By Michael V. Hayden and Michael B. Mukasey
Thursday, March 10, 2011
For the better part of a year, Obama administration officials, led by Michael E. Leiter, head of the National Counterterrorism Center and the person principally in charge of assessing terrorist threats, have been warning that this menace now comes in a new “flavor.” Al-Qaeda has found it increasingly difficult to mount complex, mass-casualty attacks against iconic targets; it has defaulted to lower-threshold assaults, often involving few actors or even one, sometimes self-radicalized. So instead of operations like the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks or the 2006 plot to blow up multiple airliners with liquid explosives, we get efforts to set off a car bomb in Times Square, the assassination of an armed forces recruiter in Little Rock, and plots targeting New York subways or former president George W. Bush’s Dallas home.
The older plots were complex and relatively slow-moving. Anchored abroad, they had multiple threads that could be unwound by U.S. or foreign intelligence. New efforts are likely to feature home-grown actors with few if any foreign ties – people who are U.S. citizens or here legally. These plots are best eliminated by quick action under those provisions of the USA Patriot Act that deal with business records, lone-wolf threats, calling records and roving wiretaps. Yet those are precisely the provisions that some in the Senate propose to hobble or eliminate in legislation sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).