Accessibility links

U.S.: Terror Attacks May Mean New Era Of Tight Security

  • Andrew Tully

Yesterday's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington demonstrate how vulnerable Americans are because they live in a free and open society. But analysts say security in the U.S. can be tightened without severely restricting freedoms. And they say Americans will welcome this tighter security, just as they did during World War II.

Washington, 12 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- National security analysts say that whoever was behind the coordinated terrorist attacks in New York and Washington may have achieved short-term goals, but they say they believe the American people will unite behind the effort to strike back and to prevent future attacks.

Experts interviewed by RFE/RL also say the attacks were possible because of a serious lapse in U.S. security and counterintelligence. But they say they believe that security can be tightened without restricting Americans' basic freedoms.

Edward Atkeson is a national security analyst with the Center for Security and International Studies, or CSIS, an independent policy institute in Washington. He says the American government clearly was unprepared for the attacks, perhaps because it has so seldom been the target of international terrorism.

"It's very clear that we need a great deal better coordinated counterespionage and perhaps a little better work on our own part for gathering the information -- I wouldn't call it espionage -- but gathering information from abroad and those interests abroad that clearly don't have our best interests at heart."

Atkeson says the only proper way to prevent a recurrence is to tighten security. But that does not mean declaring a state of siege. Instead, he says, the government should keep better track of the people with access to airplanes -- crews, passengers, ticket clerks and maintenance workers -- as well as those with access to buses and trains.

Ted Galen Carpenter is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, another Washington policy organization. He says the U.S. should have been more wary of unconventional attacks like the ones on New York and Washington because no country or terrorist group would dare to challenge America's conventional military might.

"But as is always the case in warfare, an adversary didn't challenge where we are strongest, it challenged where we were weakest. And given the fact that we have an open society, open borders more or less, that's our vulnerability, that's where they struck."

Carpenter says the only positive aspect to yesterday's attacks was that the assailants did not use nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.

"The next time we have an incident, it might include a weapon of mass destruction, and the devastation would be even vastly greater than this horrible episode."

Atkeson -- of the CSIS -- said that whoever was behind the attacks in New York and Washington sought to gain maximum psychological advantage. And he said the effort was a success.

"I'll have to say from a professional point of view, they did a bang-up [excellent] job, particularly from a psychological point of view, having one aircraft strike a tower and then waiting 10 minutes before the next one does, when they knew that the whole world would be watching it on CNN."

Atkeson said this may boost morale among the terrorists who mounted the attack -- and among others who hate the U.S. But he said the devastation will galvanize Americans and unite them in the effort to strike back at the perpetrators.

Kenneth Allard, a colleague of Atkeson at the CSIS, agrees. He told RFE/RL that Americans will respond to yesterday's attacks just as they did to Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, which brought the U.S. into World War II. And he said they will accept the tighter security to prevent a recurrence.

"When one looks back and reads the history of World War II and the restrictions that people lived under routinely in this country, you realize the fact that this generation has had nothing like that. Well, this generation just had its own Pearl Harbor. So I think that in many respects, life in these United States is going to change and it's going to change rather dramatically."

And Allard stresses that the changes in liberties that Americans are about to see will not merely be imposed upon them from the top levels of government. He emphasizes that these changes will be made with their own consent, through congressional action.