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IEDs Seen As Rising Threat in The U.S.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff talks about emergency preparedness Thursday in Portland. Behind him are Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, left, and the city's mayor, Tom Potter.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff talks about emergency preparedness Thursday in Portland. Behind him are Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, left, and the city's mayor, Tom Potter. (By Rick Bowmer -- Associated Press)

"U.S. leaders have been concerned about IEDs for a number of years, but despite the known threat and fear of IEDs reaching America, the government has fallen way behind," said David Heyman, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies' homeland security program. "If terrorists initiated an IED campaign in America today, it could paralyze us."

Addressing Heyman's group, Chertoff said the lesson from Iraq is to gather intelligence to disrupt the long chain of events needed to deliver a bomb -- from recruiting terrorists to infiltrating them into the country, gathering bomb materials, and selecting targets and tactics. "The better we hone our intelligence, the better we are in having a focused, less disruptive and less costly intervention to prevent an IED from detonating," he said.

Chertoff cited the example of Raed al-Banna, 32, a Jordanian identified through his fingerprints as the perpetrator of a February 2005 suicide car-bombing in Iraq. In 2003, he was flagged as a potential terrorist by customs inspectors at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago and ordered to leave the country.

U.S. authorities have long tracked the IED threat, since the first World Trade Center attack in 1993 and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. But officials worry that Iraq -- where the explosives have killed or wounded more than 21,200 Americans -- has become a laboratory for bomb design, technologies and tactics that can be spread over the Internet.

From the transit system bombings in Madrid and London in 2004 and 2005, to a disrupted Britain-based plot to smuggle liquid explosives onto transatlantic airliners in 2006, al-Qaeda-inspired cells may be importing that group's signature tactic of coordinated and spectacular attacks but using quickly assembled conventional weapons against softer targets, analysts said.

"As we saw in London and Glasgow, Scotland, in June, this trend has already begun," FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said in August, citing the failed car-bomb attacks against a nightclub and an airport.

Critics have noted that although the Pentagon's main IED-fighting agency is spending $15 billion over five years to defeat the threat in Iraq, the DHS Office for Bombing Prevention is to receive less than $50 million over the same period.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who has proposed adding $25 million per year to its budget, said the office currently cannot afford to finish comparing the capabilities of all local and state bomb squads, or to connect enough first responders to an online network called Tripwire that contains information on terrorist IEDs.

In a recent letter to Chertoff, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) criticized the administration for its slow pace and for threatening to veto IED-related funding in a pending budget bill. Byrd told Chertoff in another letter this week: "Having a Strategy is not worth the paper it is printed on unless it is backed up with resources and a commitment to working at all levels of government to address the threat."


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