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Potential New Threats to US

By Gary D. Halbert
November 25, 2002


1.  Osama bin Laden Audiotape – Is He Alive?

2.  Top Al Qaeda Leader Captured – Is He Talking?

3.  Why Have There Been No More Terror Attacks?

4.  Homeland Security Department – Good Or Bad?

5.  Immigration Service Needs To Improve Now!


We are sending this week’s E-Letter out early due to the Thanksgiving holiday.   We figure that everyone will be getting increasingly busy with holiday plans, travel, etc. as the week goes on.

Americans have been bombarded with information, however vague, on possible new terrorist threats in the US.  Clearly, if there is another catastrophic attack, or attacks, it would send our struggling economy into a recession and the equity markets back into a nosedive.  In this issue, we will look at the latest warnings on potential new threats, their origins and possibly why no such attacks have occurred on US soil.

As Thanksgiving approaches, we Americans have much to be thankful for.  I know I certainly do.

Is Osama bin Laden Really Alive?

On November 12, we all heard the news of a new audiotape by Osama bin Laden (“OBL”).  It appears that US intelligence agencies believe that the voice on the tape is that of bin Laden.  This came as somewhat of a surprise for US intelligence since many believed he must be dead, given his long silence.

[Editor’s Note:  While there seems to be agreement that the November 12 audiotape is indeed that of Osama bin Laden, it will not surprise me in the least if, in a few weeks or months, we learn that it was just another fake. . . just to be on the record.]

There was, of course, speculation about why the latest OBL tape was an audiotape and not a videotape.  Most sources believe that it was an audiotape because OBL is now very weak, disease-ridden and perhaps near death.   I would suggest another reason.  If OBL is alive, which is not clear, I would bet that he has undergone an extensive “makeover,” perhaps including plastic surgery.  I would put forth that the reason for the audiotape may be that OBL looks substantially different today (assuming he is still alive) than he looked prior to the war in Afghanistan.  If he’s alive, we will find out for sure in due time.

The Latest Terror Warnings

We had various terrorism warnings over the summer, but none were very specific and, fortunately, none occurred in the US.  Yet with the emergence of the latest Osama bin Laden audiotape on November 12, there is heightened concern about new terrorist attacks. Reportedly, the latest OBL tape includes the following ominous predictions:

"spectacular attacks ... [with] high symbolic value, mass casualties, severe damage to the U.S. economy, and maximum psychological trauma."

The language in the latest audiotape has elevated concerns about the safety of the US commercial airline industry.  Specifically, some sources believe that al Qaeda cells have managed to smuggle dozens of surface-to-air missiles (“SAMs”) into the US with the intent to shoot down commercial airliners.   If these weapons are truly here, and in the hands of terrorists, this is very alarming.  Commercial airliners are very vulnerable and defenseless when they are taking off and landing at relatively low altitude and speed.

While this is the first time that many Americans have heard about the SAMs threat, this information has been out there for several months.  On November 6, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the arrest of seven suspected terrorists overseas, including three in Hong Kong who were allegedly attempting to purchase Stinger anti-aircraft missiles with drug money.

Obviously, US law enforcement and intelligence agencies have been aware of this threat for some time.  It is not clear whether terrorists have been successful in smuggling SAMs into the US.  If such weapons are in the US in the hands of terrorists, the question is, why have they not used them?  More on that question below.

The Latest Terrorist Capture - Abd Al-Rahim al-Nashiri

Earlier this month, the US managed to extradite one of al Qaeda’s top bosses, Abd Al-Rahim al-Nashiri.  I will refer to him simply as Nashiri.  According to what has been leaked to the media by the administration, Nashiri has warned of terrorist attacks against:

U.S. warships, U.S. ports, U.S. naval bases, other naval targets and even U.S. cruise ships and the docks where they port.

Several questions arise.  I’ll pose a few.  First, do we think this latest al Qaeda capture would just sing like a bird to US intelligence officials?  I doubt it.  We have been told that Nashiri is one of the top 20 al Qaeda leaders in the world.  One would think that he has been trained extensively to resist divulging any sensitive information in interrogations. 

Second, Nashiri is talking, why would he be so specific?  US warships, Navy bases, cruise ships, etc.?  Or is this just another diversion?  Perhaps he is giving US authorities false information, when the real terror targets are somewhere else.

Third, does what we are hearing he said have any resemblance to what he may have really said?  I’ll bet the truth on this Nashiri guy will be very different in the end than what we have been hearing so far.  I’ll keep you posted.

Why Haven’t The Attacks Happened Already?

Ever since September 11, we have been warned repeatedly about more serious terrorist attacks. We have been warned about suitcase nukes, dirty bombs, biological and/or chemical attacks, etc., etc.  At various times, we have seen stories about how these weapons may have been smuggled into the US.  We have not, however, seen any concrete evidence that such weapons are in the US and in the hands of terrorists, which leads me to the following question:

If these threats are here, why have the terrorists not used them?

Intelligence sources that I read generally agree that if terrorists in the US had weapons of mass destruction, or even SAMs, that they would have already used them.  As I will discuss below, US intelligence and law enforcement have been reinvigorated, with new powers, and the terrorists must know that they have a much more limited window in which to strike.  Obviously, the risk of being caught is very high. 

All of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies have been beefed-up and are on high alert.  Our various security agencies are all working together, unlike in the past.  Our international security activities are no longer operating under the Clinton administration’s “human rights scrub” limitations, which prohibited our agencies from dealing with bad guys in order to obtain intelligence.  This may be how we nabbed Nashiri recently.

