Terrorist paradigm is shifting, ex-FBI expert says here

The sensitive subject of racial profiling was one of numerous post-Sept. 11 questions fielded by Steven Pomerantz, the former FBI chief of counterterrorism, at a meeting last week. At the meeting, which was sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, Pomerantz used an analogy that struck home with the predominately Jewish audience.

According to Pomerantz, who is currently the AJCommittee senior adviser on terrorism, Israel is a big player in the underground Ecstasy drug trade. The methodology for importing Ecstasy to the United States often involves using Chassidic Jews as smugglers, Pomerantz told the standing-room-only crowd at the Jewish Community Federation building in San Francisco.

"If there was a serious attempt to crack down on the Ecstasy drug trade, and the U.S. government started targeting people who looked like Chassidic Jews, I would have no problem with that," said the former agent, who is Jewish. "Similarly, the U.S. government is concentrating on people of Arabic and Muslim descent, because they are the people that are bringing terrorism here."

Pomerantz used a combination of straightforward commentary and acerbic wit in looking at the grand spectrum of terrorist activity. Noting that Osama bin Laden was on America's radar screen prior to the terrorist attacks, Pomerantz alluded to a somewhat less-than-effective method for hastening his capture.

"Bin Laden's 'wanted' poster was plastered in post offices all over the country. Believe me, if Osama bin Laden had dared to walk into a neighborhood Seven-Eleven, he would have been recognized and seized immediately."

The majority of Pomerantz's talk was decidedly less humorous, however. The agent talked about how the "terrorist paradigm" had been dramatically altered over the course of the past 20 years. During the course of nearly 30 years in the FBI, Pomerantz said he has seen acts of terrorism shift from politically motivated attacks that killed few to religious-based attacks that seek to kill as many people as possible.

"The hijacking of the Achille Lauro was one example of the standard terrorist act in the past," said Pomerantz. "Now, while not diminishing the tragic death of Leon Klinghoffer, that act of terrorism claimed only one life. Today, you have terrorists like Osama bin Laden, who feel they have a mandate from God to kill as many Jews as they possibly can."

Another disturbing aspect that Pomerantz said came to light in the wake of the terrorist attacks was the rise of a "counter-counterterrorist" lobby. A prime example of that group, according to Pomerantz, is the Council on American Islamic Relations, which the former agent said has impeded judicial investigations (such as the gathering of "secret evidence") by making spurious claims of racial profiling.

There were several areas of concern that Pomerantz said were outside his area of expertise, mostly involving diplomatic policies. While acknowledging that U.S. foreign policy is dictated in large part by reliance on foreign oil, the agent offered no solution to the paradox of Saudi Arabia being both a recipient of large amounts of U.S. economic and military assistance and at the same time fomenting extremism.

"It's certainly not coincidental that 13 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia," said Pomerantz. The question is how do we balance our need for oil against our need to have them confront terrorism. That's a question, I'm afraid, that I really don't have an answer for."

Another question the agent couldn't provide a definitive answer for was on the subject of bioterrorism, but he did know that the consequences could be much greater than the Sept. 11 toll. Pomerantz was part of a group studying an outbreak of smallpox (the project was named Dark Winter), and the agent noted that the casualties could be in the hundreds of thousands, a situation he felt the country was woefully underprepared for.