What to make of breaking news? “CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian reports the latest terror attack to America involves the possible use of poisons – simultaneous attacks targeting hotels and restaurants at many locations over a single weekend.” According to the report, a “key Intelligence source has confirmed the threat as ‘credible.’”
First, why should we be surprised? There have been at 36 plots aimed a killing Americans on American soil thwarted since 9/11. Why should one more shock us? Especially this one. After all, it’s been done before.
In 1984, the Rajneeshee cult contaminated local salad bars in an Oregon town with salmonella, demonstrating the ease of conducting small-scale, indiscriminate attacks. Even without terrorists, some times our food strikes back. Food-borne illness causes on average 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths each year, creating an economic cost that by some estimates ranges up to $32 billion.
Second, there has been an uptick in plots aimed at the U.S. over the last two years. Having failed on every front, al-Qaeda is desperate for any success at striking back against the West. They have defaulted to the “throw the spaghetti on the wall strategy,” trying anything.
Okay, so what we do?
First, take the threat seriously. Though al-Qaeda is weakened and unraveling with divisions within the movement, it is still popular among the most fringe and radical extremists—the ones most likely to heed the call to slaughter a few innocents. Making clear that we’ll finish the job in Afghanistan and Pakistan is important, as is taking counterterrorism seriously here at home. It does not help for example when the Secretary of Homeland Security hypes the department’s work on fighting global warming rather then emphasizing why the department was created—preventing terrorist attacks on the United States.
Second, get them before they get us. Too often we focus on the “danger du jour” (from poison to pipe bombs) rather than concentrating on stopping the terrorist plots themselves before they get close to execution. That said, it is gravely disappointing when the President asked for only a one-year extension on key investigative authorities in the USA PATRIOT Act. The President’s “lackadaisical” support for these vital tools, which have helped stop attacks on the homeland, shows a lack of serious resolve.