In the new world disorder, expect more World Trade Centers

Mark D. W. Edington

March 04, 1993|By Mark D. W. Edington

SOMEONE, it appears, finally got Yu Kikumura's car to the World Trade Center.

Kikumura was the Japanese terrorist arrested by a state trooper at the Vince Lombardi rest area of the New Jersey Turnpike in Ridgefield in 1988.

Noticing Kikumura's suspicious behavior, the trooper checked the rear seat of his car and found three homemade bombs.

Prosecutors said Kikumura was within days of attempting to detonate the bombs in occupied buildings in Manhattan. He is now in federal prison.

Whether or not the bombing at the twin towers was the work of terrorists aiming at one of America's foremost symbols of commerce, it demonstrated our vulnerability to the real possibility that terrorist attacks at home may become a more frequent response to America's role in the new world disorder.

It wasn't too long ago that America braced for an onslaught of attacks by Saddam Hussein's allies in the terrorist nether world.

Aside from a handful of attacks against Americans overseas, including the murder of a serviceman in Turkey, the waves of terrorism never materialized, seeming to prove once again our apparent immunity to terrorism at home.

For nearly three decades we have watched as other democratic countries, some of them close allies, have struggled to fight terrorist movements within their borders while preserving personal liberties and upholding political institutions.

Often we have officiously and self-righteously decried sincere efforts to balance the requirements of domestic security -- rooted in the most fundamental human right, the right of safety -- against our expectations of how an open society should function.

Of course, many state responses to terrorism do constitute state terrorism, and it is right that we should criticize violations of human rights committed in the name of fighting terrorism.

It's likely that we will soon have to judge the rectitude of our own responses to increased numbers of terrorist incidents. Involvement of U.S. forces in a growing number of multinational efforts mandated by the United Nations to grapple with international flashpoints will give any number of groups perceived justification for launching attacks against us at home.

Despite the reassuring purrs of congressional leaders and government officials, we have not yet fully come to grips with the fact that the end of the Cold War has left the world a more dangerous place.

The demands of leadership, if not a sense of moral responsibility, will not permit us to abdicate our responsibility for protecting innocent civilians and standing up against state-sponsored slaughter. But as we take on such roles we will more often make enemies than friends, and some may have the means and, they think, the motives to hurt us at home.

The increasing technological sophistication of weapons and explosives available to terrorists will make us an easier target.

If the attack against the World Trade Center proves anything, it is that our offices, factories, transportation and communication networks and infrastructures are relatively vulnerable to skilled terrorists so long as they can get a foot in the door.

Abu Abbas, the Palestinian terrorist, once predicted to an American interviewer, "Someday we will have missiles that can reach New York."

Technology is making that problem easier to solve. Soon, terrorists hope, they won't need to bother with the problem of smuggling the plastic explosive Semtex through airports or the trouble of wiring bombs together.

A number of major international events will take place in the United States in the next four years. World Cup Soccer will bring spectators from around the world to playing sites throughout the United States in 1994. Atlanta will be host to the Olympics in 1996.

Although heightened security will be a feature of both events, terrorists everywhere will look upon these events as targets of tremendous potential importance, given the global attention they will command -- and they know that, while counterterrorism measures have to succeed every day, terrorism only has to succeed once.

Among the rewards for our attempts to provide the leadership needed in a fragmented, crisis-prone world will be as yet unimagined terrorists and other assorted sociopaths determined to settle scores with us.

We cannot afford to react by withdrawing from the world. Rather, we need to react prudently. Specifically, the Clinton administration's new intelligence leadership must focus increased intelligence effort on assessing the potential threat of terrorism against Americans abroad and at home.

This will be neither easy nor cheap. It will require an increased emphasis on the politically difficult business of recruiting and effectively using spies. It will mean strengthening our abilities to penetrate terrorist organizations. And it will mean facing the reality that covert operations may be necessary for an effective counterterrorism policy.

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