Prior to the 9/11 terror attacks, few in government or the media took seriously the numerous warning signs. Now, we are regularly warned of new terror threats, and both government and the media are paying attention. The question is whether government is doing enough - or can do enough - to stop another attack.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence got an earful last week from top officials commissioned to watch external and internal threats. CIA Director Porter Goss said, "It may be only a matter of time before al-Qaida or another group attempts to use chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons."
FBI Director Robert Mueller III said he is "very concerned" about the lack of intelligence data on a network of al-Qaida sleeper cells in the United States. He said finding them is a "top priority" but it remains "one of the most difficult challenges."
There was other testimony concerning al-Qaida's plans to conduct an attack worse than 9/11, possibly with weapons of mass destruction. Coast Guard Adm. James Loy, who was acting Homeland Security Secretary until Michael Chertoff was sworn in last Tuesday, testified that recent information showed "al-Qaida has considered using the Southwest border to infiltrate the United States."
It is good that the Bush Administration is deporting illegal aliens in record numbers. It would be better if it did more to prevent them from coming here in the first place.
Sleeper cells have been around a while. Among the first professional revolutionaries to organize conspiracies was the socialist Louis Auguste Blanqui, who lived in the Napoleonic and post-Napoleonic period. Anarchists and revolutionaries in such diverse countries as Ireland, Russia, Germany, France and Switzerland used cell organizations beginning in the late nineteenth century because they were difficult to penetrate.
Communist cells once had the same objectives as today's terror sleeper cells - the overthrow of the United States government - but their job was more difficult because they did not have the protection and insulation enjoyed by modern Islamic sleeper cells.
As we saw with the 9/11 hijackers, modern sleeper cells are ad hoc entities with one cell knowing little about other cells. The cells become operative when an "execution cell" arrives to carry out the final stages of a planned attack.
Sleeper cells try to appear non-threatening and avoid notice. They charge anyone who is suspicious of their activities and intentions with discrimination, racism and the all-purpose "Islamophobia."
One of the best portrayals of the way a sleeper cell operates is in the hugely popular Fox TV show "24" Monday nights. This season, the show depicts a Muslim family living quietly in a middle-class neighborhood until it is "activated" in a plot to gain access to America's nuclear power plants and stage simultaneous meltdowns.
Apparently this fictional series is too real for some. The Council on American-Islamic Relations lobbied Fox and the result was a disclaimer two weeks ago by actor Kiefer Sutherland, who plays the lead anti-terrorist agent on the show.
Sutherland said, "While terrorism is obviously one of the most critical challenges facing our nation and the world, it is important to recognize that the American Muslim community stands firmly beside their fellow Americans in denouncing and resisting all forms of terrorism."
How does Sutherland know this? Where is the evidence that peace-loving Muslims in America are rooting out and exposing sleeper cells and turning them over to authorities? If terrorists are slipping into the country over the Mexican border, is the Bush Administration doing enough to defend us and defeat them, or will it wait until weapons of mass destruction wipe out one million more of us? Then what?
Government's primary responsibility is to protect its people. The question that should be asked now, not after another attack, is whether enough is being done to find the fanatics who mean us harm.
Shouldn't a first step be closing the mosques and radical Islamic schools (which receive "teaching" materials from the Wahabi radicals in Saudi Arabia) that foment terrorism?
How about answering these questions and performing these actions now before disaster strikes again?
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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