NOTE: Following the resumption of Al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks inside America during the first year of President Barack Obama’s presidency, a heated national debate ensued over why after eight years Al Qaeda had begun to attack the U.S. homeland. Two key facts illuminate this discussion: (1) the U.S. homeland has been extremely vulnerable to terrorist attacks ever since 9/11, and (2) between 2002-2008, Al Qaeda launched the largest terrorist campaign in world history such that in 2007 the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate classified Al Qaeda “as strong as ever”.
The following essay, Chapter 8 of Bin Laden’s Plan by David Malone (originally published in 2005), examines the theory that Al Qaeda chose not to attack the American homeland during the Bush war presidency. Along with the central thesis of this book, which proposes that Al Qaeda is determined to rig U.S. elections in favor of war hawks, the following essay coherently explains why Bin Laden’s syndicate waited until the presidency of Barack Obama to resume attacking the homeland.
Al Qaeda's Cessation of Attacks Inside the American Homeland
Consistent with Bin Laden's campaign to woo world opinion, Al Qaeda has chosen not to attack America once since jumpstarting Bush's invasion of the Middle East on 9/11. Even optimistic observers accept that Al Qaeda has hidden sleeper cells inside America and that American homeland security, particularly border patrol, is grossly under-funded.
Wherever we go, we see how easy it would be for a terrorist to cause serious harm. A bomb left in a Times Square trash can; a man with a heavy backpack moving through a crowded subway car; a van stuffed with explosives entering the Midtown Tunnel -- this is part of how we experience the city now. But if it seems so easy, why hasn't it happened?[i]
America's open society is so vulnerable that even some Bush Administration officials, such as the chief of the Department of Health and Human Services during Bush's first term, have publicly expressed bewilderment at Al Qaeda's complete halt in attacks on the Homeland.
Despite dramatic increases in inspections of food imports, only "a very minute amount" of food is tested at ports and airports, Tommy Thompson said. "For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do," Thompson said. "We are importing a lot of food from the Middle East, and it would be easy to tamper with that."[ii]
From vulnerable imported goods to a poorly guarded internal infrastructure to highly porous borders, Al Qaeda has been presented with ample opportunities to launch devastating attacks on the United States in the post-9/11 era. Even after the four-year absence of Al Qaeda attacks inside the United States, a CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll in August 2005 found that 80% of the traditionally complacent American public believes that the country is as vulnerable or more vulnerable to terrorist attacks since 9/11[iii].
The vulnerability of the American homeland is compounded by the demonstrated capabilities of Al Qaeda. Across the globe, Al Qaeda has displayed its increased power by launching at least twice as many major bombings in the three years since 9/11 than in the nine years prior to 9/11. If Al Qaeda can launch multiple bombings inside Iraq every day, it is likely that they could launch at least one single attack inside America over the course of nearly four years. Even a single, relatively small bombing would have a major psychological and financial impact inside America.
An attack wouldn't have to be on the scale of 9/11 to set off a major panic. A single explosion, just one of the many little bombs that rock Iraq every day, would make midtown feel little safer than the Green Zone[iv].
Despite Al Qaeda's ability to easily attack America, they have chosen not to execute one single visible attack since 9/11, let alone a wave of attacks against the United States.
The absence of Al Qaeda attacks inside America since 9/11 is a critical factor in Bin Laden's strategy for a global public relations victory over the United States. In fact, an Al Qaeda attack on America after 9/11 would hinder the transfer of war guilt to America. By only attacking U.S. targets in the Muslim world, Al Qaeda better portrayed itself as a righteous defensive insurgency against American imperialism, and not an apocalyptic cult bent on provoking a world war. At the same time, any U.S. aggression appeared to be an unjustified response to attacks that were far less provocative than strikes against the American homeland. In this manner, despite the origin of the 9/11 War, America became portrayed as the greatest threat to world peace.
