Politics & Policy

How Worried Should We Be?

Congress ponders the odds of an attack on or around the 9/11 anniversary.

On September 11, 2013, a car bomb tore through a Libyan Foreign Ministry building in Benghazi.

September 11 of the preceding year brought the deadly attack on Ambassador Chris Stevens and other Americans in Benghazi, as well as a violent protest at the U.S. embassy in Cairo, where a mob stormed the walls of the embassy compound, tore down the American flag, and burned it.

The 9/11 anniversary had passed relatively quietly other years since the attack on the World Trade Center. But Americans feel particular anxiety as the date approaches this year, with the attention of the nation — and the world — again focused upon Islamist terrorists, as the Islamic State beheads Americans and puts the whole gory spectacle on the Internet. Britain has raised its international-terrorism alert to its second-highest level, Australia is considering raising its terror-threat warning level, and a bombing plot was foiled at Manila’s international airport in the Philippines. Meanwhile, our lack of border security has been spectacularly exposed by the waves of children crossing from Mexico.

Ted Nugent, the rock star/Second Amendment activist/perpetual quote machine, calmly urged preparedness:

9-11-14 is the day of infamy again. Unarmed & helpless Americans and Europeans will be viciously ambushed when they least expect it, and the death toll will be more brutal and widespread than all the peace & love dreamers could ever imagine. Those who carry guns had better gun & ammo up no matter where you go, carrying at least 10 spare mags or 10 spare speedloaders . . . 

So how concerned should Americans be as this week continues? Lawmakers on terrorism-related committees in Congress are struggling with the question and attempting to strike a balance between wary calls for alertness and comments that could be construed as fear-mongering.

Some are quite blunt.

“I would say that I have a heightened alert, as a naval intelligence officer, that the 9/11 anniversary is significant in the jihad world because of what happened in Benghazi,” said Senator Mark Kirk (R., Ill.). “So we should all bear down and get ready for a potential hit.”

There may be particular reason for concern in Senator Kirk’s home state this year, as a Twitter account that claimed to be affiliated with ISIS posted pictures of a threatening note, held by a hand in front of a Chicago building:

But scroll down a little farther and you see a picture that might look familiar. Not the writing, which appears to be in Arabic, but the building in the background. That’s on Michigan Ave.

307 N. Michigan Ave to be precise. It’s at the corner of Michigan and South Water Street and it’s called the Old Republic Building.

What we found online was stunning. So we brought it to the attention of the building security team. The apparent message in this photo, dated June 20th of this summer, is “soldiers of the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria will pass from here soon.”

Other tweets show the same two pictures, saying “we are in your state / we are in your cities / we are in your streets. You are our goals anywhere.”

That Twitter account has since been suspended.

But Ed Royce (R., Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, seems less concerned. On Monday, he declared on CNN’s New Day that the United States doesn’t have intelligence indicating there are any active plans for a terrorist attack ahead of the 9/11 anniversary. “No, we don’t have any information about credible planning for an attack,” Royce said.

“Any time you get around a major anniversary in the minds of al-Qaeda and its affiliates, that can be a time of increased concern and intelligence monitoring,” said Mike Rogers (R., Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. “We know they’re so fixated and obsessed on those particular dates. Given that it’s coming up on 9/11, we know there are operational activities, both al-Qaeda and this new threat matrix of all these al-Qaeda affiliates. Some have aspirations to do Western attacks, some have capabilities to do Western attacks, all of that just makes the challenge all the more difficult for the agencies we charge with stopping terror attacks.”

Of course, the passage of the date on the calendar doesn’t mean the threat will have subsided.

“Sometimes their operational planning will move up a day, or slip a day, based upon the logistical hurdles they face in pulling off a terrorist attack,” Rogers said. “Their goal may be September 11, but something may happen to pull it forward or to push it back. They’ll take the opportunity when they can.”

Interestingly, members of Congress are more likely to cite the Islamic State as a threat than al-Qaeda.

“With the rising threat of ISIS, it is particularly important now that Americans remain vigilant with the upcoming anniversary of September 11th,” said Representative Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Islamic terrorists are known for committing actions on days that coincide with past historically significant dates.”

“They may be gaining territory in the Middle East day by day, but they have made clear their intent is to attack our cities and even raise their flag over the White House,” says Representative Lou Barletta, a Pennsylvania Republican and a member of the House Homeland Security Committee. “In the post-9/11 world, it is an unavoidable truth that Islamic militants have as their highest goal to strike America on our home soil once again. . . . These terrorists have shown that they favor making symbolic points wherever they can, so significant anniversaries are always possible dates for more spectacular attacks. As American citizens, we must go about our daily lives and pursue our dreams, but we now must do so with the awareness that there are those whose every waking moment is dedicated to our destruction.”

Barletta is quick to tie the concern about terror attacks to the lingering questions about the security of America’s borders and the effectiveness of our systems for identifying people who are here illegally: “I have proposed, and I continue to support, a mandatory biometric exit system that tracks people who have arrived in this country on visas. We must be able to identify those who have not returned home as they are supposed to. Additionally, with our borders so obviously wide open, we run the risk of letting terrorists slip in with every day that passes. Our enemies know that we are a soft target with woefully inadequate border protection, and we will continue to be at great risk until we fix the problem.”

This week may pass uneventfully, but Americans’ anxiety will probably not depart anytime soon.

— Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot on NRO.


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