|NYPD Patrol Boat near Brooklyn Bridge|
An alarming part of the officials' assessments focuses on the apparent surveillance missions that Iranian diplomats and possible Hezbollah operatives have been seen conducting at sensitive targets such as New York subways and bridges, and at nuclear power plants and tunnels elsewhere in the United States in the past 10 years. At the same time, U.S. officials caution that Hezbollah, a Shiite militia based in Lebanon, has largely avoided attacking U.S. targets since it carried out mass-casualty bombings in the 1980s against the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut. One reason may be that it does not want to endanger its lucrative North American fund-raising operations.
All the renewed focus on Hezbollah - which U.S. counter-terrorism officials regard as the most potent and disciplined of Islamic militant groups, even more so than al Qaeda - comes amid the growing confrontation over Iran's nuclear program. An Israeli or U.S. strike on Iran's nuclear sites could prompt Hezbollah to change strategy, moving from surveillance and fund-raising in North America to launching retaliatory attacks on either country.
Iranian-inspired surveillance missions in the United States have been scattered over a period of years. But, when combined with a handful of recent attacks or plots around the world, they have contributed to an assessment within the U.S. government that considerable violence directed against U.S. targets - at overseas installations or businesses, or at American soil - could follow any strike on Iran's nuclear program. Although these sources say an attack could take place - I say it would take place. The evidence combined with the past actions of Hezbollah make that painfully clear.
U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials, along with private experts, say there is little doubt Hezbollah has an extensive network of supporters, fund-raisers and potential operatives in the United States. A law enforcement official said that the New York Police Department believes that between 200 and 300 Hezbollah sympathizers live in New York City alone.
Over the years, U.S. federal authorities have brought numerous criminal cases against alleged Hezbollah operatives, most of them related to fund-raising or other support activity rather than plotting against U.S. targets. The access to potential funding sources is one reason why Hezbollah has avoided targeting the United States or its interests, said Evan Kohlmann, an investigator who monitors militant websites for the government and private businesses. "For the last 15 years, Hezbollah has regarded North America as a piggy bank," Kohlmann said.
One factor heightening U.S. officials' concern about Hezbollah-related attacks is the accumulation of accounts of alleged attempts by Iranian operatives to "case" potential U.S. targets. According to a New York law enforcement source, there have been several notable incidents of this nature involving individuals who turned out to be accredited to Iran's U.N. mission.
In a 2003 incident, New York police patrolmen observed a group of men videotaping the tracks out of the front window of a subway train traveling between Queens and Manhattan at 2 a.m. The Iranians were arrested, but later released after they produced diplomatic credentials. The law enforcement source said they were asked to leave the country.
In a 2006 incident, the captain of a sightseeing boat became suspicious after a group of Iranians taking his cruise along the East River broke into two smaller groups and started snapping pictures of the undersides of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. The six men all turned out to be covered by diplomatic immunity, the law enforcement source said.
In September 2008, three more Iranians with diplomatic status were observed taking pictures of rail tracks going into Grand Central Station that are not routinely accessible to members of the public.
And in a 2010 incident, security personnel at a heliport near Wall Street observed a group of men who claimed to be affiliated with an Iranian broadcasting network taking pictures of the framework supporting the heliport deck which was cantilevered over the river.
A federal official said that similar surveillance incidents had been reported in other cities such as Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Targets under observation included nuclear power plants, tunnels and casinos.
Some of the officials said that anxieties about possible Hezbollah- or Iranian-related attacks were increased in the wake of a plot by Iranian agents to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington and other Iranian plots uncovered recently in Thailand, India, Azerbaijan and Georgia.
I am glad that US officials are finally sounding the alarm about this very real threat but one thing that concerns me is that so many of the people involved in "surveying" sites in the US as possible targets carry Iranian diplomatic immunity. What the hell is the State Department thinking when they grant so much unfettered access to "diplomats" from countries openly hostile to us and who have a history of terrorist operations? I think it is past time to just be "alarmed" by the presence of these guys on our soil. It is time to start taking a more aggressive role in eliminating potential threats......
Live Long and Prosper...