- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 3, 2002

Consider what might be called the Washington Mall Scenario. Several nuclear "dirty" suitcase bombs are detonated between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. The result: No humans could be permitted on this land and the surrounding radius of several miles (almost the entire city of Washington) for hundreds of years (U.S. Department of Energy information on radiation impact). This is no fantasy, and it highlights the marked limitations of our nation's strategy based primarily on responding to terrorism.

The awakening of September 11 put America's vulnerabilities and weaknesses into sharp perspective. The approaches instituted to date (codified in the Patriot Act) are primarily reactive in nature, waiting for terrorist events to occur and then responding through disaster preparedness and crisis management.

Disaster preparedness and reactive interventions are necessary and should be supported. But the present equation for terrorist prevention and preparedness is markedly out of balance. Knowing the futility of a reactive strategy, terrorist expert after terrorist analyst after terrorist consultant can now be heard saying that the major focus of our efforts must be prevention of terrorism.

America does not have the resources to employ primarily a reactive strategy. The Federation of American Scientists has warned, since the 1970s, that the United States is unable to handle the casualties of even a modest nuclear attack on a handful of urban targets simultaneously. Our lack of experience with mass quarantine enhances our vulnerability to terrorist-caused smallpox virus exposures in multiple, distant population centers. Consequently, millions of people would have to be quarantined.

Our resources to react to the release of toxic chemicals into the subway systems of several cities would quickly be exhausted. The medical experts at the St. Luke's International Hospital in Tokyo, Japan, who treated large numbers of the 1995 Sarin gas victims, have estimated that, if the terrorists used undiluted Sarin gas, the attack would have resulted in thousands and thousands of deaths and injuries, far beyond any capability for an effective response.

The antiquated information systems being used by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) actually interfere with its vital role in prevention and protection. How many other agencies are similarly hampered? Had the towers of the World Trade Center fallen over as was expected by Osama bin Laden, instead of imploding, the human and physical devastation would have been beyond our ability to ever respond. The general economic impact of terrorist attacks and threats diverts our resources and undermines our economic stability.

American society has historically been reactive, waiting for a cataclysmic event and then rallying support to create the needed response. But this support soon wanes, and America returns to complacency. The September 11 tragedies exposed our vulnerability and led President George W. Bush to declare a global "war on terrorism." Direct military confrontation to mortally wound terrorism will take many years with no assurance of accomplishment. What must be done differently? We must institute terrorism prevention now.

Prevention will be accomplished by molding our unique ability to mobilize technology, use information optimally, create effective communication, employ education, and apply our physical resources into the weapon to defeat terrorist threats. We have the information we need but it is not integrated to be of real use.

The prevention weapon consists of computer-based systems that utilize the multiple existing databases many housed in different government agencies domestically and globally in real-time. Information will continue to be gathered, incorporated and shared on multiple levels. The new and unique horizontal integration technology allows the data to be subdivided immediately into essential elements for evaluation to support effective decision-making and action. The information presently stored in the multiple agency and entity databases, such as that relating to terrorist attacks, government buildings, and biological agents, would be merged into a functional "one-source-reservoir" used by these agencies for strategic prevention analysis. This technology exists now and can be readily implemented. But the job, logical as it seems, has yet to be done, while future terrorist attacks are being planned. There is no time to wait.

Current database systems use vertical data access whereby the data is not connected, but is separated into individual data blocks. These can only be accessed one block at a time. Horizontal data integration accesses and merges the information resulting in detecting the early trends in real-time that unmask terrorists, terrorist activities, and their threats. This horizontal process allows for prevention and has applications for the Office of Homeland Security, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, Department of Transportation, Department of Commerce, Health and Human Services, FBI, Department of Agriculture, CIA, municipalities and states.

This is the time for clear thought and decisive action. We must learn from history and seize the opportunity to institute prevention as a full and equal component in our planning and strategies, provide the necessary education for all Americans, establish meaningful and valid communication among all responsible agencies and entities, and motivate cooperation for the present and the future. As America continues to target terrorism we need leadership to guarantee that the principles of prevention be applied to create enduring, positive results, thereby assuring security for future generations.


Dr. Saul B. Wilen is a member of the U.S. Secret Service's New York Electronic Crimes Task Force and the Commerce Department's Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office Working Group on Community Structure for Crisis Management, Planning, Preparedness and Recovery.


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