Fifth Columnists 

When is a joke not a joke? When it's performed in time of war.

Can you picture this? A cave in Southeastern Afghanistan. A dozen Al Qaeda goons inside, hunkering down and awaiting the American bombs. Mustafa, the terrorist-cell clown and practical joker, has snuck out through the back hole of the cave and crept around to the front. The stillness of the night is broken by a high-pitched sound, getting louder and louder. The bearded brethren fear a smart bomb is homing in on their hideout! But no, it's just Mustafa and his whistle again, having a little fun.

Can't sell you on that scenario? Don't believe America's enemies could be so trivial in a time of war?

What about these examples?

· A couple of Kentucky sorority girls decide to put powdered sugar into an envelope and send it to a "friend" with a note claiming the substance is a deadly biological weapon.

· A firefighter in Pennsylvania fills an envelope with laundry detergent, claims to be the recipient of a tainted letter, and sticks with his story while he and his frightened children are hosed down by Haz-Mat personnel in moonsuits.

· A man fired from a Home Depot in Philadelphia a year and a half earlier is arrested for sending a threatening note and white powder to his former employer.

· A Memphis man phones in a bomb-threat to Northwest Airlines and then claims he was kidnapped and forced into making the call.

In a two-week period after the first report of anthrax-tainted mail, more than 6,300 reports of hoaxes relating to white powder and threats of biological warfare were logged on police blotters across the nation.

Why is it not at all surprising to learn that many of us are using the slaughter of our fellow countrymen as a vehicle toward getting something that we want? Revenge. Attention. Personal gain. A really good belly laugh.

In the 1930s, during the Spanish Civil War, General Emilio Mola Vidal's army moved on Madrid in four columns. He referred to militant supporters already in the city as his fifth column. The term has become synonymous with a subversive enemy element working against a government in power from within.

The Mini-manual of the Urban Guerrilla, the textbook of terrorism written by Carlos Marighella in 1969 and used as a blueprint for mayhem by ne'er-do-wells around the world ever since, claims, "The primary task of the urban guerrilla is to distract, to wear down, to demoralize." By that definition, those among us who are either too self-absorbed or too stupid to resist the temptation to hinder those who are responsible for keeping us alive are terrorists themselves.

In every sense of the word, they are our enemy's fifth column.

I'm sure at some point during their interrogation by the FBI the girls in Kentucky rolled their eyes, shook their heads, and said, "Damn, dude. What's the big deal?"

We are spending so much time worrying about impending subversion from the terrorists -- young swarthy males who keep to themselves and hang out in strip clubs to solidify their cover -- that I wonder who is watching out for the real threat: bleach-blonde coeds and laid-off hardware store employees.

Any real would-be terrorist in the U.S. must be feeling the way our bomber pilots feel flying over the broken landscape of Afghanistan: There are so few targets left to hit.

The terrorist checklist: Hamper public transportation. Done. Tax already strained public resources. Done. Create public-health chaos. Done. Limit the government's ability to effectively respond to a crisis. Done. Panic the citizenry. Done. Wound the economy. Done.

Notice to all of bin Laden's sleeper agents in America: Hit the snooze button and go back to sleep. America is handling the task of civil disobedience quite well by itself. ·

Mark Greaney is an international account manager for Memphis-based Sofamor-Danek.

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