Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 11, 2006

Frontline on ‘The Enemy Within’

Filed under: Investigation & Enforcement,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christian Beckner on October 11, 2006

The PBS show Frontline had an excellent episode tonight looking at the threat of homegrown terrorism in the United States since 9/11, analyzing the extent of this threat, how the FBI has evolved to respond to it, and the particulars of several notable cases over the past few years, most notably the investigation and trial of a potential terrorist cell in Lodi, California.

The episode raised a number of serious questions about the nation’s efforts to detect and investigate homegrown terrorism in the United States:

  • At what point in an investigation should the FBI wrap up and arrest a potential cell, instead of continuing to monitor it? (This issue has been discussed frequently in recent months as it concerns the Miami “Seas of David” plot and the UK aviation plot)
  • If the FBI continues to make arrests that lead to little or no evidence of terrorist activity, at what point does that become “crying wolf” – such that the public no longer trusts serious government efforts to prevent terrorist activities?
  • At what point do the FBI’s efforts to develop informants and penetrate the U.S. Muslim community become overly aggressive and backfire, leading to distrust and resentment that create a more permissive environment for terrorist activity?

These are not easy questions to answer, and the government officials who are interviewed for this piece seem to generally grasp the complexities of the environment in which they operate, and struggle from day-to-day to strike the right balances in addressing these questions. There have been clearly been examples of overzealous arrests, as the report points out – the Miami plot is probably the best example of this in recent years. And there are clearly gaps in the FBI’s abilities to carry out this mission, as the Washington Post points out in a story today that notes that only 33 out of 12,000 FBI agents have even basic Arabic language skills. But I think it would be false to say that the homegrown terror threat does not exist or can be dismissed, as some might incorrectly take away from the Frontline report.

If you want to view the full Frontline episode, it will be available at this link later today. And also check out this New York Times story which provides an overview of the episode.

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Comment by Brian

October 11, 2006 @ 12:53 pm

Without the benefit of having seen the television show, yet having read a number of articles this morning concerning the lack of Arabic language capability in the FBI, I have to ask, where is the American Muslin community’s support for our (and I would hope their) war against the Islamist? Why are they so passive toward this threat?

This war against the Islamist will have to be won and I hope the Muslim communities throughout this country begin to realize this. Otherwise the way of life they came here for will be significantly changed.

Comment by Jennings

October 12, 2006 @ 11:10 am

What I found interesting: At the very beginning of the show, when the 911 call was made about the Chinese “Chemists” crossing the border into the US with a nuclear weapon they were to detonate in Boston, federal agents did not go to the border to identify any evidence until the next morning.

The caller told the 911 operator that he had left a bag for evidence on the US side of the border, but no large-scale operation was begun until the next morning.

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