Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Missing the connections

It's been largely speculation, up until now, that domestic terrorism is not a significant component of this administration's "war on terror." But in its handling of the Texas cyanide bomb case, it's becoming especially apparent that this is precisely the case.

Either that, or the nation's intelligence problems related to terrorism have gotten, if anything, worse since Sept. 11.

See, for instance, this recent news piece out of Winchester, Va., in which it emerges that the FBI hasn't even communicated with its own offices in locales where these extremists supposedly met:
Winchester Named as Site For Meeting of Suspects

Documents naming Winchester as one of 10 potential meeting places for suspected domestic terrorist conspirators were found a year ago, but most local law enforcement officials did not know about it until Thursday.

Federal officials first discovered that Winchester could be a meeting place for home-grown terrorists after a Tennessee State Police trooper found documents listing 10 cities along interstates in the eastern part of the United States during a January 2003 traffic stop.

The driver, William Krar, 62, of Noonday, Texas, has since pleaded guilty to a chemical weapon charge and is connected with illegal weapons and white supremacist and anti-government literature - and federal officials believe other conspirators may be at large, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The list in Krar's car included Winchester and Roanoke; Harrisburg and Scranton, Pa.; Chattanooga, Bristol, and Knoxville, Tenn.; Jackson, Miss.; and Shreveport, La.

One year later, local law enforcement officials are in the dark.

"I have received no information from anyone prior to this that Winchester was a designated meeting area for terrorists," city Police Chief Gary W. Reynolds said on Thursday. "This particular incident, if true, certainly needs to be fixed."

No kidding. What's especially disgraceful is that this could occur in the post-9/11 environment. As their own agents even observe:
The FBI office in Dallas led the investigation, said Lawrence Barry, chief division counsel for the Richmond Division of the FBI.

Though his division did not handle the investigation, information-sharing among law enforcement is supposed to have become standard practice since Sept. 11, 2001, Barry said.

It's bad enough that the public is so ill-informed about the case -- even though, as previously noted, we have now officially found more weapons of mass destruction in the hands of fanatical extremists in Texas than we have in Iraq. Maybe now that Bush has quietly abandoned the latter search, he could direct that team to his home state.

But what's really problematic is the kind of intelligence-gathering gap this lack of communication actually represents. Certainly it raises questions about how thoroughly, and with what energy, the current investigation is being pursued. It's especially important to determine whether there are more of these bombs out there, as several of the news reports so far have suggested.

Once again, one can only wonder how this case would have been handled had these been Islamist extremists.

At least the story is receiving wider circulation -- spurred, probably, by the recent Los Angeles Times and New York Times reports. Of particular note was this piece, from the San Antonio Express-News:
Noonday shows danger walks among us

Especially noteworthy was this passage:
Between 1980 and 2000, the FBI recorded 335 incidents or suspected incidents of terrorism in the United States, according to the Congressional testimony in February 2002 of Dale L. Watson, then the assistant director for counterterrorism and counterintelligence for the FBI.

"Of these, 247 were attributed to domestic terrorists, and 88 were determined to be international in nature," Watson said.

Watson's prepared remarks did not provide details, but he noted that right-wing extremism in the 1990s overtook left-wing terrorism "as the most dangerous domestic threat to the country."

Mark Potok suggests in this piece, correctly, that there only needs to be a few of these fanatics to wreak a great deal of havoc, as both Oklahoma City and September 11 demonstrated. The technology available to them, as Robert Wright has observed, guarantees that.

The story has gotten play elsewhere, notably at Working for Change, with a nice summary from Bill Berkowitz:
'Whither America's homegrown terrorists'

And the New Orleans Times-Picayune picked up on the story on its editorial page:
Another Oklahoma City?

The L.A. Times piece is apparently getting a lot of distribution at smaller papers. I even heard from my parents that in ran in their hometown Boise paper. So the case, at least, is slowly gaining in public awareness.

Now if only the same were true of the investigators.

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