- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2001

The United States government has not responded to meet the changing threat of terrorism. That was the conclusion of three national studies conducted over the past year, two of which I participated in. Three important changes have taken place, which emphasize the need for a new approach to our governments, counterterrorist organization.
First, terrorists are becoming more blood-thirsty. The National Commission on Terrorism, which I chaired, reported to the president and Congress last year about a disturbing paradox. While the number of terrorist incidents has been declining, the number of casualties is rising. This reflects the changing motives of terrorists. During the 1970s and 1980s, most terrorist groups we faced had limited political goals, and they used attacks to kill people to draw attention to those issues. These "old-style" terrorists rarely engaged in indiscriminate mass killing.
They rightly concluded such attacks would revolt the very audiences they were trying to convert to their cause. So most individual attacks we experienced resulted in "only" several dozen deaths. Over time, the terrorists overplayed their hand and the public here and in Europe did turn against them. The United States developed a counter-terrorist strategy to deal with this threat.
Over the past decade, the pattern changed. We need a new approach to deal with the new threat. Today, many terrorist groups are motivated less by narrow political goals and more by ideological, apocalyptic or religious motives. Sometimes their goal is simply revenge. Terrorists' tactics changed to reflect their new motives. Beginning with the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1989 - through the first World Trade Center bombing, the chemical attacks in the Tokyo subways in 1995, and the attacks on our embassies in East Africa - terrorist actions have resulted in increasing number of casualties. Rather than constraining casualties, these terrorists seek to kill as many people as possible.
A related change concerns the disturbing possibility that terrorists might use weapons of mass destruction. In the 1980s, terrorist groups could have developed such weapons, but they didn't, apparently calculating that their use would undercut support for their objectives. In the 1990s, information about chemical and biological agents became widely available on the Internet. And terrorist experts have noted that far from steering away from such agents, the new terrorists might find these weapons attractive precisely because they can kill tens of thousands. There is evidence that some terrorist groups, including Osama bin Laden's Al Qaida, have tried to acquire such capabilities. Meanwhile the terrorist states of North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Libya and Syria have all developed nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
The third major change in the terrorist threat is the fading distinction between "international" and "domestic" terrorism. Yet since 1985 the U.S. government has been organized to fight terrorism as if these were distinct threats, with the State Department in the lead for "international" terrorism, the Justice Department for "domestic" terrorism. As last week's events make clear, terrorist organizations don't make these tidy bureaucratic distinctions.
The problem of border security dramatizes this point. It appears that several of the terrorists may have entered the country illegally. The visa status of the alleged hijackers, who studied in Florida, is unclear. Moreover, according to reports, one of the hijackers, Mohammed Atta, was on the FBI's list of known terrorists. How did he get into this country, particularly if he used his real name? Almost 1.5 million people legally cross our borders each day. We don't know how many illegal entries occur, but they are undoubtedly in the thousands daily. Our government estimates that there are already more than 4 million illegal immigrants here.
The Bremer Commission reported that our government does a poor job keeping track of legal immigrants. One of the terrorists convicted in the first World Trade Center bombings was a student who had violated his visa status by dropping out of school. The FBI director announced last Thursday that some of the suspects under investigation were in violation of their visa status.
The sad fact is that the U.S. government does not have an integrated national counterterrorism strategy to deal with these new realities. This was the central conclusion of The Advisory Panel on Domestic Terrorism, chaired by Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, which issued its report in December. Nor does the federal government work effectively with state and local authorities, which are, as we saw last week, always the first people on the scene of a terrorist incident.
But if the executive branch is poorly organized, the same can be said of Congress's approach to terrorism. More than 40 committees and subcommittees claim jurisdiction over some parts of the counter-terrorism field. Over the years, Congress has passed a hodgepodge of legislation, pulling the federal government one way or another, imposing rules, regulations, policies and practices with no concern for developing a coherent strategy. The changes in the nature of terrorism demand a new approach.
First, the president must develop and articulate a coherent national strategy to deal with terrorism. Today nobody in the government has overall responsibility and so no strategy exists.
To meet this need, the Gilmore Panel recommended the establishment of a National Office of Counter-Terrorism (NOCT). The office would be headed by a Cabinet-level individual and placed in the office of the president to assure that it had adequate political authority to deal with the many agencies and departments involved in the fight.
America today is at the beginning of a long struggle against terrorists, one which will demand real sacrifices going even beyond those so many families have already suffered. There is no doubt the American people will rise to the challenge. But they have right to insist that the government get its house in order for what will be a difficult, demanding task.

Former Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III is the former chairman of the National Commission on Terrorism.

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