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The defensive front line. (Law Enforcement).

SEPTEMBER 11 WAS NOT THE FIRST TIME that terrorists struck targets within the United States. Only eight years before, a band of Islamic extremists led by Ramzi Yousef successfully detonated a minibus filled with 1,100 lbs. of explosives in the parking garage of the same World Trade Center. Three years before that, associates of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar firebombed a Drug Enforcement Administration office in Fort Myers, Florida. Before he was apprehended in 1996, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski killed three people and injured 23 over a 17-year period. And in 1995, Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people when he detonated a massive bomb just outside the Alfred R. Murrah Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City.

America responded to those attacks through law enforcement agencies and the legal system: Yousef, the Escobar associates, Kaczynski, and McVeigh were arrested, tried, and convicted of felony crimes. In marked contrast, the magnitude and international origin of the September11 attacks have led President Bush and other U.S. leaders to label the events as acts of war. America properly responded with military force.

It would be a travesty of our legal system to regard the slaughter of thousands of our people as anything but a declaration of war against the United States. After all, the fundamental duty of government is to protect the life, property, and liberty of its citizens. But, despite the crucial role of the military, law enforcement agencies and other civilian emergency services still have key responsibilities in the fight against terrorism: to identify terrorist perpetrators, to respond to the tragedies that do occur, and to assist in security and target-hardening measures. Unfortunately, history offers little insight into the sacrifices, responsibilities, and challenges that this new war will impose upon citizens and their federal and local governments.


There are only about 11,500 FBI agents in the United States, as compared to approximately 650,000 state and local police officers and probably an equal number of local firefighters and public health workers. Because of those numbers and their deployment, local and state law enforcement and emergency services providers will be the first on the scene of any tragedy, including a terrorist strike inside the United States.

Just because these are, in a federally coined phrase, the "first responders to a terrorist attack" does not mean that federal workers and troops later take over operations. It is local personnel who stay with catastrophes -- including attacks -- from beginning to end. Obviously, the federal government can offer invaluable technical assistance in examining explosions, providing analyses and responses for biological or chemical weapons attacks, and (most importantly) sharing intelligence information when possible. But it is the local police, firefighters, physicians, and paramedics who will fight the defensive battles in the new war on terrorism. That fact produces far different policy challenges than we are prepared for under superficial "first responder" paradigms.

Need to know The term "homeland security" conveys an empty promise: Given the nature of our free, open society that enjoys a $30 trillion world economy, not all terrorist plots can be discovered ahead of time and prevented. Domestically, law enforcement agencies and the courts can work against terrorism by countering the next Kaczynski or McVeigh through preventive measures, enforcement of criminal laws, and punishment. But the more serious threats come from state-supported terrorist networks. And though the U.S. military can score decisive victories against those networks by eliminating terrorist bases abroad and demonstrating to other governments that they will not be allowed to harbor such groups, foreign-spawned terrorists will continue to pose threats. To counter them, local officials must learn of plots that are underway, depending almost entirely on federal intelligence sources.

Unfortunately, such intelligence sharing is impeded by turf battles between federal, state, and local levels of government. And at the moment, there are great tensions among those agencies. A number of police chiefs complain that Attorney General John Ashcroft, by continuously placing local law enforcement on "the highest level of alert," has overwhelmed their systems, exhausted their cops, and busted their budgets without providing any specific threat information to which they can respond.

The feds, however, have reason to gripe about local and state officials, as shown by the Gray Davis "bridgewatch" fiasco. In early November, the FBI sent out a low-priority interstate information notice to local officials that bridges in eight western states might be targets of terrorists. It was one of hundreds of threats, all of which seemed to be false, but the FBI, perhaps stung by post-September 11 charges of not sharing information, decided to err on the side of caution and report the threat to local agencies.

FBI agents subsequently were dismayed when California Governor Gray Davis called a national press conference to announce the threat and declare that he was assigning National Guard personnel and California Highway Patrol officers to guard four suspension bridges in the state. Interestingly, the governor made no recommendation to motorists to avoid the bridges or stay home from work. At no time were the bridges closed, nor was it ever clear what were the duties of the National Guard and extra police. But Davis, a potential Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, received national television coverage and his picture even appeared on the front page of the New York Times. (None of the governors of the other seven states commented on the low-credibility warning.) Although the FBI quickly announced that the threat was not credible and cancelled the bridge alert, a degree of public panic followed. The terrorists had scored one for their side, while tensions increased between federal and local agencies over the sh aring of information.

It is a basic rule of intelligence gathering that information is shared only on a "need to know" basis. Public announcements can warn the enemy that their communications systems and codes have been penetrated. In some cases, the individuals who provide us with valuable information can lose their lives. Consequently, it is imperative that information be made public only when necessary to warn people of danger and to save lives.


