In Miami, OK, a young man rented a motel room. He kept to himself and refused cleaning services for days. When motel staff found bottles and other suspicious items in a garbage bin, they alerted police. Officers searched the room and found a duffel bag with more than 50 incendiary devices and a list of 40 local churches. Arthur Wheeler II was arrested and is in custody. No churches are burning.
In New York City, the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and the New York City Police Department arrested a Bangladeshi man for plotting to bomb the Federal Reserve in Manhattan. His search for like-minded potential terrorists led him to an FBI informant. The people of New York have been spared the horrors of another Oklahoma City bombing.
These thwarted plots occurred in two of the handful of places in the United States that have felt the impact of terror. The “See Something Say Something” campaign that began in New York thwarted a plot in a small town in Oklahoma. Herein are lessons we should consider.
First, the threat from terrorism is persistent and will be so for the foreseeable future. Terrorist campaigns begin with violence but they end with moral fatigue; either the terrorists give up or the society they are attacking capitulates. The goals of a terrorist movement are, by definition, beyond what the victim society can or is willing to do. So the motive for terrorism is persistent as well.
Prevention of terrorism requires a multifaceted system. The alert motel worker is as vital to our security and safety as is the satellite sweeping up conversations over the badlands of Afghanistan. The threat is domestic and international, and so we must watch for both.
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