I was working the night shift at police HQ back in 1991 when they brought in a Japanese national to be fingerprinted.
He had entered the country a few days before in Hawaii and immediately boarded a plane for Los Angeles. Once there he rented a car and made a marathon drive across the continental United States to my home town in Columbus, Ohio. Besides a hundred pounds of illegal drugs there were two suitcases full of cash in the trunk. The money was startup capitol earmarked to recruit a Columbus gang or two, the drugs merely a sample of the product that the locals would be expected to sell every month if they went international and joined the organization.
Anybody out there watch Japanese detective movies? Then you know the stereotype of a Yakuza gangster. This guy was all that and more. Tattoos galore and a few fingers shy of a full set. He claimed to know no English but he followed every command given while he was processed. (“Turn left. Turn right. Face front. Give me your right thumb.”) He certainly knew his Miranda rights since the only thing we got from him was a whole lot of nothing. Must have learned that from American detective shows that he watched back in Japan.
We got our own little Yak invasion in the Midwest because law enforcement had made great strides since the freewheeling Miami Vice days of untouchable drug cartels and flamboyant kingpins. Gangs had been infiltrated, smuggling routes closed off, and people had been arrested. The criminals were desperate to find a safe haven, an area where the cops were so ignorant of how the big volume drug trade worked that it would be business as usual right under their noses. The reason the criminals were getting caught no matter where they went was due to that fact that US law enforcement was smart enough to hound them mercilessly and deny them that haven.
International terrorist organizations are similar to the old drug cartels in many respects. Wanted criminals need to cross borders without getting caught, material needs to be collected and moved without attracting attention, and support networks have to be set up and maintained. You take apart these organizations by following the people involved and investigating those they contact, monitoring the materials needed to plan an attack, and keeping an eye on those suspected of giving aid and comfort.
But, most important of all, you never allow them to find a safe haven so they can build anything that will be a problem later on.
The recent arrests in Canada of 17 terror suspects seem to be a textbook case in most respects. CSIS claims that they first became aware of a plot by monitoring fundamentalist Islamic websites and the people who used them. (I breathlessly await Liberal condemnation of this breach of privacy. No, wait! The investigation started when the Liberals were still in power!) This shows the value of keeping an eye on the people involved.
The CSIS also claims that the group was home grown without any ties to an international terrorist organization, but the FBI reports that the Canadian suspects had “limited contact” with two men recently arrested in Georgia on terrorism charges. These men travelled to Canada to meet with the Toronto group, and then went to Washington, DC in order to generate plans of attack against targets in that city. I have no idea who had the greater influence, but I do note that the American suspects didn’t start to collect data needed to make an attack until after they visited Canada. Further info about this connection, alas, will probably not be forthcoming because it would jeopardize other ongoing investigations.
The Canadian group had amassed material needed to carry out a terror attack, including 3 tons of ammonium nitrate. Something tells me that they were planning on making several simultaneous attacks on par with the Madrid or London attacks, but on a much larger scale. Large fertilizer purchases are already monitored by US law enforcement, and I wonder if the Canadians have a similar policy. If they don’t now I bet they will pretty soon.
The news of the raid is heartening to me for a variety of reasons. Besides the admiration that comes from recognizing a job well done, I also take comfort from evidence that the Canadians are taking the threat of terrorist groups more seriously than previously thought. Those of us who are interested in law enforcement issues have been aware for years that there are members of terrorist groups living in Canada, and we have always feared that our neighbor to the north had adopted a “hands off” policy as long as the terrorists only carried out attacks in other countries. This might very well be the case since the 17 suspects seemed to have set their sights on Canadian targets, but I certainly hope that it is an indication of a resolve to combat terrorism that approaches our own.