Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Americas Hidden Security Threat

Is a Mumbai-style terrorist attack just around the corner for the U.S.? Is America--including its infrastructure and transportation--ready for it? After speaking with many real experts in this field, I believe we are not. As I’m writing this, reports indicate that a terrorist may have just entered the country with plans for an attack. Law enforcement has done an excellent job in preventing attacks in the U.S., but the combination of porous borders and the ease of credit card fraud means terrorists can enter this country without a dime in their pocket and still have the resources to pull off an attack. To top it off, some state’s gun laws make the purchase of high-powered automatic weapons too easy. It’s not just big-target cities such as New York that should be worried--terrorism could happen anywhere in America. And yet, it seems that the U.S. and its government isn’t taking these threats seriously enough. How is that possible?

Problem No. 1: Our Borders Are Porous

Terrorists being led by well-paid mules can cross the Mexican border without notice. The odds are in their favor as the chance of being caught at the border is pretty slim. According to a 2006 report by the House Committee on Homeland Security, 200 Lebanese, several believed to have terrorist ties to Hezbollah, illegally entered the U.S. through the Mexican border in 2002. This report also revealed that 1.2 million aliens were apprehended in 2005 alone, 650 of which were from “28 special interest countries”--including Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan and Syria to name a few. These are countries designated by the intelligence community as having the potential to export persons who may bring harm to the U.S.

The directors of both the CIA and FBI have testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee that Al Qaeda has considered entering the U.S. through the Mexican border. It’s safe to assume that this has already been accomplished. The Border Patrol estimates that it captures one in four people who attempt to enter our borders illegally every year. Based on the 2005 numbers, that would mean 1,950 from “special interest” countries made it into this country without being apprehended in that year. I would then estimate that from 2005 through 2009, 9,750 people from special interest countries made it across the border safely. Even if only 5 percent were persons who could be designated as potential terrorists, that number would be 487. Politicians need to consider the real terrorist threat from an open border rather than simply the danger of losing the Hispanic vote if the borders are closed.

Problem No. 2: It’s Too Easy to Commit Credit/Debit Card Fraud

The next step for a U.S.-based terrorist would be to raise money to plan and execute an attack. When I was an NYPD Detective back in the 1990s, I was arresting many foreign nationals for committing credit card fraud. This is an easy crime to commit and get away with. In virtually no time, terrorists can make themselves a quick $10,000. Many whom I arrested were from Pakistan; they knew exactly how to commit fraud, and they did it well. I was told that many come to the U.S. just to commit ID theft and credit card fraud because it’s so easy. In some of the cases I worked, the last charge with a stolen or fraudulently obtained card would be in Karachi, Pakistan, and then I knew the perpetrator had left the country and the case was over.

Another easy way of making thousands is to open accounts in several banks, put in some cash, take it out via ATM, and then claim the money was fraudulently removed after you lost your card with your PIN number on it. I have seen hundreds of people make thousands of dollars doing this over a small period of time. Most large banks will pay the claim quickly, treating it as a customer service issue. The amount of Identity and credit card fraud that goes on today is at epidemic proportions and there’s no stopping it.

Problem No. 3: Too Few People Report Credit Card Fraud to Authorities

The reality is that no one knows the exact amount of ID theft that is going on in this country. Why? Because most, is not reported to law enforcement. If a person’s account falls victim to fraud, all the victim must do is call the bank, and they are reimbursed. Some banks even tell their customer that there is no need to make a police report. Federal regulation does not require the bank to have the victim make a police report. It is my experience that most don’t. Those who try to make reports are often hampered by law enforcement, which make it very hard to do so.

We have made it far too easy to commit these types of crimes. It is my assessment that terrorists have virtually free rein to commit ID theft and that the odds of being caught are slim to none. If the fraud is revealed at this stage of planning an attack, by the time they are identified, the attack will have most likely occurred.

Six Ways to Decrease Credit Card Fraud

How do we deal with this? First, we must require that everyone makes a police report. Second, we must make it easier for the victim to report the crime. Many victims are stopped from making reports because the police department requires a note from their bank saying they were a victim; this is a ludicrous requirement. Third, banks must be required to identify someone opening an account by using companies that can truly identify an individual or by asking the individual questions obtained from their credit report. Fourth, no one should be allowed to open an account unless they are legally in this country. Fifth, bank management needs to start taking fraud a lot more seriously than it currently does. Sixth, banks must stop paying claims where people allege losing their cards with their PIN number written on the back of their card.

Problem No. 4: Purchasing a Gun without ID is Easy

Let’s say a terrorist made a quick $5,000 committing this type of fraud. With the cash made, he or she heads to a southern state where it’s possible to buy weapons in a parking lot of a gun show with virtually no ID. It’s here where weapons such as semi-automatic assault rifles can be purchased, along with 30-round clips and ammunition. A semi-automatic weapon such as an AR-15 or those similar to AK-47s can easily be purchased without a police background check or ID.

These gun shows have not only contributed to the flow of illegal guns to the northeast, they are now also a terrorist threat that must be addressed. I, for one, think that all American citizens with no criminal record have the right to bear arms. However, some common sense has to be injected into this debate. All persons purchasing weapons need to have background checks conducted. If this was done, it would significantly reduce the chance of terrorists purchasing weapons at a gun show. Of course a terrorist could purchase a gun on the street, or have someone else purchase it for them, but for someone new to this country, that may be more difficult. Having to enlist a third party or buying a gun on the black market could also put a terrorist at risk of a law enforcement agency picking up on his or her actions. Purchasing a weapon at a gun show would more than likely keep a terrorist under the radar.

Problem No. 5: Not Just Big Cities are Terrorist Targets

Now that our terrorist has his weapons, all he or she needs to do is pick a pedestrian-rich target. It’s that easy: a train station, hotel, mall, or--my biggest fear--a school. This would be a suicide mission, of course, and police response would be quick to limit casualties, but it doesn’t matter to the terrorists. The act of injecting sheer terror in the minds of Americans is a win for them. A semi-automatic AR-15 can fire between 700 and 900 rounds per minute. Multiple shooters can quickly sustain scores of casualties in a pedestrian-rich environment.

Those who feel extra safe by living outside of major cities could also be targeted for such an attack. No one is immune, and it is more likely that a city such as New York, which has long been a target of choice for terrorists, may now be too risky because of added security. Terrorists may have to change their game plan and attack smaller cities or towns that are not so well protected, even if it’s just to show Americans how vulnerable they are to attack and that there is no safe place in the U.S. from jihad.

Problem No. 6: Our Government Isn’t Taking These Threats Seriously Enough

My fear is that the government will wait until something like this occurs before the gun shows are finally regulated, the borders are secured and financial fraud is taken seriously. During an interview with Bob Woodward in July 2010, President Obama said, "We can absorb a terrorist attack. We'll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever . . . we absorbed it and we are stronger." I’m sorry but that does not give me any confidence. This lackadaisical attitude on the threat to the U.S. should give Americans pause. Politics needs to be taken out of the equation and protecting the lives of the American people should be paramount.

Americans need to realize that this is a threat that we have to live with for years to come. We must do everything humanly possible to protect our way of life and the citizens of this country. We must close these gaps in our homeland security to make it much harder for terrorists to plan and execute an attack. The more risk a potential terrorist takes to commit an act, the more likely we are to apprehend them before the attack, and that’s what we want. We must stop making it easy for them.