Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Terror Plot Thwarted

The FBI has disrupted an apparent terror plot aimed at Fort Dix, N.J. Monday night, agents arrested six Muslim men in connection with a plan enter the base and "kill as many soldiers as they could." Federal authorities indicate that the men scouted a number of sites in the mid-Atlantic region before settling on Fort Dix as a target.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorneys Office told WNBC-TV in New York that the six men had been plotting the attack for more than a year. Authorities got wind of the plan when the group tried to have a training videotape converted to a DVD at a Cherry Hill, N.J., store. The store owner was alarmed by what he saw on the tape and alerted authorities. Federal officials also managed to insert a "cooperating witness" into the alleged terror cell, to serve as a go-between in their efforts to buy assault weapons. The six suspects were arrested after the witness delivered dummy weapons to the suspects on Monday night.

More coverage from Pajamas Media and WPVI-TV in Philadelphia. Various media accounts indicate that the terror cell decided on Fort Dix because one of their family members owned a pizza parlor near the base. One of the alleged conspirators reportedly boasted that he knew the base "like the back of his hand."

KYW-TV in Philly reports that federal authorities will hold a press conference at 2:30 p.m. EDT, to discuss the case and the arrests. KYW was also among the first to name the terror suspects:

- Dritan, Shain and Eljvir Duka, three brothers from former Yugoslavia who came to the country illegally and were living in Cherry Hill.

- Agron Abdullahu, a Yugoslavian native who was living legally in Williamstown.- Serdar Tatar, a Turkey native who was arrested in the 2100 block of Tremont Street in Philadelphia

- Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer, a Jordan National living in Pennsauken who was working as a cab driver. He was taken into custody while in his cab at the Philadelphia International Airport.

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Readers will note that the "M" word was never used in any of these MSM accounts of the alleged plot and the suspects, although WNBC (to its credit) did identify the men as Islamic radicals.

Additionally, a few observations, based on what we know so far:

--In some respects, the plot was amateurish. Taking your jihadist training/recruitment video to a local photo shop for reproduction is nothing short of stupid. Assuming that the store owner would pay no attention to footage of automatic weapons training and other, terrorist-related images was even dumber. Still, that alert photo shop owner in Cherry Hill deserves tremendous credit; without his tip, the terror cell--and its plans--might have gone undetected.

--The FBI is describing this plot is deadly serious, and I concur, for a couple of reasons. First, their detailed knowledge of Fort Dix was a clear asset for the alleged terrorists. From the pizzeria's regular deliveries on the post, they knew where soldiers congregate, and probably had some idea of base security procedures as well.

--The "pizza connection" illustrates something that has long concerned many of us who have worked on base-level threat working groups and anti-terrorism teams. While semi-trailers and other large vehicles entering a base are thoroughly inspected, delivery drivers from pizza parlors and other fast-food joints are often waved through the gate, with nary a glance. After all, the military police or civilian guards see the same guys and gals, day in and day out. They've probably ordered a meal or two from the same establishments. No need to worry about the pizza guy--we know them.

Obviously, the disrupted plot at Fort Dix destroys that theory, once and for all. I'm guessing that fast food deliveries have been put on hold at the New Jersey base, but there needs to be a DoD-wide ban, or some serious, permanent restrictions. If the delivery person doesn't have a military or dependent ID card , they can't enter the base. And, since virtually everyone on the post has a vehicle, there's really no reason that someone can't make a five-minute trip to pick-up the food. There should be similar restrictions on taxi and public bus traffic on military installations. If a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine needs to a lift, let them catch a bus or cab outside the front gate. Many bases already have shuttle services that can transport military members or dependents around the post.

--Finally, the aborted plot seems aimed at one of the key security "weaknesses" found on many military installations. While bases are often depicted as armed camps in books or on TV, in reality, many installations maintain only "routine" arrangements inside the perimeter, with most security assets concentrated around "high value" assets, such as the flight line at an Air Force base. The conspirators at Fort Dix apparently planned to blow through the main gate at Fort Dix (against outgunned MPs and civilian security guards), then concentrate their attacks in lightly-defended areas where soldiers gather (dormitories, BX, bowling alley, base club, etc). It's a simple plan, but the terrorists could have inflicted significant damage before security teams responded. The obvious solution is more security, closer to potential entry points and "soft" targets. But implementing that fix will require more manpower--and money. One reason for the increase in civilian security guards at DoD installations is the GWOT, which has meant more deployments for military police and security forces units.

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10 comments:

Captain Ned said...

Gee, back when I delivered pizza & wings to the local ANG base in the mid-80s, I never got any further than the guardhouse. I'd sit there and wait for whoever ordered to find their way to the gate and pay. Used to wait a long time, too.

Chuckg said...

When I was in the Navy during the early 90s, the Domino's car made deliveries to the quarterdeck of ships in port.

Given that this was at Naval Weapons Station Earle (Leonardo, NJ), and the ships in question were tied up at an ammunition pier... (Ammunition pier -- a couple miles long. It's like a five-minute shuttle bus ride just to get to the shore.)

