Counter-Terrorism, Bit by Bit; Information Integration Is Critical for Security

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 3, 2002 | Go to article overview

Counter-Terrorism, Bit by Bit; Information Integration Is Critical for Security


Byline: Saul B. Wilen, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Consider what might be called the Washington Mall Scenario. Several nuclear "dirty" suitcase bombs are detonated between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. The result: No humans could be permitted on this land and the surrounding radius of several miles (almost the entire city of Washington) for hundreds of years (U.S. Department of Energy information on radiation impact). This is no fantasy, and it highlights the marked limitations of our nation's strategy based primarily on responding to terrorism.

The awakening of September 11 put America's vulnerabilities and weaknesses into sharp perspective. The approaches instituted to date (codified in the Patriot Act) are primarily reactive in nature, waiting for terrorist events to occur and then responding through disaster preparedness and crisis management.

Disaster preparedness and reactive interventions are necessary and should be supported. But the present equation for terrorist prevention and preparedness is markedly out of balance. Knowing the futility of a reactive strategy, terrorist expert after terrorist analyst after terrorist consultant can now be heard saying that the major focus of our efforts must be prevention of terrorism.

America does not have the resources to employ primarily a reactive strategy. The Federation of American Scientists has warned, since the 1970s, that the United States is unable to handle the casualties of even a modest nuclear attack on a handful of urban targets simultaneously. Our lack of experience with mass quarantine enhances our vulnerability to terrorist-caused smallpox virus exposures in multiple, distant population centers. Consequently, millions of people would have to be quarantined.

Our resources to react to the release of toxic chemicals into the subway systems of several cities would quickly be exhausted. The medical experts at the St. Luke's International Hospital in Tokyo, Japan, who treated large numbers of the 1995 Sarin gas victims, have estimated that, if the terrorists used undiluted Sarin gas, the attack would have resulted in thousands and thousands of deaths and injuries, far beyond any capability for an effective response.

The antiquated information systems being used by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) actually interfere with its vital role in prevention and protection. How many other agencies are similarly hampered? Had the towers of the World Trade Center fallen over as was expected by Osama bin Laden, instead of imploding, the human and physical devastation would have been beyond our ability to ever respond. The general economic impact of terrorist attacks and threats diverts our resources and undermines our economic stability.

American society has historically been reactive, waiting for a cataclysmic event and then rallying support to create the needed response. But this support soon wanes, and America returns to complacency. The September 11 tragedies exposed our vulnerability and led President George W. Bush to declare a global "war on terrorism.

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Counter-Terrorism, Bit by Bit; Information Integration Is Critical for Security
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