New face of terrorism is 'home-grown'

Former NJ Gov. Tom Kean says, "We can't count on the terrorists being incompetent forever"

By Judy Peet
The Star-Ledger

The United States is more vulnerable to terrorist attack than any time since the 2001 assault on the World Trade Center, according to the chairman of the 9/11 commission.

"This is the most dangerous time I've seen since 9/11," former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean said. "Al Qaeda is constantly learning our weaknesses, and the U.S. intelligence community is dysfunctional.

"I am feeling a sense of urgency," said Kean, who recently testified before the House Homeland Security Committee about President Obama's "failure to clarify who is in charge" of the massive intelligence gathering organization.

"If we don't get our act together, we're going to be in serious trouble," Kean said, elaborating on comments he made on the Sunday Star-Ledger's editorial page.

Although some disagree with Kean, many involved in national security issues agree al Qaeda has mutated as an international organization over the past few years, diversifying its bases of operations and attack plans.

"For several years after 9/11, our government was successful in attacking decision-making centers of al Qaeda. They responded by reorganizing themselves on a much smaller scale. They may be less sophisticated and less deadly, but they are also much harder to catch," said Aaron Friedberg, professor of international affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University.

Noting the number of terrorist attempts on American soil in the past few years was "not trivial," Friedberg added that in more recent attempts - such as the "Christmas Day bomber" and the Times Square car bomb - "the only thing that saved people was the incompetence of the terrorists."

Both Friedberg, who was deputy national security adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney, and Kean also agreed the new face of terrorism is increasingly "home-grown." Faisal Shahzad, for example, is a naturalized citizen allegedly responsible for last month's abortive attempt to detonate a car bomb in Times Square.

"Thank God no one was hurt, but terrorists have learned that they don't have to be successful to disrupt our lives and our economy," Kean said. "So now they're looking to recruit home-grown (American) operatives who can move around at will under the radar of our intelligence community."

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-8th Dist.), New Jersey's only member on the Homeland Security Committee, acknowledged Congress has not addressed the security gaps that contributed to 9/11 or the possibility the U.S. may be the target of a biological weapons attack in the next few years.

"The bureaucracy in Washington and among the intelligence community is cumbersome," said Pascrell, who plans to introduce a bill to increase U.S. protections against weapons of mass destruction. "Yet we're more concerned about turf than protecting our country from a very determined, inventive enemy."

While al Qaeda adapts, the U.S. intelligence community is in disarray, Kean said. He noted that Obama has not replaced former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, who announced his resignation May 20, and "six years after the recommendations of the 9/11 commission were released, we still haven't gotten any action on reform in Congress.

"The FBI is still not fixed, and Homeland Security spends way too much of its time reporting to the 100 congressional subcommittees that claim some type of jurisdiction," Kean claimed. "We can't count on the terrorists being incompetent forever."

Copyright 2010 Gloucester County Times

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