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White House Releases List of Terrorist Actions Disrupted.--

To support President Bush's claims about thwarted terrorist attacks, the White House has put out a fact sheet that in general language describes plots disrupted:

10 Plots

  1. The West Coast Airliner Plot: In mid-2002 the U.S. disrupted a plot to attack targets on the West Coast of the United States using hijacked airplanes. The plotters included at least one major operational planner involved in planning the events of 9/11.
  2. The East Coast Airliner Plot: In mid-2003 the U.S. and a partner disrupted a plot to attack targets on the East Coast of the United States using hijacked commercial airplanes.
  3. The Jose Padilla Plot: In May 2002 the U.S. disrupted a plot that involved blowing up apartment buildings in the United States. One of the plotters, Jose Padilla, also discussed the possibility of using a "dirty bomb" in the U.S.
  4. The 2004 UK Urban Targets Plot: In mid-2004 the U.S. and partners disrupted a plot that involved urban targets in the United Kingdom. These plots involved using explosives against a variety of sites.
  5. The 2003 Karachi Plot: In the Spring of 2003 the U.S. and a partner disrupted a plot to attack Westerners at several targets in Karachi, Pakistan.
  6. . . .

5 Casings and Infiltrations

  1. The U.S. Government & Tourist Sites Tasking: In 2003 and 2004, an individual was tasked by al-Qa'ida to case important U.S. Government and tourist targets within the United States.
  2. The Gas Station Tasking: In approximately 2003, an individual was tasked to collect targeting information on U.S. gas stations and their support mechanisms on behalf of a senior al-Qa'ida planner.
  3. Iyman Faris & the Brooklyn Bridge: In 2003, and in conjunction with a partner nation, the U.S. government arrested and prosecuted Iyman Faris, who was exploring the destruction of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. Faris ultimately pleaded guilty to providing material support to al-Qa'ida and is now in a federal correctional institution.
  4. 2001 Tasking: In 2001, al-Qa'ida sent an individual to facilitate post-September 11 attacks in the U.S. U.S. law enforcement authorities arrested the individual.
  5. 2003 Tasking: In 2003, an individual was tasked by an al-Qa'ida leader to conduct reconnaissance on populated areas in the U.S.

Whatever is being done on our behalf, I am shocked that Islamic terrorist actions in the US since 9/11 have not led to any very large losses of life. Since 9/11, among the possible Islamic terrorist actions that occurred on the US mainland are the LAX airport shooting, the DC snipers, and perhaps even the anthrax letters.

Zach (mail):
Interesting how many of the plots involved hijacked airliners. I guess there's a natural tendency to keep on trying to do whatever worked last time.
10.9.2005 8:27pm
A.G. Reed (mail):
I believe that this is a positive step for the Bush administration. Political skewing of data aside (that's an entirely different debate, of which, few can offer concrete facts for dispute on either side), Bush needs to show people that his agencies and people are accomplishing SOMETHING. It is much harder to show people the benefits of a good preventive policy than any of the following: policies in place that aren't accomplishing goals, policies not in place that would be accomplishing objectives (or preventing certain events), and even policies that do accomplish overtly obsverable results.
10.9.2005 8:32pm
M (mail):
Is there any actual evidence at all that that anthrax letters were related to Islamic terrorists, or is this just more or less wild speculation? I admit to not having followed the case very closely for the last while, but the last I heard there was no evidence of this, and what evidence there was pointed towards domestic and non-Islamic sources. I'd suggest that unless there is some evidence (which there may be- as I said, I haven't been following the case closely for some time) that it's at least somewhat irresponsible to speculate like this, even with the "possibly" modifier. After all, it's possible that it's an plot by Isreali security forces to make us want to attack Iraq, too, if "possible" just means "something that is concievable though we don't have any evidence of it."
10.9.2005 8:48pm
marc garber (mail):
Jim expresses shock that Islamic terrorist actions in the US post-9/11 have not led to any major losses. What about Islamic terrorist actions post-2/26/93 until 9/11? Is anyone shocked that there was no major loss of life in that period? Why were there no major losses? What does it say about us and about them?
10.9.2005 8:58pm
marc garber (mail):
To supplement, what I meant is no major loss of life in the US. The US Cole attack and the embassy bombings certainly qualify for non-US damage . . . as do the attacks in SE Asia and Spain.
10.9.2005 9:00pm
boonelsj (mail):
Interesting list. I'll admit I'm a little skeptical, particularly considering the inclusion of the "Jose Padilla Plot" (a plot so nefarious the government won't even prosecute its namesake) on the list. However, I'll agree with A.G. that it's good they're finally releasing some information, irrespective of its quality. Sufficient info to overcome my skepticism is unlikely to be released (understandably), but I'll take what I can get.
10.9.2005 9:08pm
RTG:
So information that was formerly far to sensitive to release is now proper for public disclosure because the administration is under fire in other areas? It would be one thing if the primary attack being leveled against the administration was incompetence in preventing domestic terrorism, but to what extent this is a live issue it is certainly not a new one.

