This commentary appeared in Los Angeles Times on September 16, 2001.
In 1986, when the Kadafi regime was implicated in the bombing of a West Berlin
discotheque frequented by U.S. soldiers, the United States bombed Libyan military
targets in Tripoli and Benghazi--including Moammar Kadafi's living quarters--in
an attempt to kill the Libyan leader.
Similarly, in 1998, when Osama Bin Laden, the renegade Saudi terrorist, was
identified as the architect of the massive truck bombings at the U.S. embassies
in Kenya and Tanzania, the U.S. launched nearly 100 cruise missiles against
his training camps in Afghanistan, also in hopes of killing bin Laden, as well
as against a pharmaceutical factory believed to be manufacturing chemical weapons
in the Sudan.
Two Americans lost their lives in the discotheque bombing; 12 died in Nairobi.
The U.S. response to the embassy bombings may have been insufficient. But our
situation today leaves no room for quibbling. By the time the rubble and debris
of the World Trade Center are cleared in New York City, the collapsed walls
of the Pentagon stabilized and the last of the bodies retrieved from the field
in rural Pennsylvania where a fourth suicide aircraft crashed, the death toll
is likely to be exponentially higher.
By contrast, until last Tuesday, no more than 1,000 Americans had been killed
by terrorists either in this country or abroad since 1968. The enormity and
sheer scale of the simultaneous suicide attacks on Sept. 11 dwarfs anything
we have previously seen, either individually or collectively. It calls, unquestionably,
for a proportionate response of unparalleled severity.
But military options are only one instrument in the struggle against terrorism.
As the experiences of other countries enmeshed in such struggles have shown,
the failure to develop a comprehensive, fully coordinated strategy has often
undermined, even nullified, their counterterrorism efforts. To be effective,
a counterterrorist strategy must be sustained. Its goals must be realistic.
It must avoid cosmetic or "feel good" physical security measures.
Military Options. The time of on-and-off airstrikes or hours-long
cruise-missile barrages has passed. The United States faces an enemy of unmitigated
barbarity. The threat must be eliminated not only to eradicate the most formidable
terrorist capability ever known, but also to send an unmistakably clear message
to any and all who would seek to follow in his footsteps. To achieve this objective,
the application of military force must continue until the enemy and his assets
In doing so, we should be under no illusions that the specter of terrorism,
especially as it affects America, can ever be completely eliminated. No society,
much less a vibrant, open and democratic one, can ever hope to hermetically
insulate itself from terrorist threats. Still, given the unprecedented dimension
and magnitude of Tuesday's suicidal attacks, nothing less than the complete
eradication of their perpetrator's capabilities will suffice.
At the same time, we must ensure that our vast and powerful military resources
are applied surgically. The point is to punish Tuesday's culprits and those
who supported them while avoiding civilian casualties as far as humanly possible.
Causing death and injury to innocents is not only wrong, it would also deprive
us of the moral high ground we currently occupy.
Intelligence reform and reorganization. We need to be more confident
that the U.S. intelligence community is configured to counter the terrorist
threats of today and tomorrow rather than yesterday. As Tuesday's events showed,
it is no match for adversaries in civilian clothes.
Our intelligence architecture was created more than 50 years ago to counter
the communist threat from the Soviet Union. It watched for military moves and
thus primarily gathered military intelligence. Today, an estimated 60% of the
intelligence community's efforts remain focused on gathering information about
the standing armed forces of nation-states. Eight of the 13 agencies responsible
for intelligence collection report directly to the secretary of Defense, who
also controls their budgets, rather than to the director of Central Intelligence.
It is thus not surprising that America's human intelligence assets have proved
to be so anemic. A military mission can feed off spy satellites.
The country's anachronistic intelligence architecture has also created a dangerous
gap in our national defenses. The CIA is responsible for foreign intelligence
collection and assessment; by law, it cannot operate within the U.S. Domestic
counterterrorism, accordingly, falls to the FBI, primarily a law-enforcement
and investigative agency. Moreover, its investigative activities are wide-ranging,
from bank robberies to counter-espionage.
Tuesday's assault should stimulate some "out-of-the-box" thinking that would
go beyond simple bureaucratic fixes and embrace a radical restructuring of our
domestic counterterrorism capabilities. For example, just as the narcotics problem
is regarded as a serious enough threat to our national security to warrant a
separate agency dedicated to counter-narcotics activities, the Drug Enforcement
Administration, we should consider creating a similar organization committed
exclusively to counter terrorism.
Aviation security. All the above efforts will be for naught if we
cannot be reasonably confident that the nation's security measures work. The
time for cosmetic fixes at U.S. airports is over. The stopgap measures imposed
last week by the Federal Aviation Administration--banning curb-side luggage
check-in and eliminating electronic tickets--aren't nearly enough.
For starters, the use of poorly paid, unmotivated, often inadequately screened
and privately contracted security staff should end. Sworn law-enforcement officers,
members of a new uniform federal police force similar to the Federal Protective
Service that now guards U.S. public buildings, should replace them. They would
be expected to conform to federal law-enforcement standards, would be armed
and would thus provide a meaningful first-line defense.
None of these changes are quick fixes. They all require time, resources and,
most of all, political will and patience. Results will not come quickly. But
by taking a comprehensive approach to the terrorist problem and developing a
cohesive strategy to address it, the U.S. can avoid repeating the mistakes that
facilitated Tuesday's tragic events.
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