And that is the best-case scenario. Senior law enforcement officials say they believe al Qaeda is planning another Sept. 11 scale attack inside the U.S. but, for the moment, is not in a position to pull it off. In the interim, the hope, or the fear - depending on how you look at it - is that in 2003 al Qaeda will continue its series of small to mid-level attacks, mostly overseas.
That theory is based on the assumption that al Qaeda was badly disrupted in Afghanistan and the organization's habit of repeating its successes. And lately their biggest successes have been against defenseless overseas targets.
"It is very likely that al Qaeda will try to repeat the Mombassa type suicide attack on a hotel, a soft target again, or the Bali type attack against a nightclub, again a soft target, where they killed a large number of people," says terrorism expert Rohan Gu-Nu-Ratna.
The same target areas as last year are also still the most vulnerable: East Africa, Yemen, Tunisia, Pakistan, Chechnya, Indonesia and the Philippines. Attacks there killed at least 488 civilians last year, including 36 Americans.
Inside the U.S., transportation systems are considered the most likely targets once al Qaeda regroups. Commercial aviation cargo is a particular worry along with seaports and trains. And under the theory that al Qaeda also desires to strike an economic blow as well as cause mass casualties, officials say they have come to regard America's shopping malls as tempting targets as well.