Yale '62 - Defending The Homeland - Kent Hughes

"Defending The Homeland"

Washington is often described as ten square miles surrounded by reality. Editorial writers, talk show hosts, and many political leaders who spend much time in Washington are also quick to deride an 'inside-the beltway' mentality.

The commentators are on to something. It is not, however, that Washington lacks reality but that it has bit too much of it. Arms control, tensions in Kashmir, the mounting trade deficit and the future of NATO are common subjects for water cooler conversation. National headlines are local news for Washington. It can be hard to come home after a day arguing over the next step in the Middle East or the long-term implications of annual tax cuts to focus on the merits of a local bond issue.

That concentrated often-vivid reality is, I believe, influencing Washington's focus on homeland security as well as foreign policy. It started with the tragic attacks of September 11, 2001. Everybody working in downtown Washington remembers the first news about a plane hitting the World Trade Center, then another plane, and then the Pentagon. The fourth plane that crashed in Pennsylvania was, by many reports, intended for the Capitol. Everyone jokes about living in a 'target-rich' environment.

Kent HughesNot long after 9/11 came the anthrax laced letters and the closing of the Hart Senate Office building. Unless it had been crinkled from anthrax killing radiation, mail was opened carefully with an eye to suspicious white powder. Then suburban Washington was stunned by a series of random sniper killings. (It proved to be terror without organized terrorists.) Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS is the latest lesson in global vulnerability. Anthrax, the snipers, and now SARS are vivid reminders that any country is only a plane ride away from any disease or any terrorist.

Awareness and preparation for an attack are, of course, national in scope. The recent Department of Homeland Security exercises in Seattle, Chicago and Washington are a reminder of how this is a widely shared preoccupation. It should be. Federal facilities have fire drill like evacuation plans and urge occupants to have three days of food or water so they can 'shelter in place'. Friends working in the Capitol are aware that the terrorists struck at the World Trade Center in 1993 and kept it on their list. House, Senate and Library of Congress employees have been provided with everything from gas masks to pills helping guard against the radiation from a dirty bomb.

Like almost everything in Washington, homeland security has become part of the political fray and is likely to become one of the key issues in next year's presidential campaign. Just as John Kennedy ran against Richard Nixon from the right on national security (in that case relying on what later proved to be a largely non-existent missile gap), a number of leading Democrats have pointed to the lag in funding for first responders and other aspects of homeland security. In the current congressional debate over the President's proposed tax cuts, many Democrats and some moderate Republicans are pressing for added funding for beleaguered state budgets - in part to fund aspects of homeland security. I do not expect any reduction in pressure from the Administration for as large a tax cut as the Congress will accept. But, I would expect them to engage aggressively on the question of homeland security. At least in this case, partisan competition spiced by the demands of the 2004 presidential election just might leave the country better informed and better prepared.

Recent experience and ongoing concerns have kept Washington's attention on homeland security. The rapid passage of the Patriot Act and the creation of the new Department of Homeland Security are two measures. The May 12 attack in Saudi Arabia should be a clear warning that Americans remain a prime terrorist target. When next it next happens here, it will harden attitudes and accelerate the move toward national and homeland security. Even without another attack, I see the possibility if not the likelihood of four major steps. Here I am predicting, not proposing; analyzing not advocating.

First, the technologies that allowed us to monitor Soviet troop deployments, nuclear facilities and the deployment of ICBMs are of little use in penetrating terrorist cells. It is time to bring back James Bond - that is to rely more heavily on the human side of intelligence. That means a post-Sputnik like emphasis on learning foreign languages and understanding other cultures, as well as facing the difficult task of dealing with overseas individuals with questionable pasts.

Second, the defense and intelligence services will need to add Hollywood scriptwriters and Tom Clancy like novelists to their war games. The intelligence failure on 9/11 was, in part, looking at raw intelligence from various sources without the right questions in mind.

Third, the sheer volume of cross-border traffic poses an enormous challenge. Without having verified the numbers myself, it is not unusual to read about sixteen million cargo containers every year, two million boxcars and large numbers of ships and small planes.

The national response will take on the dimensions of a full court press. Human intelligence is part of the equation but so are comprehensive overseas inspections and growing international cooperation among different countries' port and customs officials. New detection technologies will be an important part of the equation and could, over time, have a variety of civilian applications.

Fourth, journalistic accounts suggest that there are more than three hundred and fifty million visitors to the United States every year. Undocumented visitors would add uncounted millions to that total. Again, human intelligence will be a crucial part of a new vigilance. But, there are strong economic and political pressures to keep borders open.

The combination of pressures for greater security and still open borders will lead to several changes. The President and the Congress will eventually provide a second major amnesty program to adjust the status of undocumented workers that are already part of the American economy. Guest worker programs will be widely adopted. Security concerns will take the form of a move toward hard to copy identity cards that will eventually carry DNA samples, eye scans, and fingerprints. Because of the country's historic aversion to national identity cards and the nature of our federal system, a national system is likely to emerge on a state by state basis as new features are added to drivers' licenses and other state documents.

When we do act, we need to keep in mind everything from the country's commitment to civil liberties to the country's deep economic ties to the rest of the world. After America's rapid military victory in Iraq, it is important to remember that America also leads by the example of its shared prosperity and the appeal of its fundamental values.

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