This commentary appeared in 24 Chasa on September 24, 2004.
Attacks May Seem Remote From Sofia But We Are Ready
Terrorist bombings in Madrid, Istanbul and Moscow. Terrorist plots discovered
in London. Airliners sabotaged. Bloody hostage incidents in Russia. Kidnappings
in Iraq. From Baghdad to Beslan, daily headlines make it clear that we confront
a new array of threats. Many governments are ill-prepared.
Today's terrorists kill in quantity and kill indiscriminately — there
are no bystanders. They continue to be fascinated with unconventional weapons — anthrax,
ricin, and radiological material. They are redefining national security.
From Sofia, these must seem to like distant dark clouds. Due to the country's
religious tolerance and lack of ethnic tensions, Bulgaria has escaped the armed
conflicts of its neighbors, but no country can claim immunity. Bulgaria's
membership in NATO and its participation in Iraq expose it to new dangers,
as demonstrated by the tragic kidnappings and murder of Bulgarian nationals
Preparedness requires improving intelligence, increasing security and developing
effective response capabilities.
Instead of the large hierarchical organizations that were the targets of intelligence
during the Cold War, or the mythical centrally directed conspiracies of James
Bond novels, today's enemies are dynamic, unpredictable, diverse, fluid,
networked and constantly evolving. They are global and local at the same time.
They do not fit our current organizations.
Although there have been intelligence successes, spectacular intelligence
failures are currently under review in America, the United Kingdom and Russia — the
three largest intelligence services in the world. Even Israel's fabled
intelligence apparatus cannot halt the campaign of suicide bombings directed
against that country.
The threat of terrorism obliges us to devote more resources to physical security.
But terrorists can attack anything, anywhere, any time while we lack the resources
to protect everything, everywhere and all the time. There will always be vulnerabilities.
In Russia, terrorists have attacked trains, subways, apartment buildings,
a theater, a rock concert, and a school. Al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists have
attacked residences, restaurants, hotels, banks, churches, synagogues, nightclubs,
and tourist sites. All public places are difficult to defend.
Physical security measures cost the most and their effectiveness is hard to
measure. How do we know how much security is enough when our only criterion
is the absence of an attack? And security measures can disrupt the economy.
Our goal cannot be to create a neo-Medieval “security state” that
stifles the movement of people, goods, and ideas. We cannot banish all risk.
Despite intelligence efforts and security, attacks may still occur — anywhere,
which is why governments must have in place effective response measures. These
comprise many things: specialized units to deal with hostage situations, preventing
the kind of chaotic massacre witnessed in Beslan; technical teams; emergency
medical personnel; plans to deal with rescue, evacuation, decontamination,
Above all, it means having in place a crisis management structure and procedures.
At stake in all terrorist crises is the perception of government competence.
To respond well reduces public alarm and panicky demands for extreme measures
that may imperil democracy. A poor response increases public alarm and erodes
confidence in government.
Terrorism is violence aimed at the people watching. Combating terrorism means
not only trying to prevent terrorist attacks, but also reducing the terror
these create. That can be achieved by actively involving the public. People
cannot be permitted to be passive observers or vicarious victims of terror.
Frightening the public with warnings but no specific instructions only increases
People can be instructed about how they are targets of terror's psychological
effects. They can be informed of the actual as opposed to imagined risks. The
public can be enlisted in surveillance. Authorities in the United Kingdom,
which suffered 25 years of IRA terrorism, are confident they will be quickly
informed of suspicious objects or activities. Children and adults can be educated
about ordinary measures to take in case of man-made or natural disasters.
In some Scandinavian countries, every adult member of the community is assigned
a role in civil defense. Even if never called upon, having a useful role reduces
The ultimate protection against terrorism depends not on the thickness of
concrete barriers or the severity of the penal code. It depends on the individual
and collective courage of the entire population. We may have to live with terrorism,
but we do not have to live in terror.
About the Contributing Author
A decorated combat veteran of the U.S. Army's elite Special Forces,
Brian Jenkins is often described as the dean of America's research on
terrorism. He has served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of State and
Defense and other government agencies. In 1996, President Clinton appointed
Jenkins as a member of the White House Commission on Aviation Security. Jenkins
currently serves as Senior Advisor to the President of the RAND Corporation,
America's premier “think tank”, as Special Advisor to the
International Chamber of Commerce and as Director of the Minetal Institute's
National Transportation Security Center. In April, the U.S. Secretary of the
Army appointed Jenkins to serve with the Army Sciences Board.
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