Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Safety Cannot Be Guaranteed More Could Be Done to Combat Terrorism, but Success Will Never Be 100 Percent

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Safety Cannot Be Guaranteed More Could Be Done to Combat Terrorism, but Success Will Never Be 100 Percent

Article excerpt

Whether or not the crash of TWA Flight 800 was caused by terrorists, Americans are demanding heightened airport security to ensure against another tragedy. Yet, while there's no question that security measures at airports must be enhanced, we are deluding ourselves if we think that is the way to prevent terrorist attacks.

Even the most sophisticated luggage scanners are enormously limited. This is not something airline or law-enforcement officials are comfortable talking about, particularly now, but the million-dollar machines we've been hearing so much about lately - the ones that have been installed in only three American airports - are still of limited value.

They may represent an improvement at detecting plastic explosives, but they're unlikely to be reliable at detecting certain other forms of explosives.

These machines, which use a combination of X-ray and CAT scan technology to generate three-dimensional images of what is inside bags, are programmed to locate substances that have the density of plastic explosives. Yet many explosive materials, like foams or even liquid rocket propellants, have a lower density than plastic, are almost as powerful and can escape detection.

Terrorists will always figure out a way to defeat whatever security measures we put into place. They always have. What, then, can we do to prevent attacks?

Early warnings of terrorist plots can be provided by good intelligence, but here too there are great constraints. It's extremely difficult, sometimes impossible, to penetrate terrorist organizations.

Yet there is a role for our technical intelligence agencies, chiefly the National Security Agency and its British equivalent, the Government Communications Headquarters.

They are quite skilled at intercepting communications - voice, data, faxes - around the world and combing them for certain "trigger" words in a designated string order.

But such intercepts rely on locating targets, which can only be done by human intelligence - "humint," as it's called at the CIA headquarters in Langley. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.