So much attention in the United States has been focused on the potential detonation of so-called "nuclear suitcases," mass exposure to biological weapons and attacks on major buildings or energy facilities that the most likely immediate threat to our national security has hardly been mentioned.
But rest assured, while most of the media and talk shows have been discussing possible future terrorist attacks of overwhelming magnitude, high-level government officials have been battling the most likely source of future terrorism -- the suicide bomber.
With all that has taken place in Israel over the past few weeks, the concept that this simpler but equally terrifying form of attack might be exported stateside seems obvious.
But high-ranking sources within the intelligence community suggest that it was this type of potential attack that was most feared when the government placed Americans on alert several times last year.
A second source, who is involved in homeland defense for a large state, confirmed the fact that the only specifics relayed in those past warnings by federal officials related to concerns about malls, shopping centers or other locations where individuals or small groups could possibly stage an attack.
It is becoming apparent that rather than bury our heads in the sand, now is the time for communities to consider the potential for this vicious form of violence and to devote greater resources toward protecting, as best one can, against them.
What is becoming equally apparent is the imperative to hunt down those illegally living in our country, question those who meet certain terrorist profile criteria, and tighten our borders.
The fact that suicide bombers on our own soil are not only a possibility but may well be the government's most immediate homeland defense concern might explain President Bush's measured response to Israel's strong retaliation against those they hold responsible for these types of attacks.
Bush reportedly knows that on any given day in the future, he may have to order equally strong retaliatory measures.
Insiders are convinced that the rash of attacks on Israel have been designed, as much as anything, to serve as a diversion of attention from and division of support for the obvious American plans to dismantle the government of Saddam Hussein.
By correctly refusing to condemn Israel's response to the recent multitude of suicide attacks, any hopes for a coalition against Iraq have at least temporarily been derailed. And a strong Iraq is critical to the flow of funds and weapons to those who are determined to continually attack American interests.
These same sources describe a secret ongoing race against time to identify and remove potential suicide bombers from our country. While both Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge have come under fire for aggressive government efforts to profile, hunt down and remove those who might be capable of carrying out such acts of horror, few Americans have been made aware of the desperate need to find such individuals on an expedited basis.
"We were talking a matter of months," says one highly placed source. "Now, as the violence escalates in the Middle East, we could be talking a matter of days (before such suicide missions are attempted in the United States). It's only a matter of time ... and once they strike the first time, it opens Pandora's box."
All of this would explain why the administration continues to make clear its belief that it is not a question of if, but rather when, another act of terrorism is committed in our country. And the potential of suicide bombs striking the heart of America -- its cities and suburbs -- certainly explains why neither the Justice Department nor the White House has backed down from its determination to hunt down those who are most likely to wish us ill.
The same sources that confirm these concerns about suicide missions also continue to point out other dangers -- everything from our vulnerability to cyber attacks on critical information systems, all the way to the real likelihood of an explosion of some form of small nuclear device.
But as best as can be discerned, the "real and present danger" that has been the undisclosed source of so many warnings since Sept. 11 is the very sort of attack that has so devastated the people of Israel.
Americans should consider the possibilities and act quickly to remove those inclined to take such actions from our streets.
Matt Towery writes a syndicated column based out of the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville. He can be reached at www.InsiderAdvantage.com.
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