After Two Years
After Two Years
Kenneth Adelman, a former Reagan administration official and close associate of the ruling neoconservatives, has offered his advice to the Bush administration for securing its re-election. "We should not try to convince people that things are getting better," he said. "Rather, we should convince people that ours is the age of terrorism."
The fact that upgradings of the color-coded terror alert frequently seem to coincide with some scandal or bad news that the Bush administration would like to keep off the front page, makes us all cynical about the terrorism threat. But manipulation of terror warnings should not obscure the very real dangers that terrorism poses.
So now, two years after the horrors of 9-11, given the fact that this administration has staked its future on making its citizens safe from terrorism, it's reasonable to ask what it has actually done to reduce the threat of anti-U.S. terrorism.
A World Destabilized
In March 2003, Bush's special adviser for counter-terrorism, Rand Beers, resigned. In June he charged that the "war on terrorism" was "making us less secure, not more secure." The Bush administration, he said, put too much emphasis on attacking terrorists overseas: "There's not enough focus on defense and dealing with the basic sources of humiliation and despair that exist in large segments of the Islamic population."
Beers is no starry-eyed liberal. He was a 20-year veteran of the National Security Council, where he had loyally carried out atrocious policies under Reagan and Bush Senior, as well as Clinton. Just last year, to help get a judge to dismiss a lawsuit opposing Plan Colombia -- the multi-billion dollar U.S. aid program -- he submitted a deposition stating that Colombian guerrillas had received training in al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, a claim he was later forced to retract as baseless. Nevertheless, in his limited way Beers points to the real problem. The key to reducing terrorism against the
Consider the findings of the Pew Global Attitudes Project, which interviewed some 16,000 respondents around the world:
"[T]the bottom has fallen out of support for
What is the impact of this growing anti-Americanism in the Islamic world? The London-based
Many al Qaeda members have been killed or captured, but the expert consensus is not sanguine. The conservative but often canny International Institute for Strategic Studies concluded in May 2003 that al Qaeda was "more insidious and just as dangerous" as it was before September 11, 2001. Jason Burke, author of a forthcoming book on al Qaeda, has written "That the conflict in
Rohan Gunaratna, a Southeast Asian expert on al Qaeda, reports that the organization has had no trouble in recruiting fresh members among Muslims whose anti-Western passions have been fueled by the war in Iraq. "For every three to five members, they have five to ten more recruits. As a result, active terrorist groups will be able to grow and become more powerful and influential." Gunaratna told the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the
The Bush administration, which warned so vociferously that Saddam Hussein might pass weapons of mass destruction on to al Qaeda or other terrorists, has now created a situation where such fantasies could become realities. After all, the terrorists now collecting in
Bush always exaggerated the danger that would ensue if Saddam's
As Joseph Cirincione, author of Deadly Arsenals: Tracking Weapons of Mass Destruction and a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment, has written:
Convincing countries opposed by the United States to submit to UN weapons inspections will no doubt become more difficult than ever, given that when Iraq grudgingly accepted inspectors, allowed them to destroy some of its missiles, and subjected itself to U.S. spying, it was attacked anyway.
More generally in terms of our safety two years after September 11, the
"Coming from the
How safe is America?
If the Bush administration's foreign policy destabilizes the world at every level, what of its domestic policies?
Under the Patriot Act and prior legislation, the Justice Department has certainly arrested or simply incarcerated in one way or another large numbers of people, actions that have endangered civil liberties, while doing little to address the actual threat of terrorism. It is conceivable, in fact, that, Attorney General Ashcroft's boasts aside, it is even increasing the menace of terrorism at home.
The danger to basic freedoms is so clear that one doesn't have to go to the ACLU or other left-liberal sources for substantiation. A survey of corporate chief security officers by their professional magazine found 31 percent believing that the
In return for this loss of civil liberties, there has been at best a negligible gain in security. In the weeks following 9-11, hundreds of people were secretly arrested. Virtually all arrested were cleared of any connection to terrorism, yet the average clearance took 80 days, during which time they were confined under harsh, sometimes abusive conditions, according to the Justice Department's own Inspector General. As law professor David Cole has noted,
"Ashcroft greatly exaggerates his 'successes.' He claims to have brought 255 criminal charges in terror investigations, but the vast majority of those charges were pretextual criminal charges (like credit card fraud or lying to an FBI agent) used to justify holding people who turned out to have no connection with terrorism. Similarly, he claims to have deported 515 people in the investigation but fails to mention Justice Department policy that authorized deportation only after the FBI cleared immigrants of involvement in terrorism."
In some of the few cases where individuals were convicted of charges relating to terrorism, there is reason to believe that guilty pleas were obtained not by any real involvement in violent acts, but by the outrageous threat to treat the defendants as "enemy combatants," and hence beyond the protection of basic rights.
