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Home On The Range: Are Effective Changes In Place To Prevent Terrorism On America's Homefront?

Author: John Christopher Fine

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2011-09-11
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Originally published in our Sept/Oct 2002 issue. 

"The direct tactic of war is necessary only on the battlefield, but only the indirect tactic can lead to a real and lasting victory. Subvert anything of value in the enemy's country. Implicate the emissaries of the major powers in criminal undertakings; undermine their position and destroy their reputation in other ways as well; and expose them to the public ridicule of their fellow citizens...disrupt the work of government with every means you can...Send out your secret agents in all directions. Do not skimp with money or with promises, for they yield a high return."

This primer for clandestine war and terrorism does not come from a CIA handbook. It is not found in an FBI training manual nor in a Special Forces study guide. It was written some 500 years before Christ by Chinese philosopher Sun-tse. It is not even erudite or difficult to research. Sun-tse's classification of agents as sleepers, doubles, and expendables (those used for only one mission), are reproduced in kids' books on martial arts.     

What has happened since September 11, 2001 to instill confidence in homeland security for America? Cosmetic changes, visible security enhancements in certain places, and booming business for government bureaucracy. It is still the same bureaucracy that left civilian targets vulnerable to terrorist attacks in the first place, according to Congressional investigators.

Terror has no time line. The Islamic mindset once fixed upon a certain course will not be dissuaded by obstacles. It is only the costly and psychologically destructive obstacles that will relent in time. The perversion of Islam, we are told, creates martyrs out of vengeful zealots.  

What has been learned by the zealots since September 11, 2001, far outweighs what rational society can accept. The most poignant lesson international terrorists have learned is that any free society is vulnerable to attack. Time is on their side. Using cells, dividing forces, cutting off the use of electronic communications, careful screening of recruits to prevent infiltration, and the use of children whose rational thought can be perverted by hatred are lessons terrorist leaders learned and implemented well.    

Honest citizens are still screened at courthouses, police headquarters, airports and public buildings by armies of often-untrained minimum-wage workers. National Guard troops patrol airports with rifles, looking often like Bill Mauldin's caricatures of Willie and Joe; less than reassuring mementos that signal a free society with absolute personal liberty is gone forever. Billions has and will be spent on foreign military escapades and the lumping of already incompetent government bureaucracies into bigger lumps. Otherwise nothing particularly effective has occurred to prevent, stay, detect or dissuade terrorist attacks on American society.    

To cite an example: Two weeks ago planes were taking off from New York's La Guardia Airport over the bay and waterfront near the World's Fair Marina. It was night. A small rubber inflatable boat, running without lights required by law for nighttime navigation, came close to the dock. Two Middle-eastern men were aboard. They were surprised by my presence at the end of the dock. The operator turned his face away, the occupant spoke nervously in Arabic accented English. They proceeded to the middle of the bay where they waited, observing low flying commercial jet aircraft taking off. The jets were laden with fuel, flying slow and low over the water.    

The watercraft and incident was reported to fire patrol officers who had a boat on duty there present. Neither apparent concern nor action was observable toward the end of obtaining the inflatable boat's numbers. That incident, and many like it every day, might have been completely innocent, but the peril and the obvious vulnerability of aircraft to attack, completely outside the protection of airport security, demands attention and scrutiny.

Even with increased attention, though, the plain truth is that nothing can prepare for nor prevent a terrorist attack, nor prevent acts of terrorism by zealots. We cannot protect our rangeland forever nor can we establish secure perimeters around water supplies. Mad cow disease and hoof and mouth disease damaged the economy of Britain. Procuring infected strains and contaminating agricultural lands requires little risk and no fear of apprehension. Raging forest fires, costing millions to extinguish, can be set with the flick of a match. An already vulnerable US economy where faith and confidence in corporate and government leaders is waning fast can be further undermined by actions akin to what the Chinese philosopher entertained in The Art of War.    

The term war contemplates a foreseeable end; winning or losing. Terrorism is not war; it is the subversion of peaceable civil society that shocks and disrupts routine life.  Detained by mercenaries in a war torn African nation, the lessons of subversion were explained when a local terrorist once told me: "With six men I can cause a revolution in any country. Even yours." What the mercenary stated was essentially true. What Islamic terrorists have proved, with a willingness to sacrifice their own lives for salvation through hatred, is that you don't even need six men.   

What has not changed, what has not been learned after September 11, 2001, is the lesson that no civil or military authority can prevent terrorism. It has not been prevented in police state Middle East countries, where torture and government approved assassinations are reported on the nightly news every night. It cannot be prevented in an open and free society. The solution is elimination of hatred, the root cause of insidious attacks. In the meantime, while belligerence is the norm in world affairs, citizen vigilance and involvement in the democratic process offers the next best chance.

John C. Fine is a New York Police Officer and a former New York Assistant District Attorney who prosecuted many terrorist bombing cases in New York City.  Considered a foremost authority on organized crime and political corruption, Fine, a lawyer in private practice, continues to act as a government consultant and author of magazine articles on law enforcement and crime issues. He wrote about September 11th and terrorism in our Nov/Dec 2001 and Jan/Feb 2002 issues.

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