Who Goes There?
James Gordon Meek from the NY Daily News learns from FBI Assistant Director John Miller that the tempo of terrorist activity within the United States is increasing. Two indicators were cited. The first were surveillance warrants. "Miller said the 2,176 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act search warrants approved last year, compared with only 1,754 granted in 2005, mostly targeted plotters inside America." The second indicator were messages broadcast from al-Qaeda high command to entrepreneurial terrorist volunteers in America. "One measure is the record-high output of video and audio messages from Bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri. ... take that ball and run with it.". But it isn't just amateur night al-Qaeda is counting on. There may be a major project. Miller noted the enemy was on "a two-year arc between major attacks to develop the plan and execute it".
In reaching the self-motivated Jihadis one of Al-Qaeda's key problems in reaching an American audience was finding the right spokesman. They have found him in Adam Yahiye Gadahn, AKA "Azzam the American". "Zawahiri speaks perfectly good English and can do those messages in English, ... but Gadahn is a special tool because it's not just that he speaks English but he's an American, and that has a different subliminal texture for Al Qaeda," Miller said.
The FBI is clearly facing two separate threats, each with different attack profiles. At the high end, one can infer from Miller's cryptic statements the possible existence of a professional cell geared at pulling off a major attack, one which Gahahn recently promised would make September 11 look like a walk in the park. At the low end, al-Qaeda, like some Svengali, is calling across the distances for Muslims to do their Islamic duty and strike the enemy of the Ummah.
Although British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin is now remembered for his appeasement of Adolph Hitler, few now recall that his aversion to confrontation sprang in part from a belief that he could not protect Britain in a war; that in fact no one could. Speaking of a possible air war with Germany, Baldwin famously said, "the bomber will always get through. The only defense is in offense, which means that you have to kill more women and children more quickly than the enemy if you want to save yourselves."
The FBI now occupies a position comparable to that of Fighter Command in Britain during World War 2. And although it will doubtless do its best to stop attacks, one wonders whether Baldwin was right about the inevitability of tragedy. Historically he was proven correct in that to the end of the Second World War bombs fell upon London. Even after the Battle of Britain the Nazi threat continued to mutate. Between June 1944 and March 1945 -- practically up to the time Germany surrendered -- "8938 people were killed by Flying bombs and rockets and 25,000 were seriously injured and many maimed for life. In addition over 2,000 British and US Airmen lost their lives attacking the Flying bomb and Rocket sites." That little known corner of Second War history contains far more blood and carnage than the cumulative loss in Iraq and Afghanistan. Baldwin was proven correct too, in predicting that the riposte would be retaliation on a scale designed to dwarf the Nazi attack. Between 300,000 and 600,000 German lives would be taken by Allied counter-bombing. Where Baldwin proved wrong was in believing that this prospective exchange of horrors could be avoided. It could not; and Baldwin's hesitation made the horror even greater.
In all probability given enough tries the al-Qaeda will get through. It's hard to remember now that September 11 happened long before OIF. But it did. Whatever happens in Iraq, the FBI will have its hands full preventing the relentless efforts by the professionals and the amateurs upon the ordinary citizens of America.