Watch the red-haired man

Posted: May 22, 2002 12:00 AM
Two comments were made on the mad concern to blame Sept. 11 on the Bush administration that are deft and pointed. Writing in The New York Times, Thomas Friedman pointed out that the United States is culturally innocent and, for that reason, unlikely to imagine huge offensive operations against civilian targets. When we go on the offensive, we are capable of coming up with the Hiroshima bomb. But when we're just sitting around, more or less asleep, with history cuddling our lap, we find it very difficult to transform e-mail squiggles and erratic student pilot-training into the suicidal armada of Sept. 11. Also in the Times, William Safire made the point that Norman Mineta, who is secretary of transportation, has got to get over his see-no-evil approach to racial profiling if we are going to make practical headway.

Now we have Robert Mueller of the FBI, who uses extraordinary language. Another terrorist attack, this on the style of the anti-Israeli attacks, is "inevitable." He was apparently dismayed that the inevitable sentence got out, but it was inevitable that it should have done so. And he is almost certainly correct. Boston University's Angelo Codevilla, writing in the Claremont Review last fall on the subject of homeland security, pronounced any programs we were likely to come up with as "impotent, counterproductive and silly." The reason for it is that there are too many nubile targets in America to guard against random terrorism. If the enemy had an interest only in Fort Knox, we could reasonably hope to maintain that one sanctuary, but we're talking about baseball stadiums.

There are three levels of conceptual assault against us. Another middle-level operation -- another Sept. 11 -- is improbable, because mounting that operation required extraordinary coordination, secrecy and surprise. Japan could not be expected to bring off two Pearl Harbors. At a higher level, the ultimate aggressor will try to come at us with an ABC weapon -- atomic, biological, chemical. That is not inevitable, but it is conceivable. At the other end of the scale, there is the pinprick. A suicide bombing at a Netanya hotel can be denominated as the Passover Massacre, because the effect of it was exactly that, of a massacre. Twenty-nine people were killed. At the battle of Gettysburg, over 6,000 were killed.

Why is homeland security impossible? Because, said Mr. Codevilla, an attempt to protect all assemblies of Americans would not succeed but would set into motion restrictions on the American way of life that are themselves an objective of the enemy. It does not do, as pointed out here when the Codevilla analysis was examined, "to countenance the threat of being killed by committing suicide."

It has twice, since Sept. 11, been vexing to hear it said by our governors that we should "take precautions." July 4 is now pointed to as a likely date for an attack. How do we reasonably guard against terrorism on July 4? By refusing to gather at the park for beer and a patriotic speech?

What is indeed inevitable is that the American people aren't going to take measures analogous to the British blackouts during the war. A proposal was made to the Clinton administration: Airport security should be augmented by (a) demanding a photographic ID of passengers; (b) inspecting hand baggage; (c) X-raying checked baggage. The Clinton people turned that suggestion down as presumably hysterical. Now, of course, it is deemed insufficient, and the Bush administration is being faulted for failure to go further.

The single practical recommendation would be racial profiling. The one genetic contribution to counterintelligence in this theater is that Mideasterners are visually identifiable. Since it is they who have engaged in every identified act of Islam-related terrorism, checking their movements at airports is a progressive step toward a level of security not manageable by any intensification of body and luggage examinations. If we knew that anyone disposed to terrorist activity would be red-haired, we'd find it reasonable to keep our eyes open for red-haired men at airports.

This could be done without repealing the Bill of Rights, and those Americans who have wondered when the dithering by the White House would end and sensible policy recommendations made, await -- impatiently -- the day that this point is made.