There is an important story out there that is not getting a lot of play — the world of propaganda. As one intelligence contact said to me, "This is a war of ideas, not just a war on the battlefield."
What's interesting is that some propaganda is specifically designed for a Muslim audience outside of the United States. The video and Internet postings are extremely hostile and graphic. So graphic, that when we did a segment on Weekend Live last Saturday, we had to carefully edit or "sanitize" the video. It was just too much to show on TV.
It is not uncommon to see images that websites claim are American soldiers being burnt to death. Though it's impossible to know what the footage really shows, the message is clear. This is truly heinous stuff. But what is more troubling, according to some intelligence analysts, is that the propaganda is highly effective, and in many ways, is reducing the amount of time it takes for individuals to become "radicalized."
In the old days (I'm talking pre-9/11 here) jihadists went to the madrasah (an Islamic school) in Pakistan and then onto training camps. This was a relatively long process — maybe a couple of years. Now, some analysts argue that the Internet is dramatically compressing this time line. Would-be suicide bombers don't have to travel overseas — they can set up their own training at home. They can pull ideas and the ideology from the net. They can become what I call "backyard jihadists."
A senior official within the Department of Justice at the National Security Division (NSD) calls this the "Pepsi jihadist" generation, because they are often in their 20s or early 30s. A prime example is California native Adam Gadahn, who quickly rose through the ranks of Al Qaeda to become the primary spokesman for the terror group in the west. He appeared in last week's Al Qaeda documentary, which claimed to show a successful terror mission against a U.S. base in Afghanistan. One analyst said that it doesn't matter whether these events on the web are true, because once they are online they take on a life of their own.
Now onto the no-fly list.
Even Secretary Chertoff concedes that the Homeland Security department must improve the accuracy of the no-fly list, and the much broader terror watch list. Both are used to screen passengers onto flights and this week, a new website went up, called TRIP (Travelers Redress Inquiry program.)
The idea is straightforward — we'll see if it works. Travelers, whose names appear on the no-fly list, can go online and ask for a review of their personal information by Homeland Security. They must include information about the time they were stopped.
Perhaps one of the most memorable incidents involved Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy, who was stopped almost a half dozen times in one month. Apparently his name was similar to a T. Kennedy — an alias used by a suspected terrorist. But Sen. Kennedy is not the only one to face this scrutiny — babies, the elderly and Cat Stevens have all been stopped (he goes by Yusuf Islam now.) This reportedly happens to some 31,000 people every year!
It's virtually the same story every time: the traveler gets pulled aside for additional ID checks. They are often asked by the TSA for another picture ID, like a work badge. Sometimes the name in question is incredibly common. FOX spoke to John Williams, who says it took TSA agents about half an hour to clear him.
"And he comes back and says 'OK, you're free to go,' and I said, 'Will I have to go through this every time I fly?' and he says 'Pretty much, yeah.' And I say 'Wow, so coming back I can expect the same thing?' and he said 'Yeah, every time you fly.' And I said 'Wow, this is going to be a real hassle.'"
In the long term, Homeland Security says it's improving the watch lists by adding fingerprints picked up in terrorist training camps or war zones in Iraq. Chertoff testified to that fact before the Senate on February 13. He said it was like CSI.
"We can run these fingerprints against the latent prints and begin to identify terrorists, people who've trained in camps or have been involved in building bombs, even though we don't know their names," Chertoff told lawmakers. "So this really takes the watch list to the next level and allows us to identify the remnants, the evidence that people leave behind them when they commit acts of terror, so that we can identify them when they cross our borders."
Reading between the lines here, the secretary seems to suggest that there is growing concern that jihadists trained in Iraq and elsewhere may try to enter the United States by land or through our airports.
In Europe, the travel of jihadists is well documented.
Catherine Herridge is the Homeland Defense Correspondent for FOX News and hosts FOX News Live Saturday 12-2 p.m. ET. Since coming to FOX in 1996 as a London-based correspondent, she has since reported on the 2004 presidential elections, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Medicare fraud, prescription drug abuse and child prostitution. You can read the rest of her bio here.
Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.