Magazine article USA TODAY

Awaiting Armageddon: Is the Paranoia Justified? "No One Can Say That Major Incidents Never Again Will Occur in the U.S., but Successful Attacks Are Much More Difficult Than People Realize."

Magazine article USA TODAY

Awaiting Armageddon: Is the Paranoia Justified? "No One Can Say That Major Incidents Never Again Will Occur in the U.S., but Successful Attacks Are Much More Difficult Than People Realize."

Article excerpt

THE PROBLEM with the war against terrorism is that no international terrorist incident, major or minor, has occurred in the U.S. since Sept. 11. Most people would not consider this a problem. Government officials and experts ought to be reassuring the nation that such an occurrence in the U.S. is highly improbable. They have done just the opposite.

* Attorney General John Ashcroft invoked the "highest state of alert," warning of an attack in the U.S. or Yemen on or about Feb. 12, 2002. Nothing happened. After Washington received information about possible assaults against Jewish institutions in New York and Washington, D.C., the terror alert was raised from yellow to orange in February, 2003. Another false alarm.

* At the end of February, 2003, the FBI issued an alert, warning thai terrorists were targeting dams and power stations, suspension bridges, apartment buildings, and gas stations. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was captured around that time near Rawalpindi, Pakistan, had studied engineering at two colleges in North Carolina, and experts insisted he would have learned how to bring down bridges. Nothing of the sort occurred.

* Phone intercepts and the Saudis provided other warnings in July, 2003. Five-man Al Qaeda teams, it was asserted, were preparing to storm the cockpits of planes sometime between July and the end of October. The terrorists might use flash-bangs to distract the passengers just before or after takeoff. Of course, such an act would have stunned the terrorists as well as the passengers and crew, but it was all academic anyway.

Many antiterrorist measures are for show. Swabbing luggage for traces of explosives is unnecessary, since only one bomb has detonated on an aircraft anywhere in the world since 1995. That happened on a small plane over Brazil in 1997. It landed safely, although one person was killed. The last bombing of a commercial airliner that has departed from a U.S. terminal occurred in the 1980s. X-raying luggage does not identify every type of explosive, but it solved the problem of suitcase bombs years ago. No terrorist ever has hijacked an aircraft using a metal nail file. A terrorist has yet to use a belt or the heel of a shoe fashioned from the plastic incendiary compound Semtex to bomb a plane. He or she would need a detonator for the explosive, and a detonator is less likely to pass airport security.

Attacks at sea have been a major concern, but terrorist success, here as well, remains elusive. Since 2000, the most damaging maritime incidents have included the attack on the Cole, refueling in Aden, Yemen (2000, 17 sailors killed); the warship The Sullivans, also in Aden (2000, attempt failed, rubber dinghy sank); a U.S. naval vessel in Surabaya Bay, Indonesia (2002, plan foiled); U.S. ships in Singapore and another Malaysian port (2000, 2001, 2002, all three plots thwarted); NATO and British warships from Spanish port cities Ceuta and Melilla sailing through the Straits of Gibraltar (2002, plot detected); and the French oil tanker Limburg off Yemen (2002, one killed).

Mohammed reportedly conspired to crash hijacked aircraft into nuclear-powered ships and submarines at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, but is it likely passengers and crew will permit their planes to be hijacked after 9/11? The truth is less dramatic: piracy is a greater concern. Pirates murdered 79 people and took 238 passengers and crew hostage in 1998; 469 incidents occurred worldwide in 2000, the most violent in Southeast Asia.

Moreover, where are the "sleepers"? None of the more than 1,200 individuals arrested in the U.S. since Sept. 11 has been linked to the hijackings. Nothing happened after the war in Iraq started in March, 2003. These facts suggest no tangible support network exists for terrorists in the U.S. Mohammed claims that when hijackers Khalid Almithdhar and Nawaf Alhamzi, who masterminded the Sept. 11 attacks, arrived in San Diego, there "were no Al Qaeda operatives or facilitators in the United States to help [them] settle in the United States. …

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