U.S. security officials are increasing efforts to thwart possible acts of terrorism in advance of the 10th anniversary of the September 11th, 2001, terror attacks. While the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has not issued specific alerts, law enforcement agencies across the country have heightened security to prevent an assault by al-Qaida and its affiliates or by people acting on their own.
U.S. law enforcement agencies are enhancing security in places that might be terrorist targets. In New York City, a police patrol boat, able to detect a nuclear weapon, monitors shipping and officers inspect underneath the Brooklyn Bridge. While there have been no specific threats, police take these patrols seriously.
"It is absolutely not a joke and the threat is very real," a New York police officer said.
The increased security measures come as the nation remembers the10th anniversary of the September 11tterrorist attacks. While the Department of Homeland Security says there is no specific evidence of an al-Qaida plot, the group’s late leader Osama bin Laden reportedly wanted operatives to fly a small plane into a sporting event around the anniversary.
"We have so many small airports and you can fly below radar, (so) that is possibly doable," said Brad Garrett, a former FBI counter-terrorism agent.
Al-Qaida's new leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, also appeared in numerous videos calling for attacks against U.S. targets and urging Muslims to support his cause.
"This is not the time to become complacent. In fact, in this window that al-Qaida is trying to exploit, we (the United States) should be exploiting and trying to prevent and preempt the next attack," said Frank Cilluffo, the director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University. He says al-Qaida affiliates in Yemen and Somalia could play a role in an attack on U.S. soil.
"With al-Qaida in the Arabian peninsula (based in Yemen) and al-Shabaab, (based in Somalia) you have a number of U.S. foreign fighters who have traveled to Yemen, who have traveled to Somalia and this is obviously a concern from a security standpoint," he said.
Counter-terrorism experts say al-Qaida in the Arabian peninsula is believed to be behind failed plots to blow up U.S. planes. Since those plots unfolded, airport security has been heightened. Jonathan Broder, a defense and foreign policy editor with Congressional Quarterly, says security also needs to be increased on trains.
"There is nowhere near the kind of security in the homeland surrounding our trains and our transportation services like there is for our airlines," he said.
These days, there are extra police patrols at the nation's transportation hubs. Transit systems have started searching passengers' bags and police say more undercover officers are aboard commuter trains.
Analysts say another threat is from homegrown terrorists in the U.S. who have been radicalized by the Internet. In the past 10 years there have been at least 38 plots by homegrown terrorists. Two plots by U.S. residents to set off bombs in New York City failed in the past few years, and the men responsible arrested.
Broder says the country is still vulnerable to an attack. "I think our defenses 10 years after September 11th are a lot better than they were but there is no guarantee that a lone terrorist might (not) get through or that even a al-Qaida terrorist might (not) get through," he said.
Other counter-terrorism analysts say the best way to protect the U.S. is by adding more layers of security and expanding intelligence monitoring to stop the terrorists before they can launch an attack.