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photo of arabic hotmail and fbi agentsjoin the discussion: How do you assess the way the government handled the 'Lackawanna Six' case?  Based on Sahim Alwan's interview and other information in this report, how great a threat do you think this group was?


As a retired Marine Corps Recruiter that attended the hard sell training program of the 80's and 90's I surely can tell you that young people nieve and passionate don't have a chance. I could have been using the same method to recruit the Lackawanna group, get the key person, befriend, follow-up, pressure, untangible goal indentifcation. They could have been Marines if they could have passed the phyical.

My point is: any Recruiting Instructor from any branch of the Military could have explained and countered. But the Investigative Branches of Government are so removed from the people they could not relate to the street level. Only a few seasoned men, on the street FBI guys, seemed to see at all, what was happening. This is more scary to me then a Sleeping Cell. And as for those citizens in Lackawanna, how is living here, better than being under the big eye of Saddam? There is "no one" to blame, that would be too easy. We must accept the responiblity of lazy government and lazy citizens. This should never have happened. It reeks of the treatment the Japanese got in WWII. Pick a Target, ANY TARGET

robin neveu
gillett, wi


... if these men were truly "sorry" or "mistaken" for ending up in the quarters of Osama bin Laden they should have immediately gone to authorities in the U.S. when they returned and completely spilled their guts about what they learned. They could have been immense use to our intelligence agencies. The government probably would have hired them as spies and rewarded them with salary and benefits instead of indictments and jail time.

Have we all forgotten in America that the best way to show innocence is to be completely forthright and to "come clean"?

Washington, dc


We are engaged in a terrorist war. It is not a crimnal enterprise. We need to accept that.

I was chilled at the prospect of the FBI impotent to protect the constituional rights of people who may have been plotting to violently attack U.S. citzens. I am not willing to waiting for the boom them to act. act My constitutional rights are usless if I am dead.

Sam pena
Washington, DC


Your program regarding the Sleeper Cell was so blatantly biasassed that I barely had the stomach to keep watching it but since I once sent a contribution to PBS, I thought I would stay with it to confirm my beliefs and everything I've heard concerning the left-slanted dogma professed by your service. The entire slant was to leave the viewer with doubts as to the veracity of our public leaders without once putting forth any strong factual data to support the innuendo.

The naivete of the American public will hopefully begin to see through these leftist efforts since they are becoming more slanted each year. At least, I hope they see through it before it is too late. I would venture to say that 95% of Americans, if polled, would not even know one provision of the Patriot Act. The abolition of our true "civil rights" began back in the 80's under the democratic congress and all the legal restrictions they placed on the law enforcement community at that time, allegedly in name of protecting "civil rights". Remember, this is the same Congress that passed a law stating that in order for any wiretapping of a congressional member to occur, the Congress had to grant approval for that action. That beauty originated from the FBI's ABSCAM Investigation.

I could go on and on but it is time the editors of these programs begin to take a long look a the damage they are cajoling.

Phil Krumm
Loudon, Tennessee


I think it was an invaluable piece but did not delve enough into the emotion of the religion of these young "zealots". It can be

paralleled to the youngster in America who is baptized into Christ, and "on fire" spiritually to go out and tell others of

Gods love and saving grace. The bigger picture is that these

"Holy Wars" of the Middle East have been going on since the dawn of man, and only recently redirected toward the West because of

our intervening to thwart these atrocities against innocent people. (Monroe Doctrine & Marshall Plan)

What about the 70,000 visas given to these "ghosts" to live, thrive and possibly take flying lessons for free in the U.S.? Where are they and what are they doing?

I personally blame

the ex-president (I won't say his name) and liberal administration

for 9/11 and the increased terrorism threat in the U.S. They did more damage to the Intelligence organizations and military than Pres. Bush may be able to repair.

Heaven help us if we elect another Democrat in a time when we need increased security,intelligence and military.

James Day
Dallas, TX.


your program enraged me. why would anyone believe mr alwan's denial of his group being a sleeper cell. you present his case on this show as if it were the truth. if i were part of a sleeper cell in the usa i certainly would deny it. im proud of our government and the patriot act. im also grateful that this cell was discovered.

wyckoff, new jersey


It was a great program on what the government is trying to do to keep this country "safe". But the scariest point is that a U.S. citizen was murdered by our government in yemen. He was not charged with a crime, and even if he was he should have been arrested and given do process. It was also interesting to see tom ridge's reaction to try to justify that action, and in my opinion there is none.

David Wanless
Houston, Texas


This gratuitous anti Bush administration piece should have been labeled The Patriot Act:Killing and Imprisoning Arab Americans for Sport.

I don't want to use 9/11 as a crutch, but have you forgotten what those "summer camps" have done to America and it's psyche? I'm not suggesting we "round up Arab looking people" as some have, but after that horrible and eye opening day, I'm not willing to issue a jay walking ticket for training at an Al Queida camp and calling it a "youthful indiscretion" either.

Protecting the homeland used to be a goal for ALL Americans, I wish that were true today.

rob cooper
placerville, CA


Thank you for a nice piece on terrorism and sleeper cells in America. Unfortunately, our foreign policy in the past has created this mess. We sold weapons to both Saddam Hussein, and we trained Bin Laden. Yet our government as never honestly admited we train these people and gave them weapons. What we need is sane foreign policy.

I fear that our government will continue to use the 9/11 event to continue to take way our freedoms. This concerns me greatly because government is too much into our lives before the 9/11 event. I hope the American people will awaken from their sleep and say no to any further loss of individual freedoms. Thank you.

