Are G-Men Wasting Their Time Going After Terrorists?

The FBI pursues even the smallest terrorism leads, but is this attention, time, and energy warranted when no plots have been foiled?

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As The New York Times reported this week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has pursued terrorism leads since 9/11 with extraordinary straightforwardness. They chase down every one, from a bomb threat called into a hotel to people taking pictures of oil refineries, even though nearly none have been serious. The logic, as one special agent explained, is that "it’s better to do that than find out later you let something get by.”

Not so, said the CATO Institute's Christopher Preble in commenting on the report. Quite simply, the bureau has wasted its time:

  • 5,500 leads over 5 years
  • 5 percent deemed credible
  • “A handful” technically would mean five or less, but charitably might total a few dozen. Still, that translates to far less than 1 percent of leads investigated resulting in a criminal prosecution.
But, and here’s the kicker,
  • None – zero, zip, nada – foiled a specific terrorist plot.

Preble said while he understands that zero terrorist plots uncovered is "not equal to zero threat of a future attack, it is incumbent on the FBI--and more generally those who think that the problem is too little, as opposed to much, being devoted to counterterrorism--to prove why they need still more resources."

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