- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 3, 2004

In his second term, President Bush has an historic opportunity to better protect America from terrorism. To do so he needs to refocus homeland security by helping states and localities strengthen their ability to detect, prevent and defeat terror attacks.

Today the Bush administration’s focus on defeating terrorists abroad is only part of the solution. It fails to recognize that terrorist organizations are patient and adaptive. They will always find ways around the screens we have developed to keep them out.

Ours is an open society. That is a strength of our great country. But terrorists will continue to exploit that strength as a vulnerability.

So, the next terrorist attack will not be stopped by the federal government. It will more likely be stopped by the cop on the beat who has been trained and equipped to recognize terrorists in our midst.

Defeating terrorists is not rocket science. True, they have the advantage of virtually unlimited targets in the United States. It is impossible for us to protect everything.

But a terrorist also has a tough job blending in and carrying out his mission. He must find a place to live; get money to carry out his operations; gather vehicles and materials; carefully watch the target; assemble his weapon, and rehearse the attack. To do so he must come in contact with dozens of Americans as he prepares to strike.

What we need across America is a process to enable local law enforcement to recognize something is awry before we are attacked.

That’s the hard part, because today our law enforcement is trained to investigate crimes after they occur. Now we are asking them to prevent terrorist crimes. That takes training and time.

Of course law enforcement cannot do it alone. We must also train firefighters, public-health workers, county agriculture agents, sanitation workers, and all public employees to recognize the indicators of an attack against hometown America.

Private industry, which owns 85 percent of all critical infrastructure in the United States, must also be an effective partner in prevention.

Lastly, we need to help state and local governments create terrorism prevention information centers so they can match information provided by Washington with what they develop on Main Street.

Yes, we must continue to prepare state and local first responders to respond to attacks. The higher priority, however, must be on preventing attacks in the first place, and enabling states and localities to help win the real war against terrorism.

President Bush should make that his second-term homeland security priority.

Mike Walker was acting secretary of the Army and deputy director of FEMA in the Clinton administration.

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