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Dealing With Terrorism Before, Not After an Attack

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 3, 1996 – A terrorist bomb explodes, people die, security is tightened.

That's the way it goes, but that's not the way it should be, according to antiterrorism experts.

Reacting after the fact is not the way to combat terrorist attacks, according to officials at DoD's recent worldwide antiterrorism conference at Fort Walton Beach, Fla. Combating the threat of attack requires a longterm, continuing effort to improve and sustain security for U.S. personnel and facilities, the experts said.

During four days of speeches, presentations and working group discussions, DoD and other federal officials and civilian law enforcers discussed the need to change people's mindset on antiterrorism. Officials said they need to break the cycle of being complacent when there are no attacks and then developing a "hunker down" response after terrorist attacks occur.

Oklahoma City and Atlanta's Centennial Park blasted the myth that terrorist attacks never happen on American soil, DoD officials said. Sarin gas in Tokyo's subway squelched the idea terrorists would never use weapons of mass destruction. The Khobar Towers attack in Saudi Arabia shattered the belief terrorists only use handmade, unsophisticated weapons.

These recent attacks are not isolated incidents, according to Air Force Gen. Joseph W. Ralston, vice chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. "We need to put aside the notion that terrorism is a series of unfortunate, onetime events to be dealt with on a case by case basis," he said. "Terrorism does not have boundaries. It is foreign and domestic. It is statesponsored and not statesponsored. It is highly sophisticated and very handmade. It can hit in all areas and its targets are many."

Terrorism is a tactic of the weak to attack the strong, according to Winston Wiley, chief of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center in Washington. The United States has become the primary target, he said.

"We have emerged in the last decade as the first target of international terrorism for a host of political, economic, geopolitical reasons," Wiley said. "Our very actions, whether it's to counter terrorism, or in some other foreign policy aspect, provide an apparent reason for some of these groups to target us."

Future attacks will take advantage of the world's advanced weapons technology, he said. Conventional, semismart and smart weapons systems are becoming increasingly available in the world marketplace. Terrorists may also concoct crazy cocktails of nuclear, biological and chemical materials. "As the decade evolves I think we're going to see some movement in that direction," Wiley said.

Terrorists will also take advantage of advances in information technology, Wiley said. "It is not that terrorists are out in front of the rest of society," he said. "It's simply that they are going along taking advantage of the increasing number of communications systems, transportation systems, public encryption and the like. That fits naturally into their kit bag."

Conference working groups said more funding, better training and a clearly defined chain of responsiblity are needed to ensure a consistent, sustainable force protection program, DoD officials said. The United States also needs better intelligence sharing and to develop a national policy detailing interagency responsibilities. Continuing oversight is also needed.

DoD, the Joint Staff and the unified combatant commanders are now focused on reducing the vulnerability of U.S. personnel and facilities, according to Ralston. "You can rest assured, it will remain a top priority," he said. The fiscal 1998 budget will include money specifically for force protection, he said.

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