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Editor's corner.

On September 20, U.S. Ambassador Francis X. Taylor, the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism, was scheduled to host a briefing on the subject of "Countering the Terrorist Threat." The invitation to the briefing said: "Recent terrorist attacks have cost American lives, threatened U.S. interests." Amb. Taylor was to discuss U.S. efforts to "deter and respond" to acts of terrorism.

The organizers of the briefing never would have predicted that only nine days before Amb. Taylor's scheduled presentation, the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history would occur. On the morning of September 11, two hijacked commercial airliners crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City, killing thousands of innocent people. An hour later, another plane smashed into the Pentagon, resulting in many more casualties.

Not including the victims from these recent attacks, the FBI estimated that, since 1968, 14,000 international terrorist attacks have caused more than 10,000 deaths.

In the aftermath of the horrific events of September 11, U.S. government officials are scrambling to come up with answers: Who did this? Why? How can these attacks be prevented in the future?

The 1983 bombing of Marine barracks in Beirut, which killed 241 service members, prompted a slew of new programs and federal funding for anti-terrorism efforts. But, in the years since, U.S. government funding for anti-terrorist research programs has been erratic. Since 1983, U.S. citizens have seen more terrorist attacks: the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City; the bombing of Air Force barracks in Khobar Towers, Saudi Arabia; the truck-bomb in Oklahoma City in 1995; the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dat es Salaam, Tanzania, and the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen last year.

The push within Congress and the Executive Branch to invest more federal money in homeland defense began in earnest after the 1995 terrorist bombing of the Murrah Federal Building, in Oklahoma City. But, as National Defense contributing author John Stanton wrote in our February 2001 edition: "Little has been done to make the American public feel any more confident than it was five years ago in the nation's ability to cope with a terrorist attack."

Homeland defense has been talked about endlessly inside the Beltway. Dozens of blue-ribbon panels and special commissions have addressed the subject one way or the other. Members of Congress have sponsored legislation to boost homeland defense.

But, as real-life events prove, homeland defense is easier said than done. It takes more than just armies and weapons.

Amy Smithson, a defense expert at the Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington, D.C., noted that homeland defense is a "complex issue that does not lend itself to PowerPoint presentations." The United States spends approximately $10 billion a year on counter-terrorism programs. In Stan-ton's article last February, retired Army Col. Eric Taylor said that, so far, homeland defense has been a "jobs program for federal bureaucrats."

One of the reasons homeland defense is complex is that it involves many players: the Defense Department, the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Departments of State and Justice, the state governments, the National Guard, local police and emergency medics. But even though local first-responders are the first line of defense in cases of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, federal programs often don't provide them with enough resources. Jim Schwartz, deputy fire chief in Arlington County, Va., told Stanton: "effective homeland defense will require a good civilian defender and military relationship, so that we know what each other is doing."

Asked about his views on homeland defense programs, the chief of Arlington County's Fire Department, Edward Plaugher, said, "Everyone is frustrated with a splintered and no-direction approach with no one in charge. It's going to get worse until we have another incident.... It's the mentality that says we are not going to install that traffic light until you get one more fatality."
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Title Annotation:international terrorism
Publication:National Defense
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2001
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