Mike Masnik is somewhat disgruntled.
With all of the new security procedures we keep hearing about, it’s important for the government to keep convincing us that we’re under a very real immediate threat that could put us at risk at any moment. Along those lines, you may have heard over the weekend about how the FBI supposedly stopped a terrorism bomb plot in Portland, Oregon. Except it appears more and more people are scratching beneath the surface and realizing that the entire plot appears to have been cooked up by the FBI itself. Yes, it sounds like they found a dumb kid who was willing to carry out a bombing. But there doesn’t appear to be any evidence that he actually had any ability to actually do so… until the FBI came along and provided him with all the details.
I have no problem with it. In fact, I have no problem with the concept of ‘entrapment’ in general.
There are two types of people in the world: Those who are willing voluntarily to comply the the social strictures necessary to preserve our society as a functioning system, and those who aren’t. When the latter actually Do Something (and that something varies from time to time and place to place), we call them criminals, and Do Something, typically unpleasant, in response. ‘You can’t cheat an honest man’, as they say, and you can’t entrap someone who isn’t already strongly inclined in that direction.
When it comes to terrorism, which by its nature involves covert and secretive activities, the case is less straightforward. Pace Bill Engval, potential terrorists don’t go around wearing a sign saying ‘Potential Terrorist’. It is, nevertheless, a socially useful thing — and, I suggest, a fruitful use of the resources of our public safety agencies — to identify such people before they have a chance to Make Trouble.
For better or worse, however, we can only do Bad Things to Bad People after they have taken a legally significant step on the road to Badness. It’s not good enough to say, ‘He’s a doofus, forget him’, because there’s no guarantee that he won’t (a) progress sufficiently beyond doofus in the future to emerge as a problem child, or (b) fall in with Evil Companions who might use him as a Useful Idiot on the road to a more competent Badness. Terrorism is like a sweater: When you pull on a loose end, you never know how far it will unravel; but you have to pull regardless, because you never know how far it will unravel.
I am therefore happy that this particular loose end has been tied up, and hope that eventually he will be locked up, and I look forward to many more in the future.