Thursday, June 16, 2016

Cruising the Web

Here's an interesting quirk in how the FBI investigates suspected terrorists. Time Magazine reports that, while the FBI investigated Omar Mateen on three separate occasions over the last three years as a suspected terrorist, they dropped the investigation.
Preliminary investigations of terrorist suspects can run for six months in search of evidence the person is a member of a terrorist group or is planning a specific terrorist attack. The agent on the case can get a six-month extension if he or she thinks there might be more to find. And if there’s an indication the suspect really is planning an attack, the probe can be converted to a full investigation. In Mateen’s case, the FBI got one extension of the preliminary investigation, then closed the case after a total of ten months.
Why does it make sense to drop the investigation after six months. Especially when his name surfaced again as an associate of an American suicide bomber who had traveled to Syria.
Former senior officials disagree about whether the FBI could have done more. Murphy, the FBI’s former number two who worked with then-FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni in revising the bureau’s investigative guidelines, says they discourage agents from monitoring potential terrorists over the long-term. Those guidelines retained the requirement that any preliminary investigation that did not produce evidence of a crime must be closed after six months. “Someone should have been monitoring [Mateen’s] social media 24/7,” Murphy says. “but under the guidelines that is not allowed,” he says. Murphy says the bureau should also have been alerted when Mateen bought weapons.
The revision of the FBI guidelines took place in 2011. Those with more time on their hands can research whether this was when the six-month limit was put into place. However, it seems that, even if Mateen had been kept on the FBI's terror watch, he would still have been able to buy his guns.
Omar Mateen was placed on a terrorist watch list maintained by the FBI when its agents questioned him in 2013 and 2014 about potential ties to terrorism, according to U.S. law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the case.

He was subsequently removed from that database after the FBI closed its two investigations, one official said....

Even if Mateen were still on the terrorist watch list — known as the Terrorist Screening Database — the designation would not have precluded him from buying the semiautomatic pistol and assault-style rifle that he used in Sunday's massacre.
So now the debate in Congress is whether to pass a law limiting those on the terror watch list, or the more limited no-fly list which Mateen wasn't on, from buying guns. The problem is that these lists are very broad and include many who have no connection to terrorism. Should they be denied their rights simply because authorities have a suspicion and have placed them on a secretive list, perhaps with no foundation and simply because they're Muslim? Matt Vespa writes,
Whatever the reason, having your rights stripped based on suspicion should raise the eyebrows of every American. If convicted of a crime, yes, you lose the right to own guns. That’s not a debate—but there is no trial when you’re added to any one of these lists. Heck, in most cases, Americans who have been added aren’t even informed, nor are they really given any legal recourse to get their names removed. Regarding no-fly lists, there are many documented cases of mishaps, including the late Sen. Ted Kennedy being included on the list. Even young children have been placed on no-fly lists, which should also raise questions about the accuracy of this secretive anti-terror program.
The Democrats have been talking a lot about the no-fly list, which is a small subset of the terror watch list. It didn't include either the San Bernadino murderers or the Orlando shooter. But it all sounds good and makes a good talking point.

The problem is that authorities are overloaded with leads on possible terrorism.
The answer is in part a reflection of American vigilance in the era of “see something, say something.” Tens of thousands of counterterrorism tips flow to the F.B.I. each year. Some are legitimate. Others come from vengeful ex-spouses or people casting suspicion on Arab-Americans.

Thousands of investigations are opened and closed. Right now, law enforcement officials say, the F.B.I. is investigating 1,000 potential “homegrown violent extremists,” the majority of whom are most likely tied to or inspired by the Islamic State. Fifty to 100 are considered the highest priority.
So what can they do if someone is reported as having expressed admiration for ISIS?
But in the United States, Americans enjoy the unique protections of the First and Second Amendments. Criticizing, or even hating, the American government is not a crime. Neither is declaring support for the Islamic State or buying a gun.
Deciding that someone like Omar Mateen is just a lone wolf and not connected to ISIS seems to miss the point about what ISIS seeks to do. Mateen is just the type of person that they hope to inspire to violence against his own countrymen. They don't seem to care if such individuals live in the U.S., France, Belgium, or elsewhere. So simply searching for a link to overseas terrorists is no longer enough.

