In the eight years after September 11, and especially during the Bush administration’s first term, Americans became all to accustomed to a diet of orange alerts, sensational terror arrests, and breathless press conferences announcing the thwarting of yet another serious plot. But months and years down the line, it often emerged that such plots may not have represented such grave threats after all: terrorism suspects were charged with less serious offenses or released altogether; plotters turned out to have little or no capacity to launch attacks; and, often, when juries did convict, it emerged that entire conspiracies were reliant on the helping hand of undercover law-enforcement agents.
But 10 days ago federal agents in Denver foiled an alleged plot on U.S. soil that, for the first time, appears to have posed a true and severe threat to the U.S. homeland. Najibullah Zazi, a permanent resident of Afghan nationality, pled not guilty Tuesday in his arraignment in Brooklyn to charges including conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction. He is believed to have trained to make bombs with Al Qaeda in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan and to have initiated plans—apparently without assistance from undercover agents—with others in the United States to perpetrate a terrorist attack in New York City. The FBI, in other words, has just thwarted the most serious plot, by far, on U.S. soil in the last eight years.