We must stay alert
Each day, we learn more about the wide-ranging success of the mission 11 days ago which eliminated Osama bin Laden, whose al Quaeda terrorist network has been Public Enemy No. 1 for civilized nations in the last decade.
House and Senate committee members this week viewed pictures of the Navy SEALS raid on Osama's compound in Pakistan and learned more about the daring mission. After taking out bin Laden, the elite soldiers were able to collect valuable information on the terror network.
The volume of intelligence gathered by the special forces team during the 40 minutes they were on the ground is nothing short of incredible. Officials are currently working 24/7 to digest the treasure trove of stored computer memory, said to be the equivalent of 220 million pages of text.
One official estimates that a task force is uncovering an average of at least one bit of valuable intelligence every hour on the terrorists. President Obama said with this intelligence bonanza the U.S. has an opportunity "to deliver a fatal blow to this organization if we follow through aggressively in the months to come."
Although the mission by the U.S. special forces has dealt a severe blow to al Quaeda, don't expect the terrorists to fold up their tents. They still intensely hate Americans. What is important for all citizens to realize is that al Quaeda sympathizers could be deeply entrenched within our borders, perhaps even in our quiet neighborhoods.
Lone wolf actors like Timothy McVeigh, the former U.S. serviceman whose bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995 killed 168 people and injured 450, will always be hard to detect. Individual terrorists are easier to hide within communities. There's little paper trail for investigators to follow and there isn't the kind of communication "chatter" found within a network of operatives.
Cells with multiple players offer more of a challenge. We recall the Buffalo Six, a group of six Yemeni-American friends from upstate New York who attended an al Quaeda training camp in Afghanistan and were convicted of providing material support to the terrorists.
And then there were the six members of an alleged homegrown terror cell arrested four years ago for planning a commando-style attack on a military base in New Jersey. That investigation began when a man walked into a photo shop and asked to convert a tape to a DVD.
It contained scenes of 10 men with handguns and rifles and firing live ammo at a firing range on state game lands in Gouldsboro, Wayne County. The tape was intended for training purposes and to recruit more members to the group's cause. The content was disturbing enough to the technician making the tape for him to notify authorities, thus exposing the early roots of an attack that could have cost more lives on American soil.
We are all a part of this ongoing fight against terrorism in America. Finding a glut of information on the enemy - like what we discovered in Osama's compound last week - is a great boost for U.S. intelligence but be aware that the best helpers to law enforcement are the eyes and ears of a vigilant public.
By Jim Zbick