During Bush's first term, Al Qaeda did not need to go to such lengths to provoke an expansion of Bush's invasion of the Middle East beyond state sponsors of Al Qaeda, as the invasion of Iraq clearly demonstrated. Terrorist attacks inside the United States would only justify America's post-9/11 military crusade and further incriminate Al Qaeda for war guilt, impeding its primary goal of a global public relations victory over America. As long as Al Qaeda continues to maintain its position as the chief opposition group to the American military crusade, Bin Laden has no need to attack the American homeland. After executing the most spectacular feat of terrorism in history on 9/11, and later leading an unprecedented anti-American terrorist campaign in Iraq, Al Qaeda has no need for demonstrating to the world its awesome military power. Short of an attack with weapons of mass destruction, post-9/11 attacks inside America would be anti-climatic compared to the colossal scale of 9/11. Following the successful 9/11 attack, Bin Laden apparently ordered the indefinite delay of plots for the American homeland, such as the Al Qaeda plot to bomb major financial buildings in New York City[v].
Al Qaeda's strategy of avoiding attacks on the United States is consistent with the practices of Bin Laden's top advisor, Al Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who has espoused limiting attacks against his primary enemies in order to facilitate recruitment efforts[vi]. Al Qaeda's objective of instigating American aggression without incurring war guilt has been furthered since 9/11 by its apparent disinformation campaign, consisting of alarming revelations about Al Qaeda plots to attack inside America that have never reached fruition. By attacking America in its military occupation zones abroad and disseminating hollow threats of imminent attacks on the American homeland, Al Qaeda has sufficiently stoked America's post-9/11 aggression to effect the transfer of war guilt to the victim of the 9/11 attack. The strategy of restrained aggression against America clearly demonstrated by Al Qaeda since 9/11 is consistent with a public relations campaign and inconsistent with a military campaign.
8.2. Other Theories
The prevailing understanding of Al Qaeda as a traditional terrorist organization has led prominent Al Qaeda analysts to attempt to explain the complete absence of any post-9/11 Al Qaeda attacks inside America as the result of anything other than Bin Laden's public relations campaign. Perhaps it is too unnerving for these analysts to accept that Bin Laden is so confident of his invisible empire's military prowess that he chose to restrain totally his aggression inside America despite the successive American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Whatever the reason, these Al Qaeda analysts have proposed a number of apparently illogical explanations for the nonexistent Al Qaeda offensive inside America during the nearly four years since 9/11.
One thread of hypothesis is based on the postulate that Al Qaeda's upper command has wanted to attack the American homeland throughout the post-9/11 era, but for one reason or another has failed.
· One such explanation proposes that Al Qaeda has been so degraded by the American retaliation for 9/11 that they have been unable to launch attacks against America. This theory overlooks the fact that since Bush's march to war with Iraq, rising anti-American sentiment has swelled Al Qaeda's recruitment base to an extent allowing Al Qaeda to increase greatly its global terrorist campaign. At the same time, Bush's Iraq invasion has severely fractured the global alliance against Al Qaeda. If Al Qaeda can launch numerous large-scale terrorist attacks globally in the years since 9/11, including a persistently ferocious campaign inside Iraq, and if Palestinian terrorists under siege by an aggressive Israeli occupation can overcome the world's foremost counterterrorism security state and launch numerous terrorist attacks inside Israel, logic strongly suggests that Al Qaeda could succeed in at least one terrorist attack inside the United States in the nearly four years since 9/11. The improvement in Al Qaeda's abilities coupled with the deterioration of the American-led alliance clearly negates the assertion that Al Qaeda has been degraded to the point where they cannot attack America.
· Some have maintained that American intelligence has thwarted every single determined attempt by Al Qaeda to launch an attack inside America during this timeframe. The accolades for American intelligence because of the total absence of post-9/11 Al Qaeda attacks on the homeland is founded on the assumption that American intelligence has uncovered every Al Qaeda cell in America and has effectively sealed every border from Al Qaeda penetration, assertions that even extremely optimistic apologists would not dare to propose. Most conspicuously, this explanation overlooks the notorious failure of American intelligence to detect both the preparations for the 9/11 attack and the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq prior to the invasion.
The fact that not a single suicide bomber has turned up in New York can't be due to immigration screening; not when visa extensions were issued for Mohammed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi six months after they'd flown planes into the World Trade Center. And bombers could have been planted here before September 11[vii].
In addition to existing Al Qaeda threats inside the United States, many experts have decried the fact that the most glaring example of American border permeability, American seaports, has been consistently poorly defended.