How about disclosing some of Mier's writings while working for the president?
10.9.2005 9:09pm
Glenn W Bowen (mail):
I've been surprised that a "DC sniper" campaign wasn't taken up by the terrorists- it works and it's cost effective as hell; so I wonder how effective, widespread, and united they actually are.

I live in NYC, and after the Trade Center attack, I had a lingering feeling these guys were a one trick pony.
10.9.2005 9:11pm
Buck Turgidson (mail):
Hey, at list they released some data (well, assertions, really, since no one has any way of verifying them) after recognizing that their claim was not being trusted. Don't forget, this is the the White House that puts a premium on ANY informaiton that is not already being spun by them. So this is a positive step. Now, if only they got into a habit of actually being honest...
10.9.2005 9:35pm
Bruce:
"Since 9/11, among the possible Islamic terrorist actions that occurred on the US mainland are . . . the DC snipers . . . ." Is there any evidence to support this? I assume by "Islamic terrorist actions" you mean more than just that John Muhammed is a Muslim.
10.9.2005 10:00pm
Noah (mail):
Seems to me that prior to 9/11 there was only one Islamic terrorist action w/in the U.S, so I remain agnositic as to whether four years of domestic tranquility necessarily means law enforcement has become more effective at frustrating serious attempts.

What I find most interesting is the cognitive dissonance that occurs when I compare the mainstream seige mentality ("a ruthless and evil enemy determined to attack the U.S." "a generational struggle with the Islamo-fascists") with what I see to be our relatively vulnerable defenses. If this is a death struggle between totalitarianism and freedom, and our enemies will stop at nothing why hasn't there been any U.S. subway, port, or chemical plant attacks? How hard can it be to smuggle, ship, or domestically create explosives? If you have operatives so blinded by hate that they are willing to commit suicide for their ideology, the only hang up is informational (how not to be detected) and logistical (the creation and shipment); and it seems to me that the openness of our society is not likely to prevent such a foe if it really exists.

Have we just been lucky? Could it be possible that we have dealt "global terrorism" such a body blow that they have been unable to mount a counter-offensive? Are they all stuck to the Iraqi "flypaper"?
10.9.2005 11:10pm
Zed Pobre (mail) (www):
I'd like to see a bit more by way of detail. #3 in particular has been debunked before, and I suspect that the evidence on the rest is thin, at best.
10.10.2005 1:15am
Bruce Wilder (www):
I notice some things are not on this list.
Osama is still alive and hiding; his capture and his prosecution for murder or conspiracy has not happened.
The guy, who sent the anthrax letters, has not been identified or prosecuted.

Beyond the leading non-accomplishments, the Bush list also seems a bit light on institution-building. Noah is right that the country seems exceedingly vulnerable in a number of ways. I fault Bush for not providing the leadership necessary to get the country thinking seriously about how we are vulnerable, and what can be done about it.

Having grandmothers take off their shoes at airport inspections seems a bit wide of a sensible mark. Taking our society from "openness" to some kind of incompetent authoritarianism does not make a lot of sense. Creating an exception to the 4th and 5th amendments seems a bit extreme, but it is the only institutional reform, even implied in Bush's top 10 list.

I cannot be the only person, who is worried about avian flu. I am not really worried that a fairly lethal pandemic might start. That might happen, but evolution would have to take the virus through ten or so mutations, to get there. We don't have millions of bloody people living in trenches, to incubate the evolution of a super-virulent flu, as we did in 1918.

What concerns me is that researchers "recreated" the 1918 flu virus, as a way of learning about the possible evolution of avian flu. No, I am not concerned that the resurrected 1918 flu will get out of the lab. But, researchers created a lethal flu virus, didn't they? They can do that, now: engineer a lethal virus. Humans know how. Now.

