Just a passing observation about the brouhaha developing over eavesdropping by the NSA: When critics can show that innocent people have been spied upon I’ll listen with interest. After the ruckus over the Valerie Plame “outing,” I’d think someone would be interested in who leaked the highly classified information about the NSA. After all, the president’s critics wouldn’t rest until they found somebody’s carcass to hang in the Plame matter. Could the leak this time have come from one of our esteemed Congressmen?

The whole point of our anti-terrorism activities on the home front has been intervention before a bad act could be committed. So far, we’ve apparently done quite well. Nothing has happened since 9/11. If information confirmed that no covert plans were developed or actions attempted, the absence of an attack would not have the same meaning, but we know better, don’t we?

The Terrorism Intelligence Report just published (Dec. 21) by Strategic Forecasting, Inc., is an eye-opener. All those who sit contentedly in the “ho-hum” world should read this document.

One of the first points made by the report author, Fred Burton, is that he believes “a small number of deeply embedded al Qaeda sleeper agents are inside the United States and have gone to ground because of the U.S. counterterrorism community’s relentless counterterrorism disruption activities.” This, coupled with well documented evidence that organizations like al-Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn — also known as the Brooklyn Jihad Office — are doing all they can to support overseas jihad operations, suggest danger may be at hand. These organizations “have sent thousands of people from the United States to be trained and to fight in the jihad,” according to Burton.

Now, al Qaeda and other jihadist organizations have embraced the Internet for their recruiting and propagandizing. The Al-Battar Camp online magazine provides online training and instructional manuals. Individuals no longer need to go to Afghanistan to receive ideological indoctrination and paramilitary training. A desktop computer is all that’s needed.

In past columns, I’ve mentioned the MEMRI (Middle Eastern Media Research Institute) website as a fertile source of important information about what’s being shown on Arab language television and what’s being said in Arab Universities. I recently watched a TV cartoon clip aimed at children that told the story of two boys who joined the jihad to kill Jews. They gave their lives for the cause and thus were glorified as martyrs.

The average American does not see this stuff and hasn’t the slightest idea of the intensity of anger aimed at us by the jihadists.

Not long ago, Osama bin Ladin’s bespectacled second in command made an ominous announcement. He said,” I call on mujahideen to concentrate their attacks on Muslims’ stolen oil, from which most of the revenues go to the enemies of Islam, while most of what they leave is seized by the thieves who rule our countries.”

Although the “who” and “where” are a little vague in al-Zawahiri’s pronouncement, one could assume he refers to neighboring Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, but it could also mean our own backyard. After all, the United States is the largest single consumer of oil with a little less than one quarter of our needs supplied by the Middle East, so we could be a desirable target for those who want to exact their revenge.

This is where the quiescence we are now enjoying could lead to complacency on our part. After 9/11 much focus was placed on improving our national security. Particularly during the first two years, we made impressive headway in our efforts to close holes in our safety net. Among other facilities, oil refineries and chemical plants did a lot to make their plants secure. But such efforts are costly and there is the old cry wolf problem that tends to make us all relax.

There is little evidence that terrorists have a nuclear bomb in their hip pockets, let alone the means of delivering such weapons. But gas and chemical attacks could be an entirely different matter.

Most of my readers will have forgotten the Bhopal disaster. I was still employed by one of this country’s largest petroleum companies at the time, and as employees, we were acutely interested in the terrible event. It occurred in December 1984 in the Indian city of Bhopal at a chemical plant jointly owned by Union Carbide and an Indian company. As a result of an accidental release of methyl isocyanate (MIC), used in the manufacture of pesticides, the deadly gas drifted quietly over the surrounding city. In a matter of hours as many as a half million people were injured and at least 15,000 died.

This was an accidental event, but we should ask, can something like it occur as a result of terrorist action? The answer is a resounding “YES.” As frightening as it may be, a good target would be somewhere along the Houston ship channel which is dotted with chemical plants and refineries.

The author of The Terrorism Intelligence Report verifies this in his article. He notes that “we have received what we believe to be credible reports that some of the facilities in the Houston area have been targets of suspected hostile pre-operational surveillance.”

My intention in writing this piece is not to generate fear in the hearts of the readers, but to raise a level of consciousness that will improve our understanding of the importance of interceptive intelligence and pre-emptive actions when necessary. Let’s think carefully about what the consequences may be if we let our defenses down. At this point, the nervous call for the protection our civil liberties does not compare to the urgency of focused vigilance.

(Send your comments to rtunison@cox.net.)

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