A petite, blond-haired, blue-eyed high school dropout who allegedly used the nickname JihadJane was identified Tuesday as an alleged terrorist intent on recruiting others to her cause.
The most obvious point here is that if profiling was ever an effective counterterrorism tool in the past, which is doubtful, it’s certainly safe to say that it is less of one now. “JihadJane” is not a confused and maladjusted youth, and she didn’t travel to Pakistan for radicalization or train in Somali terrorist camps. She isn’t a poorly integrated immigrant from the Arab world, a highly educated engineer frustrated with the lack of economic opportunity, in her thirties or below, or even male. This case highlights the fact that increased access to global communication networks essentially means that anyone, anywhere can be exposed to or even immersed in jihadist ideology and can gain access to jihadist communities around the world. Though it seems unlikely that counterterrorism officials will react by throwing out the profiling playbook altogether, this case clearly underlines profiling’s inherent limitations.
That being said, the law enforcement community and the American public should probably not take this case as an invitation to panic under the assumption that terrorists are hiding around every corner, posing as waitresses and soccer moms while planning global jihad. The Post article quotes J. Patrick Rowan, former chief of the Justice Department’s national security division,
If nothing else, it’s another reminder to the FBI of the obligation to run down every lead and every threat, because they can’t be too far-fetched.
In the long run taking this approach could be as counterproductive as relying on profiling measures or remaining generally complacent. Running down “every lead and every threat” is not only impossible, it also threatens to create other vulnerabilities by using up valuable resources and manpower chasing phantoms and rumors. The thought that homegrown terrorists can blend into mainstream society and plan attacks right under our noses is certainly a frightening one, and the FBI and other counterterrorism authorities should be commended for their work on this case and others like it. However, it is also important that we do not let occurrences such as this makes us more open to overreaction bred on paranoia and fear. Such overreaction would ultimately, over time, make us less secure.