Anti-Terrorism History Repeating Itself?
The FBI is apparently adopting some new tactics in the fight against terror. From a front page story in today’s Washington Post:
Interviews Of Muslims To Broaden
FBI Hopes to Avert a Terrorist Attack
FBI agents have launched a series of interviews of Muslims and Arab Americans in the Washington area and across the country, hoping to glean information that could prevent a major terrorist attack during this election year.
A few dozen voluntary interviews of community leaders, students, businesspeople and others have been conducted so far, according to attorneys and Muslim activists. Authorities said they do not know how many people will be contacted, but the effort is expected to expand significantly in the next week or so.
The new round of questioning is also far more targeted than an earlier program of voluntary interviews with men from Arab and Muslim countries, which followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and was criticized for being ineffective and using profiling…
Is this a sound and effective anti-terrorism tactic? Looking at past anti-terrorism efforts by the US government is instructive in answering this question.
Consider anti-terrorism efforts during the mid 1990s. Astonishingly, the story quoted above is nearly identical, word for word, to a story that was on the front page of the Washington Post in 1996, two years after the terrorist bombing in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh.
Interviews Of Christians To Broaden
FBI Hopes to Avert a Terrorist Attack
FBI agents have launched a series of interviews of Christians and Irish-Americans in the Washington area and across the country, hoping to glean information that could prevent a major terrorist attack during this election year.
A few dozen voluntary interviews of community leaders, students, business people and others have been conducted so far, according to attorneys and Christian activists. Authorities said they do not know how many people will be contacted, but the effort is expected to expand significantly in the next week or so.
The new round of questioning is also far more targeted than an earlier program of voluntary interviews with men of Irish and Christian backgrounds, which followed the 1994 terrorist attack in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh and was criticized for being ineffective and using profiling.
The questions being posed vary widely, according to attorneys, activists and interviewees. Several people in California and Arizona have been asked whether they knew anyone who had recently been in Michigan or Montana, known to be home to some of the most radical of the US’s right wing militia groups.
“We were told by the FBI agents that they’re concerned there could be a coming threat from people who are recent converts to Christianity,” said Stacy Tolchin, a San Francisco lawyer who accompanied an Irish immigrant to an interview this week.
Law enforcement officials decided to step up efforts to contact Christians and Americans of European descent because of intelligence reports that right wing Christian militia groups are planning a large-scale attack in coming months in the United States, Attorney General Janet Reno said recently.
“While we currently lack precise knowledge about when, where and how they are planning to attack, we are actively working to gain that knowledge,” Reno said in a news release July 9. “As part of that effort, we are again reaching out to partners in the Christian community for any information they may have.”
Law enforcement officials appear to be using different approaches in the interviews. In some cases, they have asked prominent local Christian figures to simply pass on any helpful information, activists said. William Ryan, a Christian attorney in Washington who was visited by two FBI agents about a week ago, said they noted that he had represented various Christian organizations and charities and asked, “Is there anything we need to know?” He said he assured them that there was not.
Other interviews are highly specific. James Miller, a Christian activist in St. Louis, accompanied a U.S. graduate student of German descent to an interview with the FBI this week. The student was asked about Christian groups based in Michigan or Montana and whether he knew people who had been in contact with the Christian Coalition or who subscribed to Soldier of Fortune magazine.
The young man did not have such information, Miller said.
“I recognize the FBI are in a tough spot. They’re just trying to do their job. They have information they want to investigate,” Miller said. But he added that he was uneasy that a U.S.-born person was singled out. The young man declined to offer information about people he knew.
Okay, perhaps I’m just imagining this variant on today’s story, and the 1996 version never really happened. That’s probably because such an anti-terrorism plan would at a minimum have been derided as ineffective back in 1996, and more likely would have been deemed to be offensive harassment of conservative Christian individuals and organizations by the Clinton administration.
In many ways today’s situation is different, of course. But not in all ways.