As Secretary of State Colin Powell has indicated, an attack of the magnitude of September 11 involved a long period of planning, communication, and coordination. Secretary Powell conceded, "We [top officials] did not get the cueing we needed." But as former FBI and CIA chief William Webster has argued, "It probably is not the case that we did not have enough information, but that we had too much." Our extensive intelligence systems missed the indicators that surfaced about the impending attack.

The coming critique of government intelligence agencies should not be an exercise in scapegoating in the name of holding people accountable for human error, except in the unlikely event that the failure was due to a traitor in our midst, or incompetence so great that it requires dismissal. Fact-finding to prevent future disasters is much better accomplished when those questioned are not inappropriately threatened as part of political grandstanding. Such career threats have a way of producing remarkably negative consequences. After all, some months ago, Congress held hearings on the airline industry during which lawmakers railed against late arrivals and canceled flights, but hardly mentioned security. Congressional pressure led airlines to expedite baggage check-in and other airport functions, all of which had a negative effect on security.

Foreign aid Another area that is in need of review encompasses the activities of the State Department, itself. We have long criticized the Taliban extremists controlling Afghanistan for harboring Osama bin Laden and implicitly approving of his terrorist network. So why did Secretary Powell, last May, issue a press release announcing a package of $43 million in new humanitarian aid for Afghanistan? And why did the Clinton administration designate $114 million in aid for Afghanistan last year?

Powell, in the press release, claimed that the aid would lead the Taliban to halt their support for terrorism, and would reward their promise to ban poppy cultivation. But they clearly continued to back bin Laden, and stockpiled tons of opium. Ironically, humanitarian aid to the Taliban, which likely engendered Afghani support for their government, not ours, and the many millions of dollars they made selling opium at highly inflated prices on the black market, no doubt helped to finance the September 11 attacks and other terrorist acts against us. It is noteworthy that our new allies, the Northern Alliance, also profit from the illegal opium trade.

The wrong war On the same note, we should mark the irony that, on September 11, Powell was in Peru, trying to overcome the resistance of surrounding countries to our contribution of almost a billion dollars in aid to Colombia to wage war against cocaine producers. The countries surrounding Colombia rightfully complained, without success, that this "Plan Colombia" aid is pressuring drug producers and their private armies to move into adjacent nations, destabilizing the area to the point where the United States may be drawn into a Vietnam-like quagmire of insurrections, and creating new anti-American terrorist groups.

The war against terrorism requires a reassessment of law enforcement and security priorities, especially in regard to the resources we now expend in the "war on drugs." In budget requests made four months prior to the September 11 attacks, the FBI asked for only eight additional agents to combat terrorism -- a meager increase that follows the agency's paltry two-percent manpower growth over the past two years. The Drug Enforcement Agency, on the other hand, has enjoyed a 26-percent increase in personnel. It is worth pondering whether the September 11 attacks would have occurred if Congress had increased FBI anti-terrorism resources by 26 percent, instead of DEA resources.

Drug war expenditures are not yielding many returns. The National Academy of Science recently released a report on a study requested by the Clinton administration on the effectiveness of America's anti-drug efforts. The report noted that some $30 billion were spent on the drug war last year alone, twice the amount spent on "Desert Storm," but no reliable data exist to enable a judgment of the success of anti-drug efforts.


My dad, my brother, cousins, uncles, and I all once carried badges of the New York Police Department, and our collective service to that agency totals more than 150 years. We were not unlike the cops, firefighters, and paramedics who ran past fleeing crowds into the burning World Trade Center at the cost of their lives. Just as President Bush now carries the badge of Port Authority police officer George Howard who was killed in the Trade Center attack, I have begun carrying my old NYPD shield as a reminder of the service of those heroes.

The professionals in public safety and our armed forces, along with ordinary citizens who refuse to be intimidated and who turn out in the millions at sporting and other events to sing the national anthem and wave flags, are the real America, the one that the terrorists never saw, but have now awakened. Those Americans are willing to risk their lives rather than surrender to terror. For their sake, we must ensure that bureaucratic blundering and turf battles do not detract from our implacable determination to destroy the enemy who attacked us. A deeper patriotism means that we should unite and not expend our resources on a drug war that we cannot win. Instead, we must marshal our energies for a war that we can, and must, win: the war against terrorism.

Joseph D. McNamara is a research fellow in criminal justice at the Hoover Institution. He is a retired police chief of San Jose, Calif., and a former police chief of Kansas City, Mo. McNamara also once served as director of crime analysis for the New York Police Department, working out of an office near the World Trade Center.
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Author:McNamara, Joseph D.
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2001
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