First, a bit of history: Way back on September 11, 2001, 19 men commandeered four commercial airliners and turned them into guided missiles, crashing two of them into the twin towers of New York City’s World Trade Center and the third into the Pentagon. The fourth was prevented from reaching its presumed target in Washington, D.C., when the passengers attempted to wrest control of the plane from the hijackers. That aircraft crashed into a field in Pennsylvania, killing all aboard but no one else. A total of 2,977 innocent lives were taken that day, more than were killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Come, come, Dunphy, you say. Everyone remembers the 9/11 attacks. Why the exercise in remedial history?
Because it’s sadly but plainly apparent that not everyone does remember the 9/11 attacks, as evidenced by the fact that so many people seem queasy about taking the steps necessary to prevent another attack from occurring.
Witness the hand-wringing and caterwauling over the Associated Press’s revelations that officers from the New York Police Department have been conducting surveillance on people all the way out on Long Island and even in . . . New Jersey! Civil rights trampled on! Police state! The horror!
Predictably indignant were the editors of the New York Times, who in a March 8 editorial wrote, “New York police officers fanned out across Newark in 2007, photographing Muslim businesses and gathering data on mosque worshipers. Some are now wary of praying in public, joining faith-based groups or patronizing some restaurants and shops.”
The editorial also quotes Michael Ward, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Newark office, who said that the NYPD’s surveillance operations in New Jersey had undermined the Bureau’s relationships with Muslims. “There’s no correlation between the location of houses of worship and minority-owned businesses and counterterrorism,” Ward said. By generating distrust, he said, the operation created “more risk.”
The rivalry between local police departments and the FBI is a tired old staple of film and television, but indeed there is a fair amount of truth in it. Yes, the FBI has some very talented people, and the inclusion of FBI manpower in a local task force can bring a welcome influx of resources to a previously stymied investigation, but among seasoned detectives in most cities the initials stand for Famous But Incompetent. Perhaps that overstates it a bit, but FBI agents put their pants on one leg at a time. They sometimes botch their cases, burn their surveillances, compromise their informants, and otherwise foul things up just as badly as local cops do. And regardless of their capabilities, there simply aren’t enough of them to cover all the ground that needs to be covered in the fight against terrorism.