November 20th, 2011
09:27 PM ET

Greatest challenges to fighting terror...

By Adam Levine

Sunday's announcement that New York authorities had arrested a lone wolf acolyte of Anwar al Awlaki highlighted two of the toughest challenges for law enforcement officials – the 'lone wolf' and the enduring influence of the likes of Awlaki.

As Tim Lister and Paul Cruickshank reported back in September, the lone wolf is perhaps the most difficult threat for authorities to detect and protect from.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told CNN back in September that lone wolves “were harder to detect in part because by their very definition, they're not conspiring with others, they may not be communicating with others, there's very little to indicate that something is underway.”

Her concerns were echoed by President Barack Obama who said the threat of lone wolf attacks was "the most likely scenario that we have to guard against right now.”

But what might be equally disturbing for authorities is that even with the deaths of two of the most influential al Qaeda leaders – Osama bin Laden and Anwar al Awlaki – believers are still willing and capable of carrying out attacks in their names.

This is not a surprise to federal authorities.  Back in October, Carol Cratty reported FBI Director Robert Mueller was still concerned about Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) after the death of Awlaki.  Mueller said that AQAP is "a significant threat to the homeland" despite the death of U.S.-born cleric.

Mueller said al-Awlaki was "behind the recruiting of personnel who could undertake attacks in the United States." Mueller said AQAP still has the ability to make improvised explosive devices, and it would be "somewhat more difficult" for the group to find operatives to bring them into the U.S. on airplanes. But the FBI chief said the possibility of finding such people still exists.

But in the case in New York, recruiting was not necessary.  All that was needed was the influence and the outrage.  No drone or special forces raid can take either of those away. In fact, in this case, it appears to have heightened the drive to act.

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Filed under: Al Qaeda • Anwar al-Awlaki • Osama bin Laden • Terrorism
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  9. Ralph

    And you're all the fools who will complain once a "lone wolf" successfully attacks stating the government should have done more. It's people like you who complain about their civil liberties being stripped from them but aren't willing to do what is necessary to keep our country safe. Kudos to those who have never sacrificed anything in their lives.

    November 21, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Reply
  10. unpleasant truth

    The greatest challenge to fighting terrorism?

    Getting anyone in authority to recognize and/or admit that Islam is the root cause.

    November 21, 2011 at 1:25 am | Reply
  11. Geoff

    Now that the so called real terrorists are dead; the government needs to create another bogus threat to national security in order to condition Americans for the eventual implementation of martial law. Lone wolf domestic terrorists provide the perfect solution to those in power bent on destroying the Constitution and Civil Liberties. Expect to hear more and more of these BS stories like that young soldier charged in Alaska with espionage; the stories will serve to demand citizens in the near future to surrender their rights in order to protect Americans from the grow number of homegrown patriots that have the common man's interest at heart. Be prepared for more lies everyday; Syria, Libya, Iran,'s just going to get more and more ridiculous...I just hope most will be able to decipher fact from fiction; but I understand the illusion the media has created has had a real strong influence in creating the artificial world in which we live.

    November 20, 2011 at 10:56 pm | Reply
    • tcaros

      This is true. The Al Qaeda was a manufactured "threat" to allow dismantling of our Constitutional rights.

      November 21, 2011 at 12:41 am | Reply
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    November 20, 2011 at 10:33 pm | Reply
  13. Valyn66

    The greatest challenges to fighting terror today are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Every "whoops" moment creates families of new terrorists. It's absurd, like trying to swat an ant with a wrecking ball. Osama Bin Laden was killed by 24 SEALS in Pakistan and yet some still say the hundreds of thousands of troops farting around getting shot at in the desert was necessary.

    We could have spent a fraction of the total war costs on beefing special forces, intelligence, and domestic security and been 100 times safer than we are today. Imagine $300 billion poured into those programs instead of the billions of dollars per week spent maintaining a massive invasion force.

    November 20, 2011 at 10:26 pm | Reply
  14. Steve

    No, the hardest part is the part where the gov fabricates and/or exaggerates the level of threat and the gov involvement in creating the threat in the first place. That has to be really tough when you have an educated public, trying to get them to buy into the idiotic stories put out there like this last mad "pipe bomber". But clearly they continue to try....

    November 20, 2011 at 10:16 pm | Reply
  15. Bob Decker

    I think the biggest problem in USA fighting terror is the fact that USA and our bosses the Israelies are the biggest terroists in the world and Americans don't understand that fact.

    November 20, 2011 at 10:08 pm | Reply

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