And, guess what? It doesn't take hundreds of millions of dollars and giant centrifuges and teams of nuclear physicists. And, an engineered virus is not the size of truck, nor is it radioactive, or expensive and costly to mass-produce. A virus is invisible. A virus replicates itself into billions and trillions of virii, under the right conditions. And, a human can make one in a lab. A single, skilled individual, in a biology lab with the right equipment (which equipment is increasingly common), can engineer a lethal virus. And, university labs with the necessary equipment and basic lab technique in the U.S. alone number what? dozens? hundreds?

The threat from avian flu is like the threat from Katrina, when it was still swirling off the cost of Africa -- theoretical, monitorable, forecastable. But, humans can engineer a lethal virus. Hmmm.
10.10.2005 5:52am
Public_Defender:
Is there any evidence to back up these claims, or is W just saying, "Trust me"? And if he's just saying "trust me," why should we give him the benefit of the doubt?

Conservatives, remember how much you "trust" W's word about his Miers nomination.
10.10.2005 7:52am
Jimbeaux (mail):
I think: (1) if your name is John Muhammed; (2) you're on record as justifying islamic action against the US; (3) you engage in a shooting spree that; (4) has the effect of "terrorizing" people --
the burden should fall on those who think it wasn't islamic terrorism to explain why.

And for that matter, I'd like to include that idiot Syrian teenager who flew a Cessna into a building in Florida to protest American foreign policy. Just because it's retarded doesn't mean it isn't terrorism.
10.10.2005 11:51am
Regular reader:
Jimbeaux: The Cessna doesn't belong on the list because it's a list of actions disrupted. So just because it's retarded doesn't mean the White House did something to prevent it.
10.10.2005 12:40pm
markm (mail):
There's also a difference between actions undertaken apparently independently by one or two individuals (the DC snipers, the Cessna, and the Muslim who opened fire on El Al facilities in a US airport) and those who are connected into a wide terrorist network. The big conspiracies have much more potential for harm, but good intelligence is likely to detect and disrupt them, because a large number of people know something about the plot. The loners are generally invisible to intelligence services, so the chances of catching them ahead of time are poor. If they also plan and execute well, it's even difficult to catch them after the fact; how many bombs did the Unabomber assemble and mail before he was caught?

I think we are fortunate that most of those with the potential to commit suicide attacks seem to have a psychological need for group reassurance. Penetrate the group and you can catch them all. In the meanwhile, this need for reassurance keeps them from, for instance, splitting into two man sniper teams and severing all contacts with a larger conspiracy. The only real defense I can see against the latter would be an armed populace that was a little too willing to open fire at suspected threats...
10.10.2005 1:33pm
Jim Lindgren (mail):
To answer questions about the possible Islamic terrorist actions that occurred since 9/11, my purpose rather obviously was to list the ones that MIGHT have been Islamic terrorist actions, with the word "possible" in italics. I didn't want to be criticized in the comments for claiming that there were no attacks, so I listed three possible actions.

As for the DC snipers, that would seem to me to be a pretty clear case of Islamic terrorism. Although the snipers appear to have been free-lancers acting by themselves, they saw themselves as part of an Islamic jihad against America.

The idea that their terror was not part of Islamic jihad (an idea that so many fervently wanted to believe) was exploded by the many drawings that Malvo made showing quite clearly the motive for his terrorism, for example:


Exhibit 65_043: Father and son portrait of Malvo and Muhammad. "We will kill them all. Jihad."

Exhibit 65_056: A self portrait of Malvo as sniper, lying in wait, with his rifle. "JIHAD" written in bold letters.


Unless you assume that Malvo had a different motive when he did the killings than the one his drawings admit to, that issue is settled.

As for the Anthrax attacks, although there were some reports on possible scenarios involving Atta-related goings on, I have long thought that the likeliest perpetrator was a domestic scientist who wanted the US to join international protocols regarding biological weapons. The idea of a wake-up call attack had been floated in the scientific activist community BEFORE the anthrax attacks, and the first targets were the majority leader of the Senate (Daschle) and more interestingly, the chair of the Judiciary Committee (Leahy), whose committee often takes the lead in considering international treaties. That the anthrax attacks haven't been nailed down suggests that we simply don't know whether they were from a domestic or foreign source, which is why I listed them as the most doubtful of the three possible actions I listed.

Jim Lindgren
10.10.2005 2:21pm
Jimbeaux (mail):
Regular: I didn't mean to imply that the Cessna should go on "the list" of disrupted activities. I was just adding something to Jim's list of possible islamic actions in the last paragraph of his post.
10.10.2005 3:32pm