As anyone who has been in a relationship knows, however, you can be technically right and still end up in the wrong place in an argument. The political and practical motives for saturation coverage of would-be extremists are easy to understand -- nobody wants dead Americans on their watch. What we are only beginning to examine are the social costs created by filling a country with spies and snitches.
The national conversation about infiltration remains mired in the formative phase. Open outrage is still found mostly on or over the edges of mainstream discourse. Nagging worries about these tactics are creeping toward the center, however, and the subject is likely to become even more important in the months and years ahead as we adjust to life in a post-post-9/11 world.
Journalists, academics, law enforcement officials, and politicians need to start working now to inform this emerging conversation with facts and context. It's all too easy to get swept up in waves of emotion and truthiness.
The fringe thesis, expressed often and loudly, is that the government is deliberately staging these terrorist incidents to inflate its successes and generally cow the public into submission. It boils down to an absurdly subtle method for achieving an absurdly blunt goal. Why invent underwear bombs when you can invent suitcase nukes? Why disclose the role of informants and agents at all? The list of logical fallacies is nearly endless.
Nevertheless, there is no question that the age of infiltration raises important challenges and thorny questions that need to be discussed in a fact-rich environment. It's time to bring this conversation in from the shouting periphery of American dialogue and into the realm of informed debate.