- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 7, 2002

It has now been over five months since the events of September 11. As Americans appear to be getting back to life as it was prior to the attack, we may well be lulling ourselves into a false sense of security.
Some of Israel's leading security experts believe the United States is only weathering the eye of the terrorist storm. They believe the other wall of the storm is yet to hit. They believe when it does, Americans will again be stunned, failing to comprehend they are partially responsible for the terrorists' success. They believe there is little that can or will be done of a substantive nature to defeat the major terrorist attack still to come in the United States as it is a natural evolution of the public's mindset in a country where antiterrorism defense is yet to be accepted as a necessary part of life's daily routine.
At an invitation-only security seminar sponsored by Israel's security industry in New York City Feb. 19, both American and Israeli experts shared their fears that Americans' concerns about terrorism, even in the wake of September 11, are more surreal than real. They report concerns raised by potential clients calling for security advice in the days following the attack have faded in the months after with no real serious follow-up.
One security expert shared his recent observation at a New York City subway stop. A man with a video camera was seen filming the station and its approaches. Dozens of people passed him by, totally oblivious to the man's activity. The observer brought the matter to the attention of a transit officer who, like the passing crowd, did nothing. The observer finally found a policeman who then took the initiative to question the man's actions. With New Yorkers recently subjected to the horrors of September 11 demonstrating no increased security awareness, it is doubtful others in the United States are faring much better.
Experts expressed concerns too that a failure to fully coordinate a security plan leaves great potential for incalculable disaster. For example, U.S. armed military personnel are now positioned in the narrow causeways through which international passengers transit from the arriving aircraft to the terminal, where passports are inspected.
However, were weapons to be used in a causeway, rounds could easily penetrate its walls, the aircraft and the plane's fuel cells, causing extreme damage and injury to a number of passengers in the restricted confines of the causeway. If a terrorist has made it that far, it is better to contain him in an area where the defender has more control of surrounding conditions.
It is also difficult apparently for Americans to understand the concept of the perimeter defense and of identifying the terrorist outside that perimeter. We are, in effect, "too gentlemanly" in our efforts to deal with the terrorist on the outside, often allowing him to become a problem inside.
Israel began to grasp this concept more than three decades ago with its national airline, El Al, which has not been the target of a successful terrorist attack since. Americans, however, tend to take a band-aid approach where a suture is demanded. While we focus on preventing passengers from carrying sharp objects aboard, the terrorist is focusing on what objects can legally be brought on to carry out his illegal intentions. Even a bottle of alcohol, purchased at a duty-free shop, can easily be turned into a Molotov Cocktail to bring an aircraft down. Unfortunately, as we saw in the case of the shoe bomber, in the United States we tend to be more reactive than proactive in identifying such terrorists outside the defensive perimeter.
Just like it happened in Israel, it is likely we in the United States will not take antiterrorism seriously until two things happen. First, there must be a concerted effort to educate the population on what needs to be done, how it is to be done and why. This task must be undertaken not only by our government but by responsible corporate citizens as well.
For example, insurers could require their insureds to undergo a security-risk assessment before issuing policies, perhaps even offering discount rates if recommendations are followed. Second, once the seeds of antiterrorism education take root, legislation must be passed to protect companies by shielding them from liability for implementing a range of antiterrorism measures, enforced in good faith. Such measures include profiling, a process that successfully identified the same shoe bomber who previously sought to board an El Al flight.
The United States will have to weigh the constitutional concerns of infringing upon individual rights against ensuring the safety and security of the general population from terrorist attack. If appropriate measures are taken, it will as it has in Israel greatly expand the radius and effectiveness of the perimeter defense as seen by the success Israel has enjoyed to date in handling airline hijackings and bus bombings. This process will serve Israel well, too, as it now confronts the challenge of dealing with suicide bombers.
The terrorist always looks for a victim's soft underbelly. Much of the United States today provides just such an exposure. Thus, we are likely to be destined to suffer the effects of another September 11 sometime in the future. The question for us to ponder now is how many more of these attacks will we endure before taking antiterrorism seriously and doing the things necessary to win the war.

James G. Zumwalt, a Marine veteran of the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars, is a contributor to The Washington Times.


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