- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2001

America emerged from the almost surreal, incomprehensible toll of terror, death and devastation last week as

it always does in times of war and human catastrophe — united, determined, unbowed and heroic.

One of America's best characteristics is that just when we seem hopelessly divided by political factionalism, we are able to quickly unite in a common cause against some external threat or internal calamity. And once again, as we have done so many times in our history, we have put aside our differences and come together to rally ourselves — to grieve for the dead, to heal the wounds of the living, and to emerge from the fiery ruins stronger than before and more committed to seeking out this evil force and put it to death.

In the aftermath of the worst foreign terrorist act in our nation's history, we see this blessed unity everywhere. Lawmakers of opposing parties holding hands and singing "God Bless America" on the steps of the Capitol. Congressional leaders, who just a few days ago were at each other's throats, now giving President Bush virtual free rein to spend whatever is necessary to protect national security, strengthen our intelligence-gathering capabilities, and to rebuild and restore the symbols of economic and military power that have been destroyed.

Yet there are many questions being asked in the aftermath of all this. How could such a well-coordinated operation like this be pulled off in such secrecy? Why didn't our precautions, detectors and other anti-terrorism machinery prevent this? Why didn't the Central Intelligence Agency, the FBI, the National Security Agency, as they have done so often in the past, detect this in advance?

Terrorist acts have happened before, and we knew it would likely happen again. In February 1993, a massive truck bomb exploded in the basement of the World Trade Center, killing six people and injuring more than a thousand. But we fell into a false sense of complacency. We let our guard down. And the enemy came back, this time with an arsenal of deadly, hijacked commercial airliners aimed not only at the Twin Towers, but the Pentagon and possibly the White House or the Capitol.

We knew there were major holes in our anti-terrorism, national-security apparatus and in our airline safety as well. A few years ago, government inspectors, armed with weapons, succeeded in boarding commercial airplanes 68 percent of the time, getting through security checkpoints and detectors unchallenged.

As for our intelligence apparatus, we have long known that its major weakness has been the lack of human intelligence to infiltrate terrorist groups or their supporters.

The problems that beset our spy agencies go back to the dark days of the Senate committee chaired by Sen. Frank Church, Idaho Democrat, and other liberal critics of our intelligence community who were bent on tying its hands. One of the Church committee's worst reforms was to forbid payments to thugs and killers that one has to use in this business to uncover national security threats to the United States. Fully justified pre-emptive assassinations were forbidden.

We need to repeal these prohibitions that have hamstrung our intelligence forces if we have any hope of defeating a newly emboldened, elusive enemy that even now has the means to use chemical, biological and even nuclear weapons against us.

In the words of former Secretary of State James Baker, we need to get "down and dirty" and use whatever means necessary to uncover and prevent future terrorist plots that are no doubt being planned right now.

We also need to think about reorganizing both our defense and civilian intelligence forces in a new way to deal with a very different threat. We need to train, develop and finance small intelligence forces of foreign nationals to penetrate and infiltrate terrorist groups on their own turf. We need to put them on the defensive instead of waiting until they attack us.

We need to have a more efficient immigration apparatus that allows us to quickly check the backgrounds of bad people who come here under the guise of work or political-asylum visas, and new laws, or an executive order, that gives government officials the authority to immediately deport those who are considered dangerous to our national security.

Numerous reports have documented a large backlog of foreign criminals and other unscrupulous people with bad connections who have been able to remain in this country through long legal delays. This must stop.

Clearly, there are going to have to be major changes in airline safety rules that go beyond the rules changes that have been announced. We may need to go back to the days, abandoned in the early 1990s, of putting security personnel on flights. Clearly, the airlines need to re-examine their entire safety procedures and the unskilled and undertrained personnel at the X-ray and metal detectors.

At the same time, there is a growing belief here that this monumental tragedy will build support in Congress for full funding of an anti-missile system. It does not take a huge leap of imagination to see that if terrorists can use airliners as human-guided missiles, the day is not far off when, prevented from doing that, they will get their hands on a real short-range missile that will make last week's horror seem tame by comparison.

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