McCaslin's Beltway Beat

Posted: Sep 17, 2001 12:00 AM
TERRORISM 101 It just so happens that on Monday, one day before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, the National Interagency Civil-Military Institute -- its mission to train mid- and upper-level officers of the U.S. military, law enforcement agencies and emergency personnel -- announced the course: "Preparing For and Managing the Consequences of Terrorism." The focus of the five-day program, scheduled to begin Oct. 28 and to be repeated during subsequent months, is how to deal effectively with a domestic terrorist threat (now reality), including mass casualties. "They explore risk factors, vulnerability and psychological effects of a terrorist mass casualty incident," says a description of the course, which can't commence soon enough. SAD IRONY "While the Bush administration and Congress fiddle, the Pentagon burns." -- Weekly Standard magazine headline, atop a story on the defense budget war, faxed to this column on Sept. 10, hours before the Pentagon did indeed burn. LATEST ATTACK FBI special agent and terrorism operations chief Michael Rolince held a special closed-door briefing for senators and congressmen Thursday on this week's terrorist incidents, and surprisingly, according to one in attendance, it was Rolince taking the hits. Most outspoken, says our source, was Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), who accused federal law enforcement agencies of making information available to members of the media prior to Congress being notified. The congresswoman called it a "breach of trust." Rolince emphasized that federal agents would provide only "factual" information to members of Congress, observing that much of what the media report isn't officially verified. Jackson-Lee furthermore requested that federal law enforcement officials travel to her congressional district to brief her constituents about the terrorist attacks, "giving them peace of mind," explains our source. The congresswoman, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, then requested a personal "appointment" with federal law authorities so she can get her questions answered. ADVICE IN ADVANCE "Imagine for a minute that a popular restaurant in Manhattan's Times Square was blown to bits by a terrorist's bomb. Would the American public demand from the Bush administration an immediate and aggressive effort to prevent similar attacks from occurring in the future? Or would Americans prefer a wringing of hands so as not to perpetuate a 'cycle of violence' or 'inflame' an already volatile and dangerous enemy?" Ironically, leading Washington pollster and analyst of public opinion Frank Luntz posed these exact questions in an eerie op-ed published by the Washington Times on Tuesday, the same day Americans in New York and Washington would come under fatal attack by terrorists. "Scary," Luntz acknowledged Thursday when asked about the timing of his opinion article. The article also drew attention to one Osama bin Laden, the apparent mastermind behind other terrorist attacks against the United States, who U.S. officials continue to speculate is behind this week's long-planned, well-orchestrated wave of terror. Often called upon by both Republican and Democratic leaders of Congress to examine the pulse of the nation, Luntz wrote in his final paragraph: "The American people have spoken and their message is clear: A nation under siege has a right to use force to maintain its security and protect its people. Both Congress and the president can take solace in knowing that Republicans and Democrats -- who rarely agree on anything anymore -- agree on this." TARGETS EVERYWHERE This column, not surprisingly, has been swamped with correspondence in the days since the terrorist attack on the nation. "Your point about our loss of innocence since Tuesday hit home," writes Maggie Hittie, of Algonquin, Ill. "There is another thing those (hijackers) took away from us -- trust and acceptance. Only an idiot wouldn't notice the terrorists all look pretty much like us. "They walked among us, spoke English well, shopped in grocery stores, lived alongside and even accepted the hospitality of generous Americans. "A lot of folks now do not trust anybody wearing a turban or shawl or sari, which is sad. They took that away from us -- trust in one another. "P.S. My Greek brother-in-law, who looks like a terrorist, shaved his beard last night."