The first attack

February 26, 1993 should have been a wakeup call for America.

This tragic day, however, only registered as an irritating nudge when white plumes of smoke bellowed from the basement of the World Trade Center as thousands or workers were evacuated onto the wet New York streets.

The explosion that killed six people and injured 1,000 was first reported to be an accident of a mechanical nature. Chemical tests on a crater the size of a football field in the World Trade Center basement would later prove that New York City had fallen victim to a bomb plot. Further investigations connected the bombing to a radical Islamic cell operating in New Jersey. Law enforcement officials were able to uncover some similar plots before they occurred and conspirators were being rounded up from such foreign locations as Manila and Pakistan including infamous bomb maker Ramzi Yousef.

The story on Yousef has FBI agents removing his blindfold during a flight into New York just as their helicopter was passing by the World Trade Center. One agent nudged Yousef telling him “the towers are still standing.”

The soon-to-be convicted terrorist responded coldly saying the towers wouldn’t have been standing had he had better funding.

It’s been 10 years since the first attack on the World Trade Center a terrorist act that is now a footnote considering what occurred eight years later. Its significance, however, should never be discounted.

The 1993 World Trade Center plot proved to the heavy hitters in international terrorism that large scale operations could be carried out against the U.S. even by those lacking money and resources as was the case with the New Jersey cell in 1993.

These terrorists had high goals of destruction and a lot of initiative. But they lacked money (using less than $10,000) and organizational skills. Nearly a decade later, Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network would provide these two missing ingredients culminating in the massive Sept. 11 plot.

Intelligence gathering and law enforcement agencies were caught flatfooted 10 years ago and reform languished for eight years leading up to the World Trade Center’s destruction. In the mean time, politics, turf wars and other priorities plagued America’s anti-terrorism resources as two embassy bombings in Africa killed 224 people and the bombing of the USS Cole took the lives of 17 sailors.

Today in this war on terrorism, U.S. citizens are subject to color-coded warnings from the government, but the real fight against evil doers should be gauged in what changes, if any, have been made in the decade since the first World Trade Center attack. Is the CIA talking to the FBI? Are warnings from metropolitan law enforcement agencies being followed up by the feds? And have the bureaucratic walls that prevented earlier terrorism investigations been leveled?

Americans can prepare for future attacks at home and the government can go after terrorists abroad, but we can only hope that our nation truly woke up after Sept. 11, 2001. We can ill afford to be lulled back to sleep as we were following the first attack of Feb. 26, 1993.

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