Expert: bin Laden's death heightens need for Americans to report suspicious activity - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Expert: bin Laden's death heightens need for Americans to report suspicious activity

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Mike Sakal’s column runs on Fridays. Contact him at (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com, or write to Mike Sakal, East Valley Tribune, 1620 W. Fountainhead Pkwy., Suite 219, Tempe, AZ 85282

Posted: Thursday, May 19, 2011 12:00 pm | Updated: 3:58 pm, Thu May 19, 2011.

When news broke that U.S. Navy SEALs had killed 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, Neville Cramer found himself in an unusual situation.

Cramer, a retired Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agent and border security expert, was conducting anti-terrorism training courses in the Middle East at the time of bin Laden's death on May 1.

"I was absolutely thrilled, but I didn't know if standing in the middle of Jordan and celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden would have been completely a good thing," said Cramer, who returned to Scottsdale less than two weeks ago. "The vast majority of people in Jordan are Muslim, so it generated a strange situation. I didn't know whether to act happy or unhappy, but officials in Jordan said they were glad bin Laden was dead. Although Jordan has been a strong ally of the United States for decades and a number of Middle Eastern countries say they are committed to fighting terrorism, I think it would have been more of a problem had I been in Yemen."

In fact, Cramer has spent parts of nearly each month during the past year in countries throughout the world - Algiers, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Mali and Yemen - conducting anti-terrorism training for various border police and other enforcement agencies who want to bolster their national security. As a contract instructor, part of Cramer's anti-terrorism training includes training allied countries to secure border protection and immigration control systems, detecting and preventing the use of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, human trafficking and detection of fraudulent documents.

And although he believes that the death of al-Qaida's leader is a crucial blow to the organization which has terrorist cells throughout the world, Cramer maintains that Americans must remain vigilant in spotting suspicious behavior to help prevent further terrorist attacks in the United States from groups acting out in revenge for bin Laden's death.

He believes the next 60 to 90 days will be critical for al-Qaida to prove its relevance, possibly through other attacks against the United States at smaller targets - shopping malls, sporting events, or even disrupting a city's water supply system.

"We have to do the same thing we did after 9/11," Cramer said. "You have to be vigilant about people acting suspiciously around you. Be watchful of people who are wandering around by themselves at large events. (Al-Qaida's) objective is to kill a lot of people."

Citing an example of a suspicious person, Cramer said, "Here we are in Phoenix, Arizona, and it is June. "No one in Phoenix should be wearing a bulky sweater or a trench coat. Things like that should stand out in spotting suspicious activity."

Cramer also said to be aware of vehicles parked in areas where they should not be as well as unattended luggage or boxes in public places.

"If you have any doubts or feel suspicion about someone, don't hesitate to report it to local police," Cramer said.

Cramer believes the killing of bin Laden was a crucial turning point in beginning to cripple al-Qaida, and gathering information from the compound where bin Laden was killed was key.

"We literally have cut off the head of the spear, or the head of the snake," Cramer said. "Cells are created to prevent intelligence gathering, maintained independently and do not have an independent headquarters and are funded by various means. Taking down a cell won't disrupt the head of the operation. We've struck them at their heart and cut off the head of the snake. I don't know of very many snakes who live longer after its head is cut off. For al-Qaida to survive, they have to communicate, and once they start doing that, there's the chance that a lot of their communication will be intercepted."

Cramer gives President Obama credit for deciding to "take out" bin Laden, straying away from a long-standing U.S. philosophy not to conduct clandestine raids to kill dictators in oppressive countries or radicals threatening to overthrow governments of allied countries, something that was put in place by President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s.

With billions of dollars spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and thousands of Americans soldiers being killed, Cramer believes the current U.S. administration is likely to conduct more covert operations to kill terrorist leaders plotting attacks against the United States.

"We will see," Cramer said.

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