Law enforcement agencies around the world are adopting old tactics to combat the new threat of grassroots jihadism. One of the oldest tactics used by undercover police officers and special agents is the sting operation.
In the past, sting operations have been used in a variety of criminal investigations, including ones of prostitution rings or transnational criminal activity such as drug and weapons trafficking. Since undercover operatives are often used in this type of investigation, it is logical that agents and informants often work as undercover hitmen or drug smugglers while pretending to be terrorist operatives. For example, in the operation against high-profile Russian arms smuggler Viktor Bout, DEA agents pretended to be Colombian FARC leaders looking for weapons. Complex investigations of this sort are usually conducted in close cooperation with prosecutors and district attorneys. Every step of the case is closely monitored to ensure the case can be effectively prosecuted.
A sting can also be a very effective way to interdict the terrorist recruitment cycle to keep an aspiring terrorist from getting in contact with real terrorist operatives. As we have seen in recent grassroots attacks and plots, potential terrorists are far more dangerous if they are recruited, trained and equipped by a professional terrorist. From a psychological perspective, stings also dissuade aspirational terrorists from reaching out to real militants for fear of being caught. If the wannabe actor decides to attack using their own capabilities, they are usually limited by their lack of training and their inability to acquire heavy weapons and explosives.
The FBI Joint Terrorist Task Forces around the United States have done a very good job with undercover sting operations and have helped neutralize a number of terrorist plots in recent years. However, even with the increasing use of this tactic among law enforcement, it is still unrealistic to expect a 100 percent success rate.