Safe at Home?

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, August 5, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: We are working very, very hard to infiltrate the enemy. Our agents and our informants are putting a full-court press on in this country and around the world.


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Federal sting operation nabbing terror suspects in Albany, New York. Prosecutors say the men thought they were helping someone launder money to buy a shoulder-fired missile (search). That terrorist was actually a government informant.

Walid Phares is an expert in the worldwide jihad movement. He joins me from Boynton Beach, Florida. So, Walid, as you look at this story out of Albany where an imam in a mosque was helping launder money, essentially facilitating the acquisition of a missile to bring down commercial aircraft. What do you think? I mean, is this, like, one little rotten apple in the barrel, or do we sort of get the tip of the iceberg?

WALID PHARES, FLORIDA ATLANTIC UNIVERSITY: It's more than the tip of the iceberg, John. Basically, they are trying to infiltrate us by infiltrating religious communities, and we are successfully in this operation, infiltrating them.

The ripple effect of this arrest, no matter what happened at the end of the judicial end of it, is the fact that other cells will be perturbed, and other cells will have to move, therefore will be under our radar screen. And as important, whatever we can find in terms of literature, videotapes, audiotapes, will be an indicator of every time we find it elsewhere, we have to raise a red flag. It's always a good thing to find the terrorists and find the material they have.

GIBSON: You know, Walid, you know our Eric Shawn has been on this beat for a very long time, back to the blind sheikh in Jersey City, and he is reporting that the imam in this mosque in Albany is well-known for his speeches in the mosque inciting violence against America, supporting jihad.  And one wonders why so long? Why did it take an FBI sting operation before somebody came forward and said, "This is somebody that ought to be looked at"?

PHARES: John, because before 9/11, we had the conflict between the jihadist's speech, which could be absolutely anti-American, and then our freedom of speech, and there were many signals given to us throughout the '90s, including strikes, and yet, it didn't change. It's only after 9/11, and after the arrest of cells and individuals around the world, which are now revealing the names probably and giving us information about the networks inside the United States.

This is why what's happening right now is a benchmark. It shows us how determined is Al Qaeda in infiltrating what they think is completely shielded by our political culture, and it's not anymore. It's changing.

GIBSON: But Walid, isn't it a little troubling that it takes a sting operation to find this sort of thing? I mean, you kind of wish that a ring like this had been busted; that somebody had been busted trying to buy a Stinger missile without a sting operation, that they were caught in the act. If we believe that's what they're doing day in, day out.

PHARES: Our system is so open, and you know that, John, that we could buy a lot of stuff unless we have a focus from the government. This is a huge place, and Al Qaeda knows about that. They have been able to mount successful operations, including the 9/11 operation. The Virginia group, which was dismantled, was training, and the Oregon group was training in the United States.

The bottom line is, so far not the agencies, not the FBI and Homeland Security, but Congress and administration, the entire political establishment, didn't declare war against one particular ideology. Once you do that, then, of course, you can see clearer as to which militant, whose militant is doing what in this nation.

GIBSON: Walid Phares, an expert in the worldwide jihad movement joining us today. Walid, thanks very much, appreciate it.

PHARES: Thank you, John.

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