War on Terrorism editorial St Louis Post Dispatch...


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Jeff White
December 29, 2003, 01:44 AM
Interesting....could a rag like the Post Dispatch actually be reasonable on a subject like this?



WAR ON TERRORISM - I

12/28/2003

Are we winning?

FIRST OF THREE EDITORIALS

THE UNITED STATES remains vulnerable to terrorist attack 27 months after Sept. 11, 2001. Despite successes in the war on terrorism, we haven't done enough to protect ourselves.

Intelligence is still a jumble with far too few Arab-speaking agents, intelligence experts say. The country is largely unprepared to respond to a bioterrorist attack. The cargo holds of our aircraft and the ports of our great cities are still vulnerable. And homeland security efforts are short of money while billions go to the war in Iraq. Indeed, the federal commission on terrorism said this month that the nation had lost its focus on terrorism.

This is the picture that emerges from a series of government and independent reports released this month and from the assessments of leading experts on terrorism.

President George W. Bush says that recent successes in capturing Saddam Hussein and disarming Libya show we are winning the war on terrorism. But independent experts say they don't know for sure whether we're winning, whether the fight in Iraq is helping or hurting, or even whether the war on terrorism can be won within our lifetime. This may be like the Cold War, when it took two generations to defeat a brutal ideology.

Still - even with orange alerts at Christmas - much of the nation has reclaimed normalcy. This doesn't feel like World War III to the people who live and work in places like St. Louis, instead of the Pentagon or the shadow once cast by the twin towers. It doesn't feel like war to people who don't know how it feels to have a knot in the stomach because a loved one is in Afghanistan or Iraq - or will be next year, or the next, or the next.
Unmistakably, though, this is a war of worldwide dimensions, playing out from Washington to Kabul, Baghdad to Tehran, Cairo to Manila. And it is weaving itself into the fabric of American life, altering how we travel, revolutionizing our foreign policy, affecting how we think about freedom.

There are experts who say it doesn't make sense to declare war on terrorism, a technique used by disenfranchised groups since Biblical times to make points against better-armed foes. But terrorism took on the face of a mass murderer on Sept. 11, 2001. Osama bin Laden would just as soon have killed 300,000 Americans as 3,000.

The president grasped immediately that a weapon of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist could bring a far more deadly day to an American city. In the days after 9-11 he galvanized the world behind a new global war against the modern evil of terrorism. But Mr. Bush's high-minded vision has been tarnished and the focus of the war on terrorism diffused by the detour to Baghdad.

Successes and failures


In the war on terrorism, Mr. Bush has won some significant victories and suffered significant setbacks.

The American military demonstrated its omnipotence on the battlefield in Afghanistan and Iraq. But half the Army's combat brigades are tied down by guerrilla warfare in Iraq, while Pentagon planners work on troop rotations through 2007. Afghanistan is an afterthought.

One-third of al-Qaida's top leaders have been captured, including the alleged mastermind of 9-11, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. But bin Laden remains at large and al-Qaida dangerous.

The Justice Department says 879 people have been convicted since 9-11 of crimes related to terrorism. But most of the convictions have been so minor that the defendants didn't serve jail time.

The United States and its allies have gotten better at blocking the transfer of funds for terrorist operations. But terrorism is cheap; 9-11 cost only a few hundred thousand dollars. The General Accounting Office reports that the Treasury and Justice departments are a year behind in planning to attack money laundering.

Members of the Saudi royal family still fund terrorists, says former FBI agent Matthew Levitt. And the Iranian-backed Hezbollah has the capacity for striking U.S. targets within two weeks, Mr. Levitt says.

Intelligence is still flawed


The CIA declared war on al-Qaida in 1998, but nobody came.

Intelligence officials had pieces of information that might have alerted them to 9-11. They knew that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the captured mastermind, had been involved in plots to use airplanes as weapons to inflict mass casualties at strategic targets and had once targeted the World Trade Center. If U.S. agents had put this together with the so-called Phoenix memo warning of terrorists taking flying lessons and the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui, who took flying lessons, they might have seen the outline of the 9-11 plot.

Intelligence officials say that the United States still lacks the strategic intelligence capability to pull together bits and pieces of intelligence data into a coherent picture of possible threats.

The Department of Homeland Security got the job of pulling together the data. But CIA Director George Tenet - acting without legislative or executive authority - set up the Terrorism Threat Integration Center to do the same thing. The result is confusion about the roles and responsibilities of the FBI, CIA, Pentagon and Homeland Security department. The GAO reports that poor coordination among key agencies might cause key clues to go unnoticed.

Nor has database sharing within the federal government anti-terrorism agencies improved much since 9-11, according a knowledgeable intelligence source. Agents have to search four databases for information about one person.

The creation of the Department of Homeland Security seemed like an obvious response to 9-11. But pulling together 22 agencies into a single behemoth could take years. It might have been better to fix intelligence first. A report by the nonpartisan Markle Foundation suggests a "next-generation" homeland security information network that would provide more data to local agencies, now in the dark.

Airport security is much improved, but that's fighting the last war. There is still a soft underbelly of vulnerabilities, from air cargo, to seaports, to bioterrorism.

A report by the nonpartisan Trust for America's Health concluded this month that only two states, Illinois and Florida, are well enough prepared to distribute medicines and antidotes in case of a bioterrorist attack. Missouri cut funding for public health and lacked adequate labs.

Most first responders such as police and firefighters don't have radios that allow them to talk to each other. The nation is an estimated $98 billion short of meeting their needs over the next five years.

Would it have been better to spend the $160 billion that went to Iraq on improving homeland security? Douglas Feith, the controversial undersecretary of defense, says no. "We either had to decide to change the way we live or the way the terrorists live. That is why we decided to take the war to the terrorists rather than ... defend every tall building."

The problem is that the war in Iraq hasn't decreased the need to protect tall buildings, but has siphoned off funds to do it.

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