- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 29, 2005

On September 11, 2001, the enemies of freedom brought war to the American homeland. We were unprepared for their level of hatred. As a result, we learned some lessons.

We learned that liberty was under attack. We understood it was not a one-time attack, but that future attacks could come on a September 11, July 4 or any other day. We should also have learned that it would be folly to believe that terrorists would limit their future attack options to only using hijacked airlines as missiles.

“Don’t fight the last war” is an axiom that has been used throughout history by military tacticians. A common example is the Maginot Line, the concrete and steel line erected along the border of France during the 1930s. This line was determined by French authorities to be an adequate system of defense, because similar defenses had held up well during World War I. The Maginot Line was not only expensive and time consuming to construct, but its mere presence also created a false sense of security.

During World War II, France’s defenses were simply outflanked. As we prepare for future terror attacks, we must remember not to fight the last war or use outdated strategies to organize our current efforts.

According to the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, since Jan. 1, 1998, more than 13,200 terrorist incidents have occurred in the United States and around the world. Of that total, airports or airliners were the targets of 106 of those incidents — including the September 11 attacks. During that same period of time, 667 attacks targeted various other forms of transportation, including the March 11, 2004, attacks against train lines in Madrid.

I want to stay one step ahead of the terrorist threat, and I fear that we are spending significant amounts of money and expending thousands of man-hours on airline security. In 2004, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, 692 million passengers flew out of American airports — the most in the history of U.S. aviation. The Government Accountability Office estimates that nearly 9 billion passengers use mass transit every year. I certainly want airline security to reflect the realities of a post-September 11 world and airlines should be made as secure as possible for travelers. Yet we’re spending a disproportionate amount of our resources on aviation security ($5 billion) when compared to other security priorities.

The bottom line is that the focus and resource allocation of this government has to be prioritized so that threats are matched against vulnerabilities and our scarce dollars directed toward the greatest risks.

That is why I have also spoken out recently on the need to focus on new strategies to avert a catastrophic terrorist attack. As chairman of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Nuclear and Biological Attack, I have been tasked with overseeing the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts to prevent catastrophic terrorist attacks on the United States involving nuclear and biological weapons. I take this role very seriously and want to ensure that DHS is prepared and focused on its mission to protect our citizens — and our way of life.

According to former Sen. Sam Nunn, now the head of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, terrorists could acquire a dangerous amount of cesium-137 from a medical facility to craft a dirty bomb that could disperse the radioactive cesium isotope across a 60-square block area in a major city. Americans would lose their lives, millions would flee the radioactive area and billions of dollars of contaminated real estate would be rendered unlivable for years. Medical facilities, however, are more focused on protecting individuals from infected needle punctures than they are on securing cesium.

Mr. Nunn has also pointed out that a 10-kiloton nuclear device, not unreasonable for a basic terrorist bomb, could kill more than half a million people if it went off in Manhattan. This kind of catastrophic attack — once as unthinkable as airlines flying into buildings — would have devastating consequences in both loss of life and in economic terms. It is estimated that the New York Stock Exchange could lose $11.5 trillion in business transactions alone from this single attack.

Americans are blessed to live in a country of unprecedented wealth and freedom, but the resources of the government are not endless. We can, and should, provide resources for aviation security, but we cannot lose focus on the threat of catastrophic attacks that will lead to mass casualties, economic upheaval and chaos. This is our country, and this is our way of life. Let’s not cast them away by constructing a defense allowing us to be outflanked.

Rep. John Linder, Georgia Republican, is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Prevention of Nuclear and Biological Attack.

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