Now, granted, I had no idea how thoroughly the Marines at the foot of the pier checked out the car before allowing it to drive on out to us, but I do know that when I called for a pizza, I didn't have to leave the ship to get it.

Which makes me feel sorry for the poor SOBs who are pulling charge-of-quarters or officer of the day. They *can't* go off-base to pick up their pizza, even if its only 5 minutes away. Back to brown-baggin' it, I guess.

Spook86 said...

Ned--That's a bit surprising (and reassuring). Unfortunately, I've been on lots of bases (mostly AF), where the pizza guys are routinely waved through the gate. And, based on what we're seeing in FBI documents (so far), it looks like at least one of the suspects was using his base access to conduct surveillance.

I think the procedure you endured at that ANG base 20 years ago will now become SOP in DoD.

Consul-At-Arms said...

"And, since virtually everyone on the post has a vehicle, there's really no reason that someone can't make a five-minute trip to pick-up the food."

As someone who spent two months undergoing pre-deployment training at Ft Dix before OIF, I would note that base's primary operational function nowadays is as a mobilization site for guard and reserve units.

Personnel in such units will generally not have private autos and, at least as recently as 2004, were forbidden from leaving post (in search of fast food or anything else).

Storms24 said...

"Effective March 15, Air Force personnel no longer have to register privately owned vehicles on base. According to Air Force officials, the expense and administrative burden are not justified by the benefits. In Fiscal Year 2004 and 2005, the Air Force spent approximately $364,000 and $738,000 respectively to print DD Form 2220s (vehicle decals).

Many Air Force installations began eliminating registration requirment two years ago. Hill AFB, Utah was the first, eliminating the requirement for decals in June 2006. AF senior leadership states that after Sept. 11, 2001, security at all Department of Defense installations require 100 percent ID card checks of drivers at the installation gates. The use of vehicle decals is redundant since ID card checks are arguably more effective verifying the authority of a driver to enter the base. Vehicle decals are a force protection vulnerability. They are easily counterfeited, moved from one car to another or found in used car parking lots."(Original article appeared in the Air Force Times

Since most installations have 100% ID checks in place, I wonder how these pizza delivery folks were planning on getting on the base?

Spook86 said...

Consul--there are always exceptions to the rule, including the one you cite. However, in light of the thwarted Ft Dix plot, I still believe it's a prudent idea to ban deliver drivers who don't have a valid military/dependent ID.

Additionally, I'm against the "new" policy of getting rid of the DoD/base decals for vehicles. the AF figures it will save $70K a year in printing costs, since everyone's ID is now checked as they enter the gate. Unfortunately, the ID check is often cursory, and without the decal, terrorist are only a phony "CAC card" away from entering a base. Compounding this problem is out shortage of MPs/security forces personnel. The AF base I routinely visit uses a lot of augmentees for security (kids from the dental clinic, or even maintenance squadrons). Needless to say, they're not fully trained for security duties, and I don't have a lot of confidence in those civilian security guards, either.

There are a couple of silver linings in the Ft Dix plot. First, the prospective jihadists weren't very smart (or very good shots, either). Secondly, this may prompt the military to reconsider existing base security measures.

Spook86 said...

Storms--Not sure how they'll handle the ID issue in light of the Ft Dix plot. Before that, it was likely that delivery drivers would still be allowed on base, as long as they presented some valid form of ID (driver's license), and could prove they had business on the base (same procedure used for FedEx drivers and trucks delivering cargo to the installation).

The problem--obviously--is that these drivers can do a little sight-seeing (or surveillance) between the gate and their destination. And, in my experience, security forces/MPs don't have enough manpower to follow-up on the delivery drivers and ensure that they go to the right location, conduct their business, and leave the base in a timely manner.

As I said in another reply, the silver lining in the Ft Dix incident is that it will prompt us to re-examine base security procedures. Keeping fast food delivery drivers off base will inconvenience some folks, but it will enhance security, IMO.

dimbulb said...

Spook, as you point out in your piece the "M" word is not used in relation to the suspects.
In additon, the "yugoslavian" descriptor is used instead of "Kosovars" or "Kosovo Albanians".
Why do you suppose that is?

Spook86 said...

Dim--it's probably a case of political correctness (again). Describing them as Kosovars would lead (inevitably) to the "M" word, which has become verboten in the MSM.

Ironically, calling these men Yugoslavs is an insult, In Kosovo, "Yugoslav" is the equivalent of "Serb" and the former government in Belgrade, which they genuinely hate.

The only other possibility I can think of is that these men described themselves as Yugoslavs (a term virtually no one has used since Tito's death), in an effort to hide their Albanaina roots. It may also reflect their immigration papers; in the late 1990s, the disintegrating state was known as the Former Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), and that name may have been listed on their green cards and (now) court documents. And the press, of course, doesn't know the difference.

Consul-At-Arms said...

I've linked to you here: http://consul-at-arms.blogspot.com/2007/05/re-terror-plot-thwarted.html