We have missed the opportunity to contain al-Qa`ida’s radical message within Afghanistan / Pakistan. Failing to quickly eliminate the key players, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and accepting Pakistan’s unsuccessful actions against the Taliban, has allowed them and al-Qa`ida to become icons for jihad and to promulgate their propaganda through their media centers, thus allowing their message of hate and intolerance to become the mantra of other radicals around the world. This never-ending propaganda, coupled with the lack of effective Information Operations from our side, provides the motivation that is so indispensable for al-Qa`ida to transform radicals in Western countries into violent extremists.
Recent events demonstrate how local or regional groups, inspired by al-Qa`ida’s brand of radical Islam, present a serious threat to our security. Just within the past ninety-days the FBI has arrested or indictments have been revealed for:
- Hosam Maher Husein Smadi in Dallas, TX
- Michael Finton (aka Talib Islam) in Springfield, IL
- Najibullah Zazi in Colorado Springs, CO; two others were also arrested in
connection to Zazi for non-terrorism-related crimes
- Betim Kaziu in New York
- Daniel Patrick Boyd (and seven cohorts) in North Carolina
Experts do not believe there are connections between any of the cases. I happen to agree; however, that makes it all the more worrisome. If the cases were connected, taking down one would lead to the next and the next, making it easier for law enforcement to “connect-the-dots.” This is not the case. In each case law enforcement was lucky enough to stumble upon the primary individual(s) and insert themselves into their decision-making process or to obtain enough surveillance information (i.e. photos, wiretaps, informants, etc) to take them down.
But what about the next guy or group of guys? The old axiom, “three people can keep a secret if two are dead,” rings especially true. When a number of inexperienced, undisciplined people are involved in a plot sooner or later someone is going to give something up, allowing law enforcement the opportunity to infiltrate the group and put an end to their plans. However, the fewer the people, and especially the fewer the connections to other radicals, particularly those overseas that may be under electronic monitoring, the less chance we will have to stop them. Similarly, homegrown extremists have the luxury of already operating inside of our overseas and border security layers and being familiar with our culture, thus reducing the planning timeframe and the likelihood they will be caught before executing an attack. Eventually, one of them will get lucky.
So, what do all these cases mean for our national security? Well, for one, it means that al-Qa`ida the group is no longer our only terrorist threat. It proves Osama bin Laden does not need to dispatch a group of violent extremists to the United States to carry out an attack; the ideology is enough to motivate lone-wolves or groups of like-minded radicals to attempt to plan and execute an attack on their own. With the threat emanating from overseas our intelligence community is in a position to intercept phone calls or emails related to planning or a future attack, thus providing critical details on those involved. On the other hand, threats emanating from within our borders are much more difficult to track or interdict due to stringent domestic intelligence laws such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The bad guys are not ignorant of this.
Continuing the mission in Afghanistan, while critical to keeping al-Qa`ida’s core leadership off-balance, does not diminish the threat we face from radical Islamists in the Homeland. While we have no legitimate or factual numbers that we can point to, and therefore cannot correlate our presence in Afghanistan or Iraq with the increase in homegrown threats, on the surface it looks as if the two probably are related. We must face the fact that the threat in Homeland from radical Islamists, both with and without overseas training or connections that could potentially tip-off law enforcement or intelligence officials, is increasing.
As the threat from within increases, the belief by the American people that the Homeland is at risk of a terrorist attack is at its lowest level since before 9/11. According to a Rasmussen poll, 49% of Americans believe a terrorist attack is somewhat likely, down 18% from last year and 21% from two years ago. It can be argued that, just as former-President Bush failed to pursue al-Qa`ida by diverting attention and resources to Iraq, so President Obama and his administration are diverting critical attention and resources to the liberal domestic agenda (i.e. healthcare reform, wealth re-distribution, etc). This creates an apathetic, or at least an improperly informed, environment in which these radicals can operate.
The luck our law enforcement has had recently should be a wake-up call for the Obama administration and the American people. If we are lucky, we get a few warnings before something big happens. We have received more than enough warnings, as evident by the list above; we need to address the problem of homegrown radicals now before one of them succeeds in carrying out a terrorist attack in the Homeland.