The Big Thing

I'm going to take a moment to mull over Jeff's response, because frankly, some of it is beyond my rather basic knowledge of events. Anyway, I wanted you guys to see it, and offer some immediate thoughts. I'll revisit this in a day or so, with some more thorough reasoning.

I was asking for the "big thing." Jeff offers a parable before the "big thing."

Let me use an example from my own religious group (I'm Jewish, in case any of you were wondering) to illustrate a possible answer to this question. Jonathan Pollard, an intelligence analyst for the Navy, was convicted of spying on behalf of Israel in 1986. Pollard's actions cast a shadow over many Jews working in the American national security apparatus. Loyal Americans were questioned, and sometimes denied security clearances, simply because they were Jewish, or had visited Israel. The FBI pursued some dubious cases, including the recently-aborted prosecution of two former AIPAC employees, in large part because of fears that another Pollard was lurking somewhere inside the American government.

Was it fair that loyal American Jews had their patriotism questioned by the FBI? No. Was it right of the FBI, in the wake of the Pollard case, to be concerned that Israel, having turned one American Jew into a spy, had turned others? Unfortunately, yes. I'm not excusing the witch-hunts that took place after the Pollard scandal, but I am saying that it would have been a dereliction of duty on the part of the FBI to ignore, because of political correctness, an actual threat. Ultimately, it was the fault of Jonathan Pollard, and the Israeli officials who used him as a spy, that innocent American Jews were suspected of spying for Israel.

This actually helps crystallize a few things for me. Ceding that events did unfold this way, (I'm only loosely up on the Pollard case) I strongly disagree with Jeff. I think it's very wrong to deny someone a security clearance, and question them, as Jeff says, "simply because they were Jewish or had visited Israel."

Morality aside, it doesn't even strike me as very smart. We can't whittle down a class of suspects anymore than "is Jewish?" What about people who are spying for money? What about the hostility you earn by interrogating people strictly because they have the wrong last name? I took a cursory look at Pollard's Wikipedia entry, and from what I can tell, there are many reasons why Pollard should have been flagged that go beyond ancestry and travel itinerary:

Within two months of being hired, the technical director of the NFOIO, Richard Haver, requested that Pollard be terminated.[clarification needed] This came after a reckless and inappropriate conversation with the new hire in which Pollard offered to start a back-channel operation with the South African intelligence service and lied about his own father's involvement with the CIA.[8]

Instead of terminating Pollard, Haver's boss decided to reassign him to a human-gathered intelligence operation. This was apparently because Pollard had a friend from graduate school in the South African intelligence service.[8] In the vetting process for this position, Pollard, it was later discovered, lied repeatedly: he denied illegal drug use, claimed his father had been a CIA operative, misrepresented his language abilities and his educational achievements, and claimed to have applied for a commission as officer in the Naval Reserve.[8] A month later Pollard applied for and received a transfer to the Naval Investigative Service (NIS) surface ships division while keeping his TF-168 position. (NIS was the precursor to NCIS.)

While transferring to his new job at the NIS, Pollard again initiated a meeting with someone far up the chain of command, this time with Admiral Sumner Shapiro, about an idea he had for TF 168 and South Africa (the TF 168 group had passed on his ideas). After the meeting, Shapiro immediately ordered that Pollard's security clearances be revoked and that he be reassigned to a non-sensitive position. According to The Washington Post, Shapiro dismissed Pollard as a "kook," saying later, "I wish the hell I'd fired him".[9]

Because of the job transfer, Shapiro's order to remove Pollard's security clearances slipped through the cracks.

Again, I'm not up on all the facts, and maybe this entry is off, but I can't see how you conclude from this that the answer is to profile Jewish agents. And according to Jeff's own example, it wasn't the answer. The upshot was that we ended up prosecuting two people on a really flimsy case and the FBI was embarrassed, no? That's what we don't want, right?

This is not a small point, it gets to a core disagreement, as Jeff outlines the "big thing"

But I think the evidence is growing that the military ignored some pretty obvious warning signs in Hasan's case, signs that Hasan himself seemed to be providing: The Washington Post reports today on Hasan's extraordinary presentation about jihad to his fellow physicians at Walter Reed. It seems as if he was trying to communicate something to a military that wasn't listening. Here's Ta-Nehisi's "big thing" -- perhaps we should take slightly more seriously the degree to which jihadist thought has penetrated parts of the American Muslim community.

It does seem clear that the military ignored some pretty obvious warning signs. But just like there's significant difference between being an intelligence officer with the last name Silverman, and being an intelligence officer who repeatedly lies to his superiors, there's significant difference between merely being a Muslim in the Army and being a soldier attempting to cooperate with Al Qaeda.

As for Jeff's last point (that "we should take slightly more seriously the degree to which jihadist thought has penetrated parts of the American Muslim community") I agree--with an emphasis on "parts." But "parts" has to mean more than "regular mosque attendance," or "took a trip to Mecca." Or "has a funny last name."

These are my off-the-cuff thoughts. More later.