Reading Spencer Ackerman’s “three cheers for a law enforcement approach to terrorism” it strikes me worth mentioning that one distorting factor in this conversation has to do with budgets. The president’s budget request for the FBI was $7.9 billion dollars which was a big increase. Of that, $2.6 billion is for counterterrorism activities. By contrast, we’re spending $3.6 billion per month in Afghanistan. Total DOD spending is over $600 billion annually. The CIA’s budget is classified, but it’s much larger than the FBI’s.
Which is to say that in America when you shift something from a “crime” paradigm to a “war” paradigm, you gain access to a lot of extra money. This means there’s a difference between asking “what would happen if we left this up to law enforcement” and asking “what would happen if we dealt with this by increasing law enforcement’s capabilities.” And this is about more than dollars and cents. There are, for example, a finite number of Americans with relevant foreign-language capabilities.