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Archive for Thursday, August 14, 2003

Deadly threat

August 14, 2003

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An attempt to smuggle deadly missiles into the United States re-emphasizes the continuing terrorism threat to this country.

Tuesday's arrest of three people charged with trying to smuggle shoulder-fired, heat-seeking missiles into the United States points out several important truths that all Americans need to understand and accept.

For any number of reasons, there are thousands, probably millions, of individuals who hate the United States and what it stands for. It is not a Republican or a Democratic matter, nor can this hatred be blamed on any single presidential administration.

The United States stands for freedom, and the blessings of this country and the advantages enjoyed by its citizens infuriate many around the world.

The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York City's World Trade Center brought this hatred front and center, and, as President Bush said at the time, the United States, as well as other democratic nations, are engaged in a war against terrorism. He said this war would be long and costly and would require patience on the part of all citizens. It would not be won in a matter of months or even a few years.

Some probably scoffed at Bush's warning; some probably thought the terrorist attack was linked to some action or policy of the Bush administration. Those in Washington and London intelligence communities, as well as those in Moscow and other world capitals, had been aware of a steady buildup and threat of terrorist activities, but it wasn't until the 9-11 tragedy that the danger became clear to U.S. citizens, most of whom considered this country immune to such attacks.

Now the skeptics know, and unfortunately, there are likely to be further acts of terrorism within the United States and against American citizens abroad.

The other lesson to be learned from the arrest of several men trying to smuggle the missile into the United States is that the American intelligence community is far more alert and more able than many believe.

According to initial news reports, the investigation of this threat started about five months ago when Russian intelligence officials passed information to FBI officials that an arms dealer was shopping for weapons in Russia. The British MI5 offices also became involved in the investigation.

Those seeking to buy the sophisticated Russian SA-18 Igla missile were identified, and their actions and travels monitored. A sting operation was set up and the arrests were made Tuesday in New Jersey and New York City.

This was an excellent example of cooperation between American, Russian and British intelligence agencies, and it should illustrate that, although there has been much criticism of U.S. intelligence-gathering capabilities, there undoubtedly are many successful intelligence efforts that the public knows nothing about.

We hear about failures, but, for many reasons, successes go unreported.

The seriousness of terrorist threats was highlighted Wednesday when officials of British Airways announced they were suspending all flights to Saudi Arabia because of worries about terrorism. Another example was news of three men who came ashore at Kennedy International Airport when their boat was disabled and wandered around airport grounds for some time before being discovered.

There is no way to guarantee terrorists will not be able to infiltrate the United States and inflict terrible damage and loss of life. According to experts, there are thousands of portable shoulder-fired missiles available for purchase and they could be used against civilian or military aircraft in the United States or elsewhere. Our borders are far too vast to set up an impenetrable barrier for those with intent to kill.

Terrorism is a fact of life that Americans must accept. Bush has tried to make this clear, as has England's Tony Blair and Russia's Vladimir Putin.

Our intelligence agencies are fighting a tough battle, and it was good to learn about the arrest of those trying to smuggle the missile into the United States, but this is just a tiny piece of a huge terrorism threat.

Again, it is not a Democratic of Republican issue but one that should concern all Americans and not be used for partisan political gain.

This is a war in which all Americans can play a role by being observant and reporting any unusual activities to the proper authorities. It's a deadly serious business!

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