As July 4 approaches, people are hunkering down, waiting for the terrorists to strike, whether with nerve gas in the subways, fuel trucks plowing into synagogues, bombs carried in kayaks, or assaults by fighters swimming to their targets in scuba suits. "They could hit us any day," Richard Shelby, the ranking Republican on the Senate intelligence committee, tells the nation.
According to various recent reports, over the past two months perhaps as many as 25 terrorists have slipped into the U.S. as stowaways. Osama bin Laden himself was reportedly last seen in April in northeastern Afghanistan, and is expected to release another of his tapes before the holiday. There have been numerous warnings about dirty bombs and weapons of mass destruction.
But the damage could come in the form of a much more conventional attack. An e-mail recently making the rounds of military and law enforcement circles describes a captured Al Qaeda training tape said to reveal the group's expertise in small arms and close commando situations in urban settings like New York, Washington, and Chicago. The people seen training are skilled at handling rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, and at making quick attacks and retreats. The footage may be fake, although the people sending the tape around are military veterans with extensive combat experience.
One scenario involves ambushing cops. An apparently disabled vehicle is parked just before a freeway ramp, with shooters hidden inside. When the police officer pulls up, someone inside blows the horn and the shooters burst out firing. Then there's the residential assassination, where someone knocks on the door of a home, then empties his gun into whoever answers. There's also the golf-course assassination, where an RPG-type rocket is lobbed onto a golf green, taking out the security vehicle and leaving the golfers to be mowed down by rifle fire.
In other scenarios, terrorists rappel down the side of a building from the roof, move through tunnels or sewers, carry out drive-by kidnappings, and blow up guard houses to get into the main building lying behind. Drive-by killings can be executed on motorcycles, with the shooter standing on rear pegs with arms extended over the driver, firing as the bike races down the street.
For bigger raids, terrorists carry concealed weapons into a building, say a school or a financial institution, then in a swift show of violence take over the room, marching people up to the roof. TV reporters and photojournalists are allowed in. The kidnappers then begin to execute prisoners one by one in front of the cameras. The tape suggests planning several simultaneous raids to gain maximum exposure. The key point is that absolutely no one is left alivemen, women, children, all are killed.
In advice to law enforcement, one analyst of this training tape urges cops to begin shooting as soon as they recognize what's going on, and not to wait for any SWAT team or other support. Complying at any point is useless, since everyone will be ritually executed on the roof.
If retiring North Carolina senator Jesse Helms gets one last wish, American armed forces will not only be fighting terrorists all around the world. They'll face the additional task of springing Yankee soldiers and officials from nations intent on turning them over for trial on war crimes at the new International Criminal Court.
President Clinton signed the treaty setting up the court, where today Slobodan Milosevic sits in the dock. The Republican right was appalled at this move, and President Bush recently undid the signing of the treaty. Now the Senate has passed the American Service Member's Protection Act, authorizing the use of armed force to release U.S. soldiers taken into custody for trial.
In a Washington Times article titled "No Court Dates for America," Helms and Georgia senator Zell Miller cautioned, "The new court may very well run amok." They argue their bill would keep other countries from trumping up charges against Americans.
"Critics of the U.S. position mutter that the United States should remain involved in the structure of the court," they continued. "Baloney. Just as the United States avoided membership in the ill-constructed League of Nations nearly a century ago, the United States should keep this new international travesty as far away from the American people as possible."
Anyone who buys the line that the FBI's bad old days ended with the death of J. Edgar Hoover can think again. Take one look at the scarcely believable tale of how the agency set up the environmental activist Judi Bari when her car exploded in May 1990 in Oakland.
This month, a federal court awarded a total of $4.4 million in damages to Bari's estate (she died of cancer in 1997) and to passenger Darryl Cherney. The pair had charged local police and the FBI with a gross violation of civil rights. The verdict repeatedly singled out the senior agent on the scene for his outrageous behavior.
The story goes like this: On the morning of May 24, 1990, a pipe bomb exploded directly under the driver's seat, shattering Bari's pelvis and lower backbone and leaving her permanently disabled. Cherney suffered minor injuries. The two were on a tour to recruit students for Redwood Summer, a series of protests against corporate logging. Bari awoke 12 hours later to policemen telling her she was under arrest for possessing explosives. They, of course, had not bothered even to question her. Bari had received death threats in the weeks before, but the FBI never followed up.
In the beginning, the cops claimed Bari and Cherney had themselves put the bomb in the back seat, where it accidentally went off. However, files released during the court proceedings revealed that when supervisory special agent David R. Williamsthe FBI crime lab's top explosives expertinspected the car, he pointed out to special agent Frank Doyle evidence clearly showing the device had been stowed under the driver's seat. Yet Doyle continued to tell the press that Bari and Cherney were the only suspects.
Throughout their sworn testimony, the FBI agents repeatedly said that they never heard of Bari or Cherney before the bombing, and that they were not investigating Earth First!, to which the activists belonged.
But an FBI field report, written minutes after the bomb exploded, states that Bari and Cherney were "the subjects of an FBI investigation in the terrorist department." Cherney-Bari lawyers used these facts to argue that the FBI agents lied in their sworn testimony before the court.
The history of the FBI's involvement with Earth First! is lengthy and disgusting. Before Bari's car blew up, the Bureau was in the final phases of Thermcon, an Arizona sting that involved 50 agents and was aimed at casting Dave Foreman, co-founder of the group, as a terrorist who made use of explosives. The FBI managed to infiltrate a small chapter of Earth First!, and having successfully planted an agent inside, tried to push the environmentalists into using thermite to take out a power line. But, as the alternative Albion Monitor relates the story: "The activists declined the infiltrator's offer of explosives, and he settled for providing them with a cutting torch instead. The agent provided the equipment, trained the activists to use it, chose the target, and drove them to the site, then joined an FBI strike team in busting them in the act on May 31, 1989. The case ended in plea bargaining with two activistsnot Foremangoing to jail.
Several of the agents involved in Thermcon also worked on the Bari bombing, reports the Albion Monitor. FBI records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act indicate that the FBI had been spying on Earth First! since the group started in 1981. The paper reports that "heavily censored" FBI documents made available through Bari's suit detail weekly meetings in 1990 between an agent and informant in California.
Local law enforcement has been just as invasive. In his deposition, Oakland Police Department intelligence chief Kevin Griswold revealed that the cops maintain files on 300 political organizations and individuals. He said the Oakland cops had been spying on Earth First! ever since 1984.
Additional reporting: Cassandra Lewis, Gabrielle Jackson, Joshua Hersh, and Caroline Ragon
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