Skip to comments.UK TIMES: One year on, and America has still not learnt the vital lessons to defend its shores
Posted on 10/31/2002 12:49:34 AM PST by MadIvan
They talk about when not if the next catastrophic terrorist attack will happen on American soil. They issue warnings that in all likelihood the next assault will result in even greater casualties and more widespread disruption than resulted from September 11. And they make it clear that in many important respects, America is unprepared.
After more than a year without a new attack, they say that there are signs that Americans are lapsing into complacency. And they point to a big distraction ahead, in the shape of a war with Iraq, that could consume all the nations attention and much of its resources.
These dire warnings are not the opinions of wild-eyed extremists. They come from a bipartisan task force that includes two former Secretaries of State, two former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a former Director of the CIA and FBI, and a brace of Nobel laureates. The group is led by former Senators Gary Hart and Warren Rudman, who published early in 2001 a prescient and largely ignored warning about the threat of devastating terrorist attacks on American soil. The conclusions of their latest study, America Still Unprepared America Still in Danger, are deeply troubling for the US and its allies.
There are two main areas of weakness in the countrys defences. The first is organisational, and arises in good part because of the complex relationships between federal and state authorities. One example: the task of catching terrorists is beyond the scope of the FBI, which has just 56 field offices around the US. Yet it cannot share the burden with the 650,000 local, county and state law enforcement officers, because terrorist watch lists provided by the State Department are out of bounds for state and local police. So the officer on the beat is operating in an intelligence vacuum.
The second big weakness lies in the vulnerability of Americas vital infrastructure. The task force cites a list of examples, of which the most alarming concerns the big seaports. More than two fifths of all the maritime containers sent to the US come through two ports, Los Angeles and Long Beach. The cost of transporting a full container from Europe or Asia is modest, and there are no required security standards. Most are sealed with a 50c lead tag.
If a bomb were loaded in a container and exploded in a port, it would not just have a local impact. Enormous concerns would be raised about the integrity of all the 21,000 containers that arrive in US ports every day, and the thousands more that come across land borders. The task force says that if US ports had to be closed for three or four weeks, the global container industry would be brought to its knees. Great ports like Rotterdam and Singapore would have to close their gates as they ran out of storage space, and as this system becomes gridlocked, so would much of global commerce.
And the action taken so far? The Los Angeles and Long Beach ports asked for $70 million to strengthen security after September 11, and have been awarded $6 million. The cost of adequate security for Americas seaports has been put at $2 billion: so far, just $92.3 million in federal grants has been approved.
No one can be sure about the real scale of the threat. But only this month George Tenet, the CIA Director, told a Senate committee: You must make the assumption that al-Qaeda is in an execution phase and intends to strike us both here and overseas; thats unambiguous as far as I am concerned.
National politicians understand all this, but they are not doing nearly enough. President Bush is racing around the country drumming up votes and money for next weeks elections: when he is in Washington, his main preoccupation is Iraq. Legislation to create the promised department of homeland security is held up in the Senate.
And this is the problem. The steps recommended by the task force will require an enormous investment in time, energy and money. But Americas political leaders seem determined to make the war against terrorism a struggle in which ordinary citizens are not expected to make any sacrifices, beyond having to wait a little longer to check in at the airport.
Americans are not being asked to change their style of living significantly. Although heavy spending will be required abroad and at home to make a real difference to the balance of terror, tax increases are not to be mentioned on either side of the House.
The Hart-Rudman task force accepts that America cannot be made invulnerable to terrorist attacks. But this is not a reason for inaction. Americas adversaries may be deterred from taking their battles to Main Street if they see that the country has done everything it can to reduce the disruptive effects of terrorist attacks. The cost of failing to take these necessary steps may turn out to be heavy indeed.
We have large networks of muslim fifth columnists--some of whom have even been invited to the White House by BOTH clinton and Bush--whom it is "politically incorrect" to do anything serous about, or even criticize. Then there is the stupidly-obstinant refusal to change our Balkan policy in favor of Serbia, and our continued nearly unlimited immigration from Third World and islamic countries.
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