Experts on terrorism say findings in report only the ‘tip of the iceberg’

The key words from part of the National Intelligence Estimate released this week appear to be “persistent and evolving terrorist threat,” according to two Lawrence men who study terrorism.

But the two-page summary of the classified document that outlined al-Qaida’s capability to plot and execute attacks in the United States is only the “tip of the iceberg,” said Felix Moos, a Kansas University anthropology professor who teaches a course on violence and terrorism.

He has long called for the nation to expand language training to meet global demands, and he has said the current complex struggle against extremist groups worldwide will last decades.

The NIE said the United States was in a heightened threat environment. It mentioned al-Qaida regaining key elements, including a “safe haven” in the federally administered tribal areas of Pakistan. The NIE also said al-Qaida was trying to leverage its subsidiary capabilities in Iraq.

“The reason we find new causes that terrorism is everywhere is because we are intellectually unprepared to give reasonable answers to the challenges that face us,” Moos said.

The threat of another terrorist attack in America has been mentioned for the last several months – after security officials said they stopped attacks at Fort Dix, N.J., and at JFK Airport in New York and following failed bombings last month in London and Glasgow, Scotland.

“What it shows us is that there may be a change in tactics, as to moving from more spectacular, high-impact multiple or many death attacks, versus those small kinds of attacks that may be pricks, one after another,” said Lawrence Police Chief Ron Olin, who teaches the KU course with Moos.

He said the NIE summary reiterates that the biggest threat from al-Qaida is to American military personnel in the Middle East region. He also said the Iraq war, at great expense to the military, has captured al-Qaida’s attention and “probably kept us safer in the long run” from another attack in the United States. That is one major difference between the threat before 9/11 and now, he said.

“The issue when you contrast that between now and then is that we are trying to be on offense rather than defense, and I think that has made the United States safer,” Olin said.

Moos called it a war of ideology that cannot be won only with military success in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also must include political and educational victories, he said.

Also this week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg quickly and publicly dismissed terrorism as a cause to a steam explosion during rush hour that has killed one person.

Moos said that immediate reaction is another indication of the times.

“What you don’t know causes you a great deal of insecurity,” he said.