Last week’s disrupted airline bomb plot and the arrest of suspected terrorist Farooque Ahmed should serve as a clear warning that terrorist elements are still seeking opportunities to inflict death and destruction upon the unsuspecting American masses.
The question is whether or not the public is really paying attention.
In Ahmed’s case, authorities arrested the 34-year-old Pakistani born man before he was able to carry out his plot to bomb Washington, D.C. metro stations. The FBI said afterwards there was no real threat because Ahmed had been under surveillance for months.
With the airline bomb threat, authorities thankfully intercepted the packages before they could be detonated.
Since Sept. 11 2001, we have been very fortunate not to have suffered another major terrorist attack. This is of course no accident. Our law enforcement and intelligence gathering agencies have remained vigilant even as the rank and file citizenry slips back into complacency as the memory of that horrible day continues to fade.
However, there is only so much that law enforcement can do. As with every other type of crime, authorities cannot be everywhere at once. Bad things can and do happen on a daily basis.
Public safety agencies nationwide are cash-strapped and under-staffed. There is simply no possible way to protect citizens against every threat. That is why the general public must bear some responsibility for ensuring their own safety.
After the plot to attack the D.C. Metro was made public, officials acknowledged that the transportation system was open to attack. On the D.C. Metro web site, officials remind riders of the need for “continued vigilance” and “to remain aware of their surroundings at all times.”
This warning comes despite the fact that the Metro system has a 20-member anti-terrorism team and chemical, radiological and explosive detection technology in place. They use cameras, bomb sniffing dogs and other security measures as well. Even with that kind of manpower and those kinds of technological protections, the system remains vulnerable to attack.
The airline bomb plot is perhaps more disturbing. Despite all the post 9/11 security measures that have been implemented at airports worldwide, this plot might have succeeded had it not been for intelligence gathering efforts.
If the Washington D.C. metro system and the airline transportation system remain attractive targets even with significant security measures in place, then how vulnerable are other places in this country where large numbers of people congregate?
Allegedly, Ahmed’s plan was to use rolling suitcases packed with explosives to attack subway targets. Would you pay attention if you saw a man with a rolling suitcase stroll into the Mall of Georgia or Georgia Square Mall on say, Black Friday? Would you alert authorities if you saw a suspicious-looking man with a backpack loitering outside Sanford Stadium on a home game day with over 92,000 people inside the gates? Would you be more afraid of a possible terrorist threat or more afraid of looking like a fool for being worried?
Granted, we cannot live our lives in fear, but we cannot ignore the fact that there are individuals and groups who want to kill Americans. This is a reality that everyone from the President on down must accept.
President Obama took some heat recently when journalist and author Bob Woodward quoted him as saying, “We can absorb a terrorist attack. We'll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever ... we absorbed it and we are stronger."
As cold and callous as the remark sounds, it is simply a statement of domestic security reality. Threats exist and our capability to diffuse those threats is limited.
Our law enforcement and intelligence gathering agencies are doing everything they can to keep us safe, but it is important to recognize that we remain vulnerable. Continued vigilance is important to save American lives and we all share that responsibility.
Kristi Reed is a reporter for the Barrow Journal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.