First, the "death by drone" of this American guy, Al-Awlaki, in Yemen: What we DO know is that the guy was very vocal about fighting against America, hating America, jihad, and all that stuff. What we do NOT know is whether he ever got involved in what the intelligence community calls "operational actions" (e.g. plots, attacks, material aid) against America. What we may have witnessed was the American government assassinating an American citizen (no trial) for rhetoric that was, more or less, on the same level as the "God Hates Fags" people out of Kansas.
What's most striking about this is not that the U.S. Government has seized and exercised exactly the power the Fifth Amendment was designed to bar ("No person shall be deprived of life without due process of law"), and did so in a way that almost certainly violates core First Amendment protections (questions that will now never be decided in a court of law). What's most amazing is that its citizens will not merely refrain from objecting, but will stand and cheer the U.S. Government's new power to assassinate their fellow citizens, far from any battlefield, literally without a shred of due process from the U.S. Government.Remember: Before you say "he had it coming", "he was a traitor", or he was "helping the terrorists with his words", consider the following scenario: A white supremecist leader in Appalachia is saying the same anti-American, take-up-arms, kill-kill-kill things to a crowd of angry white hillbillies as Al-Awlaki was saying to Muslims in Yemen. As the white supremecist finishes speaking, an army sniper from a building across the street shoots him through the head. That is the same thing — an assassination by the government of an American — with only a degree of jurisdiction as the difference.
Second, the arrest of the guy with the model airplanes wanting to load them with explosives and crash them into the capitol building. What we DO know is that pretty much every step the guy took was on a paving stone laid down by the FBI. What we do NOT know is whether this "would be terrorist" would have ever made it past the "contemplative" stage without FBI guidance.
"All for the best," is my thought: Anybody who will "step that far down the road" — whether that road is paved by the FBI or not — is, in my mind, a potential terrorist and a threat. But here is something I had not considered:
One possible motive for these elaborate and highly publicized stings is that, whether or not the particular people they indict would have moved from rage to action without prompting, the steady stream of news reports will eventually force any candidate for jihad to assume that an “Al Qaeda recruiter” who approaches them is much more likely to be an FBI informant or undercover agent than a genuine operative. That’s likely to make it much harder for any real recruiters who’ve gone undetected to rope in anyone savvy enough to be truly dangerous. In a haystack of 300 million people—or even 2.5 million Muslims—the government can’t possibly be confident it will be able to identify in advance all the particular needles who are really prepared to carry out an attack, rather than simply ranting online. They may have concluded that the next best thing is to create a climate of suspicion in which such people are unwilling to risk collaborating with others. That means that the scale and destructiveness of any attacks that do occur are more likely to be limited to what a lone individual can achieve.Indeed. The FBI goes fishing for gullible-but-earnest zealots, lures them in, then splashes their spoiled "evil-genius plot" all over the news, and the really dangerous people who are smart enough not to talk to FBI agents about their plans, may slink back down under their rocks and stay there.