Yesterday, the FBI arrested Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari for the attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. His arrest marks the 38th successfully thwarted terrorist plot against the United States since 9/11.
The FBI, with the help of concerned citizens, should be applauded for stopping the plot before it was able to mature. At the same time, it also highlights key failures of Congress and the Obama Administration in homeland security.
According to the FBI, Aldawsari, a 20-year-old Saudi citizen and student at South Plains College in Lubbock, Texas, sent numerous e-mails to himself outlining “nice targets” for his planned attack. This ambitious list included military targets, dams, nuclear power plants, a nightclub, and the Texas residence of former President George W. Bush.
The plot was uncovered when Aldawsari put in an order for a chemical needed to make his improvised explosive device. Both the chemical supplier and the freight shipping company became suspicious of the order and reported it to the FBI and local police.
Surveillance of Aldawsari’s e-mails also turned up a list of further steps to carrying out his attack. These included acquiring a forged U.S. birth certificate and multiple driver’s licenses. In a plan somewhat reminiscent of last year’s attempted Times Square bombing, Aldawasari seems to have been intent on using these documents to obtain rental cars to use in vehicle bombings.
Aldawsari’s arrest should make two things clear to the Administration and Congress. First, his attempt to acquire a fake birth certificate and multiple driver’s licenses clearly demonstrates the importance of the REAL ID program. While all states must be fully REAL ID compliant by this May, the Administration has allowed the program to languish over the past two years. This is a harsh blow to homeland security.
Second, the nature of Aldawari’s plot shows just how important powers authorized under the PATRIOT Act and FISA are. By not acting promptly to renew the three sunsetting provisions of these acts, Congress is failing in its responsibility to protect the American people.