This week, New Jersey Transit officials joined the New York Police Department in performing hapless random searches of Granny's knitting bag and Junior's Thomas the Tank backpack to prevent the next al Qaeda attack.
But not everyone is fighting the War on Terror blind. Some U.S. military personnel have been given a very clear and un-p.c. mission:
Be on the lookout for Middle Easterners carrying rocket launchers.
Yup, that's right. Many readers have e-mailed me about a recent report floating on the Internet that reveals military concerns about a suspicious trio of Middle Eastern men who apparently pointed a rocket launcher at low-flying aircraft near Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma earlier this month. It's authentic. Battle Staff Directive No. 41, categorized as "For Official Use Only," was issued at Hill Air Force Base in Utah last week to raise a red flag about the incident at Tinker AFB:
"On 14 Jul 05, three individuals were observed outside of the perimeter of Tinker AFB, OK. They were looking through binoculars, taking pictures and one appeared to be holding a large weapon at chest level. The weapon appeared to be aimed towards a low flying aircraft. The three individuals were described as being of Middle Eastern descent and left the area when approached. The weapon was later identified as a rocket launcher (MANPAD) and the low flying aircraft to be a B-1 Bomber. FBI in Oklahoma City and AFOSI [Air Force Office of Special Investigations] determined the threat to be credible."
Someone leaked the directive to a website called Soldiers For The Truth (sftt.org), and it was picked up by another site, the Northeast Intelligence Network (homelandsecurityus.com). Tinker AFB staff and FBI officials remain tight-lipped about the incident. But Capt. Sean Carter, a public affairs officer at Hill AFB, verified the directive for me.
In a phone interview, Capt. Carter told me the memo was issued to let base personnel know that "there's a threat out there somewhere" and to inform them of what to look for to guard against possible terrorist activity. Hill AFB participates in the "Eagle Eyes" program, an anti-terrorism initiative launched by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations that "enlists the eyes and ears of Air Force members and citizens in the war on terror."
The threat of an al Qaeda attack using shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles has been of increasing concern to homeland security officials. Last year, the FBI arrested two imams in Albany, N.Y., in connection with a sting operation involving laundered funds that the defendants were led to believe were proceeds from the sale of a missile launcher to be used in a New York City terrorist plot. Federal prosecutors noted during the trial of convicted al Qaeda bomb plotter Wadih El-Hage that his role entailed "conveying military orders from Bin Laden including . . . seeking weapons including Stinger missiles for al Qaeda members." In 2002, al Qaeda terrorists used two Russian-made Strela missiles to try and bring down an Israeli-chartered airliner departing from Mombasa, Kenya.
That effort failed, but the terrorists will no doubt try, try again. Hundreds of Stinger missiles have gone missing since the first Persian Gulf War, according to the General Accounting Office. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., noted last year that "there are an estimated 300,000 to one million shoulder-fired missiles in the world today -- thousands are thought to be in the hands of terrorist and other non-state entities." Thomas B. Hunter of Jane's Intelligence Review reported: "Al-Qaeda reportedly possesses a number of MANPADs, including SA-7s and Stingers. . . . It is logical to assume that Al-Qaeda is in possession of additional MANPADs. If this is true, then Al-Qaeda represents the most significant threat to international civil aviation."
Washington has been squabbling over whether and how much money to spend on retrofitting all 6,000 planes in the American commercial fleet with electronic countermeasures to combat the threat. In the meantime, common-sense vigilance is the best defense.
Thankfully, military watchdogs on guard against Islamist terrorists with rocket launchers know better than to stop Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan look-a-likes with Louis Vuitton pet carriers strapped around their shoulders.