- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 8, 2002

Since the September 11 terrorist attacks, there has been a proliferation of companies offering numerous products and services under the guise of homeland security or counterterrorism. In truth, such goods and services have a large variance as to their usefulness in responding to or reducing the threats of terrorism. This development may be designated as the Homeland Security Business Age the successor to the Internet boom and bust.
The Internet boom was short-lived due to unreasonable expectations of growth in the Net and the inability to easily monetize this new medium of commerce. Unfortunately, the Homeland Security Business Age will endure as the threats of terrorism are real, brutal and global. Illustrative of this menacing trend include: the recent terrorist attacks in Bali and Moscow, new al Qaeda warnings of "spectacular" attacks, an aborted cyanide attack on the London subway, and the dramatic operation directed against Israeli targets in Kenya on land and in the air.
The post-September 11, 2001, record of homeland security companies can be delineated as follows: companies directly or tangentially helpful in the war on terrorism; and those exploiting the fears of the U.S. population to extract profits.
The defense industry plays an important role in fighting terrorism by supplying critical weaponry and related goods and services to the military and law enforcement agencies. Some of the weapons used in the war on terrorism as carried out mostly in Afghanistan and Yemen include jet fighters, unmanned aerial vehicles, submarines and missiles. American forces also have at their disposal other products (e.g., night-vision gear and hand-held computers) when they engage on the battlefield. These tools will be put into greater use than before in the impending conflict with Iraq.
The September 11 attacks brought to the forefront security products and services that enable government and businesses to monitor and safeguard sensitive locations, spot terrorists through biometric systems, authenticate documents, detect explosives, provide physical security and protection to vulnerable facilities and personnel, and investigate the background of customers and prospective employees. Additional businesses instrumental in countering terrorist threats and ensuring business continuity include computer security software, emergency-management software, and data storage and recovery services.
Manufacturers of medicines (e.g., Cipro and iodine pills) and vaccines (e.g., anthrax and smallpox) experienced additional sales following rising fears of superterrorism (biological, chemical and nuclear). This phenomenon also led to a further demand for germ detection products and remediation services. Forensics investigative services were called upon to assist medical and investigative teams following the terrorist attacks.
Declining commercial airline use due to the risk of hijackings enabled companies providing videoconferencing, teleconferencing and Internet-based collaboration tools to expand market share. Mild disruption to mail distribution due to post-September 11 anthrax attacks led to heightened use of e-mail and the consequent rise in demand for e-mail management software.
Special equipment (e.g., biohazard suits and gas masks) made available to first-responders of terrorism (e.g., police officers, firefighters, and rescue workers) further demonstrated the critical role of homeland security firms in the war on terrorism. Consumer interest in "survivalist" products (e.g., electric generators and water purification systems) developed in anticipation of possible mega-terrorist attacks.
Clearly less palatable are firms marketing various contraptions such as: untested emergency parachutes for employees in skyscrapers; questionable bomb detection and germ detection machines; unproven aquarium-like apparatuses purported to be helpful when opening anthrax-laden mail; and placebos marketed as genuine pharmaceuticals and vaccines.
Furthermore, online and brick-and-mortar stores offering counterterrorism products bomb shelters and other goods of dubious utility may jeopardize the credibility of the mainstream homeland security industry. Particularly ironic is the latest opening of such a shop not far from a graveyard of al Qaeda's making the World Trade Center.
Should the "merchants of fear" elements of the industry exceed their current minimal role, this business segment as a whole will suffer. Therefore, consumers must be vigilant in purchasing only genuine, useful homeland products and services from credible firms and avoid the wares of terror-profiteers. Otherwise, we will undermine our defenses and concurrently strengthen the hands of our enemies, the terrorists.

Yonah Alexander is professor and director of the International Center for Terrorism Studies, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Arlington, Va. Dean C. Alexander is a fellow at the International Law Institute in D.C.

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