A Different Order of Magnitude

Security Management, October 2001 | Go to article overview

A Different Order of Magnitude


As you read this, the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are roughly a month in the past. But as this is being written, on September 12, the smoke still emanates from the buildings, and the rescue crews have barely begun to sift through the rubble in search of the few survivors and the too many victims. The United States has just begun to think about where to go from here.

Perhaps by mid-October, the U.S. government, in concert with its allies, will have discovered and retaliated against the perpetrators. Whether or not such a strike has occurred, it will constitute only a short-term response to the very long-term problem of terrorism, which Security Management readers know is not new. (Even before the incident, the October magazine already included an article on the FAA's continuing efforts to improve airport security; it can be found on page 95.)

Sadly, the widespread expressions of resolve to deal with terrorism are also not new. Similar determination was voiced after the 1993 bombing on the World Trade Center and after the 1995 attack in Oklahoma City. Both were deemed "wake-up calls." Yet somehow--each time--the nation returned to a sense of complacency, making it difficult for public and private security professionals to gain support for needed protection measures.

"The pattern," says Paul Pillar, a CIA officer who was deputy chief of the DCI counterterrorism center, has been "that interest and concern amongst the American public and the U.S. Congress about counterterrorism waxes and wanes according to how long it's been since the last major terrorism incident."

To the extent that government action is taken, it tends to be focused on a short-term reactive phase, notes Stephen Sloan, a professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Oklahoma. "We have additional commissions, recriminations, and 'lessons learned.'"

The most recent commission--the National Commission on Terrorism--was headed by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, whose words in an article on the commission's findings in Security Management's March 2001 issue were prescient: "International terrorists' attacks against the United States have changed dramatically in recent years, becoming more deadly and, of particular concern, striking within the country's borders."

One of the criticisms heard frequently in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks was that the intelligence community should have uncovered and thwarted this heinous act. Bremer notes now: "Our commission made a number of recommendations [to Congress] concerning intelligence. That was 15 months ago, and nothing has happened."

Bremer further notes that the damage done by the country's complacency is not easy to undo. …

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