David Johnston
International Herald Tribune
July 25, 2008

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island: Nearly seven years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the war on terror in this city has evolved into a quiet struggle against a phantom foe, bolstered by an influx of grants and training, while more identifiable crimes – like homicide and robbery – often go unpunished for lack of resources.

Last year, when a sailor slipped over the side of a Turkish merchant ship in the city’s port, a Providence police detective assigned to a joint terrorism task force was quickly alerted, reflecting a new vigilance since the Sept. 11 attacks. Alerts also went out to officials at immigration, customs, intelligence and other U.S. agencies, but the case went cold.

Another alarm was sounded over a suspicious man of Indian descent who asked a metals dealer about buying old power tools and hair dryers. The lead petered out when the prospective buyer told a police detective in an interview that he wanted to refurbish the equipment for resale overseas.

Like most of the country’s more than 18,000 local law enforcement agencies, the Providence Police Department went to war against terror after Sept. 11, embracing a fundamental shift in its national security role. Police officers everywhere had been shaken by disclosures that the police in Oklahoma, Florida, Maryland and Virginia had stopped four of the Sept. 11 hijackers at various times for traffic violations, but had detected nothing amiss.

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