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."