The enemy within

Posted: Oct 23, 2001 12:00 AM
All signs indicate that the recent anthrax attacks came from within. Considering the random method of the attacks and the limited damage incurred, the media attacks do not fit the modus operandi of Islamic extremist groups and likely were the work of a domestic hate group. Whereas Islamic extremists have traditionally sought to use the media as a conduit to convey their message, domestic hate groups often target media outlets. Furthermore, biological warfare seems to be the weapon du jour for fundamentalist groups. Indeed, The Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirms 300 previously unreported cases of anthrax exposure. So while the government dedicates itself to eviscerating terrorism abroad, a new threat metastasizes within our own little corner of the hemisphere. Driven by motives ranging from fanatical mistrust of the government to racism to religious extremism, these groups are likely using the Sept. 11th attacks as cover for their own violent agenda. Over the past decade, such groups have been replicating across the United States like a disease. In 1994, the Anti-Defamation League reported that armed or racist militias maintained a presence in 13 states. Just two years later, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that the number of active militias had mushroomed to 441 groups spread throughout all 50 states. This trend was not lost on President Clinton, who issued an executive order in 1996 warning federal agencies to prepare for chemical attacks from domestic, not foreign, terrorist groups. That same year, four militant extremists in Minnesota and one survivalist in Arkansas were prosecuted by the FBI for possession of ricin, a deadly toxin. One man belonging to the Aryan Nation in Ohio was prosecuted for mail ordering bubonic plague from a lab. In his 1997 book, "Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorists," former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggests that democracies emulate the Israeli model and peel back civil rights. He also suggests forceful retaliation on terrorists. Following the Sept. 11th attacks that claimed the lives of more than 5,000 people - mostly civilians - Netanyahu's suggestions are receiving serious consideration. While this sort of forceful response is a necessary last resort for Israel, which is surrounded by significant military threats, it would prove disastrous for America, a far more pluralistic and geo-politically stable society, grounded in the Bill of Rights. Consider that all terrorism is a trap. Lacking ability to defeat an enemy outright, terrorists focus on destabilizing the enemy through fear tactics. They make no distinction between military and civilians in an attempt to erode popular support for a military endeavor. In order to be successful in this war of attrition, terrorists must make the enemy seem as brutal and as arbitrary as possible. Often, they use an act of terrorism to goad their enemies into violent retaliation. An example: By crashing airliners into the World Trade Center and The Pentagon, bin Laden can goad the United States into bombing various Middle Eastern targets. These attacks can give the populace, which previously had been making strides toward emulating the United States, a common enemy and thus prepare them for a sustained religious war. Another example: The brutal and indiscriminate crackdown at Ruby Ridge in 1992 and Waco, Texas, in 1993 gave a confluence of hate groups a common enemy - and cause - and led directly to the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. There is no doubt that terrorism must be dealt with forcibly and immediately. However, if that response seems arbitrarily violent, as was the case at Ruby Ridge, it will likely only inflame virulent anti-government ideologies and thus exacerbate domestic terrorism down the road. So, what should the government do to overcome these virulent anti-government ideologies? A good place to begin is with drafting new legislation for disseminating useful information amongst varying domestic intelligence agencies. Presently, the major intelligence agencies in this country - CIA, FBI, DOD, etc. - exist largely as separate fiefdoms. The inability or unwillingness of these agencies to share information was a major cause of our lack of preparedness on Sept. 11. With the goal of facilitating cooperation amongst these varying agencies, Bush created the Office of Homeland Security and appointed Governor Tom Ridge to head the new group. Given that Ridge has been endowed with little statuary or budgetary powers, he will need the forceful backing of the president in order to compel these agencies to cooperate. Without it, his office just adds another layer to the bureaucracy. Additional consideration should be given to the extent to which extremists and hate groups are recruiting military personnel. Testimony from a 1986 military trial revealed that a cadre of soldiers at Fort Bragg had smuggled weapons to a local hate group and had helped train to its members in military tactics. The Office of Homeland Security should work with the military to help screen out recruits with extremist views and to actively discourage association with extremist organizations by military personnel. The battle with domestic terrorism must be won, first and foremost, on the intelligence front. And while an overwhelmingly brutal response of the Netanyahu variety might make us feel empowered in the short term, it will likely unite our enemies and exacerbate the problem down the road.