As the U.S. plugs one security hole, terrorists try to exploit a new one. And so it has gone for American law enforcement and U.S. intelligence services since Sept. 11, 2001. According to a newly prepared report by The Heritage Foundation, more than 50 actual terrorist plans and plots were rebuffed, including six targeting Chicago.
The current threat is based in Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula, as American military forces have spent the last decade flushing al-Qaida from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Authorities Tuesday said the bomb plot against a U.S. passenger plane that was interrupted by CIA agents overseas was directed by al-Qaida operatives in Yemen.
"What we know is that the bomb contained no metal parts, and therefore would not normally have been detected by our security measures," said ABC News terrorism consultant Richard Clarke.
U.S. officials disputed that Tuesday.
"All things considered, yes, a high likelihood it would have been detected," said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
According to federal investigators, the same explosive chemicals used by the Christmas Day underwear bomber in 2009 were found in the most recent device and likely were the handiwork of al-Qaida master bombmaker Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri. It was a similar device packed inside printer toner cartridges in 2010 when al-Qaida tried to take down a Chicago-bound cargo plane.
Of the 50 publicly known Islamist-inspired terror plots that targeted the U.S., The Heritage Foundation claims at least 42 could be considered "homegrown terror plots." The report states three were foiled by luck or the public, while 47 were stopped by intelligence or law enforcement.
Among the other Chicago plots:
- A 2005 scheme by Miami and Atlanta men to blow up the Sears Tower and government offices.
- A 2006 plot to set off hand grenades in a shopping mall near Rockford right before Christmas. Derrick Shareef is now serving 35 years.
- In 2007, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, now on trial at Guantanamo, had Chicago targets on his hit list.
- And, in March 2010, Chicago taxi driver Raja Lahrasib Khan was arrested on two counts of providing material support to an al-Qaida-linked organization. He pleaded guilty in February and awaits sentencing.
Body scanners used in Chicago and many airports nationwide would probably have detected the latest al-Qaida body bomb.
That is not the case in many foreign airports. For example, there is no requirement in the European Union for full body imaging of passengers, even on jetliners leaving for the U.S.