Homeland security still neglected

Posted: Jan 07, 2003 12:00 AM
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, my neighbor was having his car inspected. He had brought along a book to read while he waited. There was no radio or television at the service station, and accordingly he had no idea what the news was that black Tuesday. He recalls vividly however that two men were conversing excitedly in Arabic and laughing. My friend could make out only the name Osama bin Laden. When his car was finished, he switched on the radio and learned that the World Trade Center was a fireball and the Pentagon had just experienced some sort of bomb. I cite this story as a reminder that this administration seems to be dropping the ball on homeland security. As the service station episode reveals, there are people seeded throughout this country who wish us harm. And, as American Enterprise magazine details in a piece by Karina Rollins, certain common sense steps have not yet been taken. Yes, they've ordered smallpox vaccines for health workers and created a new homeland security department; and certainly the FBI and Customs Service have been much more alert. The arrest of a terror cell in the Buffalo area was a sign that the FBI's new focus is bearing fruit. And yet the administration retains as transportation secretary a Democrat, Norman Mineta, who thinks every single flyer should be treated like every other. Asked on "60 Minutes" if elderly white women and young Muslim men would be subjected to the same level of scrutiny, Mineta said, "I would hope so." Ridiculous. We cannot eliminate the Islamofascist threat by treating it like the latest victim group. As for loyal Arab Americans who are subjected to more than their share of suspicion, what's wrong with appealing to their sense of patriotic duty? They surely know better than most how many of their cousins in the Arab world sympathize with bin Laden. Is it too much to ask that they submit to an extra five minutes of questions at the airport when the lives of so many innocents are at stake? On Sept. 11, police and firefighters in New York City could not talk to one another because they used different radio frequencies. Across the nation, many local police have no plans in place for coordinating with federal authorities in the event of an attack. Many state police cannot communicate with the police in neighboring states. And few local police are given security clearances by the federal government to keep abreast of threats. They, like the general public, must be satisfied with those utterly useless color-coded warnings that reveal nothing and help prepare for nothing. The idea of national ID cards gives many conservatives fits. But no one has explained how an ID that carries, say, a fingerprint and is therefore difficult to forge is a threat to our freedom. The almost universally employed ID in America is the driver's license -- laughably easy to obtain and/or counterfeit. Some conservatives argue that native-born Americans should not be required to carry ID but that visitors and students should. How does that accomplish anything? If there's no reliable national ID system, then the visitors will never be asked for ID. And please, don't write and say I'm asking for a fascist state where Gestapo stop everyone asking for "papers." A national ID would simply say who we are, nothing more. Of course, many of the Sept. 11 hijackers were able to travel to this country using their own names because our immigration policies are so limp that they needed not bother to disguise themselves. Visas should be issued only with extreme care, particularly to people from the Middle East and Muslim nations. And we should be in constant communication with intelligence services around the globe about the movements of suspected terrorists. Even a flicker of doubt about someone's background should be sufficient to deny a visa. There is no constitutional right to visit the United States. Rollins also touches on the delicate matter of dealing with the Islamic community here in the United States. As Steven Emerson, Daniel Pipes and others have warned, there is a substantial radical minority attached to mosques and Islamic organizations. There is every reason to investigate these groups and to request assistance from loyal Arab-Americans who may know a great deal but haven't yet been asked.