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Publication Date: Friday, October 05, 2001

The price for exterminating terrorism The price for exterminating terrorism (October 05, 2001)

Hoover panel says U.S. must get its hands dirty

by Geoff S. Fein

The United States government may have to make friends with "unsavory characters" to seek those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., according to panelists at a U.S. & World Affairs seminar on terrorism.

Speaking Wednesday at the Hoover Institution, the three-person panel said the government must improve its intelligence-gathering capabilities and resist the temptation to allow federal authorities to take control of programs that can be better run at the state and local level.

Speaking at the forum, entitled "Responding to Terrorism," were Abraham Sofaer, former legal advisor for the State Department and a senior fellow at Hoover Institution; Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, professor of political science at New York University and a senior fellow at Hoover; and Joseph McNamara, former chief of police for the city of San Jose and a Hoover senior fellow.

Sofaer said he has been bothered by a number of things that have occurred since the World Trade Center attack: the creation of commissions to look into the attacks, new criminal laws proposed by Attorney General John Ashcroft, and the approach the administration says it is going to take.

"I don't like the fact (we've) been confronted with rhetoric we've heard since Lebanon; that we'll pursue terrorists to the ends of the Earth," Sofaer said.

He said he wasn't surprised by the attack on the World Trade Center. The FBI had some hint of the possible attack as far back as 1993, he said, when a group of Islamic fundamentalists was arrested for a car-bomb attack on New York City's twin towers.

Sofaer said one of the suspects told the FBI the group would eventually bring down the World Trade Center.

Incidents like these show the country has not taken terrorism seriously, Sofaer said, adding the government has failed in its use of technology, intelligence and deterrence to stop terrorism.

Sofaer questioned why the government continues to build embassies so close to roads, or why unidentified boats are allowed to approach Navy vessels. He also asked why no one questioned a French intelligence report passed along to the FBI about an Arab who attended flight school to learn to fly a jet, but not take-off or land.

"We absolutely have failed in technology," he said. "Who saw that report? If our counter-terrorism people didn't see it, why didn't they see it?"

Sofaer added terrorists are not scared at the thought of facing criminal prosecution for their acts.

"Think of the last 15 minutes of those people who commandeered those planes. As they crashed into the ground; were they terrified that the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York might indict them and send them to a penitentiary?" he said.

The reason the government failed in anti-terrorism activities is because there is no accountability.

"The people who fail to adopt technologies that we know about and implement them properly are not punished," he said. "They go on in their jobs. They are not fighting the war against terrorism."

The team that allowed a massive failure to occur needs to go, Sofaer said.

De Mesquita agreed with Sofaer that clues about an attack were present. He was a mile from the World Trade Center when the attacks occurred and witnessed the collapse of the second tower. He said the administration is handling this problem with thoughtfulness and skill. However, the attack reminded him of a similar situation 60 years ago when there was an intelligence failure to recognize a message that made clear the Japanese intention on Peal Harbor.

"Here we are 60 years later and apparently we are not any better at sorting out information," he said. "The messages were there, the clues were there, and the information was there, and the information was missed."

The president's threats of reprisals are a good strategy, de Mesquita said, because of two beneficial consequences: by forcing states and their leaders to choose sides, the president made clear this is an issue of the utmost importance to the U.S., and that those who are not with us are against us. This has forced governments to choose and has led to the formation of a remarkable coalition.

Although some people are growing impatient that no action has occurred, it is an effective strategy, de Mesquita said.

The natural anti-war sentiment common among many Americans has been subdued, and the delay has sent a strong message to the Taliban. Their cavalry is sitting forward in their seats 24 hours a day, de Mesquita said, and can't possibly sustain maximum vigilance for very long.

However, the government will also be faced with alliances with some unsavory characters because there is more than one kind of terrorist and more than one kind of terrorist organization: true believers and organizations, de Mesquita said..

The true believers are made up of those like Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. They are not interested in compromise.

"They are interested in a winner-take-all belief they get what they want or the go down in a blaze of glory," de Mesquita said. "I suggest that they need to go down. They need to be eliminated."

However, de Mesquita asked what price are we willing to pay to accommodate those people to achieve our objective.

"That s a very difficult political problem and it is one that must be openly discussed in this country," he said.

De Mesquita added there are policies the U.S. and its allies are following that help keep such regimes as the Taliban in office. For every dollar in per capita aid to a country, it increases the probability that that country's autocratic rulers will stay in power by 2 percent, he said.

"Last year we gave the Taliban government $175 million in foreign assistance," de Mesquita said. "Seven dollars per capita in aid and it will increase the probability that the Taliban government will remain in charge by 14 percent."

He added it is wrong to turn the money over to governments that use it for bribery, to create a black market, and to suppress its people.

McNamara agreed there are many problems with the intelligence community. He said more needs to be done to protect government facilities.

The one thing the country should not do, he said, is federalize the people who check the security at the airports.

"Because what we will do is create a civil service in which it is almost impossible to fire people for incompetence," McNamara said. "And we will pay a lot more for their duties and no doubt there will be less security."

He said other state governments should do what San Jose did and allow local police to patrol airports.

"You need professional people ," he said.

McNamara added that the brunt of responsibility for response to a terrorist attack will fall onto local authorities' shoulders.

Sadly, local authorities are not trained to respond to the kind of terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, let alone biological, chemical or nuclear weapon attacks, McNamara said.

"We have to be prepared for the worst," he said.

E-mail Geoff S. Fein at


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