Doug Bedell — December 7, 2007, 9:06 am

Complexities of the Fort Dix Case

The difficulties inherent in trying to stop potential terrorist acts before they occur are laid out in a well-reported piece in Time magazine on the “Fort Dix Six.”

The trial of six residents of Cherry Hill, N.J., accused of planning an attack on the nearby Fort Dix Army training post, is scheduled for March. A prime witness is likely to be an FBI informant who provided hours of recorded conversations among the six defendants.

The Fort Dix case is an example of what’s become known as pre-emptive prosecution, an approach law enforcement agencies value to head-off feared terrorist attacks. In reviewing the technique in the context of Fort Dix, Time concludes that “Fort Dix offers a case study of this new and sometimes precarious method” of “pre-emptive prosecution … It means relying on often unreliable informants to infiltrate insular communities, and it means making arrests before anything close to a terrorist attack actually happens. The process sometimes ends with a trial but not necessarily a conviction, and that may be beside the point. It is, in all, a messy and unsatisfying ordeal, and possibly the best available option.”

All of which suggests that vigilance by the public (the Fort Dix case began with a videotape left for copying at a mall store), police and the FBI remains important, but that protection of sensitive sites to deter hostile access is indispensable.

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