COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — If Americans learned one lesson from 9-11, it is that terrorists strike where societies are vulnerable and inattentive.
That makes the United States, one of the most open societies on the planet, a potential-target poster child.
After a 19-year-old Jordanian living in Texas tried to blow up Fountain Place Plaza in Dallas last year, Metroplex residents became keenly aware that terrorist threats aren't all concocted in dusty training camps half a world away.
Sadly, most Americans are oblivious to the realities of the ongoing domestic war on terror, even though there have been more than 40 incidents of homegrown terrorism since 9-11, with 19 arrests since May 2009, said Scott Erickson, a San Jose, Calif., police officer assigned to the department's Terrorism Liaison Officer Program.
How to identify possible terrorists and prevent attacks while preserving civil liberties makes for quite the conundrum for law enforcement.
"There is no template to identify who might or who will flip to jihad," Erickson told a group of journalists attending a two-day homeland security seminar organized by the Heritage and El Pomar foundations. "And just because someone is radical in their speech doesn't mean they will turn militant."
What some may view as "inefficiencies" in the U.S. justice system -- those pesky requirements like warrants before tearing into someone's personal papers and life -- others passionately defend as foundational protections not to be trifled with.
"We can't militarize society like the Israelis have done," said David Cid, executive director of the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism. "Americans would find it intolerable.
"No one wants a totally efficient police service," he said. "That's the Gestapo. But we do want efficient."
The answer, for Cid and other experts assembled at the counterterrorism session, is intelligence.
"The prevention of terrorism in the final analysis is the use of actionable intelligence. Not guards, berms or gates," said Cid, who is a former FBI counterterrorism specialist.
Compiling actionable intelligence and not just mountains of information is the tricky part.
"By itself, human intelligence analysis is too slow to protect the country," said Paul McHale, former assistant defense secretary for homeland defense under President George W. Bush and a former Democratic U.S. representative from Pennsylvania.
"Data mining information with technology is crucial, but what's the balance with civil liberties and privacy?"
McHale's question never was answered during the two-day seminar. Speakers preferred to point to the crucial need for the American public, and particularly Muslim-Americans, to be part of the fight.
Paul Schneider, former deputy secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, said 99 percent of intelligence comes from people in the community who are discontented with something.
"The disconnect is, Where is the strategy for getting Muslims to say, 'I'm concerned'? Radical talk that translates to radical behavior can't be a mystery to us," Schneider said.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca believes he has part of the answer for closing the gap between Muslim-Americans with trust issues and local law enforcement's need to tap into their knowledge.
His department is leading the way in designing outreach programs to build stronger relationships with his sprawling community's religiously and ethnically diverse population.
"Engaging Muslims within our communities is crucial because they will be the first people to know if there is a pre-radical in the family, not the cop who stops him for running a red light," Baca said.
The message, Baca said, can't be that Islam is the cause of domestic terrorism when it is individual "nutballs" who are to blame.
Blaming all of Islam "is an obstacle to figuring it out," he said. "We're not going to win any war without Muslims being involved. And we can't do that unless they trust the police."
ABOUT THE WRITER
Jill "J.R." Labbe is editorial director of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.