In Wake Of Toulouse Terror Attacks, Should Police Create Fake Plots to Entrap Lone Wolf Terrorist?


If a person plans a massive attack, and no one was really ever in danger, does it make that person an actual terrorist?

Since the killing of Osama bin Laden in May of 2011, the Al-Qaeda network has been beheaded. The biggest threat to the safety of all Americans now presents itself in the form of "Lone Wolf" terrorists. This sort of threat was especially brought into focus this week with the France Jewish school shootings and subsequent police assault of a man with alleged links to Al-Qaeda, but who committed the crimes alone.

The worst domestically-originated terrorist attack is very close to myself both geographically and personally – the Oklahoma City bombings. On that fateful day of April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh detonated a Ryder truck filled with a combination of nitrogen-enriched fertilizer and diesel fuel. His actions led to the death of 169 Oklahomans and the injuring of 680+ more. Evidence of this shift back towards a single independent actor has become visceral in the past decade.

Although the more contemporary lone wolf terrorists are nowhere near this effective or devastating, the possibility of such a recurrence is certainly possible.

The deadliest example of lone wolf terrorist acts in the last decade is that of Major Nidal Hassan with his November 5th, 2009, shooting rampage at the Fort Hood military base near Killeen, Texas. He opened fire on his unsuspecting fellow servicemen – killing a total of 13 people and wounding 29 others.

The other most publicized successful plot culminating in an attack would be that of Jared Lee Loughner and his shooting rampage in Tucson, Arizona, on January 8th, 2011. His main aim was State Representative Gabby Giffords, but he ultimately killed 6 people – including a district court judge – and injured 14.

However, the vast majority of the lone wolf attacks are nowhere near this effective; like Richard Reid and his failed shoe bomb, Farouk Abdulmutallab and his failed underwear bomb, and Faisal Shahzad and his failed car bomb in New York City’s Times Square, to name a few. 

If the policy of quasi-entrapment of such individuals is indeed the best form of counterterrorism against the lone wold threat, an acknowledgment of the issues needs to be realized and certain questions regarding guilt thresholds must be assessed: Would the person being observed, monitored, and handled by law enforcement have been guilty of a "Federal Act of Terrorism" had they actually been doing what they were had law enforcement officials not been involved?

Can the person’s intent to actually go through with the plot be proven in a court of law beyond any reasonable doubt? Due to the tacit bulls-eye attached to the U.S., we will always be confronted with the issue of being a target for terrorism. Regardless of what that cause of this bulls-eye may be, there still arises a need for counter terrorism operations purely aimed at lone wolf terrorists.

This is the sort of policy utilized by Tom Cruise in the movie Minority Report. This sort of artificial scenario-building — where authorities are aware of a criminal act before it happens — is certainly the most effective way to stop potential lone wolf terrorist attacks.

But based on this, can the American public accept the fact that there are some people who would likely not have gone through with the criminal act, especially when such a point is validated in a court of law?

There also emerges the moral double-edged sword of liberty and privacy vs. safety and security; of being safe or sorry. Sure every potential lead regarding homegrown lone wolf terrorism could be pursued and all suspects could be sentenced to what will most likely be life sentences, but this process could very well become excessive. However, isn't it better to be hyperactive in this proactive approach than to be lax and let slip by another shooting rampage or car bombing on American soil?

I believe that if a subject, independent from any law enforcement assistance or interference, conceives their own terrorist plot and takes the steps to enact said plan the whole time, they are then guilty of wanting to commit a federal act of terrorism. When they then come into contact with law enforcement officials, they must be treated with the same prejudice that would accompany any combatant who was otherwise guilty of actually committing a terrorist act. In doing so, law enforcement agencies will be pursuing the best means as to prevent pre-meditated acts of lone wolf terrorism.

If a person plans a massive attack, and no one was really ever in danger, does it make that person an actual terrorist?

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