In responding to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, America has entered into a new type of war, one fought in the shadows.
Mark Hosenball, Michael Hirsh and Ron Moreau
马克·霍森鲍尔 迈克尔·赫什 罗恩·莫罗
It was the usual transatlantic flight: nine hours of fidgeting to get the pillow right, first-run movies flickering1 mutely on small screens, an indigestible flow of starchy food and drinks. Bound for Chicago from Zurich on the morning of May 8, the passengers of Swiss International Air Lines Flight 8 saw nothing amiss. Certainly they didn't know they were on the front lines of a global war being waged under their drooping eyes. But the crew knew it.
They had been warned that a major terrorist suspect was scheduled to fly on the plane. And a scattering of very wakeful men in nearby seats knew it: a small squad of FBI agents and a separate team of Swiss Special Forces commandos, all carefully positioned around the suspect, all warily watching his every move. For nine hours.
This airborne stakeout was directed at one Jose Padilla, otherwise known as Abdullah al-Muhajir, a Brooklyn-born street thug now identified by investigators as a would-be Qaeda terrorist. After moving mysteriously for a month from Karachi to Zurich to Cairo and back to Zurich -- the kind of city-hopping we've come to associate with a Qaeda plot -- Padilla was headed back to his homeland to cause havoc, or possibly just scout out a good target, U.S. authorities believe. Padilla was one of the band of foreign terrorists who, as the Taliban fell late last year, had escaped into Pakistan with Abu Zubaydah, a senior deputy to Osama bin Laden. Tipped off by Zubaydah -- who was arrested in Pakistan in late March and has since been relentlessly interrogated in a top-secret location -- authorities had recently connected a fresh pair of very alarming dots: they had pieced Padilla's name together with vague allegations from Zubaydah about a "dirty bomb" plot, possibly aimed at Washington, D.C. Even so, the Feds were lucky. Though Padilla came to their attention back in March, U.S. intelligence officials say they did not realize how dangerous he was until weeks after he took off on his trip, and for more than a month they had no firm fix on his whereabouts. Only a last-minute search of itineraries of thousands of passengers known to be traveling toward the United States had turned up Padilla's name -- less than 48 hours before his flight to Chicago.
FBI bomb and hazardous-materials specialists had been deployed to O'Hare to await Padilla's arrival. But the landing at O'Hare International Airport at 1:30 p.m. was as uneventful as the plane ride. Once in, Padilla was whisked away to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, the high-rise federal prison a few blocks from Ground Zero.
The story of Padilla's quiet capture is the best evidence yet that the war against Al Qaeda has entered an entirely new phase. If the war began dramatically, with planes crashing into buildings and the Taliban fleeing Afghanistan, it is now mostly underground -- waged by terrorists, spooks, paramilitaries and G-men. "We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge," Bush told West Point graduates a few weeks ago. Many commentators thought he was talking about pre-emptively striking future foes like Iraq. But Bush was also putting a new emphasis on covert operations, which has raised fresh concerns about civil liberties. How far is America veering toward police-state tactics? "We shouldn't deceive ourselves. This is not a defensive game," says Jack Devine, a former CIA associate deputy operations director. "If we seal our ports, they're going to come across the Rio Grande, or from Canada. The truth is that [with new homeland security] we'll improve defensively by maybe 7 percent or 10 percent. The best hope we have is to go after and destroy the terrorist organization."
What was Padilla's real plan, and how far along was it? Perhaps the endless interrogation he is now undergoing will tell. What American officials at O'Hare didn't do -- but were tempted to -- was to tail Padilla once he landed to see whom he was meeting. Nervous after a torrent of criticism over other lost suspects -- principally the hijackers of September 11 -- the FBI decided he was too dangerous to take a chance with. As a result, U.S. officials say, they simply do not know whether Padilla was a lone wolf, or had a network of confederates in America. And if there is a nationwide manhunt for any accomplices, that, too, is taking place off the radar. All of which points up the main problem with conducting a secret war: it's difficult to tell who's winning.
Sometimes not even the Feds know what the tally is -- which doesn't bode well for the new spirit of intelligence cooperation in Washington. Just before Padilla's flight, some American intelligence officials back in Washington became alarmed when they noticed that an abnormally large number of Swiss and U.S. passengers had booked last-minute passage on the same plane: it took a while for word to get through to the analysts that the last-minute passengers were the Swiss and FBI teams tailing the suspect. Even the White House, Pentagon and Justice Department couldn't seem to agree on what kind of threat Padilla posed. When Attorney General John Ashcroft announced portentously that Padilla was plotting a radiological bomb attack, White House officials scoffed privately; Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz countered that the "plot" was mostly still talk.
There are other worrisome signs that terror could prove more slippery even than U.S. tactics to contain it. Late last week FBI agents were running down a warning from Canadian intelligence that Qaeda operatives might be targeting the G8 summit in Canada later this month. Last Friday, at the U.S. Consulate in Karachi, the fortified building's guardhouse was struck by a car bomb that killed at least 11 people. The attack was strikingly similar to a suspected Qaeda strike on a Pakistani naval bus in May, which slaughtered 14 people, including 11 French naval technicians. The surviving suspects slipped away. Despite a crackdown in Pakistan, its cities remain hosts and seedbeds for radicals. And while terrorists no longer have a haven in Afghanistan, they're now forming what one intelligence official calls "virtual training camps" on the Web. For the last two months, individuals in a U.S.-based Internet chat room have been frantically conversing, clearly wanting and planning to attack the United States, law-enforcement authorities say. At least one chat-room participant was asked if he could speak Spanish, since terrorist recruiters are looking for Arabs or other Muslims who "look Latin" and speak Spanish "to infiltrate44 the U.S."All we can be sure of today is that they have one fewer recruit in Jose Padilla.