Dealing appropriately with terrorism does not require the added powers of the Patriot Act, let alone the even more extensive powers of the proposed Patriot Act II. But this legislation is of obvious value to officials intent on gathering unlimited information on our citizenry. (Well, not quite unlimited. Ashcroft wants records on gun sales in a federal data base to be destroyed after 24 hours and to bar their use in terrorism investigations.)
Police-state practices are not merely ineffective and unjust: they may also be counterproductive. A crucial requirement for uncovering any hidden Islamicist terrorist cells in the
There are in fact a great many measures that can and should be undertaken domestically to reduce the threat of terrorism, many of which measures are actively opposed by the Bush administration because they require regulating private corporations or call for the kinds of government spending that might preclude tax cuts for the rich.
Consider chemical plants. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there are 123
Or consider nuclear power plants. Perhaps even more vulnerable than a plant's reactor core are its waste pools where spent fuel is stored. A terrorist-caused rupture in these tanks could start a fire leading to the release of a radiation plume that, according to a study by physicist Frank N. Von Hippel, "would contaminate eight to 70 times more land than the area affected by the 1986 accident in
These waste pools are currently extremely insecure. There is a fairly inexpensive technological solution to the problem: for about $45 million a year per plant, the pools can be converted to dry storage areas, making them much less vulnerable target for terrorists. Yet the Bush administration has not pursued this or any other solution that might cost the industry any money.
In May Secretary of Transportation Mineta identified maritime ports as the most vulnerable part of the nation's transportation system. "With the number of containers coming into this country, we really don't have a good handle on what's in those containers. And to me that is one that we still haven't really been able to put our hands on." Just recently a Newsweek reporter was able to drive "straight into the truck lanes of the Port of Baltimore -- which U.S. Customs officials say is one of the nation's best protected -- without being stopped, [and] then spent two hours wandering, unnoticed, among stacked shipping containers. 'You just happened to pick a day when a lot of our normal people were out,' port spokeswoman Darlene Frank explained."
When it comes to planning for responding to a terrorist act -- no less crucial to our safety -- the record is no better. The Rand Corporation conducted a survey for the Centers for Disease Control of emergency workers in 40 cities and towns, and found a majority feeling underprepared and underprotected. And a July report from the staid Council on Foreign Relations concluded that "Although in some respects the American public is now better prepared to address aspects of the terrorist threat than it was two years ago, the
Of course, Americans are hardly the only victims of terrorism and if the
The hypocrisy of the
 Dana Milbank and Mike
 Laura Blumenfeld, WP,
 Thomas Frank, Newsday,
 P. Mitchell Prothero, "Claim of FARC-Al Qaida link rescinded," United Press International,
 The Pew Global Attitudes Project, Views Of A Changing World, June 2003, p. 3, http://people-press.org/reports/pdf/185.pdf.
 Don Van Natta Jr., NYT,
 Michael Evans, The Times (
 Robin Gedye, Daily Telegraph,
 Bob Drogin,
 Foreign Policy, July-Aug. 2003, p. 68.
 Jonathan Tucker, "The Fifth Review Conference of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention," Feb. 2002, http://www.nti.org/e--research/e3--7b.html; Amy E. Smithson, "U.S. Implementation of the CWC," in Jonathan B. Tucker, The Chemical Weapons Convention: Implementation Challenges and Solutions, Monterey Institute, April 2001, pp. 23-29, http://cns.miis.edu/pubs/reports/tuckcwc.htm.
 Christine Kucia, "For Second Year Running,
 CSO press release, "Chief Security Officers Reveal Concerns About
 U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, The September 11 Detainees: A Review of the Treatment of Aliens Held on Immigration Charges in Connection with the Investigation of the September 11 Attacks, April 2003, released June 2003; Cole, The Nation, 9/22/03, p. 26.
 See Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, "LCHR Rebuts Attorney General's Speech on
 Eric Lichtblau with Adam Liptak, NYT,
 See GAO, Justice Department's Project to Interview Aliens after
 GAO, Voluntary Initiatives Are Under Way at Chemical Facilities but the Extent of Security Preparedness Is Unknown, GAO-03-439, March 2003, p. 4; "Fact Sheet on Senator Corzine's Chemical Security Legislation," http://corzine.senate.gov/priorities/chem--sec.html, visited 9/9/03.
 Stanley A. Goff, Predeployed Radiological Weapon: Reducing the Targetability of Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant and the Risk to the North Carolina Public,
 Hearing of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the
 Philip Shenon, NYT, 8/21/03, p. A14; "Emergency Responders: Drastically Underfunded, Dangerously Unprepared," Report of an Independent Task Force, Sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, Warren B. Rudman, Chair, July 2003, http://www.cfr.org/pdf/Responders--TF.pdf.
 Neil A. Lewis, NYT,