The Philosopher’s Stone of Barack Obama’s counterterrorism program is the “lone wolf.” By rubbing “lone wolf” on any terrorism incident you are able to explain away the deceit, duplicity, incompetence and fear of offending sensibilities that seem to be the controlling principles of our defense against attack. This the Fort Hood shooting, the Garland shooting, the Chattanooga shooting, the San Bernardino shooting, the Boston Marathon bombing, the Orlando shooting stopped being intelligence and law enforcement failures on an epic scale and became “meh, sh** happens.”
The first phase of this tactic was the performance by the head of the FBI’s counterterrorism office in New York when he not-so-cleverly whitewashed the level of the FBI’s contact with the Chelsea bomber, Ahamd Khan Rahami. In the news conference, the FBI assistant director William Sweeney says Rahani was known to the FBI based on a domestic violence offense. What he neglected to say was that Rahani’s father had reported him to the FBI as a terrorist.
Today, the New York Times reports that interest in Rahani was much more than what was admitted to at the press conference and it is difficult it was not known at the time:
When Ahmad Khan Rahami returned in March 2014 from a nearly yearlong trip to Pakistan, he was flagged by customs officials, who pulled him out for a secondary screening. Still concerned about his travel, they notified the National Targeting Center, a federal agency that assesses potential threats, two law enforcement officials said.
It was one of thousands of such notifications every year, and a report on Mr. Rahami was passed along to the F.B.I. and other intelligence agencies.
Five months later, when Mr. Rahami’s father told the police after a domestic dispute that he was concerned about his son having terrorist sympathies, federal agents again examined his travel history. And again, despite Mr. Rahami’s now having been flagged twice for scrutiny, the concerns were not found to warrant a deeper inquiry, one of the law enforcement officials said. Ahmad Rahami was not interviewed by federal agents.
Investigators are interested in learning more about both a three-week trip he made to Afghanistan and another trip he may have made to Ankara, Turkey, according to the law enforcement officials, who spoke about the continuing investigation under the condition of anonymity. The report by the targeting center did not mention any travel to Turkey, according to one of the officials.
Records the New York Police Department provided to customs officials indicate that Mr. Rahami traveled to Ankara for an unspecified length of time in January 2014, according to another law enforcement official and documents obtained by The New York Times.
That trip would have happened at a time when international authorities were concerned about the flow of foreign combatants to Syria to fight in the civil war there, but before the Islamic State became widely known as a source of global terrorism.
Patterns don’t exist if you insist on looking at individual events. Rahami’s sojourn in Afghanistan and his father reporting him are a pattern and mean something. His trip to Afghanistan, the accusation of terrorism, and his trip to Turkey when that was known to be a waypoint for ISIS recruits should have been a huge red flag. But to look at these things in their totality would require the FBI to do something that might be dangerous to someone’s career. So they deliberately see three finite data points unconnected by anything. Safe for them. For us? Well, not so much.
If you have a “lone wolf” then you don’t have to get into the tedious business of looking for a conspiracy or a terror cell or an terror network. For instance, this came out yesterday:
And from the previously quoted NYT article:
The authorities are also still searching for two men who apparently stumbled on one of the bombs planted in Manhattan on Saturday evening and took the explosive device out of a bag before walking away with the bag — although officials said they were not believed to be part of the plot.
On Wednesday, investigators, who believe the bag may be a valuable piece of evidence, released images of the men — one wearing a pink golf shirt and the other wearing a light brown button-down collared shirt. The images were taken from surveillance video that shows the men walking on 27th Street between Avenue of the Americas and Seventh Avenue in Chelsea between 8 and 9 p.m. on Saturday.
The authorities said they did not believe the men were tied to Mr. Rahami.
“We have no reason to believe they’re connected,” Chief James Waters, head of the New York Police Department’s Counterterrorism Bureau, said at a news conference on Wednesday morning.
Ummm, yes and no. Yes the bag could be valuable evidence. Often terrorists, at the operational level, have more in common with Laurel and Hardy than they do with Doctor Evil. Lots of questions come to mind. Like, is their an identifiable ethnicity in the men in the photograph? Who opens a bag, leaves what’s inside and takes the bag? It that how hobos dress in NYC? Again, taken by itself it is just a couple of preppy-dressed mopes out for an evening stroll, stopping to inspect the detritus on a NYC sidewalk and deciding to de-bag some trash and keep the bag. Or it could be something else. Something connected to the bomb itself. Maybe something connected to Rahami’s unexplained trips to Afghanistan and maybe Syria.
But the “lone wolf” suits Obama very well. It supports his dogma that international terrorism is no big deal… and it isn’t if you have Secret Service protection… and that there is no real danger in importing thousands of people from areas of the world where terrorism is a sport without much of an effort to screen them.