Can the U.S. government really protect Americans from further acts of terrorism?

Is it prepared? Is it taking corrective measures after failing to prevent the Sept. 11 disaster? Can the government do this alone – without enlisting the help of hundreds of millions of Americans in an active campaign of preventions and deterrence? Can it do the job without even arming airline pilots?

These are some of the questions going through my mind as I learn FBI Director Robert Mueller recently traveled to the Philippines to meet with top law enforcement officials there about al-Qaida activity.

What’s interesting about this development, of course, is that Philippines authorities warned the FBI seven years ago about a very specific plan by terrorists to hijack commercial airliners and slam them into the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters and other buildings.

The warning went unheeded. In fact, Mueller said Sept. 17, nearly a week after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, that the FBI received “no warning signs.”

No warning signs? What about Project Bojinka?

Philippine authorities learned of Project Bojinka after a small fire in a Manila apartment, which turned out to be the hideout of Ramzi Yousef, later convicted for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Yousef escaped, but agents caught his right-hand man, Abdul Hakim Murad, who told the chilling tale of Project Bojinka.

Yousef’s terror cell was already at work in the U.S. on the hijack plan. Philippine investigators also found evidence the plan targeted commercial towers in San Francisco, Chicago and New York. They passed that information on to the FBI in 1995. There were also separate plans found on a computer in the apartment to hijack 11 U.S. airliners on overseas flights.

Yousef and Murad, by the way, had known ties to Osama bin Laden.

Yet, Mueller, presumably knowing all this, claimed last September the FBI had “no warning signs.”

It leaves one wondering just what the FBI considers a warning sign.

It also makes me wonder why, if Mueller didn’t consider Project Bojinka a warning sign why he suddenly decided to go to the Philippines at this late date and follow up.

Lastly, I can’t help but wonder if we couldn’t trust the FBI to handle this kind of solid information properly between 1995 and 2001 why we should trust it now.

The FBI seemed determined not to see any possible links between Islamic terrorists and the Oklahoma City bombing. It seemed determined not to see any evidence of Islamic terrorism in the downing of TWA Flight 800. It seemed determined to see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil.

What’s changed?

The American people have a right to know.

“Well,” you might say, “Mueller is part of the new administration. There’s a new team in place now. We can’t blame failures of the past on him or his agency.”

That’s fine. Let him speak plainly to the American people about the failures of the past and what he is doing to rectify them. Instead, Mueller says Americans will have to do with more restrictions on their personal freedoms while the government battles terrorism.

This is not a recipe for victory in the war on terrorism. The American people need to be trusted and enlisted in that war. The terrorists are not waging a war on the U.S. government; they are waging a war against the American people.

Note that Mueller is specifically investigating al-Qaida’s efforts to secure weapons of mass destruction in the Philippines and Asia. Those weapons are for use against U.S. civilians.

What plans are being made by the FBI and the Office of Homeland Security to defend Americans against those planned attacks?

I haven’t seen any. And this is alarming. If there were such plans, they would have to be public. As we reported in the January issue of Whistleblower magazine, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s only plans are to provide plenty of body bags and clean-up support.

That is not very reassuring. America should and can do better.

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