US Takes Global Precautions to Stem Threat of Terrorism Latest Attacks May Lead to New Era in US Countermeasures

By Jonathan S. Landay, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, July 23, 1996 | Go to article overview

US Takes Global Precautions to Stem Threat of Terrorism Latest Attacks May Lead to New Era in US Countermeasures


Jonathan S. Landay, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


From the Pentagon and Capitol Hill to airports and corporate boardrooms, fresh concerns over terrorism are prompting stepped-up precautions - some unprecedented.

For the first time, the military is devising plans to protect troops based overseas from chemical and biological terrorism. Similarly, a bill passed last week by the Senate would provide funds to train local police and firefighters in coping with the aftermath of terrorist attacks in the United States that employed chemical, biological, or nuclear devices.

Such measures underscore the deepening seriousness with which politicians and policymakers are taking the terrorist threat. The crash of TWA Flight 800 - if officially decreed the work of terrorists - would be tragic proof of the correctness of their concerns.

Still, experts agree the US may be ill-prepared to cope with the rising threat from extremists abroad and malcontents at home. They note the nation may now be at a turning point in how it thinks about terrorism.

"There is a reevaluation going on in the United States and elsewhere as to the nature and the intensity of the threat," says Yonah Alexander, a terrorism expert at George Washington University. "We have to do more in terms of personnel, in terms of funding and strengthening international cooperation. It's really the moment of truth."

Experts inside and outside government have long been cautioning that the dangers of terrorism are intensifying because of a post-cold-war proliferation of deadly materials and know-how. Their warnings have been given new weight by the devastating June 25 bombing of the United States military compound in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, that killed 19 service personnel and a mounting belief that sabotage is behind the TWA crash.

"We have seen in a lot of different countries in the world a level of sophistication, a level of fanaticism, a level of willingness to take on risks by terrorists than we have seen in the past," says a senior Defense Department official.

"That's one reason that the threat has grown. Another is the spread of technology, a spread of ... a level of knowledge of how to make bombs. There are actual examples of terrorists using chemicals," he says, referring to the gas attacks on a Tokyo subway.

No silver bullet

Experts stress that there is no "silver bullet" that can eliminate terrorism: Indeed, senior administration officials worry about even greater anti-US atrocities, involving weapons of mass destruction. Officials and independent experts stress that additional steps can be taken to better deter domestic and foreign extremist groups and to limit the casualties and damage from those that succeed in committing violent acts.

"Almost everybody now understands that we need to be much more imaginative," says Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana. "There is a need for new conceptual thinking. We are going to have to think of military planning of a very different type."

The most sweeping new antiterrorism measures are under development at the Pentagon, which was harshly criticized on Capitol Hill for a lack of security precautions at the US military compound in Dhahran.

Defense Secretary William Perry has announced plans to increase protection for US military personnel in the Gulf. …

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