This week, 21-year-old immigrant college student Quazi Mohammad Nafis was arrested for "allegedly trying to detonate what he thought was a bomb from a hotel room near the Fed in Manhattan's Financial District". The Nafis case, like the aspiring Portland Christmas bomber, Dallas skyscraper bomber, and others in recent years, involved a would-be terrorist caught by an undercover FBI or NYPD operation, and whose plot was from start to finish created by the law enforcement agency.
My initial reaction, like many Americans, is relief that one of these nutjobs has been stopped before they hurt someone. But upon further reflection, I've wondered why these "sting" operations seem to always catch a resourceless loner immigrant who has turned radical, but whose every step toward executing an attack is only possible thanks to his handlers. I worry that these wannabe terrorists have been pushed into committing acts they never had the capacity for -- having previously lacked the knowledge, resources, and connections to carry out a serious attack against America.
For those that didn't expressly come to this country to attack us, I reckon a number of these guys are easily swayed because they are lonely and impressionable and in search of an identity. And even if they already held radical views, it was government agents that ensured they would act, and on a level they had no capability to act at before. Perhaps if Nafis or other would-be jihadis had been approached by someone wearing a cheesehead touting fantasy football, instead of by someone posing as a fellow al-Qaeda sympathizer touting Awlaki videos, he would have been indoctrinated into NFL fandom instead of murdering innocent lives! That sounds like a joke, but if we've learned anything from Europe's missteps, it's that a failure to reach out and assimilate immigrants can have disastrous consequences.
The arrests of Nafis, Mohamed Mohamud, Hosam Smadi, et al. garner big headlines but may be of dubious efficacy or result in resources being diverted away from real threats. Examples such as Faisal Shahzad, who nearly pulled off a devastating truck bomb attack in Manhattan, show that there are enough serious enemies of our country out there without government sting operations creating more for easy busts!