May 7, 2010

Fort Hood, Detroit, Times Square - more to come

I fear that the three recent attacks on the United States by al-Qa'idah or al-Qa'idah affiliated organizations are part of a new trend. It is al-Qa'idah's reaction to the past eight and a half years of being hunted down and decimated - many of its leaders have been either captured or killed, not to mention the hundreds of dead and others who are residents of Guantanamo. They have been driven from Afghanistan (despite the President's insistence that we are there to defeat al-Qa'idah...), almost defeated in Iraq, driven from Saudi Arabia, and are under pressure in both Yemen and Pakistan.

Given those setbacks, it was not feasible for the organization to plan and organize large-scale complex operations like it carried out on September 11, 2001. American intelligence capabilities had increased - the long planning times, frequent communications, movement of funds, training and logistics preparations made them vulnerable to detection. At some point, the leadership likely realized that a change in tactics was necessary. To survive and continue to mount attacks meant adapting to a new situation.

Before I continue, in the last paragraph I carefully chose the words "had increased" when referring to American intelligence capabilities. There are reports just beginning to surface that Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad had previously come to the attention of the intelligence and law enforcement communities, but that surveillance had to be curtailed because of new limitations imposed by the Obama Administration. If that is true, this Administration needs to be held accountable.

It appears that al-Qa'idah has lowered its expectations and decided to mount smaller, harder-to-detect operations. Although these smaller operations will likely cause fewer casualties than something on the scale of September 11, the psychological impact of a car bomb detonating in Times Square will achieve the objectives of terrifying the civilian population, demonstrating to the world that al-Qa'idah is still a viable organization, and that the American government cannot protect its people. They came very close to that in both the Christmas airliner bombing attempt and in Times Square. As a member of Congress stated, "Luck is not an effective strategy for fighting terrorism."

The shootings at Fort Hood, the "Underwear Bomber" attempt to blow up an airliner as it approached Detroit from overseas, and the Times Square car bombing attempt are symptomatic of what we can expect in the future.

The Department of Homeland Security needs to get its act together. Yes, the same people that brought you the Transportation Security Administration which allowed Faisal Shahzad to almost leave the country - had it not been for a few diligent Custom and Border Protection officers, he would be free in Pakistan right now. DHS should focus on these real and demonstrated threats, not on imagined threats from veterans and other groups as it warned in its Rightwing Extremism assessment.

The intelligence community and law enforcement agencies need to be able to monitor anyone who poses a threat. That includes using wiretaps formerly permitted using the FISA courts but not under severe limits. Is it going to take hundreds of dead Americans - again - to make that point?

There are more Hasans, Abdulmutallabs and Shahzads out there. We need to be able to find them BEFORE they act, not after they walk unimpeded past the TSA....