Agog over BOGs?

One nickname for would-be terrorists makes the rhetoric of the war on terror seem a little less ominous.

The stream of rhetoric in the global war on terror (aka GWOT) seems to have meandered off in a new direction.

So I gather from the news stories on the report released last week by the New York Police Department (NYPD) "citing at least 10 well-known recent plots that were developed either completely or in large part by ... home-grown militants with little or no support from Al Qaeda."

The new danger is seen to be from something known to New York's Finest and other law enforcement agencies as – brace yourself – "bunches of guys." For law enforcement officers in a hurry, the short form is "BOGs."

Remember when the terms of the debate included "jihadis" and (briefly) "crusade" and, further back, "clash of civilizations"?

And now we've got "BOGs."

What's meant is a group (rather than a "lone wolf") of ordinary, home-grown (as distinct from foreign-born) individuals who egg one another on down a path of radicalization that leads to something like the alleged plot to blow up the Fort Dix Army base in New Jersey. In his preface to the report, New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly wrote of these "guys": "The majority of these individuals began as 'unremarkable' – they had 'unremarkable' jobs, had lived 'unremarkable' lives and had little, if any criminal history" (PDF).

The alternative to a BOG, in police lingo, is a cell. In biology a cell is "the ultimate element in organic structures," as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it.

This biological definition is the basis for the extension of the term to a political or revolutionary sense – to refer to a unit of subversion. It has a suggestion of something somehow mutinous against the body, human or politic.

The original BOG, in this anti-terrorist sense, may have been the group around Ahmed Ressam, the Algerian-born Montrealer arrested at Port Angeles, Wash., in December 1999, as he attempted to drive into the United States with a station wagon full of explosives and a plan to blow up the Los Angeles International Airport.

As The Seattle Times later reported in its 2002 series, "The Terrorist Within: The Story Behind One Man's Holy War Against America," the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) agents "quickly learned of Ressam's frauds and thefts. They also knew Ressam and others were wanted on immigration warrants. But they could barely bring themselves to call [them] a 'cell.'

"The Canadians instead gave the men at the apartment a derisive nickname, the 'BOG' – short for 'Bunch of Guys.' To CSIS, they seemed more pathetic than dangerous – unemployed, no girlfriends, living on welfare and thievery, crammed into a flat reeking of cigarette smoke."

Sometimes BOGs are known as GOGs – groups of guys. But for law enforcement purposes, I think BOGs is probably a better term.

Group, after all, is a standard English word that fits into countless different contexts – everything from "reading groups" in first-grade classes (do they still have those?) to all those "Groups" at the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, from G-7 to G-8 up through G-20 and on to the G-77.

But bunch, once it spreads beyond bananas or grapes, sounds pretty colloquial. It's not slang. But it's a word that just doesn't have any airs to put on.

The NYPD report has raised concerns with some in the American Muslim community that the whole analysis is racial profiling writ large. Some dot connectors see the report as having to do largely with former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign. After all, Mr. Giuliani used to be Commissioner Kelly's boss.

I'm not going to pass judgment on those points. But terms like "BOGs" do help cool the rhetoric of the war on terror. Yes, they let the cops get in a little dig. But they don't sound quite so apocalyptic as other terms that have been used. Sgt. Joe Friday of "Dragnet" fame would have approved. "Just the facts, ma'am."

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