Our ports are woefully unprotected, which is doubly dangerous since they tend to be near metropolitan areas[viii].
The continuous failure of homeland security to screen 95% of all incoming cargo in American ports has allowed Al Qaeda ample opportunity to transfer men and materials into the United States[ix].
Beyond the institutional deficits of American homeland security, the occurrence of non-Al Qaeda terrorist attacks inside the homeland since 9/11 has demonstrated the nation's vulnerability. From the anthrax post-mail attacks, to the Washington, D.C. sniper attacks, to the 2002 shooting at the El Al counter of Los Angeles International Airport[x], terrorists outside of Al Qaeda have displayed the ease with which determined individuals can still kill many victims inside America. The evasion of American investigators by the anthrax terrorists has further demonstrated the ease with which large-scale attacks can be successfully executed on the American homeland. Certainly Al Qaeda could have sent a flood of post-mail attacks, either anthrax or bombs, from overseas if they so chose.
· Another equally fallacious explanation for the void in Al Qaeda's military campaign inside America maintains that Al Qaeda does not have any sleeper cells inside America and lacks the ability to establish new ones. This theory overlooks the ease with which Al Qaeda established the monstrous 9/11 cell, the opportunity prior to 9/11 that Al Qaeda had to establish sleeper cells, the public revelation of numerous uncovered Al Qaeda cells since 9/11[xi] and Al Qaeda's mounting capabilities and America's continually porous borders.
Most conspicuously, this theory ignores the fact that from 2002-2004 numerous Al Qaeda cells have been uncovered while apparently planning terrorist attacks inside America to be executed at an undetermined time in the future, from the provocative dirty bomb plot of Al Qaeda member Jose Padilla[xii], to Al Qaeda plots to destroy gas stations, train tracks, apartment buildings, hotels, the Brooklyn Bridge, and an Ohio shopping mall, among others[xiii]. In addition to Al Qaeda cells captured inside America, continued revelations of Al Qaeda plots to attack the United States, such as the plot to attack financial institutions in New York and Washington, D.C. revealed in the summer of 2004, have demonstrated the active Al Qaeda threat to America's interior. While it is indeterminable whether these Al Qaeda plots were in fact serious future plots or simply part of Al Qaeda's disinformation campaign, it is clear that these plots involved numerous Al Qaeda agents dispersed throughout the United States.
Adherents to the view that Al Qaeda has no terrorist presence inside America frequently praise American culture for "winning over" these Islamic fundamentalist sleeper cells. Many experts, however, disagree with this assessment.
We've often considered the prospect of sleeper cells. Some people like to believe that once an extremist arrives here, he'll be so impressed by American freedoms and opportunities that he won't want to kill himself, but quite likely, the opposite is true. Islamic fundamentalists can be appalled and disgusted by what they see as the hedonism of American life[xiv].
Not only is it highly likely that Al Qaeda has sleeper cells inside America, it is equally probable that those hate-filled Islamic fundamentalists are still well motivated to execute attacks.
They Have Not Tried
Another line of thought proceeds from the postulate that Al Qaeda's upper command has in fact chosen not to attack the United States homeland. Unlike the alternative thread of theories, this thread has a more logical foundation that relies on neither the perfection of American intelligence nor the stupendous ineptitude of Al Qaeda.
· One such explanation for Al Qaeda's absent offensive inside America is that Al Qaeda's upper command has ordered its cells not to attack in order to lull American homeland security into complacency to better the chances of operational success for the execution of a spectacular "Doomsday" attack. However, if this were in fact the primary motivation behind Al Qaeda's cessation of attacks inside the United States, Al Qaeda would naturally complement this false portrayal of its dilapidated operational capabilities with a reduction in its attacks globally. In reality, Al Qaeda has greatly increased its overt attacks globally since 9/11, portraying Al Qaeda as a powerful and growing terrorist threat worldwide. Al Qaeda's mounting global terrorist campaign strongly contradicts the theory that Al Qaeda's primary objective behind its abeyance of attacks on the American homeland is to lull America into a false sense of security. Nevertheless, this objective could likely be a secondary motivation for this strategy, dependent primarily on Al Qaeda's public relations pursuits.