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Perhaps lawmakers can come together on a compromise.
Lawmakers are growing increasingly frustrated at the FBI’s decision to remove the Orlando shooter from the terror watch list in 2014.

And their concerns are fueling a new debate about whether the government needs to keep better track of people it once investigated in order to find out when they try to buy guns.

The creation of a secondary list for those who were once suspected of terrorist ties or activity could prove very controversial. But some lawmakers note it’s the only way authorities could have known that 29-year-old Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people on Sunday in a nightclub popular with the gay community, purchased a gun.

A secondary list would not in itself resolve the gun control debate in Congress, as Democrats and Republicans argue over whether the government should be able to prevent suspected terrorists from purchasing firearms and explosives. But in theory, it could be used to at least alert the FBI if a former suspect, like Mateen, wants to purchase a gun.
Gabriel Malor writes of the difficulties of banning gun sales to those on either the terrorist watch list or the no-fly list.
The no-fly list and the terrorist watch list are tools to evaluate and monitor security threats at the investigative stage. They are not good vehicles for adjudicating individual rights, as they utterly lack the procedural safeguards Americans are owed from their government.

In due process terms, these lists and their administration lack notice, an opportunity to respond, and finality. The government is not obligated to inform you that you’ve been put on these lists and consequently stripped of some of your rights. Your ability to challenge your inclusion—should you even find out, of course—is also limited. Further, there are no rules in place to prevent a nameless and unknowable government bureaucrat from putting you back on either list even if you do successfully challenge them.
Perhaps these are the sorts of civil liberties that liberals no longer care about. Though they always seem to be very exercised about such concerns when it comes to policing procedures such as stop-and-frisk in a city like New York. As Malor points out, even the ACLU is worried about the government's watchlists.
Given the gravity of these consequences, it is vital that if the government blacklists people, the standards it uses are appropriately narrow, the information it relies on is accurate and credible, and the manner in which watchlists are used is consistent with the presumption of innocence and the right to a hearing before punishment—legal principles older than our nation itself. Yet the government fails these basic tests of fairness. It has placed individuals on watchlists, and left them there for years, as a result of blatant errors. It has expanded its master terrorist watchlist to include as many as a million names, based on information that is often stale, poorly reviewed, or of questionable reliability. It has adopted a standard for inclusion on the master watchlist that gives agencies and analysts near-unfettered discretion. And it has refused to disclose the standards by which it places individuals on other watchlists, such as the No Fly List.

Compounding this unfairness is the fact that the “redress” procedures the U.S. government provides for those who have been wrongly or mistakenly included on a watchlist are wholly inadequate. Even after people know the government has placed them on a watchlist—including after they are publicly denied boarding on a plane, or subjected to additional and invasive screening at the airport, or told by federal agents that they will be removed from a list if they agree to become a government informant—the government’s official policy is to refuse to confirm or deny watchlist status. Nor is there any meaningful way to contest one’s designation as a potential terrorist and ensure that the U.S. government, and all other users of the information, removes or corrects inaccurate records. The result is that innocent people can languish on the watchlists indefinitely, without real recourse.

Now that Harry Reid, Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump are in favor of passing a bill preventing those on the terror watch list from buying guns, Charles C. W. Cooke, a noted gun rights advocate, has a proposal.
Why not amend any bill so that it covers the entire Bill of Rights? Hillary Clinton is on record suggesting that the United States should impose some censorship on the Internet so that would-be terrorists cannot communicate with one other. Well, if the prospect of terrorists using the internet really is that dangerous — and if those who oppose Clinton’s coveted reforms are just dogmatically wedded to outdated concepts such as “freedom of speech, et cetera . . .” – then there shouldn’t be any problem with the federal government preventing anybody suspected of terrorism from using a modem, should there? Sure, at one point in American history it made sense to require due process before we stripped core rights. But that was back in the days of pamphlets and printing presses, not now when one can spread information across the world in the blink of an eye.

