- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 29, 2003

At this writing, wildfires in California have taken 15 lives and more than 1,000 homes. This is already the most expensive fire in California history, and it is still blazing out of control.

What if the fires were deliberately set, by al Qaeda terrorists?

This is purely conjecture, but the idea apparently has occurred to al Qaeda.

On June 25, the FBI’s regional office in Denver sent a memorandum to state and local law enforcement agencies warning them of a plot to start forest fires in the western United States using timed incendiary devices.

The FBI learned of the plot from a senior al Qaeda detainee, who told investigators he had developed a plan to set forest fires in Colorado, Montana, Utah and Wyoming.

“The detainee believed that significant damage to the U.S. economy would result and once it was realized that the fires were terrorist acts, U.S. citizens would put pressure on the U.S. government to change its policies,” said the FBI memo, a copy of which was obtained by the Arizona Republic.

There has been no official determination of what started the fires, which most likely are the product of natural causes, or of accidents. But a news report indicated that the sheriff’s department in San Bernardino County is seeking two men, both about 20, who were seen on a road north of San Bernardino on Saturday. “A witness saw one occupant throw something into roadside brush that started a fire and the van then made a U-turn and fled, officials said.”

There are plenty of soft targets to attack in the United States. Because they are willing to attack anything, terrorists can do massive harm at little risk to themselves. If they are willing to die in the process, the carnage they can cause rises exponentially.

On September 11, 2001, Islamic extremists killed nearly 3,000 Americans.

Unless al Qaeda had a hand in the California wildfires, there have been no successful terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since. It’s important to remind ourselves why, since Democrats seem determined to restore us to our pre-September 11 vulnerability.

The Democrats are very much a Sept. 10 party. A recent poll indicated fewer than 5 percent of likely primary and caucus voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina worried much about terrorism or homeland security. Democrats want to declare the war on terrorism over, and get on with really important stuff like global warming and national health insurance.

But if we unilaterally declare the war on terrorism over, would the terrorists go along?

Here are three hypotheses for why no Americans have died at terrorist hands on U.S. soil since September 11: (A) Al Qaeda has renounced violence as a means of obtaining its objectives. (B) American offensives in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere have knocked the terror network off balance. (C) Heightened vigilance by the FBI and other domestic security agencies has reduced the vulnerability of domestic targets.

Most Americans would opt for a combination of hypotheses B and C, with a liberal dose of luck thrown in. But most of the Democratic presidential contenders seem to be leaning toward A. Of the nine candidates, only two support seeing the mission in Iraq through to a successful conclusion.

Nearly all seem to think our liberties are threatened more by the FBI than by the terrorists the FBI is trying to catch.

Attorney General John Ashcroft says that the U.S.A. Patriot Act of 2001, which restored to the FBI investigative tools that had been taken away in an orgy of political correctness in the 1970s, has made it possible to break up terrorist cells in Buffalo, Seattle, Portland and Detroit. But the leading Democratic candidates liken the Patriot Act to the Alien and Sedition Acts, or Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War. Even some who voted for it are calling for its repeal.

Howard Dean, Wesley Clark, John Kerry, John Edwards et al say we can pull out of Iraq and repeal the Patriot Act without adverse consequences.

They’re willing to bet your life on it. Are you?

Jack Kelly, a syndicated columnist, is a former Marine and Green Beret and a former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. He is national security writer for the Pittsburgh (Pa.) Post-Gazette.

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