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Terrorists Crossing the Border: Genuine Threat?

02.12.2008 | POLITICS

Day of Islam
Paul L. Williams
Prometheus Books, 2007

The left is notorious for its queasiness about national security. It's as if it's afraid to bring the issue up for fear that hawks will use it as a license to wage even more war. Let sleeping dogs lie, progressives think, as they rattle on about diplomacy to the exclusion of a rational discussion about the use of force.

Another area they tend to steer clear of for fear of encouraging the right's worst tendencies is illegal immigration. But that only compounds the problem that begins with their neglect of defense. Turns out a component of national security is nested within illegal immigration, like drugs in the gut of a mule.

Fears that illegal immigrants may be terrorists are usually voiced by the likes of Limbaugh, Dobbs, and Tancredo. Thus, progressives assume that, like the administration stokes the public's fear of fanatical Islam in order to roll back civil liberties, the hard right morphs immigration into terrorism to further another end. (Presumably, keeping the nation's complexion more latte than caffé.)

But just because the issue comes from right field doesn't mean it's automatically apocryphal. Acting as if that's true reduces progressives to the same childish contrarianism that's characteristic of the right at its worst. (Like, before 9/11, the Bush administration relegating terrorism to the trash heap because it was tainted by attentiveness to it on President Clinton's part.)

In fact, ignoring the threat of terrorism breaching our borders puts us in harm's way twice over. First, it provides the hard right with more ammunition to claim progressives are soft on defense. Second, if the threat exists, it places us in that much more danger as terrorists continue to stream across.

Worse, the threat is exponentially increased when you consider what terrorists and those helping them may be smuggling –- nuclear materials. In 2004, political scientist and one-time Defense Department staffer Graham Allison put the threat on the map with his book "Nuclear Terrorism."

In the recent Annual Threat Estimate, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said that "al-Qa'ida and other terrorist groups are attempting to acquire. . . radiological, and nuclear weapons and materials." Also, Hillary Clinton seeks to create the position of Senior Advisor to the President for the Prevention of Nuclear Terrorism. Conceivably, she'd single out Allison himself for the post.

Someone she won't choose is the poor man's Graham Allison -- Paul L. Williams. You've heard of the "Left Behind" series. Williams's recent book on nuclear terrorism, "Day of Islam," is the third in what might be called the "Nothing Left Behind" trilogy.

A few pages into "Day of Islam" though, a progressive can be forgiven for thinking, "This is just a pretext to justify harsh treatment of illegal immigrants."

But, despite his affiliation with the hard-right organization, America's Truth Forum, Williams is one conservative who has more on his mind than halting illegal immigration for its own sake. His focus is on Osama bin Laden's attempts to procure enriched uranium and "nuclear suitcase" bombs, which he either has sneaked, is sneaking, or is trying to sneak into the US.

In fact, William's writing -- and this is almost unheard of among the heavy-handed right -- is free of overt partisanship. In other words, to him the business of halting nuclear terrorism is an equal opportunity employer.

Williams has put his money where his mouth is, too. For instance, he compiled an extensive dossier on the safe harbor for Islamic terrorists created by Canada's relaxed, UK-like immigration policies.

Then he singled out Toronto's McMaster University for failing to root out terrorists in its midst and allowing nuclear materials to be stolen from its nuclear research reactor. Williams is now saddled with a libel suit the school slapped on him.

But isn't he hyping the threat of nuclear terrorism to sell books? Let's go to the videotape –- or, in this case, the footnotes. Williams's thesis lives or dies by the credibility of his sources.

Wait, wouldn't they be classified? Turns out, like nuclear plans on the Internet, much of the evidence for nuclear terrorism is in the public domain.

Some of Williams's footnotes are from fringe hard-right sites like,, and While it's certainly within the realm of possibility that they're trustworthy at times, their credibility is as compromised with progressives as Michael Moore is to them.

But most of Williams's sources are newspapers and magazines in the mainstream media. Not to mention a report on the presence of fanatical Muslim groups in South America's tri-border area (Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay) prepared by the Library of Congress in 2003. Incidentally, many of his references are even older.

