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Homeland Security: Offense as Homeland Defense

by Austin Bay
Aug 7, 2002

If you want to defend Here, take it to them Over There.

As Congress debates and the administration constructs the new Department of Homeland Security, we need to remember that the best homeland defense includes a very good offense.

Offense, however, isn't the sole province of the Pentagon.

Terrorist attacks are a persistent form of surprise attack. If an open society -- this America, with porous borders, free movement and a population that appreciates convenience -- intends to avoid terrorist surprise, it needs to stop terrorists before they strike.

Human imagination is a wonderful gift. However, imagination stoked by fear will always find new fears. During a recent highway trek, I listened to a couple of radio talk shows hash over "Condition Yellow," the Homeland Security Advisory System's tag for an "elevated" threat of terrorist attack. The U.S. government color codes threat levels -- green is "low," blue "guarded," orange "high," but the fearful always see red (which, by the way, indicates a "severe" threat).

Paint one caller's imagination screaming scarlet: He saw vulnerability everywhere. Despite his case of public jitters, credit him for honesty -- since 9-11, we've all seen shadows. Another caller, however noted the threat level had been "yellow" for months, with possible attacks on the Golden Gate Bridge, an unnamed seaport and Washington mentioned in the media as imminent targets. Yellow verged on a continuous cry of "Wolf."

The truth is, these ARE imminent targets for apocalyptic terrorists and future terror strikes remain likely. Yes, domestic security has tightened. The American media is now security conscious. We've more lights, cops and news cameras covering the shadows. However, security is never a sure thing. Sit and wait, even as you put moats and walls around Fortress Kansas, and in classic military terms, the enemy has the initiative.

The U.S.-directed military offensive in Afghanistan took the global initiative back from Al Qaeda. Last fall's smackdown of the Taliban dealt America's terrorist adversaries a severe psychological and moral blow. This spring's Operation Anaconda killed Al Qaeda fighters in droves -- though, unfortunately, largely outside the eyes of a press corps that could confirm the extent of the success. Don't underestimate the connectivity. Battlefield victory makes the FBI's job much easier.

The arrest in Pakistan of Abu Zubaydah, an Al Qaeda ringmaster, has exposed terrorist cells in Seattle and Oregon.

Attacking terrorist financial operations is a difficult offensive operation, but the nodes and networks supporting terrorist gangs are under siege. Are they smashed? Of course not. The siege and squeeze, however, has thrown terrorist operations out of kilter.

Certain support nodes don't succumb to aggressive diplomacy, embargo and special forces strikes. Don't buy the balderdash that an attack on Iraq isn't justified. Saddam has violated the post-Desert Storm U.N. resolutions that allowed him to stay in power. That's all the justification required. However, rogue states empower terrorist networks. Saddam's destruction will serve as an object lesson to other states on or near the axis of evil.

The offense -- at least, the offense America needs to wage an effective counter-terror war -- must also begin at home. I'm not sure I believe the headlines that 5,000 Al Qaeda faithful lurk inside U.S. borders, but out of 280 million people, statistics make a case. Racial profiling's an ugly practice, one with a shameful history. However, a terrorist "criminal profile" has emerged, and it requires a shameful lack of intellectual integrity to deny it.

The terrorist faithful tend to fall into the category of male, foreign-born, Muslim, angry, Arab and in America on iffy or byzantine visas. Hounded by reactionary cadres of the politically correct, we're reluctant to acknowledge any of these characteristics except the anger and possibly the curious visas.

No question -- a Johnny Lindh Walker could try to sneak TNT on a plane, but that's why we need well-trained, professional personnel conducting thorough security searches.

A good offense risks offending a few people. The State Deptartment is going to offend when it shuts down the Visa Express, but our pre-9/11 visa controls bordered on farce.

"Terrorist profiling," tempered by civil liberty safeguards, is a necessary security tool for focusing security resources, and to argue otherwise risks lives and offends common sense.

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