Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Reason Why

Why have there been no terrorist attacks in the U.S. since 9/11? It's certainly not that the terrorists haven't been trying. Harold Hutchison at Strategy Page explains the main reason for our good fortune:

The answer was a simple change of mission by the FBI and more communication between the FBI and the rest of the intelligence community.

In the 1990s, the FBI built criminal cases against terrorists - with the intention of locking them up in prison. This meant that making sure evidence of a terrorist's acts could be admitted to court. However, this led to problems, including the fact that when the evidence was provided to the attorneys for the accused terrorists, it eventually found its way back to terrorists still active, blowing methods of gathering intelligence in the process. In many cases, the FBI had to keep a wall between its intelligence side and its criminal prosecution side (some have called it the "Gorelick wall" after the author of one memo that was made public outlining the procedures to be used). Since 9/11, the FBI has changed its tactics, the wall has come crashing down, and attacks have been thwarted, with support networks also being rolled up.

The FBI's new approach has been to break up the attacks beforehand - with criminal cases being of secondary importance. This allows the FBI to do things it was not able to do earlier, like go to into chat rooms where recruiting occurs. It also means the FBI operates on a lower threshold. It is very similar to the approach the federal government used against Al Capone. Ultimately, Capone never served a day in prison for bootlegging or murder - his prison sentence was for tax evasion. Today, the FBI operates mainly to just stop the terrorists. They may not get jail time for terrorism, but there are other charges that can be used (immigration laws are one set of laws) if need be. Even these will break up cells - simply because the terrorists are human, and will make mistakes or do something illegal. If they are in prison, they cannot carry out attacks.

A number of human rights and civil liberties groups are not happy about this. In situations like those involving the National Security Agency's surveillance programs, this has led to lawsuits and hostile media coverage. These groups have viewed the intelligence community with suspicion at best - often they are downright hostile, despite the fact that the cooperation between the FBI and the intelligence community has broken up several attacks.

It will be interesting to see, now that the Democrats have some sway in the government, whether they push to return to the days of the "Gorelick wall" which was set up during the Clinton administration or whether they quietly allow the FBI to continue to do what they must to keep the rest of us safe.

In the meantime let's give the Bush administration some credit for having prevented any more attacks on our soil since 9/11.

A Giant Christmas Ball

That's what earth looks like in this photo taken from space, apparently with cloud cover removed:

It's beautiful in a way, but it's also a shame. All those lights obscure the night sky for modern viewers to the point where when we look up on a clear night we see only a fraction of what observers could see a hundred years ago. The real beauty, the beauty we're missing, is not the lights on earth, but the lights in the Milky Way.

Craig vs. Ehrman

One of the top Christian philosophers debated a professor of religious history at Holy Cross last March on the topic "Is There Historical Evidence For the Resurrection of Jesus?" The debaters were William Lane Craig of The Talbot School of Theology and Bart Ehrman of the University of North Carolina.

Craig laid out the evidence for Jesus' Resurrection and argued that the evidence is uncontroversial. What's at issue, he claimed, is not the evidence, but whether a miracle is the best explanation for that evidence. Ehrman maintained that it is not while Craig affirmed that it is. It's a fascinating exchange and you can read the transcript here.