Living on Borrowed Time

NEW YORK-Will it happen here? An attack like the ones we have seen in London and Glasgow?

I asked former CIA Director James Woolsey at a conference sponsored by the Hudson Institute Briefing Series in New York.

"We definitely have Al Qaeda cells in the U.S. ..."He was only partly reassuring. He began by contending that America's Arabs and Muslims are different from Britain's. Three-quarters of Arabs in America are Christian, many of whom are religious refugees from Lebanon and Egypt. Although the U.S. Census does not collect statistics on the religious beliefs of its citizens, an array of studies supports Woolsey's estimates. These numbers are not controversial. (Interestingly, estimates of the numbers in the U.S. are controversial; some scholars have claimed that pressure groups have inflated the estimates of resident Muslims.)

The vast majority of America's Muslims are from South (Pakistan, India and Bangladesh) and Southeast Asia (mostly Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand). Comparatively few are from the Near East. "The average Muslim in the U.S. is more likely to be an engineer thinking about a startup, not part of subculture" that wants to destroy the United States, he said.

"We are living on borrowed time."There are other key differences between the U.S. and the U.K. American Muslims are more likely to turn in suspects to the police than are their co-religionists abroad, said Woolsey. This means that plots—like the recently thwarted attempts to attack Fort Dix in New Jersey and JFK Airport in New York—can be halted in their early stages. Arab and Pakistani hostility to British police make this less likely in Britain.

Multi-culturism and misplaced tolerance in the U.K. exacerbates the problem, he said.

London's mayor, Ken Livingstone, begged Londoners not to scapegoat Muslims following the attacks. He did not ask Muslims to condemn their community's dangerous fringe or urge cooperation with the police. He seemed more concerned about intolerance than terrorism.

"Group rights and winking at, or permitting, steps toward, Sharia law," Woolsey said, is risky.

If Britain allows its Muslims to be governed by Sharia law, they become a state within a state-an ideal hiding place or haven for terrorists.

Then he added a frightening postscript. "We definitely have Al Qaeda cells in the U.S., possibly preparing terrorist attacks."

He provided no evidence, but may not be able to. The former CIA director maintains his security clearance and keeps secrets.

"We are living on borrowed time," he said. "A terror strike is likely [inside the United States], possibly before George W. Bush leaves office."