In the same vein, it seems clear that freedom of religion should be restricted to those whose names the FBI has not put in its database. As Donald Trump has explained, radical mosques lead directly to the sort of attacks we’ve seen at home and abroad; surely he doesn’t think that those under suspicion should be permitted to worship with impunity? And freedom of association? That’s out, too. After all, as Harry Reid observes, those who are unprepared to restrict the constitutional rights of American citizens will “in part be responsible for every terror attack” we see in the future. To avoid such culpability, all right-thinking people should consider imprisoning those who invite the attention of law enforcement without the technicality of a trial.

The Fourth Amendment has to go. As ThinkProgress has observed, there is “one response to the Orlando shooting both presidential frontrunners support”: increased surveillance. But, because of pesky slaveowning-era requirements such as “warrants” and “probable cause,” the FBI is unable to really get stuck into those it believes would harm Americans. That simply won’t do. Hillary Clinton wants “better intelligence to discover and disrupt terrorist plots before they can be carried out,” while Donald Trump wants to “give our intelligence community, law enforcement and military the tools they need to prevent terrorist attacks.” What better way could there be of achieving this than creating an exemption for those under suspicion? Sure, the extremist ACLU might bleat a little about “due process” and “the rule of law,” and out-of-touch writers will propose that this sounds oddly like the imposition of a “pre-crime” standard. But those people will have blood on their hands next time there’s an attack. Only by ensuring that the Constitution doesn’t apply to anybody under suspicion will we finally throw out our fetishization of outmoded eighteenth-century ideas, and close the “terror gap” once and for all.

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As Jim Geraghty points out the whole policy that authorities have pretended will help fight terrorism of telling us that "if you see something, say something" falls victim to political correctness. The Fort Pierce police officer who worked alongside Omar Mateen said that he had complained to his employer several times about his homophobic and racial comments.
Gilroy said he complained to his employer several times but it did nothing because he was Muslim. Gilroy quit after he said Mateen began stalking him via multiple text messages — 20 or 30 a day. He also sent Gilroy 13 to 15 phone messages a day, he said.

"I quit because everything he said was toxic," Gilroy said Sunday, "and the company wouldn't do anything. This guy was unhinged and unstable. He talked of killing people."
Gee, who wouldn't want a security guard who talked of killing people?

And remember the neighbors of the San Bernardino murderers who thought of calling the police about what was going on next door, but worried about being chastised for racial profiling because they were Muslims.

Geraghty links to this post by Noah Rothman about the weaknesses of the "See something? Say Something" approach.
At once, Americans are supposed to be vigilant and unafraid to express to authorities their fears when they believe someone is behaving abnormally and may represent a threat. At the same time, however, society frowns on those who are perceived as judgmental.

Since social pressures to avoid being seen as hypercritical, paranoid, or—worst of all—bigoted are acute, and the rewards for keeping an eye out for the next terrorist plot are virtually non-existent, the vigilant are often inclined to keep their concerns to themselves. While the public is appropriately skeptical of the likelihood that their eccentric coworker may be a member of the local sleeper cell, there are downsides to this phenomenon. Notable among them is that a series of mass casualty attacks that might have been prevented were not.
Besides the San Bernardino and Orlando murderers, Rothman points to other mass murderers whose behavior had aroused suspicion.
The common thread among suspects in these mass shootings and terroristic incidents is not merely that they had mental health issues and an attraction to extremist political ideologies. In each case, the concerned people in those killers’ lives failed to speak up or their warnings were dismissed when they did. For all legitimate concerns regarding the allure of political extremism and the ubiquity of deadly weapons, few seem concerned about the nearly canonical tenets of non-judgmentalism. A cultural proscription on appearing to be prying or condemnatory has its drawbacks; one of them is that people who “see something” often don’t “say something,” or they are ignored when they do.
In addition, what do we want to deputize authorities to do when they get reports that someone is weird and making violent statements? Where do civil liberties end and a society's self-protection begins. How many people are reported to the police for such reasons who never act on their supposed violent tendencies? I don't know where the line is, but it's not where it should be. This is a discussion we should be having.

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Oh, geez. Now Trump is alleging that American soldiers were embezzling funds targeted to give out in Iraq. He has, apparently, made the same allegation about soldiers in Afghanistan. As Allahpundit points out, about 100 American soldiers have been convicted of stealing reconstruction funds in the past 10 years. That's a very small number and no indication that "millions and millions" went missing so that soldiers are "living very well right now." For those who still love anything that Trump says, imagine if any Democrat had made the same allegation. No one who wants to be commander-in-chief should be making such charges about the American troops risking their lives over in Iraq and Afghanistan. And his campaign's hurried excuse-making that he was not talking about Americans, but Iraqis is clearly an interpretation made up after the fact and should be totally discounted.

