What you don't see can hurt you

Posted: Sep 12, 2002 12:00 AM
Go back in your mind to that eerie week when San Francisco Bay Area commuters avoided driving on the bridges and we all held our breath waiting for the next brutal explosion. A year later, the big domestic attack everyone expected hasn't happened. So, if there is no big attack on U.S. civilians, will the war on terrorism become a victim of its own success? Even President Bush said last year he anticipates the day when Americans become "tired" of the war on terrorism. Some pundits even talk as if there have been no further attacks. Wrong. Thugs murdered American journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan. A terrorist grenade killed five people, including the wife and daughter of a U.S. diplomat, at an Islamabad Protestant church. A suicide bomber killed 14 people, including 11 Frenchmen, in Karachi. A lone Egyptian gunman killed two people at the El Al Airlines counter in Los Angeles over the Fourth of July weekend. It's possible -- but not proven -- that the anthrax-laced letters that killed five people were sent by foreign terrorists. Then there are the thwarted attacks. A savvy air crew and passengers stopped Richard Reid from igniting a shoe bomb over the Atlantic Ocean. If he had succeeded, he would have killed 197 people just before Christmas 2001. Intelligence officials say they have disrupted terrorist plans to attack U. S. embassies in Bosnia, Paris, Rome and Singapore, as well as U.S. military bases in Turkey. In August, the feds charged five Detroit men, including U.S. citizen Jose Padilla, of plotting to detonate a radioactive bomb in the United States. The feds also indicted a Seattle man for attempting to set up an Al Qaeda training camp in Oregon. Last month, the Swedes caught a man trying to board a London-bound plane carrying a loaded gun. Karim Sadok Chatty was a U.S. flight school washout. This month, German police arrested an Al Qaeda sympathizer and his American fiance, who worked at a U.S. Army base in Heidelberg, for plotting to bomb U.S. military installations in Germany. According to The Washington Post, authorities found 290 pounds of chemicals and five pipe bombs in their apartment. It should be noted that many of these accused have yet to be tried. To the anger of civil libertarians, Padilla has not yet been charged with a crime. Reid has pleaded not guilty. That said, when terrorists in the past hit U.S. targets, such as the destroyer Cole, their next attack was already in the works. Michael Nacht, dean of Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy and an adviser to the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency, noted that the war on terrorism is hobbled because America isn't fighting "one coherent army of people, but different groups operating independently" and from different locales. You can't easily locate the war on a map. Then, there's the difficulty of dealing with "martyrdom terrorism" -- since there's no real way to deter it. With a hard-to-locate enemy that may or may not strike successfully at any given moment, it would be natural -- if wrong -- for some to say they prefer to save the nation's resources to combat problems they can see. Former California Gov. Pete Wilson, who is on the Defense Policy Board, said that this is the wrong time to trim spending on intelligence: "You need to prevent more tragedy, not mourn it, not wring your hands because you have been so passive that you didn't take the steps to prevent it."