- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 11, 2002

The United States is better prepared for terrorism than it was last year, when President Bush pledged to track down and punish those responsible for the September 11 attacks.

Cities and counties are guarding their water supplies and have evacuation plans. The USA Patriot Act expanded the government's ability to conduct secret searches, and monitor telephones and Internet lines. Border security is tighter than ever.

"We are safer than we were a year ago," said former Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, who leads a commission that gauges U.S. capabilities for defense against weapons of mass destruction. "But a lot more work still needs to be done."

One of the most visible changes was a massive effort to improve airport security. New screening equipment, beefed-up security personnel and random searches have added to the delays and hassles that are part of the new air-travel experience.

"Do we have progress to go? Yes, we do. But we're making an intense full-court press," said Transportation Security Administration spokesman David Steigman.

Some of the policies intended to keep Americans safe, however, have triggered debate and legal challenges among civil rights advocates about the extent to which the new security measures may infringe on civil liberties, particularly among immigrants.

During the past year, critics argue, the government's actions have targeted immigrants, rolled back Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure, and undermined the principle of separation of powers.

"Viewed separately, some of the changes may not seem extreme, especially when seen as a response to the September 11 attacks," said Michael Posner, executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in New York.

"But when you connect the dots, a different picture emerges," Mr. Posner said. "The composite picture shows that too often the U.S. government's mode of operations since September 11 has been at odds with core American and international human rights principles."

The chorus of critics included an unusual alliance of conservative Republicans and the American Civil Liberties Union, who joined forces to thwart creation of a federal program that sought tips on suspicious behavior from residents and volunteers, including letter carriers and utility workers.

Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, rallied against the Justice Department's Terrorism Information and Prevention System, or Operation TIPS, calling it "the very type of fascist or communist government we fought so hard to eradicate in other countries in decades past."

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, in his markup of legislation to create a Homeland Security Department in July, rejected the idea.

A July poll found that 63 percent of Americans said they were very or somewhat concerned that measures enacted to fight terrorism could end up restricting individual civil liberties. Others disagree.

"The government hasn't overreacted to the situation. It has been more or less right," said Paul Rosenzweig, senior legal research fellow with the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington.

Despite all these efforts, the country remains a prime target for terrorists, who could be anywhere: a shopping center, a sports arena, an office building, a nuclear-power plant or water-treatment facilities.

Significant gaps remain in the country's defenses against such threats as chemical or biological attacks. The nightmare scenario for security analysts is a widespread smallpox attack. Vaccine shortages (the United States has 155 million doses) and lack of a distribution plan has some analysts worried.

"Much of what has been in place has been ineffective," said Robert Levy, senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute, a nonpartisan libertarian public-policy research foundation in Washington.

"We may be better protected, but we're definitely not as safe as we should be, because the measures that have been put in place since the attacks have had zero effect, and we have evidence to prove that," he said.

Some security experts still believe the country's airlines remain far from terror-proof.

Just last week, two reporters from the New York Daily News investigating airport security were able to smuggle small knives, razor blades and pepper spray through checkpoints at 11 U.S. airports, including the four where the terrorists boarded their flights the morning of September 11.

Charles Slepian, an aviation-security expert, said changes made to airport security were only "cosmetic." Airports still have not hired, trained or assigned a new screener work force, or obtained effective explosive-detection systems for installation in all airports to ensure the screening of all checked baggage and cargo, he said.

"In the future, if hijackers are able to bypass security, they are likely to be thwarted in their attempts to hijack an airliner by citizens and flight crews trained in self-defense," said Mr. Slepian, who also is the chief executive officer of the Foreseeable Risk Analysis Center.

News of incidents like the one involving the Daily News reporters doesn't help public confidence. "While these findings are certainly of concern, the reality is that the TSA securely processes through the aviation system an average of 5 million passengers on more than 30,000 flights every single day," the TSA's Mr. Steigman said. Since February, he said, the TSA has confiscated 527 firearms and more than 2.3 million items like scissors and box cutters.

Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU, said the terrorist attacks have undoubtedly changed American law and society, but that the most disturbing change is the government's belief "that our society cannot be both safe and free."

"Certainly, the terrorists who attacked us took insidious advantage of our tolerance and our love of liberty enjoying our freedoms while plotting our destruction. But does that mean our freedoms are at fault? Or that being tolerant of others is wrong? Our answer is an emphatic 'no,'" Mr. Romero said.

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