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'A little paranoia' keeps US vigilant: FBI

19 November 2012, 14:31

Washington - More than a decade after the 9/11 attacks, "a little paranoia" on the part of the American people helps the country remain vigilant to terror threats, a top FBI official has said in an interview.

"The FBI is about two things - it's about arresting people and neutralising threats," said Michael Clancy, deputy assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's counterterrorism division.

Clancy in particular was talking about Operation Tripwire, an initiative begun several years ago and aimed at raising awareness among businesses about terror threats, and teaching them what to do if they see something suspicious.

"Churches, businesses - it is their responsibility too to report actions as they see," Clancy said.

When Khaled Aldawsari, a Saudi national living in Texas on a student visa, bought a large quantity of phenol, a chemical used to make explosives, the company that delivered it alerted police.

Surveillance of his computer allowed authorities to determine that he was attempting to build a "weapon of mass destruction" to attack several key US targets, and he was subsequently arrested.

Much as the Department of Homeland Security encourages individuals to report suspicious behaviour through its "See Something, Say Something" campaign, the FBI asks businesses, churches and stores to do the same.

Cinema shooting

"I think a little paranoia is OK - not a lot of paranoia - but Tripwire is good in the sense that it keeps a lot of businesses out there a little more vigilant," he said.

"That's a good thing, particularly as we get further and further away from the events of 9/11," Clancy explained.

"People tend to have a short memory, you want to keep people focused on exactly what happened on 9/11, that perhaps there are things people should have reported... it's about lessons learned, it's about keeping people vigilant."

The FBI came under sharp criticism for failing to see the signs ahead of the mass shooting at a Colorado movie theatre in July that left 12 dead, or a deadly attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin the following month.

But Clancy described those assailants as people on the fringes who did not pose a "credible threat", adding that the United States is such a large country that it would be extremely difficult to thwart every potential threat.

"It's almost impossible. It's a big country, over 300 million people, people have different ideologies, different beliefs - to know whether all of a sudden one day, someone is going to go and commit a horrific act like that," he said.



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