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FBI Can’t Find Sleeper Cells

10 March 2005: The FBI has issued a new secret report that concludes while there is no doubt Al Qaeda wants to attack the United States, its ability to do so remains unknown. “Al-Qaeda leadership’s intention to attack the United States is not in question,” the report reads. “However, their capability to do so is unclear, particularly in regard to ’spectacular’ operations. We believe al-Qaeda’s capability to launch attacks within the United States is dependent on its ability to infiltrate and maintain operatives in the United States.”The assessment also concludes that it knows of no sleeper cells or agents of Osama bin Laden in the United States.

“Limited reporting since March indicates al Qaeda has sought to recruit and train individuals to conduct attacks in the United States, but is inconclusive as to whether they have succeeded in placing operatives in this country,” the 32-page report reads. “US Government efforts to date also have not revealed evidence of concealed cells or networks acting in the homeland as sleepers.”

It adds: “To date, we have not identified any true ’sleeper’ agents in the US.” This comes after prosecutors said the seven men allegedly involved in a terror plot in Lackawanna, N.Y., in 2002, were part of a “sleeper cell.”

FBI officials confirmed the existence of the report and the conclusions that it makes, saying, “we have found no evidence, but that’s not to say that [sleeper cells] don’t exist.”

According to that same official, “You always have to be concerned about what you don’t know.” The official insisted that the FBI is aggressively looking for sleeper cells, as it has been doing since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

The report contradicts statements made by intelligence and law enforcement officials regarding the terrorist threat here at home. FBI Director Robert Mueller is just one official who warned in the past that several sleeper cells were probably in place.

When the secret FBI report was issued on February 16, Mueller testified at a hearing before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee hearing, saying, “I am concerned about what we are not seeing.” He said one of the gravest dangers is Al Qaeda cells in the United States that have yet to be identified.

“While we still believe that the most serious threat to the homeland originates from Al Qaeda members located overseas, the bombings in Madrid last March have heightened our concern regarding the possible role that indigenous Islamic extremist, already in the U.S., may play in future terrorist plots,” Mueller said at the hearing.

The report does cite several cases in which individuals have been seen as potential sleeper agents, including a member of the Saudi Arabian Air Force training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, ABC reported. The network was the first to report on the FBI’s secret report.

The FBI also identified a shift in Al Qaeda’s recruiting tactics that may make it more difficult to detect sleeper cells. The report says the terror group now places a premium on finding operatives who do not appear Arab and that it’s trying to recruit disgruntled citizens — black converts to Islam, in particular — in an attempt to avoid suspicion.

But the report continues that “US recruits are hard to find and al-Qaeda detainees have reported that US citizens can be difficult to work with, one senior detainee claimed that US citizens and others who grew up in the West, were too independent and thought they knew more about US operations than senior planners.”

The FBI says, however, that just because there’s no concrete evidence of sleeper cells now, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

The report suggests that instead of actual sleeper agents, lying in wait, Al Qaeda may rely on disaffected Americans or other sympathizers, who might pick easier, softer targets such as shopping malls.

A secret FBI report issued this month and later leaked to the press states, “Al-Qaeda leadership’s intention to attack the United States is not in question. However, their capability to do so is unclear, particularly in regard to ‘spectacular’ operations. We believe al-Qaeda’s capability to launch attacks within the United States is dependent on its ability to infiltrate and maintain operatives in the United States. To date, we have not identified any true ‘sleeper’ agents in the US.

Limited reporting since March indicates al-Qaeda has sought to recruit and train individuals to conduct attacks in the United States, but is inconclusive as to whether they have succeeded in placing operatives in this country. US Government efforts to date also have not revealed evidence of concealed cells or networks acting in the homeland as sleepers” ABC News notes that this seemingly contradicts the sleeper cell depiction seven men arrested in Lackawanna, New York, in 2002. It also differs from warnings by FBI Director Robert Mueller and other US officials, who have warned that sleeper cells are probably in place. [ABC News, 3/9/2005] In 2002, it was also reported that no sleeper cells can be found in the US (statement: March 10, 2002).

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