Politics & Policy

The Enemy in New Jersey

Too often, and for too long, the Left and top Democrats have reduced American national security to a political “gotcha!” game. Sensible reforms like the Patriot Act have been portrayed as attacks on the Constitution. Essential interrogation programs have been libeled as a torture regime. Vital tools for intercepting enemy communications and tracking terrorist funds have been compromised, and their effectiveness in protecting the public diminished, to portray the executive branch as run amok.

But every now and then we’re reminded that national security is not a game. We’re reminded that there really are radical Islamists who want nothing in life more than to kill Americans. Tuesday was one of those days.

The Justice Department announced the arrest of six alleged jihadists who, according to the charges against them, spent the last year and a half plotting an attack on the United States military installation at Fort Dix, New Jersey. They thought a small group of committed terrorists could penetrate security and slaughter at least a hundred United States soldiers.

Listen to defendant Serder Tatar, who was so suspicious (correctly as it turned out) that one of his confederates might be an FBI informant that he actually tried to check him out with the local police. Here’s what Tatar finally told the informant about why he would help attack Fort Dix:

I don’t know whether you’re FBI. . . . I’m gonna do it. Whether you are or not. I’m gonna do it. Know why? It doesn’t matter to me, whether I get locked up, arrested, or get taken away, it doesn’t matter. Or I die, it doesn’t matter. I’m doing it in the name of Allah.

That’s what we’re up against.

Even at this early stage of the case, a few lessons stand out. Remember the indignation of the Left and civil-liberties extremists at John Ashcroft’s post-9/11 suggestion that ordinary citizens be vigilant and report suspicious behavior to law enforcement? When the alleged jihadists, having recorded one of their paramilitary training sessions, foolishly took the DVD to a store for copying, a store employee became alarmed and notified the FBI. Without the tip, the jihadists might well have gone undiscovered.

Another lesson: Armed with this information, the FBI managed to infiltrate the conspiracy with an informant. This resulted in that most precious of commodities in the war against radical Islam: human intelligence. With a source on the inside, the government was not left to guess based on disconnected bits and pieces of information. The FBI was able to draw out the more talkative of the would-be attackers, unfolding the plot and identifying other conspirators.

Further, agents were able to corroborate the intelligence provided by the informant through, yes, electronic surveillance — in this case, recordings the informant agreed to make of conversations in which he participated. This eavesdropping — or “domestic spying,” as the Left likes to deride it — specifically targeted people inside the United States, and was carried out in the absence of any court supervision or showing of probable cause. All this was perfectly legal under federal law, which has long permitted the government to conduct warrantless monitoring of any conversation in which one of the participants consents to the eavesdropping–even if that participant happens to be an FBI informant.

We’re still at a very early stage in the proceedings. The defendants will be presumed innocent when they have their day in court. Inevitably, their lawyers will tell us they were ne’er-do-wells entrapped by a wily undercover provocateur. The extensive complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney in New Jersey, however, tells a very different story: a cell composed of illegal-alien and homegrown terrorists, inspired by Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 hijackers, recruiting government operatives (not the other way around), arranging paramilitary training in remote rural areas, and conducting precise surveillance of potential military targets — not only Fort Dix but Fort Monmouth, Dover Air Force Base, and a Coast Guard facility in Philadelphia, among others. If the government’s evidence matches its allegations, these were jihadists speaking openly and on tape about their war on America.

Our only defense against such fanatics is to gather the best intelligence we can and kill or capture them before their deadly plans become deadly reality. Count us grateful that the FBI appears to have done just that.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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