Eight years after the Sept. 11 attacks and the beginning of the war on terror, leaders and supporters of terrorist organizations still lead free and open lives around the world. More than a decade after the Rwandan genocide, its practitioners still roam the United States. The government seems unable - and sometimes unwilling - to change this state of affairs.
NBC’s new program “The Wanted” aims to push the issue, entertaining audiences while bringing the accused to justice: Its team of terrorist trackers hops the globe collecting evidence about its targets in order to persuade extradition-shy countries to stop dragging their feet.
The team consists of former Green Beret Roger Carstens, former Navy SEAL Scott Tyler, war-crimes prosecutor David Crane and producer-journalist Adam Ciralsky. In the series premiere last week, the team went after the founder of Ansar al-Islam - which the State Department lists as a terrorist organization - who lives freely in Oslo and has yet to be extradited to Kurdistan to stand trial.
On Monday night, the show focuses on the pursuit of Mamoun Darkazanli, a German-Syrian national accused of helping Osama bin Laden finance the Sept. 11 attacks and the Madrid bombings. Spanish officials have indicted him and German officials know his whereabouts, yet he remains active and out of custody.
Government officials have been wary of the show. The Department of Homeland Security worried that Mr. Ciralsky and his team would endanger the case being built against one of the show’s future suspects, a Rwandan implicated in that country’s genocide who now teaches at universities in the United States. The public affairs officer at Special Operations Command, where Mr. Carstens recently screened the first episode, said there was no buzz about the show around headquarters.
Mr. Carstens dismissed the department’s fears, while rank-and-file special operations members celebrated the show and what it represents.
“It’s really about the rule of law. It’s about justice; it’s about human rights; it’s about facing those that are accused - and that’s the key word - facing those that are accused of the most egregious crimes against humanity and effect some sort of effort to get them to at least take responsibility for their actions or clear their name,” Mr. Carstens said.
“The Wanted” isn’t about cowboys charging headlong into uncertain situations; it takes care to show some of the difficulties of real-world special operations missions.
The reaction from people in the special operations community has been positive.
“Initially, they were very suspicious of [the show] because they thought it was Hollywood trying to make something dramatic out of this situation,” said one person in the Department of Defense’s special operations community who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of his position.
“They thought these guys were going to be out bagging and tagging folks and violating all kinds of laws and it was going to turn into a fiasco. … Everyone I’ve talked to said that it was well done, didn’t reveal a lot of our trade secrets - if you will - and left me feeling that somebody’s doing something about a problem we all know exists and, frankly, we can’t do anything about,” he added.
Though sometimes juiced up for dramatic purposes - the show employs a hand-held camera and is shot in a style that brings to mind movies such as “The Bourne Identity” more than “Dateline NBC” - “The Wanted” takes care to show the mundane nature of most surveillance and investigative operations.
In taking such care, “The Wanted” is opening eyes to the bureaucratic roadblocks to the pursuit and capture of people linked to terrorism. After a screening at the Capitol, Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, Missouri Republican, said she was upset over the problems that the show exposed.
“It’s always frustrating to deal with the bureaucracy, and it’s frustrating to watch the show and watch all that they had to go through,” she said.
Ms. Emerson, who sits on a NATO parliamentary assembly that works with other parliaments in NATO countries, said she and her colleagues were unaware of the situation in Norway highlighted in last week’s episode.
“I wish I had known that they were having all these problems and had had that discussion before, or while, we were there in Norway,” she said, referencing her time in Oslo during a recent meeting of the assembly.
Raising awareness is one of the show’s key missions and among the reasons why the program was so well received in the special operations community.
“A lot of guys who work this business get very frustrated in how uninvolved the American public is in this war we’re all fighting,” said the operative in the Defense Department. “We just cannot give up and walk away, it’ll come to our shores and meet us again.”