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Commentary Last Updated: Sep 11th, 2006 - 00:38:41

"I'll huff, and I'll puff, and I'll blow your house down": Does the terrorist threat exist in the US?
By Luciana Bohne
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Sep 11, 2006, 00:34

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It seems to me from traveling abroad and from contacts all over the world that the people of the United States are some of the most terrified in the world.

Americans seem to be afraid of everything: germs, weather, bureaucracy, police, media, religious damnation, sex, science, credit collection agencies, airplane toilets, immigrants, liberals, foreigners, gays, self-determined women -- their own mothers even, I would venture to say. It is a mystery how they function at all, beset by so many largely irrational fears!

Meanwhile, their own government wages relentless state terror -- which includes a parallel domestic attack on US citizens' economic survival and social services -- all over the world. "Shock and awe" by the bloody buckets! If anybody should be terrified it is the world's people. But the people of the terrorized world suffer economic warfare, bombs, detentions, torture, and collective punishment, and still manage to stand up to the bully, either through non-collaborationist belligerence (Iraq), popular defiance (Palestine), or guerrilla resistance (Lebanon, Afghanistan). Not to mention Mexico and Latin America, where our government historically supported undemocratic or fascist regimes, which for decades terrorized whole populations but failed to cower them!

Why are the people of the [US] West so scared and the rest not?

Possibly, the arguments in a recent article in Foreign Affairs suggests, because the object of the fear is deliberately manufactured as omnipotent, intangible, and elusive. The mother of all US fears is terrorism, and terrorism, US people are told, is everywhere and may strike at any moment.

But is this fear grounded in reality?

No, it is not, is the authoritative conclusion of article, "Is There Still a Terrorist Threat?" by John Mueller, a professor of political science at Ohio University. The article appears in Foreign Affairs, the September/October 2006 issue.

Mueller offers persuasive counter arguments to seven official claims by administration representatives attempting to explain why there has not been a terrorist attack on US soil since 9/11, despite constant official alarmist warnings that terrorist attacks are an inevitable certainty.

1) Claim: No terrorist attack by the (omnipotent) terrorist enemy has occurred on US soil in the last five years since 9/11, because the Bush administration has taken firm steps through Homeland Security and other measures to prevent it. Mueller notes, however, that no terrorist attack on US soil had occurred in the previous five years before these measures were put in place.

2) Claim: Anti-disaster measures, alleged to be supremely effectively in place, have deterred attacks. Mueller counters this claim by pointing to the obvious US institutional failure to prevent and deal with the effects of Hurricane Katrina. However, even under the most perfectly functioning security plans and operations (which in the case of Katrina were anything but), security measures are never fool-proof. Why, then, has al-Qaeda not struck? Where are they? Mueller explains: "If al Qaeda operatives are as determined and inventive as assumed, they should be here by now. If they are not yet here, they must not be trying very hard or must be far less dedicated, diabolical, and competent than the common image would suggest."

3) Claim: The absence of terrorism on US soil can be explained by the fact that the US's (illegal) attack on Afghanistan has severely disrupted al Qaeda's training camps. But, Mueller contends "this claim is . . . unconvincing. The 2004 train bombings in Madrid were carried out by a tiny group of men who had never been to Afghanistan, much less to any of al Qaeda's training camps. They pulled off a coordinated nonsuicidal attack with 13 remote-controlled bombs, ten of which went off on schedule, killing 191 and injuring more than 1,800. The experience with that attack, as well as with the London bombings of 2005, suggests that, as the former U.S. counterterrorism officials Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon have noted, for a terrorist attack to succeed, 'all that is necessary are the most portable, least detectable tools of the terrorist trade: ideas.'"

4) Claim: terrorists are too busy killing Americans in Iraq to be planning supplementary murder plots against American civilians on US soil. However, Mueller notes, "terrorists with al Qaeda sympathies or sensibilities have managed to carry out attacks in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere in the past three years; not every single potential bomb thrower has joined the fray in Iraq."

5) Claim: the Muslim community in the US is well integrated. This is a bizarre racist claim that attributes to Muslim settled communities in the US some outrageous responsibility for environmentally producing or sheltering terror. Be that as it may in the eyes of racist paranoids, Mueller unflinchingly remarks, "the same [integration of the Muslim community] could be said about the United Kingdom, which experienced a significant terrorist attack in 2005. And European countries with less well-integrated Muslim communities, such as Germany, France, and Norway, have yet to experience al Qaeda terrorism. Indeed, if terrorists are smart, they will avoid Muslim communities because that is the lamppost under which policing agencies are most intensely searching for them. The perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks were ordered generally to stay away from mosques and American Muslims. That and the Madrid plot show that tiny terrorist conspiracies hardly need a wider support network to carry out their schemes."

6) Claim: Maybe al-Qaeda is waiting for just the right moment for maximum effect. No dice, says Mueller: "What [are they waiting] for? The 9/11 attacks took only about two years to prepare. The carefully coordinated, very destructive, and politically productive terrorist attacks in Madrid in 2004 were conceived, planned from scratch, and then executed all within six months; the bombs were set off less than two months after the conspirators purchased their first supplies of dynamite, paid for with hashish. (Similarly, Timothy McVeigh's attack in Oklahoma City in 1995 took less than a year to plan.) Given the extreme provocation of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, one would think that terrorists might be inclined to shift their timetable into higher gear. And if they are so patient, why do they continually claim that another attack is just around the corner? It was in 2003 that al Qaeda's top leaders promised attacks in Australia, Bahrain, Egypt, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Yemen. Three years later, some bombs had gone off in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen, and Jordan (as well as in the unlisted Turkey) but not in any other of the explicitly threatened countries. Those attacks were tragic, but their sparseness could be taken as evidence that it is not only American alarmists who are given to extravagant huffing and puffing."

