Last week three men were arrested in Seattle in connection to a plot to attack a military recruiting station. This plot is a classic example of the threats that we face from domestic terrorists. They are generally perpetrated by loners or a small group unaffiliated with larger terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and they focus on soft targets like the recruiting office or malls and public transit that are not heavily secured. Recent similar cases included an attempt to detonate a car bomb at a US Army recruitment center in Maryland, an attempt to explode a bomb at Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland, OR during a Christmas tree lighting ceremony and a plot to carry out coordinated attacks on Metrorail stations in Washington, DC.
The men in last week’s case were arrested as the result of a paid informant who tipped off the police and FBI after being approached by the men about buying guns.
In the years since 9/11, sting operations and the use of informants have become among the most important weapons in the fight against domestic terrorism – much like fighting organized crime.
While the success rate in preventing these types of attacks has been relatively high and while the Department of Homeland Security has described domestic terrorism as a “number one priority” as recently as February of this year, a recent report in the Washington Post asserts that the Department has actually stepped back from investigating domestic terror threats under pressure from conservatives who were concerned that such efforts were an attempt by the Obama administration to stifle dissent from groups with conservative ideologies. According to officials quoted in the report, there has been no serious investigation of domestic terror since 2009 unless the threat was directly tied to Muslim extremists even though the majority of domestic terror groups are purely “home grown” and include some that have considered using weapons of mass destruction.