This is a bit of a big deal, though I doubt that it will get much play since it’s a more than a little wonk-ish. One of the biggest changes to come out of the 9/11 attacks was the shift from a primarily criminal focus of counter-terrorism to a primarily military focus. Prior to 9/11, the FBI and other investigatory agencies were the go-to Federal group involved in dealing with a terror attack – the military certainly had a strong role to play, particularly overseas, but the emphasis was generally on treating terrorism as a crime first.
Except for when retaliation strikes and the like were called for, the focus was on eventually bringing terrorists to trial.
After 9/11, that relationship shifted around – counter terror became a military operation, with the FBI and other domestic branches primarily playing a secondary role. Part of that was inevitable – clearly the FBI wasn’t going to invade Afghanistan.
With all of that said, consider this article from Wired:
Marines are on the ground in Tripoli. Two Navy ships are speeding toward Libyan waters. And neither they, nor the rest of the U.S. military, are involved in fulfilling President Obama’s pledge to bring the perpetrators of Tuesday’s lethal assault on a U.S. consulate to justice.
The military is staying out of the hunt, at least for now. Although it initially appeared Wednesday that Gen. Carter Ham, the commander of U.S. forces in Africa, would play a leading role in commanding a force for those responsible for killing four U.S. diplomats in Libya, the Defense Department is limiting its role in Libya to securing the embassy and protecting remaining U.S. nationals in the country.
The search will be spearheaded by the FBI, as is the case with many investigations overseas involving harm done to U.S. nationals, such as the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia.
“The FBI has an open investigation into the deaths of the four U.S. citizens in Libya and the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya,” Dean Boyd, the spokesman for the FBI’s National Security Directorate, e-mailed Danger Room.
I suspect part of the shift may have more to do with Libyan politics than U.S. – we ultimately want to help establish the legitimacy of the current Libyan government, and that’s much easier to do with a civilian team of cops than with a military team of soldiers. The FBI has an established reputation of working with local law enforcement and intelligence officials to investigate crimes, so it will be a good diplomatic move with the Libyans (see also, The Kingdom.)
It’s possible, though, that this change represents a tipping point in a broader trend away from military counter-terrorism and back towards a law enforcement approach to counter-terror. That said, if we find out these a-holes were attached to a group of so-and-so’s and we find out they have a base at such-and-such location, it probably won’t be FBI agents swooping in, and I doubt that anyone will be arrested. Good riddance to bad rubbish and all that.