I recently finished Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS, and the book describes an attempt by Jordanians to sort folks by terrorism potential:
in March 1999, as the country marked the end of the official forty-day mourning period for King Hussein’s death. In a tradition dating back to Jordan’s founding, new kings are expected to declare a general amnesty in the country’s prisons, granting royal pardons to inmates convicted of nonviolent offenses or political crimes. It was a way to clean the slate and score points with important constituencies, from the Islamists to powerful East Bank tribes. To ensure the maximum political return, members of Parliament were given the task of nominating release-worthy prisoners and drafting the amnesty’s legal particulars. Their list quickly grew to five hundred names, then a thousand, then two thousand. And still lawmakers pushed for more.
“Jordan is on the threshold of a new phase of its history, which means that the government should turn a new page, especially with political detainees,” Saleh Armouti, president of Jordan’s Bar Association, told the Jordan Times as negotiations dragged on. But some of the country’s law-enforcement chiefs saw a disaster in the making. “Most of them will be repeat offenders and we will see their faces again and again,” a police official complained to the same newspaper. “Most of them are thugs who will harm people when they are free.”
In the end, the list, now with more than twenty-five hundred names, was endorsed by Parliament and sent to the palace for the final approval. The king, then just six weeks into his new job and still picking his way through a three-dimensional minefield of legislative, tribal, and royal politics, faced a choice of either adopting the list or sending it back for weeks of additional debate. He signed it. Many months would pass before Abdullah learned that list had included certain Arab Afghans from the al-Jafr Prison whose Ikhwan-like zeal for purifying the Islamic faith should have disqualified them instantly. But by that time, the obscure jihadist named Ahmad Fadil al-Khalayleh had become the terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi [founder of ISIS]. And there was nothing a king of Jordan could do but berate his aides in an exasperated but utterly futile pique. “Why,” he demanded, “didn’t someone check?”
Elsewhere in the book, the Jordanians are described as having the most sophisticated and effective anti-terrorism investigative bureaucracy (the Mukhabarat). Yet, even given a common language and cultural background, they couldn’t “vet” Zarqawi. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the current head of ISIS, was imprisoned by the U.S. in Iraq circa 2004 but released after a determination that he represented at most a low-level threat.
Abdul Razak Ali Artan has been in the news for going on a jihad in Ohio this week. He managed to get through the U.S.’s refugee “vetting” process in 2014. Based on a tip from the Russian government, the Tsarnaev family that blew up the Boston Marathon in 2013 had been interviewed by the FBI and cleared for terrorism potential back in 2011 (Wikipedia).
Given these failures, you might think that people would lose faith in “vetting” or at least switch to a different term. Apparently not, though. Black Flags notes that
[Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton began privately pushing for what she would call a “carefully vetted and trained force of moderate rebels who could be trusted” with American weapons [to fight in Syria].
Hope springs eternal?
At sixty, having just retired from the factory, she agreed to look after her son’s only child. He had wanted for nothing—clean clothes, good Sunday lunches and love. All these things she had done for him. Any analysis of human behavior, however rudimentary, should take account of such phenomena. Historically, such human beings have existed. Human beings who have worked—worked hard—all their lives with no motive other than love and devotion, who have literally given their lives for others, out of love and devotion; human beings who have no sense of having made any sacrifice, who cannot imagine any way of life other than giving their lives for others, out of love and devotion. In general, such human beings are generally women.
But one statistic at the bottom of the page attracted his attention: in July–August of the previous year, sixty-three percent of visitors to the Lieu du Changement were female. That was almost two women to every man: an excellent ratio. He decided to check it out, and booked a week there in July; especially as camping would be cheaper than going to a Club Med. Of course, he could guess what sort of women went there: deranged old lefties who were probably all HIV-positive. But still, with two women to every man, he stood a chance; if he worked it properly, he might even bag two. The year had started well from a sexual point of view. The influx of girls from Eastern Europe had meant prices had dropped. For two hundred francs you could get a little personal relaxation, down from four hundred francs some months earlier.
Sexual desire is preoccupied with youth, and the progressive influx of ever-younger girls onto the field of seduction was simply a return to the norm; a restoration of the true nature of desire, comparable to the return of stock prices to their true value after a run on the exchange. Nonetheless, women who turned twenty in the late sixties found themselves in a difficult position when they hit forty. Most of them were divorced and could no longer count on the conjugal bond—whether warm or abject—whose decline they had served to hasten. As members of a generation who—more than any before—had proclaimed the superiority of youth over age, they could hardly claim to be surprised when they, in turn, were despised by succeeding generations. As their flesh began to age, the cult of the body, which they had done so much to promote, simply filled them with an intensifying disgust for their own bodies—a disgust they could see mirrored in the gaze of others. The men of their generation found themselves in much the same position, yet this common destiny fostered no solidarity. At forty, they continued to pursue young women—with a measure of success, at least for those who, having skillfully slipped into the social game, had attained a certain position, whether intellectual, financial or social. For women, their mature years brought only failure, masturbation and shame.