The FBI hailed the breakup of an alleged plot to kill soldiers at Ft. Dix, N.J., as a major success. The Los Angeles Times says federal authorities acknowledge that the case has underscored a troubling vulnerability in the domestic war on terrorism: The FBI, despite unprecedented expansion over the last 5 1/2 years, cannot counter the growing threat posed by homegrown extremists without two often unreliable allies. One is an American public that is reluctant to get involved. The other is a small but growing army of informants, some of whom might be in it for the wrong reasons – such as money, political ax-grinding, or legal problems of their own.
Dependence on amateurs is “not something that we would like. It’s something that we absolutely need,” said agent J. P. Weis, head of the FBI’s Philadelphia field office. The FBI estimates that thousands of disaffected potential terrorists could be in the U.S., from radical Muslims to individuals who sympathize with the global jihad for nonreligious political reasons, such as opposing the war in Iraq. Even the FBI’s most expert counter-terrorism profilers have no foolproof way of predicting which individuals might turn radicalized thoughts into deadly acts of violence. “When does a person who has been a passive supporter of the cause cross over and become an operational person? That’s the tough question,” said a senior FBI counter-terrorism official.