Al Qaeda, Where Are Ya?


One of these dangerous, but interesting, bits of lengthy analysis posing the question: if Al Qaeda is so lethal, and so out to get us, why have there been no verifiable terrorist attacks, or even convincing evidence of specific plans for them, in America since 9/11? These sorts of articles can raise accusations of giving the bad guys ideas–like walking across the Mexican border with shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles and going airplane hunting–and can also seem quite foolish in an instant if another awful attack does happen. Still, Ashraf Fahim in the Asia Times both takes and assesses the risks. An excerpt, from his conclusion:

Part of the explanation for the paucity of tangible threats on US soil may be that the scope of the threat the US was facing was exaggerated in the months after September 11. Originally, says [John] Pike [of], "the president spoke in terms of 100,000 trained terrorists. I always thought that number was just way too high." Even if the number was as high as 20,000, he says, "you figure that the average career span of a terrorist is 20 years, and that none of them want to die by natural causes. Well, that would mean that 1,000 of them ought to be embracing martyrdom every year. So where are they?"

It is a question no one has been able to answer. "My working hypothesis," says Pike, "would be that the longer we go without a domestic spectacular attack, the greater the presumption that they aren't here." Burgess says that, in any event, the sheer numbers aren't important. "It doesn't really matter if there are only two or three sleeper cells if they manage to carry out two or three 9-11s," he says.

Both the Bush administration and al-Qaeda have arguably had an interest in overstating the capacity of terrorists to strike the US homeland. The reasons for the administration's exaggeration may not have been entirely selfish or political—the challenge of motivating preparedness on the vast US soil is staggering. If, however, al-Qaeda hasn't attempted an operation by the time the presidential election rolls around on November 2—an opportunity "too good to pass up" in the words of Condoleezza Rice—real questions may be asked about the actual size and nature of the terrorist threat the US is facing.