Thursday, November 15, 2007

The FBI Reviews Terrorism: 2002-2005

This is a quick review of the FBI's new Terrorism 2002-2005, which reviews domestic acts of terrorism during this four-year period. It discusses only acts of terrorism that either took place or were intended to take place in the U.S. or its territories.

Interestingly, the FBI defines not just "terrorism," but also "terrorism prevention":

A terrorism prevention is a documented instance in which a violent act by a known or suspected terrorist group or individual with the means and a proven propensity for violence is successfully interdicted through investigative activity.
It's that last phrase that's key. You don't "prevent terrorism" by getting lucky. If the bomber reaches his target and it fizzles, you haven't prevented anything. (See the July 21, 2005 London bombers.)

The good news in this report is the relatively limited damage caused by the terrorist attacks that have occurred. And even most of those that have been prevented would have had limited, localized impacts (e.g., bombing a building). Also, most successful terrorism in the U.S. has not targeted people, but facilities or other objects:
In keeping with a longstanding trend, domestic extremists carried out the majority of terrorist incidents during this period. Twenty three of the 24 recorded terrorist incidents were perpetrated by domestic terrorists.

With the exception of a white supremacist’s firebombing of a synagogue in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, all of the domestic terrorist incidents were committed by special interest extremists active in the animal rights and environmental movements. The acts committed by these extremists typically targeted materials and facilities rather than persons.
The prevented attacks were a bit more interesting, so I'll spend more time looking at them:
The terrorism preventions for 2002 through 2005 present a more diverse threat picture. Eight of the 14 recorded terrorism preventions stemmed from right- wing extremism, and included disruptions to plotting by individuals involved with the militia, white supremacist, constitutionalist and tax protestor, and anti- abortion movements.

The remaining preventions included disruptions to plotting by an anarchist in Bellingham, Washington, who sought to bomb a U.S. Coast Guard station; a plot to attack an Islamic center in Pinellas Park, Florida; and a plot by prison-originated, Muslim convert group to attack U.S. military, Jewish, and Israeli targets in the greater Los Angeles area.

In addition, three preventions involved individuals who sought to provide material support to foreign terrorist organizations, including al-Qa’ida, for attacks within the United States.
One thing I always pay attention to is the "precursor crimes" that are often committed in preparation for a potential terrorist plot. Would-be terrorists require materials for the attack and access to the target. As a result, many precursor crimes relate to acquiring money to buy these materials, or to means of gaining access. For instance, document forgery:
On April 10, 2003, the FBI arrested William Joseph Krar for fraud-related charges stemming from his attempt to deliver numerous false identification badges—including a United Nations Observer Badges, Defense Intelligence Agency identification, and a Federal Concealed Weapons Permit—to Edward Feltus, a member of the New Jersey Militia.
And counterfeiting:
On August 5, 2004, the FBI arrested Gale William Nettles in connection with his attempted sale of a half ton of ammonium nitrate to an undercover agent purportedly associated with a foreign terrorist organization. The FBI also had information that Nettles intended to use ammonium nitrate to bomb Chicago’s Dirksen Federal Office Building. Nettles planned to counterfeit U.S. currency in order to earn money to purchase bomb components for his attack.
And robbery:
On July 5, 2005, officers with the Torrance (California) Police Department arrested Levar Washington and Gregory Patterson during a commercial armed robbery in progress at a Los Angeles area gas station. Their arrest, and subsequent local and FBI investigation, revealed that Washington and Patterson were conducting the armed robberies to raise money for an alleged terrorist plot targeting U.S. military facilities, Israeli government facilities, and Jewish synagogues in the greater Los Angeles area.
It's also worth noting that, while the vast majority of successful terrorist incidents involved few or no injuries and fatalities, some of the prevented acts - and not just those by al Qaeda - posed potentially serious threats to people. For instance, at least one potential domestic terrorist plotted to use chemical weapons:
William Joseph Krar had also been identified as a potential weapons supplier associated with extremist militia activities. In a search of Krar’s Texas residence at the time of his arrest, FBI investigators found firearms, explosives, blasting caps, machine guns, over 100,000 rounds of ammunition, approximately 800 grams of sodium cyanide, and plans to weaponize the sodium cyanide.
Finally, one of the prevented incidents - involving an al Qaeda sympathizer - highlights the fact that al Qaeda remains steadfast in its intent to target the U.S. economy:

On December 5, 2005, Michael Curtis Reynolds was arrested at a motel near Pocatello, Idaho, after arranging to meet a purported al-Qa’ida contact. Reynolds offered to assist al-Qa’ida in engaging in acts of terrorism within the United States by identifying targets, planning terrorist attacks, and describing bomb-making methods.

Reynolds sought to carry out violent attacks against pipeline systems and energy facilities in an effort to reduce energy reserves, create environmental hazards, and increase anxiety. Reynolds sought payment for supplying his assistance and continuing work on behalf of al-Qa’ida. Reynolds has been charged with attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.
Overall, the FBI's compendium of terror attacks is a rather heartening read. The lack of a major attack on U.S. soil since 9/11 can be construed only as a very good thing.

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