Maybe all these threats are in place in the US.  Certainly, I cannot say that they are not.  But I would suggest that if such catastrophic threats are here, I would expect that we would have seen more attacks already.  Time is not on the terrorists’ side.

Another theory is that the terrorists leak these warnings because they know the US media will pick up on this news and broadcast it to the public.  While the terrorists may not have the capability to carry out such attacks, the mere threat of doing so accomplishes the goal of scaring Americans and disrupting our lives.    

The Office Of Homeland Security:
A Good Thing, Or Prelude To Tyranny

With the passage of the Homeland Security Act, there are those who believe this massive restructuring of our security and intelligence activities will lead to a huge improvement in keeping America safe.  Under the provisions of this historic bill, a new cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security is created.  The primary mission, as stated in the bill itself is to “prevent terrorist attacks within the United States; reduce the vulnerability of the United States to terrorism; and minimize the damage, and assist in the recovery, of terrorist attacks that do occur within the United States.”  The bill further consolidates intelligence functions now vested in several different agencies into the Department of Homeland Security.

In short, this bill will eventually consolidate the intelligence information gathering and analysis functions in an effort to combat terrorism.  I say it will “eventually” do so because there is no way to quickly transfer over 170,000 employees from their current agencies without some extensive planning and training, not to mention the conversion of the many different computer systems in order to have them “talk” to each other.  It could be months, or even years before this agency is fully and completely effective.

There are those, including the American Civil Liberties Union, that are vocally opposed to the new Department of Homeland Security and the surveillance powers granted to it under the Act.  They say that the information-gathering provisions of the bill are too intrusive, allowing the government to gather information about every aspect of our lives and creating a society reminiscent of George Orwell’s “1984.”

The conspiracy crowd believes Homeland Security is nothing more than a guise for the government to eliminate our freedoms and establish a Gestapo-type dictatorship. I don’t believe that.  But based on some of the e-mail I get, you would think President Bush is the next Hitler.  I don’t believe that either.

What the conspiracy crowd doesn’t seem to get is the fact that US security agencies already have the ability to monitor many of our activities.  The National Security Agency and others already have the capability to monitor your phone calls and e-mail if they want to badly enough.

To me, it boils down to one simple question that we must all ask ourselves:  How much of our privacy are we willing to give up to prevent a nuclear or biological attack on a major US population center?  There are those who would gladly risk chaos in order to preserve their privacy, and others who would gladly give up their privacy in exchange for security.  Your answer to this question will help to frame your support of or opposition to this legislation.  Based on the public opinion polls I have seen, security is winning out over privacy in the hearts and minds of the American people.

It remains to be seen just how effective the new Homeland Security Department will be.  Will it be as effective at stopping terrorism as President Bush and Secretary Ridge believe it will?  Or will it be a colossal, big-government boondoggle as some critics have argued?  Or even worse, will it turn into “Big Brother.”  We won’t know the answers to these questions for at least another six months to a year.

In The Meantime, Immigration Reforms

It is easier to immigrate to the US than to most other Western countries.  Many other countries have more restrictions and more limited quotas on immigrants.  While other countries place economic (be financially self sufficient so that you are not a burden to the state) and social (speak the language) qualifiers on prospective immigrants, the US does none of these.  Nor are there in most cases extensive criminal background checks performed on those entering the US on student visas, to say nothing of those who enter illegally.

Our borders need to be strengthened and our procedures refined.  The US should be a haven for freedom loving peoples of all ethnic and religious extractions.  But we have an obligation to protect ourselves in this post-911 world, with a more coherent and more potent immigration and naturalization service.  For the American people to remain as free as possible, we need new standards for those who would be Americans.

We also need to do a far better job of keeping track of those persons who are in the US on visas.  Several of the 911 hijackers were in the US illegally due to expired visas.  The Immigration Service must improve its capabilities in this area, now, not a year from now.

Wishing You A Happy Thanksgiving

Whatever problems we may have in America, we have much to be thankful for.  The US is the greatest and strongest nation in the world.  We will win the war on terror. We are also one of the most faithful nations in the world.  Let us all be thankful to God that we have the great fortune and blessing to be Americans.

Have a very pleasant and grateful holiday.

Best Wishes,

Gary D. Halbert


Good analysis of Homeland Security Department.

Big Brother is not unleashed.

US/Saudi ties strained over terror money.



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Forecasts & Trends E-Letter is published by Halbert Wealth Management, Inc. Gary D. Halbert is the president and CEO of Halbert Wealth Management, Inc. and is the editor of this publication. Information contained herein is taken from sources believed to be reliable but cannot be guaranteed as to its accuracy. Opinions and recommendations herein generally reflect the judgement of Gary D. Halbert (or another named author) and may change at any time without written notice. Market opinions contained herein are intended as general observations and are not intended as specific investment advice. Readers are urged to check with their investment counselors before making any investment decisions. This electronic newsletter does not constitute an offer of sale of any securities. Gary D. Halbert, Halbert Wealth Management, Inc., and its affiliated companies, its officers, directors and/or employees may or may not have investments in markets or programs mentioned herein. Past results are not necessarily indicative of future results. Reprinting for family or friends is allowed with proper credit. However, republishing (written or electronically) in its entirety or through the use of extensive quotes is prohibited without prior written consent.

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