Well, it’s that time again — let’s stick the ladle back into the big steaming tub of crazy and see which of the many potentially worthy subjects floats to the top for review this week.
I admit to wanting to kick off with the recently concluded Republican presidential candidates debate at the Reagan Library in California (in particular, I’m fascinated by the various candidates' efforts to grab the title of security sheriff) but once again, real-time events conspire against our previously laid plans.
We’ll start with a multiple-choice question:
Question: What does the face of terror look like?
a) Usama Bin Laden
b) An insurgent in Baghdad planting an explosive device
c) A young, radicalized Islamic fundamentalist dressed in civilian clothes and wearing a suicide vest
d) Several fellas of Yugoslav and Albanian descent living in and around Cherry Hill, N.J.
Alright… trick question. The answer, of course, is all of the above. We just added d) to the list. Traditionally, when compiling lists of top terrorist safe havens and sponsors of terrorism, New Jersey is nowhere near the top 10. Rarely does it make it into the top 20. But times are changing, and they have been for some time.
According to various reports out of federal and state agencies, a group of six men, reportedly recent converts to Islam, hatched a plan to target U.S. soldiers based at Fort Dix, N.J. The men, initially identified as being from the former Yugoslavia and also Albania, reportedly “trained” somewhere in the Poconos, spent time monitoring the Fort Dix facilities and initiated efforts to acquire weapons for the reported purpose of “… killing as many soldiers as possible.”
This immediately begs the question: When did our enemies establish training camps in the Poconos? It never would have occurred to me to consider the Poconos as a terrorist breeding ground.
Note: The previous sentence is referred to as a set-up line. Now, admittedly, all the details have yet to surface on this latest case of home-grown terrorism. I’m sure there will be some who will assume the government has made a mistake or has targeted these gentlemen because they want to distract us from the situation in Iraq.
There will be some who will assume that the government overstepped in collecting information on these misunderstood souls. Some will believe it was all made up by Dick Cheney.
But humor me for a moment. Let’s go with the concept that the government has been monitoring these individuals for a while and has collected sufficient evidence to warrant making arrests.
In this scenario, which I’ll refer to as “The Most Likely Scenario,” we have individuals living within our society, clearly not assimilating particularly well, adopting a radicalized, violent mutation of Islam and convincing each other that a terrorist attack on a U.S. military facility, inside the U.S., somehow is the right way to go. Which leads us to the next question: How the hell do you combat that? Talk about your multiple-choice questions.
The situation playing out in New Jersey is right in line with one of the primary fears and concerns of the Department of Homeland Security, CIA and others responsible for the security of our nation. Unfortunately, we’ve had the opportunity for some time now to study the concept of home-grown terrorism by watching and working with our British allies.
The U.K. security services have been working against British-based Islamic terrorists and coordinating their efforts with our various agencies for several years, but the pace has picked up significantly over the past couple of years.
The British domestic service, MI5, working in concert with Scotland Yard, recently has quantified to some degree the perceived internal threat.
According to MI5’s director, Eliza Manningham-Buller (a double barreled name is almost a prerequisite to rise to the top of most U.K. services), there were approximately 200 known networks involved in at least 30 terrorist plots. The services recently estimated that there may be upwards of 2,000 British citizens involved in various plots and activities against the U.K.
Ever since Sept. 11, when intelligence efforts determined that much of the plotting had taken place in Germany by Saudis and others based in Hamburg, the CIA, FBI and others have been increasingly focused on the threat we face from citizens of allied nations who, unknown to the various services, have become radicalized, enamored of the terrorist movement and are free to travel across borders.
At this point, I’m sure some individuals are thinking to themselves “… well, if we weren’t so politically correct, we’d profile travelers coming in to the country.”
“Why don’t they just screen all the Arabs?” is a comment you’re guaranteed to hear on a daily basis at any TSA manned security checkpoint.
As someone who routinely gets pulled for extra security screening and ends up standing in the extra security screening line with numerous grandmothers, toddlers and guys from Pittsburgh wearing Steelers jerseys and U.S. Marine tattoos, I admit to occasionally wondering about our screening procedures; however, the struggle against violent, radical Islam has progressed to the point where the face of terror could look like just about anyone. And that, of course, is the nature of terrorism.
It’s the unexpected, the unpredictable, and the unknowing nature of it that the terrorist relies on for maximum effect.
We’ve watched the face of terror develop from the stereotypical Middle Eastern male to the occasional young Middle Eastern female, to the European or British-born, often Pakistani citizen to some Yugoslav and Albanian guys sitting in Jersey.
While we’ve worried about a threat that, in many of our minds, was physically located in the Middle East and occasionally would try to reach out to us, the enemy has understood the importance of proselytizing their twisted, violent form of Islam that somehow believes Allah is a big fan of murder and carnage.
The fact that the U.K. is facing a homegrown threat from citizens who are being radicalized is not some quirk of nature. The fact that six immigrants living in the great state that produced Bon Jovi are facing terrorism charges shouldn’t be considered a one-off event.
Al Qaeda understands the need to recruit outside its home turf and clearly prizes those recruits who “blend in” with the "infidels."
The nature of this particular enemy has changed from the days of a small, somewhat well-coordinated confederation of groups and cells operating within the umbrella of Al Qaeda. With the numerous successes we’ve had over the past few years against Al Qaeda (and we clearly have done damage to their previously centralized structure) has come a more rag-tag, decentralized and unpredictable enemy.
Only a moron would argue that our counterterrorist efforts have worsened the situation. But you could argue that, due to their adaptable nature and the nature of terrorism itself, our successes have created a different danger. I can’t quite place the face, but the threat’s familiar.
That’s just my opinion. Let me know your thoughts and insights. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you get the chance, I’d like to hear from you on who you think among the Republican or Democratic presidential candidates would make the best leader from the security and homeland defense perspective. We’ll look at that next week. Stay safe.
Mike Baker served for more than 15 years as a covert field operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, specializing in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations around the globe. Since leaving government service, he has been a principal in building and running several companies in the private intelligence, security and risk management sector, including most recently Prescience LLC, a global intelligence and strategy firm. He appears frequently in the media as an expert on such issues. Baker is also a partner in Classified Trash, a film and television production company. Baker serves as a script consultant and technical adviser within the entertainment industry, lending his expertise to such programs as the BBC's popular spy series "Spooks" as well as major motion pictures. In addition, Baker is a writer for a BBC drama to begin production in July 2007.