islamist terrorism became a distributed network. Unless your way of hunting down and killing terrorists involves bombing Leeds, there’s no military solution here.

Britain had no trouble preventing the airline hijacking with police work. The FBI had no trouble preventing the Millennium Plot as well as any number of large-scale terrorist attacks; and even 9/11 was originally supposed to involve 12 planes, rather than 4.

The main problem of police work is that it’s not spectacular. Whenever you’re dealing with a terrorist enemy, it’s the only thing that there is (right after 9/11, Bin Laden was very much integrated into the government of Afghanistan, so the condition didn’t really hold); unfortunately, since it doesn’t involve blowing countries up, or saving the world in 24 hours minus commercial breaks, it’s considered dirty and ineffective. Plus, it generally costs less than the perceived influence of the problem, so the more costly military pseudo-solution looks more equipped to deal with the problem.

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