Terror Mistrial Embarrasment for U.S.

FBI agents move through the Liberty City area in Miami Thursday, June 22, 2006. Seven people were arrested Thursday in connection with the early stages of a plot to attack Chicago's Sears Tower and other buildings in the U.S., including the FBI office here, a federal law enforcement official said.
AP Photo/Peter Andrew Bosch
CBS News producer Robert Hendin wrote this story for

After the second mistrial in a highly publicized domestic terrorism case, FBI Director Robert Mueller says the bureau did the right thing in taking down the plot when it did. "It was an appropriate investigation and we utilized the resources appropriately," he said at a rare news conference in Washington.

The plot against the U.S., which included visions of blowing up the Sears Tower in Chicago, was taken down in June of 2006 in Miami. Members of the so-called "Liberty City Seven" were seen on government surveillance tapes swearing an oath to Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. The role of the government informant in the case seems to have been its undoing, as now two juries have deadlocked over whether the men were really Al Qaeda followers or were led to that by the government itself.

Many terrorism watchers say these men were more "inspirational" than "operational" as far as a terror plot goes. When asked if he thought the case was taken down too soon, before the group had taken more serious steps to achieving their goal, thereby making a better case for the government, Mueller said resoundingly, "No."

Wednesday marks the deadline for the Justice Department to tell the court if it will pursue a third trial against the group.

The case has highlighted a debate about how to measure success in the War on Terror. While the government's record in getting convictions isn't always perfect, the fact that plots are disrupted should be the measure of success, says Georgetown University terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman . "Preventing terrorism, taking any threat seriously and sending a powerful message to would-be terrorists that the U.S. takes every threat seriously and will act promptly to disrupt them, are arguably the best deterrents to terrorists attempting to attack in the U.S.," Hoffman told CBS News.

"Al Qaeda takes care to plan quietly and carefully. The Miami Seven was noisy and sloppy," says CBS News Terrorism Analyst Paul Kurtz. "Nonetheless, the Government is left in a position where it must investigate and prosecute all plots -- from the sloppy wannabes to the stealthy operatives who seek to mix with the rest of us."

By Robert Hendin