Gerald Bergstrom
Cheney, Wa


Our current political climate is very much like the Cold War. That was a time when we were admonished to temper our passions; that we were acting out of fear rather than rationality, that, in our zeal to fight the ideology that murdered over 100 million people, we were becoming what we purported to abhor. Our moral superiors told us that we were ruining innocent lives; that the Rosenbergs had become sacrificial lambs to a mob bloodlust that disregarded due process or common decency.

Fifty years later, thanks to decripted Soviet cables, confirmed by KGB files released after the fall of the Soviet regiem, we know that the Rosenbergs, high level State Department officials, and indeed many of those from the mainstream press and the academy telling us that anti-communism was driving us toward tyrrany, were either paid or volunteer Soviet agents.

It shouldn't have taken so much, the proof against them was uncontrovertable as it was presented then. but like we are seeing now, evidence of guilt isn't enough to prove guilt in the determined minds of some, for whatever reason, and they can find an audience who can be persuaded to look past facts to emotionallize and personalize hypotheticals and irrelivancies: the accused is a citizen. who's to say we're safe from being labeled a "terrorist".

During the Cold War, nuclear annihalation was at stake despite these shennanigans. Let us not repeat history.

Justin Fleming
Chicago, IL


I intended to write about FBI director Mueller's satisfaction in breaking down the wall that protects US citizens from domestic spying.

Then I heard the director of Homeland Security admit that, to protect America, the United States government will kill US citizens that it suspects of being terrorists without due process of law. Mr. Ridge made this statement in the context of the CIA killing of a US citizen in Yemen suspected of being a terrorist.

It gives meaning to Mr. Bush's statement in his 2002 state of the union speech that we'll show them the "extent of American justice" as well as his presidential finding permitting the CIA to use all necessary means to get terrorists.

Did Frontline presume that its viewers would, without further probing, comprehend the significance of Mr. Ridge's statement? Or was the risk of embarrassing Mr. Ridge (or George Bush) too great?

We're in trouble!

Charlene LaVoie
winsted, connecticut


I wonder how these innocnet religious boy scouts on an unfortunate summer camp end up meeting the most wanted man in the world (who was already infamous for the embassy bombings in Africa and other acts, prior to September 11). It is, to me, impossible how the story being told so earnestly from jail can be true. Either the recruiters sold Bin Laden a bill of goods about these guys or they knew and were willing participants in the scheme.

Lowell Bergman's earnst jailhouse questioning can not pass as fact because these men lied throughout the interview process with the FBI, and likely continue to do so. Their lesson should serve as a warning to others, this is serious business, and there are consequences. I think we should commend law enforcement, the military and the Adminstration for the steps they have taken to promote public safety.

chicago, il


The Lackawanna Six report highlighted some interesting facts surrounding the government's reasons for prosecuting these young men, but without having a lucid understanding of the religious customs and traditions of the Islamic faith, it is hard for most Americans to discern the cultural and religious climate for which the psychological manipulation of these young men occurred.

It is apparent that the government acted responsibly given the facts surrounding this case, but despite the clandestine pact with one another about the purpose of their trip to Afganistan, it remains to be seen whether or not becoming Al-Qaida operatives willing to commit murder to advance the cause of Islam is the reality of why all six took the trip.

Based on the information provided in FRONTLINE's report, although a serious threat does not exist from them, the conduct of these six young men was dubious and represents a threat. The violation of anyones civil liberties is a serious matter, but is it justified when it can save hundreds maybe even thousands of American lives.

Raymond Sarden
Detroit, Michigan


So chilling was the final scene of 'Chasing the Sleeper Cell'--the assassination of a suspected terrorist: no apprehension, no trial, apparently no particular concern for the identity, guilt or innocence of the other passengers in the targeted vehicle--it is ever more difficult to rest easy as an Amercian.

Our failed leadership continues to continue, and grows with incomprehensible arrogance and freedom from accountability. If our children are learning a lesson from this chapter of U. S. history, it may well be this: It is OK to hit first, and the end justifies the means.

The essence of democracy is very fragile and so desperately in need of defense. Thank you so much for glimpses of the painful truth.

Kerry Dermody
Pagosa Springs, CO


You did a great job with this documentary; I found myself questioning the candor of all of the people you interviewed. We may not know the complete truth for many years.

We should not forget that democracies always bend the rules when faced with existential threats. President Roosevelt rounded up Japanese and Germans; President Lincoln suspended habeas corpus; Loyalists in the Revolutionary War were treated harshly. Even today, I think you will find many complaints come from those Western nations that have not been forced (at least within living memory) to face the dilemmas we now face.

Brian Dunstan
Seattle, WA


This was leaped onto the national conscience by the Bushists when the hue and cry of the Presidents economic policy or lack of it was rising. He pulled a rabbit out of his hat and the nations attention was focused on the home of the worlds former-third largest steel cooker in the world-LACKAWANNA,NY, which ninety nine percent of the American people never heard of let alone knew that it existed or where it was...other than being preached to by an Islamic zealot and his diatribes of protecting themselves, the only thing that I believe these five are guilty of "youthful indescretion". Isn't this the same thing the president was guilty of in his driving while drinking days?

I also believe these "Five" did not have destruction of America on their minds. It was their innocence and naviete which led them to become 'born again Muslims', landing in Pakistan and ending up in Afganistan.

Then, after this story wore off after two months and the shock value diminished, the federal government pulled another rabbit out of its hat. This time the focus was placed on Seattle where another 'cell' of terrorists was residing. The only difference between these two events was the latter had a shelf life of about three days. This faded away and what has happened is five American kids will be spending federal time in prison.

Yes, two tears ago they were successful at focusing attention away from the dismal economy. What rabbit of sort will they pull out of the hat next time to focus Americas attention from the obvious...

Dennis R Catuzza
Lackawanna, NY 14218


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posted october 16, 2003

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