WASHINGTON – Nearly six years after the Sept. 11 attacks and four years after the invasion of Iraq, al-Qaida has achieved a major goal.
Not only has al-Qaida had a big hand in bogging us down in Afghanistan and Iraq, but its extraordinary output of English-subtitled propaganda videos on the Internet over the past two years has inspired people to form cells inside America bent on killing Americans.
“What we have now is two levels of threat instead of one,” said Michael Scheuer, who created the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit in 1996. “I think they’re on a roll.”
In less than two years, counterterrorism officials have impressively blown the lid off four significant plots – that we know of – involving Islamists living within our borders who decided to join the jihad. They had no connection to al-Qaida central, the intelligence community’s term for bin Laden’s inner circle, but they acted at his urging.
In addition to the JFK Airport plotters, there were the six men in New Jersey who allegedly hatched a plan to attack Fort Dix. Last summer, another cell plotted to blow up commuter train tunnels and flood lower Manhattan, while a fourth group in Miami wanted to destroy Chicago’s Sears Tower.
None trained in Afghan camps or even in the Pakistani al-Qaida camps that have proliferated since 2001, and all were either incompetent or careless, in contrast to al-Qaida’s careful, disciplined tradecraft. But they were angry enough at America to take action, and al-Qaida lit the way.
During the last two years, al-Qaida’s As-Sahab (The Cloud) propaganda wing has released a startling 106 videos on the Internet, according to IntelCenter. Half of those were released this year and featured al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri, his American spokesman Adam Yahiye Gadahn and videos of al-Qaida strikes on the Afghan-Pakistan border. May had the highest output of al-Qaida videos ever.
“The propaganda is working,” said author and intelligence expert James Bamford. “They’re getting their message out, and it’s hitting home with a number of people.”
Rep. Gary Ackerman, a New York Democrat whose district is near JFK, said al-Qaida’s propaganda, stoked by the unpopular war in Iraq, is giving the enemy a clear win. “We’re going to congratulate our people to death who stopped this plot, but al-Qaida’s succeeding all over the place,” he said. “They’re winning this thing in the regard that they’re serving as more of an inspiration.”
In an interview on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers,” FBI Assistant Director John Miller said that al-Qaida has been open about its two-pronged strategy to attack America.
“What they’re counting on is trying to develop and execute the major (attack) plan while at the same time putting out the propaganda fodder, hoping that others will take that ball and run with it,” Miller said last week. “They’re counting on both happening at once.”