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Before the fact: Homegrown terrorism in the post-9/11 world

A report released this week by a Washington think tank called The Bipartisan Policy Center says that, nearly a decade after foreign terrorists attacked America, today’s biggest threat comes from would-be killers right here at home.

Terrorism is intrinsically difficult to combat; mistakes are inevitable. One of the terms sometimes used to describe that effort is  “preemptive prosecution,”  a strategy where the government brings terrorism-related charges against people who have not committed terrorist acts at the time of their arrest. Critics complain the cases often involve entrapment, by government informants who have been planted among the suspects. They’re arrested for what law enforcement believes they will do — not for what they’ve done.

In some cases, preemptive prosecution has worked very well. For example, the FBI caught Najibulla Zazi before he was able to bomb New York City subways. He confessed and cooperated with the FBI to bring in his co-conspirators. But as you might expect, other cases — perhaps hundreds of them — are not nearly as clear.

Need to Know brings you one of those prosecutions: the case of the Fort Dix Five. Five young men were arrested, convicted, and jailed for plotting an attack on the military base at Fort Dix, New Jersey. The case represents a good example of how American law enforcement operates in the post 9/11 world.