Not a Moment Too Soon
Federal officials says the "Fort Dix Six" were on the verge of carrying out their planned terrorist attack against the military base when they were arrested Monday night.
"I think they were in the last stage of planning," U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie said. "They had training, they had maps, and I think they were very close to moving on this."
"Our view was they had pretty much gotten to concluding the planning phase of this and were looking to obtain heavy weaponry - and if not from us, they were going to try to obtain it elsewhere."
And, a law enforcement official who spoke with the AP (on the condition of anonymity), has confirmed that a second suspect in the plot was familiar Fort Dix--knowledge that would have been useful in carrying out the planned attack. According to the official, 24-year-old Agron Abdullahu spent time at the New Jersey base in the late 1990s, after arriving as a refugee from Kosovo. Another suspect, Serder Tatar, also had knowledge of Fort Dix, making deliveries on the installation for his father's pizza shop.
As we noted previously, the disrupted Fort Dix plot should be a wake-up call for DoD and other federal agencies. Media reports and court papers indicate that the would-be terrorists considered a wide range of targets--including Dover AFB, Delaware and the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard--before settling on the Army base in New Jersey. I'm guessing that Abdullahu's and Tatar's knowledge of the base was a key factor in their decision. But there are other considerations as well; first and foremost, even the most unskilled terrorists favor a permissive operating environment, which improves their chances for carrying out a strike. During delivery runs to Fort Dix, he may have observed security gaps that steered the plot toward the Army post.
Since 9-11, DoD has invested heavily in physical security measures at many of its bases and installations. An Air Force base that I visit frequently has been outfitted with a "terrorism-resistant" main gate; traffic lanes approaching the entry point are curved, and can only be negotiated at low speeds. The traditional "guard shack" is now constructed of brick and bullet-proof glass, and just past the gate, there are deployable "barriers" that can be raised in seconds, stopping vehicles that attempt to "blow through" the checkpoint.
It looks very impressive, and the new gate provides a deterrent effect that is (clearly) part of its function. But, even that gate reveals potential shortfalls in the security plan. Passing through the entry point yesterday (enroute to the base pharmacy), I noticed that my ID card was checked by a young airman from one of the maintenance squadrons. Due to the deployment of security forces personnel for the GWOT, the base is utilizing a large number of "augmentees" at the gate, along with civilian security guards.
The young man who checked my ID was courteous and professional. But he was trained by the Air Force to work as a crew chief, aerospace ground equipment mechanic, or even an administrative specialist. And no matter how much training he receives for that "augmentee" assignment, he's not the same caliber as a security forces (SF) professional who would normally man that post. As for the civilian security guards, I've been told that they're better trained (and more thoroughly screened) than some of the "rent-a-cops" you find in the private sector. As with the military augmentees, I appreciate the efforts of the civilian security guards, but I'd feel better if it was a "real" AF cop on duty.
Unfortunately, the Air Force only has so many personnel assigned to security forces, just as the other services have a limited number of military police. And, with force protection in Iraq and Afghanistan taking precedent, a significant number of SF specialists and MPs are "down range," leaving their home bases to get by with a mix of career professionals, military augmentees and civilian security guards. So far, that "hybrid" approach has worked, but as the Fort Dix plot suggests, terrorists remain interested in DoD installations as potential targets. The New Jersey cell clearly saw an opportunity at the Army post; what remains unclear is whether that perception was based more on their knowledge of the base, or perceived security lapses at the post.
ADDENDUM: Civilians are often surprised at the relatively small number of MPs or SF personnel that are usually assigned to protect key bases or installations. A typical AF base in the CONUS has a single SF squadron, usually numbering between 75-175 personnel. The "largest" SF unit I ever worked with was in Korea, and it had just over 400 members--slightly less than an Army MP battalion. Force protection concerns dictate additional manning in Korea, as it does at forward airfields in Iraq and Afghanistan. But those latter missions have also created a drain on security forces units, leaving them short-handed at bases in the CONUS and at some overseas locations. The expanded use of electronic security and surveillance systems can provide some relief, but they're never a complete substitute for a trained MP or SF specialist.
ALSO: A hat tip to Michelle Malkin (who never misses anything), for highlighting some past articles on radical Islam's "Balkan" connections. It's an element that has obvious implications for the "Fort Dix Six," but (predictably) it's been almost completely ignored by the MSM.