Thursday, February 5, 2015

Nothing new here—except a Good Idea

The current terrorist plots are not another 911 or suicide bombing in New York. They’re an agonizingly simple and effective ploy that better suits their available resources: they simply behead Westerners. Cheap and effective.

Effective because it puts them at little risk and either pulls in ransom or, in lieu of that, produces an unending worldwide press orgy that shows off the power of the powerless. Cheap because it’s frighteningly easy to grab a foreigner and dangle his fate before the world. Western media can’t possibly ignore the videos. Pretty good marketing for an extortion formula such as has never been seen.

This gruesome recipe is enhanced by the innocence of the victims. Other than the Jordanian pilot, they are for the most part journalists, workers for NGOs and others who are well-meaning in an area where meaning well can lose you your head. The agony of families, pleading for mercy simply keeps the pot boiling. Mercy is not a player in the game.

Up until now, America and a few other countries steadfastly refused to pay off in the belief that paying breeds additional kidnappings. Yet these events keep happening and refusals haven’t worked either. We desperately need another Good Idea.

David McAdams has just such a Good Idea, as he explains in a New York Times article titled The Right Way to Pay Ransoms to Terrorists. The title itself is compelling.

David suggests we use the same framework that has been so productive in Mafia prosecutions and white-collar crime, where nailing the bad guys was virtually impossible, no matter the resources thrown at them. Whole divisions of the Justice Department were put in play and yet Al Capone finally was finally put away for tax evasion instead of killings and extortion.

McAdams says pay the big bucks, whatever it takes, but only for informants who are promised immunity from prosecution, a safe haven (meaning relocation to a Western nation) and a witness protection program to sweeten the deal. That’s the solution that finally broke the Mafia and led, if not to prison, at least to hundreds of billions in penalties for white-collar criminals.

Someone knows who and where these kidnapped are being held and a growing number of those who know are unhappy about it or disenchanted with their lives in ISIS, al Qaeda or Boko Haram. But they’re afraid and logically so. They’ve been in the game and now that the game has changed, they’re unable to get out. Disloyalty doesn’t have much of a life-expectancy among militant organizations.

We’ve been doing just this for decades in the federal fight against major criminals. That’s not only a Good Idea, but it doesn’t require any weakening of US principles in the battle—not that principles meant a damn at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo. But this is a defensible approach that won’t cause an international backlash.

The government's bait has always been to arrest a minor dude and plea-bargain him (or her) into testifying against the big dudes. In this case, the bait is getting out of an organization you no longer believe in, making big bucks at it and finding safety elsewhere. Better yet, no need to go public. Just give over the information, cash in and let Seal Team Six take care of the details. That's a pretty shiny bait to cast throughout the terrorist world.

Somehow I think kidnappings, beheadings and burning hostages alive may become far less popular.

You can read David’s NYT article here.

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