A very long time ago — back in the last century, when I worked for men like Alexander Haig and Ronald Reagan — the United States government knew of at least three terrorist sleeper cells on our soil. The most famous of these was in St. Louis, Missouri, where Zeit Isa, a member of the Abu Nidal organization — one of the most lethal of that time — was quietly running a convenience store. He was a Palestinian who had gone to Puerto Rico and married a local woman (even though he already had a wife in the old country). They produced two girls, and one night the older one came home late and her father stabbed her to death as her mother held her down. The FBI got the whole thing on audio tape.
This led to the trial of 4 members of the group in the mid-nineties, which exposed the Abu Nidal sleeper network to public view. Many of the network, realizing that it had been penetrated by the FBI, left the United States, but Isa and his wife spent the rest of their lives in a federal prison.
You’d have to think that if there were three sleeper cells in America in the eighties, there must be even more now, and I’m sure that’s correct. Dave Gaubatz, who’s spent years studying this nasty business, says so quite categorically, and, like other counterterrorist experts, sounds surprised none of the terror underground has emerged to kill Americans.
The government doesn’t ever want to talk about such things, but every so often we get to look through a dark windowpane, as for example the very disturbing story earlier this year about an Iranian book that turned up in the Arizona desert. It was a hymn to martyrs — suicide killers. If you read the whole thing, you’ll probably break into a sweat. Try this:
“At this time, DHS does not have any credible information on terrorist groups operating along the Southwest border,” a Department of Homeland Security official said in a statement.” But we’re not talking about groups operating along the border; we’re talking about terrorists inside the United States. Those intended-to-be-reassuring words from DHS carefully beg the central question. And the more you read, the worse it gets:
(FBI Director Robert) Mueller testified before the House Appropriations Committee in March 2005 that “there are individuals from countries with known Al Qaeda connections who are changing their Islamic surnames to Hispanic-sounding names and obtaining false Hispanic identities, learning to speak Spanish and pretending to be Hispanic.”
Just last year, the Department of Homeland Security had in custody thousands of detainees from Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. U.S. Border Patrol statistics indicate that there were 108,025 OTMs (“Other Than Mexicans”) detained in 2006, compared to 165,178 in 2005 and 44,614 in 2004.
So we’ve got thousands (!) of dangerous Middle Easterners in prison (not counting the many “diplomatic personnel” we’ve kicked out of the country, like those Iranians working at the UN caught photographing subway stations and bridges in the middle of the night), and surely we do not have them all. Some of them must have burrowed in. A friend in the FBI told me, in the nineties, that they had identified sleeper terrorists working as doctors, dentists, and attorneys. They had excellent “cover,” in short, they were not what most people imagine (crazed fanatics running around with scimitars shouting short phrases in Arabic and praying in airports on their little carpets).
And then there is the frightening story of a possible fifth terrorist team on 9/11. This is documented by a Wikileaks classified cable given to the London Telegraph.
It tells of a 3-man team of Qataris who flew from London to the United States, staked out some targets in New York and Washington, and then went to southern California. They were scheduled on the American Airlines plane that hit the Pentagon (the one on which Barbara Olson was murdered), but, at the last minute, they switched flights and left the country.
So they’ve come here. Some have installed themselves among us, others have passed through. But doubt not that there are terrorists waiting for the “go code” to attack. Indeed, we often find them in the trunks of nice cars crossing our borders.
We’re at war, but our leaders are forever forbidding us to even say it. Yet denial will only make things worse, offering more opportunities to our would-be killers. You know, the ones that don’t officially exist. Except they always have.