· Another theory contends that Al Qaeda has chosen not to attack America since 9/11 because the primary target of its terrorism is not America, but rather Saudi Arabia. In other words, Al Qaeda is not motivated to continue to attack America. This naïve theory overlooks the prevailing emphasis of Al Qaeda's terrorist campaign, which is a war against America above all others. This theory also implies that Al Qaeda would willingly incur the massive American retaliation for toppling the Twin Towers (an ongoing attempt from 1993-2001) primarily to confront the American-supported Saudi regime. Although toppling the Saudi regime is undoubtedly one long-term objective of Al Qaeda, this goal is secondary to the defeat of its superpower protector, the United States. Most Al Qaeda experts do in fact agree that the group's primary goal is the destruction of American hegemony[xv]. Al Qaeda's avoidance of direct attacks on the Saudi central government, as well as its reliance on Saudi funds as a primary source of financing, further confirms that Saudi Arabia is not the primary target of Bin Laden's ongoing war.
· Still another popular theory to explain the absence of homeland attacks offers an alternative explanation for the 9/11 attack. The credulous adherents to this theory accept Bin Laden's publicly stated war justification as truthful, namely, that the goal of this terrorist war is to pressure America to withdraw from the Middle East. Accordingly, Al Qaeda's target is not the American homeland but rather the American presence in the Middle East. This theory proposes that America's retaliation for the 9/11 attack, the escalation of an American military presence in the Middle East, was an unwelcome surprise to Bin Laden. After discovering that the 9/11 attack had actually provoked an escalation of the very problem for which he ostensibly had initiated war to solve, so this theory contends, Bin Laden quickly reversed his strategy and banned attacks on the United States to avoid further provoking an American occupation of Muslim lands. On this basis, Bin Laden redirected Al Qaeda's attacks to less provocative targets, especially the U.S. occupation forces and America's allies, primarily in order to encourage the total withdrawal of American forces by draining the United States of financial and political capital.
In reality, instead of a war directed solely against American imperialism, Bin Laden's war most prominently targeted the American homeland for destruction. The 9/11 attack predictably encouraged a greater American presence in the Middle East, strongly suggesting that Bin Laden's true motive was contrary to his publicly stated one. Intelligence reports of Bin Laden's conversations with subordinates corroborates this assertion[xvi], as does the discovery of unfolding provocative Al Qaeda plots to detonate dirty bombs[xvii] and even nuclear bombs[xviii] inside the United States. Before and after 9/11, Al Qaeda's history of attempting to provoke American imperialism consistently contradicts this explanation for Al Qaeda's cessation of attacks on the American homeland.
All of the above popular explanations for Al Qaeda's abeyance of post-9/11 attacks inside America are debunked by logical analysis. However, one theory following this thread of explanations for the absence of post-9/11 Al Qaeda attacks inside America does appear to be logically coherent: Al Qaeda has chosen not to attack America as part of an ongoing campaign to transfer war guilt to the American public. Bush's reelection and the future expansion of his crusade in the Middle East threatens to complete this transfer of war guilt and initiate Bin Laden's reinstitution of Al Qaeda's terrorist campaign inside the United States.
[i] New York Magazine, 12/6/04.
[ii] AP, 12/4/04.
[iii] AP, 9/10/05.
[iv] New York Magazine, 12/6/04.
[v] CBS Evening News, 4/12/05.
[vi] The Road to Al Qaeda by Montasser al-Zayyat, 2004, p. 61, 65.
[vii] New York Magazine, 12/6/04.
[viii] New York Magazine, 12/6/04.
[ix] Wall Street Journal, 8/20/04.
[xiii] www.cnn.com/2004/LAW/06/14/terrorism.indictment; www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/09/26/attack/main575338.shtml; www.fas.org/irp/news/2004/06/padilla060104.pdf ; Washington Post, 10/23/04.
[xiv] New York Magazine, 12/6/04.
[xv] www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?020916fa_fact2i; The Road to Al Qaeda by Montasser al-Zayyat, 2004, p. 69-70.
[xvi] The 9/11 Commission Report, electronic version (Microsoft Reader format), p503.
[xviii] The Al Qaeda Connection: International Terrorism, Organized Crime and the Coming Apocalypse by Paul L. Williams (a former FBI consultant), 2005.