7) Claim: It could be argued, as FBI director Robert Mueller argued in 2003, that "the greatest threat is from al Qaeda cells in the U.S. that we have not yet identified." "But," John Mueller counters that "in 2001, the 9/11 hijackers received no aid from U.S.-based al Qaeda operatives for the simple reason that no such operatives appear to have existed. It is not at all clear that that condition has changed. Robert Mueller also claimed (in 2003) to know that 'al Qaeda maintains the ability and the intent to inflict significant casualties in the U.S. with little warning.' If this were true -- if the terrorists had both the ability and the intent in 2003, and if the threat they presented was somehow increasing -- they remained remarkably quiet by the time the unflappable FBI Director Mueller repeated his alarmist mantra in 2005: 'I remain very concerned about what we are not seeing.'" I add: Mueller (the professor, not the FBI director) forgets to mention that the FBI has officially acknowledged that they have been unable to determine al-Qaeda responsibilities in 9/11. The perpetrators remain unknown, beyond a reasonable doubt.

The professor continues to elaborate on claim #7: "Intelligence estimates in 2002 held that there were as many as 5,000 al Qaeda terrorists and supporters in the United States. However, a secret FBI report in 2005 wistfully noted that although the bureau had managed to arrest a few bad guys here and there after more than three years of intense and well-funded hunting, it had been unable to identify a single true al Qaeda sleeper cell anywhere in the country. Thousands of people in the United States have had their overseas communications monitored under a controversial warrantless surveillance program. Of these, fewer than ten U.S. citizens or residents per year have aroused enough suspicion to impel the agencies spying on them to seek warrants authorizing surveillance of their domestic communications as well; none of this activity, it appears, has led to an indictment on any charge whatever."

And more: "In addition to massive eavesdropping and detention programs, every year some 30,000 'national security letters' are issued without judicial review, forcing businesses and other institutions to disclose confidential information about their customers without telling anyone they have done so. That process has generated thousands of leads that, when pursued, have led nowhere. Some 80,000 Arab and Muslim immigrants have been subjected to fingerprinting and registration, another 8,000 have been called in for interviews with the FBI, and over 5,000 foreign nationals have been imprisoned in initiatives designed to prevent terrorism. This activity, notes the Georgetown University law professor David Cole, has not resulted in a single conviction for a terrorist crime. In fact, only a small number of people picked up on terrorism charges -- always to great official fanfare -- have been convicted at all, and almost all of these convictions have been for other infractions, particularly immigration violations. Some of those convicted have clearly been mental cases or simply flaunting jihadist bravado -- rattling on about taking down the Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch, blowing up the Sears Tower if only they could get to Chicago, beheading the prime minister of Canada, or flooding lower Manhattan by somehow doing something terrible to one of those tunnels."

Professor Mueller's general conclusion suggests that, in the words of the Foreign Affairs summation blurb, "the reasonable -- but rarely heard -- explanation [for the failure of post-9/11 terror attacks on US soil] is that there are no terrorists within the United States, and few have the means or the inclination to strike from abroad."

Now, of course, you know that Foreign Affairs does not exactly shelter an exclusive den of fanatical crackpots like the American Enterprise Institute or the other policy-driven, right-wing think-tanks kenneling ideological mad-dogs crusading for market-fundamentalism, Amerofascist "holy war" for world liberation,or democracy-jihad? Foreign Affairs is the voice of the sober, conservative, old-time capital establishment. Clearly, as far as these members of the ruling establishment are concerned -- or the editors who select the articles for them to read -- these Bush messianic pranksters and fear-purveyors have gone too far!

Is there, therefore, no need to be vigilant about terrorism? Of course there is a need, but intelligence may be a better tool than the bull-in-the-china-shop approach of the Bush administration's war on the world, known as the "war on terror," producing no increased US security and wrecking US credibility and reputation abroad -- or what is left of it after 50 years of "interventions," including bloody anti-people wars (Vietnam, Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti, to cite just a few examples), CIA coups (the list is too long, but let's just mention the classic ones in Iran, Guatemala, Indonesia, Chile) and US-supported tyrannies (Congo, Argentina, and the satrapies in the Middle East. Dare I mention Israel as a "tyranny" -- or is it just an apartheid state? Then, there is the special case of Cuba -- more than 40 years of economic warfare!)

Time to wake up, folks and declare a "War on Fear." No, I won't quote you from FDR's inaugural address (or from wherever he said it). It's there somewhere in our collective historical memory, stored among the nostalgia items of a former, gutsier America. We must search for it, find it, brandish it, and walk out with it in the streets, holding it up high! We must demand "regime change" in America before the present one destroys what's left of our national dignity and self-determination and causes more suffering to the planet's people.

As simple as that, and, then, we, too, like the mature people of the world, can be free of fear, including the fear of our own government. Only by taking our fear into the streets will we banish it, fortified by truth and justice, the most unassailable security anyone can have -- because it is internal, unreachable, and grounded in conscience.

Luciana Bohne teaches film and literature at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. She can be reached at

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