I'll grant you that Donald Trump's approach to fighting terrorism is to just assert that he'll have the best plan ever with the best people with some statements against Muslim immigrants thrown in for seasoning, and we should all just accept his statements as a suitable replacement for an actual policy. But, as Ira Stoll writes, Clinton hasn't really enunciated what her policy to fight terrorism would be either.
Gun control? Even the New York Times, not exactly the National Rifle Association newsletter, was reporting on its home page that, “A vast majority of guns used in 16 recent mass shootings were bought legally and with a federal background check.” That suggests that requiring “smart” guns with some kind of fingerprint lock, or closing the “gun show loophole” that allows for private sales of guns without background checks, wouldn’t do much to solve the mass shooting problem.

Unless one also wants to ban fertilizer or pressure-cooker sales, or require federal background checks for purchases of those, even solving the gun issue entirely might just push the problem toward bombs. In Israel, terrorists have been wreaking havoc recently with kitchen knives. The death toll is smaller than in a bombing or mass shooting, but the effects on victims, their families, and the tourism economy are nonetheless severe.

A statement from Hillary Clinton responding to the Orlando terrorist attack spoke of “defeating international terror groups, working with allies and partners to go after them wherever they are.” Sounds good to me. But when George W. Bush tried to do this in Iraq and Afghanistan, the left accused him of dragging America into a deadly quagmire that would only create more terrorists. More than a dozen years into this war, victory doesn’t appear near. Maybe America lacks the stomach to pursue this war with the sustained relentlessness that would be required to win it.

Mrs. Clinton’s statement also spoke of “hardening our defenses at home.” Yet the city that set up the most hard defenses — New York City under the skilled and courageous leadership of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his police commissioner Ray Kelly — has been met with the worst kind of derision from the left. The New York Times ran one, two, three separate editorials heaping contempt on Mr. Bloomberg, Mr. Kelly, and the NYPD for its surveillance programs, which the Times called unconstitutional.

Columbia University honored the Associated Press with a Pulitzer Prize for its articles criticizing the NYPD’s anti-terror programs, and the Times then promptly hired away Matt Apuzzo, one of the reporters who led the AP’s anti-NYPD effort. Columbia and the Pulitzer board also showered a separate prize on James Risen and Eric Lichtblau of the Times for their articles exposing wiretapping and cellphone data collection as a counterterrorism program at the federal level.

More mental health funding? That proposal is sometimes heard after mass shootings. But most mentally ill individuals are nonviolent. Sorting the nonviolent ones from the violent ones is tricky, and leftist legal groups have spent years making it harder to restrain or institutionalize people against their will.
I don't know that there are any policies that any candidate could put forward that a majority of voters would find acceptable. The left certainly hasn't demonstrated that they have any sort of handle on fighting terrorism. Obama's approach seems to be to assert that terrorism on our soil isn't an existential problem so we should just learn to deal with it. And, by the way, the Republicans are to blame since they're blocking what he likes to call "common sense gun control reforms" that wouldn't have done anything to have stopped recent massacres.

One reaction I have is to never trust a politician telling me that something isn't an "existential" threat to the United States. Very few threats are "existential" unless we're talking about the aliens in science fiction movies. Historians could have a good debate as to whether either Germany or Japan were truly "existential" threats to us during World War Two. If that is going to be the threshold, few threats will cross over.

With the news that Omar Mateen had been scouting out Disney sites in Orlando, the question I have is this: If he'd shot up Disney instead of Pulse, would we then have been lectured that Americans need to end their hatred of families on vacation?

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Donald Trump recently turned 70 years old. In his honor, the Independent Journal has a show of his 70 best facial expressions. By the way, this past year, when we were discussing the campaign, several of my students (who are 10th graders) commented on how old Hillary Clinton is. When I pointed out that Trump is a year and a half older than she is, they were dumbfounded. They had no idea of how old he is. I guess that orange hair dye and the artificial tanning have done their job.