Situational Alarm Concerning Terrorism

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on November 28, 2010

Those responsible for the government of the city of Portland, Orgeon–and by extension, responsible for the well-being of its citizens–really owe a greater duty to the safety and security of their city than to allow a temper tantrum to dictate the city’s response to a terrorist threat:

In 2005, leaders in Portland, Oregon, angry at the Bush administration’s conduct of the war on terror, voted not to allow city law enforcement officers to participate in a key anti-terror initiative, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. On Friday, that task force helped prevent what could have been a horrific terrorist attack in Portland. Now city officials say they might re-think their participation in the task force — because Barack Obama is in the White House.

Reading the FBI affidavit describing Islamist terror suspect Mohamed Osman Mohamud’s plan to bomb a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square is a chilling experience. Mohamud, a Somali-born naturalized U.S. citizen who attended Oregon State University, told undercover FBI agents he dreamed of performing acts of jihad in which hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Americans would die. “Do you remember when 9/11 happened when those people were jumping from skyscrapers?” Mohamud asked the agents, according to the affidavit. “I thought that was awesome.”

In months of preparation with men he thought were co-conspirators but were in fact undercover agents, Mohamud backed up his talk with action. After initially making email contact with Islamist radicals in Pakistan, he took part in constructing what he hoped would be an extraordinarily powerful bomb, scouted the best location for the attack, parked the van containing the bomb near the Christmas tree crowd, and, finally, dialed the cell phone number he believed would detonate the explosives. “I want whoever is attending that event to leave either dead or injured,” Mohamud said of the 25,000 people expected to take part in the event.

[. . .]

What is ironic is that the operation that found and stopped Mohamud is precisely the kind of law enforcement work that Portland’s leaders, working with the American Civil Liberties Union, rejected during the Bush years. In April 2005, the Portland city council voted 4 to 1 to withdraw Portland city police officers from participating in the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. Mayor Tom Potter said the FBI refused to give him a top-secret security clearance so he could make sure the officers weren’t violating state anti-discrimination laws that bar law enforcement from targeting suspects on the basis of their religious or political beliefs.

Other city leaders agreed. “Here in Portland, we are not willing to give up individual liberties in order to have a perception of safety,” said city commissioner Randy Leonard. “It’s important for cities to know how their police officers are being used.”

Terrorists like to remind their potential victims that while the terrorists need only be lucky once, the victims need to be lucky always. Of course, preventing terrorism requires more than luck; it also requires very good law enforcement work. I guess it’s a good thing that Portland’s leaders like Barack Obama; otherwise they may have denied themselves the law enforcement resources that were necessary in order to save lives. But just out of curiosity, do Portlanders really feel comfortable living in a city where security decisions are made in so capricious and arbitrary a manner?

  • Joe

    “Here in Portland, we are not willing to give up individual liberties in order to have a perception of safety,” Does Portland have an airport with TSA presence? Just wondering how they apply their commitment to individual liberties to the screening process.

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