If their age makes his thesis seem stale, we refer you to the old saw about al Qaeda's infinite patience. In fact the synergy of Williams's disparate sources infuses his thesis with considerable power -- the power to frighten us out of our wits, that is.

Williams begins with the story of bin Laden's initial attempts to obtain nuclear material, as told in a New York court room shortly before 9/11. Jamal Ahmed al-Fadel claims to have brokered the sale of uranium to bin Laden back in 1993, when both were in Sudan.

But, according to Williams, his revelations failed to arouse the curiosity of either the UN, the International Atomic Energy Agency, or any US government agency. It "didn't even manage," he writes, "to garner a footnote in The 9/11 Commission Report."

But "Day of Islam" reaches its frightening crescendo with another little-known member of al Qaeda: Adnan el-Shukrijuma. Another, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, whose name is seldom seen without the modifier "9/11-mastermind," provided testimony -- however qualified by the usual torture disclaimer -- about him.

KSM, as he's called (a little familiar for a mass murderer, no?), testified Adnan was designated field commander of the "nuclear hell storm" (seven attacks for seven cities) that al Qaeda intended to unleash on America. Funny how al Qaeda always spaces out on the retaliation part, e.g., Afghanistan's post-9/11 bombing.

Allegedly among those who stole nuclear material from McMaster University, Adnan was last seen in Mexico, where he may have been working with a gang that falls under the umbrella of Central America's notorious Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13). In 2005, the director of a Justice Department task force labeled the likelihood of a link between MS-13 and al Qaeda as "improbable." But lawmakers north and south of the border weren't buying it.

"Day of Islam" incorporates material from the previous two books of the author's trilogy. But if anything bears repeating, alerting the world to nuclear terrorism does. Williams fights the extreme form of jihad that nuclear terrorism constitutes with his own brand of extreme jeremiad.

Meanwhile, are the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI on the case? In light of how willing they were to refrain from investigating Sibel Edmonds's allegations about leaking nuclear secrets, it's hard to feel confident they'll save us from nuclear terrorism.

Remember GWOT -- the war that sounds like something hocked up from your throat? It was supposed to have been Bush & Co.'s long suit. But it's been compromised to within an inch of its life by their perceived need to overlook the transgressions of supposed allies Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Turkey in deference to their delicate sensibilities.

Nuclear terrorism embodies three tragedies in one. First, the act itself. Second, the public's inability to face it. Third, progressives, who should know better, turning a deaf ear to the threat just because the hard right is out front on it.

While it's critical that the issues of terrorism and immigration, now joined at the hip, be sundered, the solutions to both bear marked similarities.

As a first step to defusing the rage of terrorists, we need to trade with their countries of origin and provide them with aid for education. Then, more Middle-Easterners can enjoy the same prosperity as their fellow countrymen who have emigrated to the US with mercantile, rather than murderous, intent.

To decrease the impulse to immigrate, we need to encourage countries like Mexico to be more hospitable to its people. Repealing free-trade pacts that have done little more than make Wal-Mart the number-one employer in Mexico would be a start. As would abolishing farm subsidies to US agribusiness that, despite the cost of shipping, enable it to undercut the prices of Mexican farmers.

Initiatives like these may be characterized as appeasement, especially by the neocons -- if Churchill's their champ, Chamberlain's their chump. But they're realpolitik, however anathema that concept is to the "Daydream Believers," as the neocons are called in the title of Fred Kaplan's new book.

The principles of Islam require al Qaeda to give advance warning, however obliquely, of an attack. If nuclear, unless we can find somebody to waterboard the details out of, we won't have a choice but to appease its leadership. That's assuming, best-case scenario, it will listen to reason.

Whatever our political affiliation, we owe it to ourselves –- not to mention all life on earth -- to heed Paul Williams. Nuclear terrorism, as well as proliferation, needs to be granted pride of place among all issues.

After all, compared to our extinction and the resulting destruction of our society, issues like global warming, dwindling energy reserves, and human rights seem like minor obstacles.

About the Author
Russ Wellen is an editor at Freezerbox who specializes in foreign affairs and nuclear deproliferation.
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