Terror within, terror without How to respond? Meetings on both sides of Atlantic underscore difficulties ahead.

July 31, 1996

THE ATLANTA BOMBER had good reason to chortle yesterday as all the good intentions "to do something about terrorism" got ensnared in Washington politics really attuned to an earlier time.

Republicans remained intimidated by the National Rifle Association and its objections to the use of chemical markers to show the origin of explosive materials. And civil libertarians, left and right, chafed against expanded federal wiretapping powers.

Meanwhile, at an anti-terrorism meeting of eight major nations in Paris, Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy told how his 11-year-old son learned bomb-making on the Internet.

What had this to do with the blast that shook the Atlanta Olympics early Saturday morning? Or Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's remarks at the White House that "terrorism is spilling out all over the world?" Or Bulgaria's report of increased racketeering, kidnappings, drug-smuggling, hired hit men and bombings?

In a word, everything. The technology of terrorism, riding astride the global telecommunications revolution, is constantly outstripping the best as well as the languid efforts of security authorities to defend and strike back.

One has to respect the ACLU's concerns about government excess in wiretapping. But the fact is that the Supreme Court has already given its approval to restricted use of wiretaps in the homes and offices of criminal suspects. What President Clinton proposes is a widening of this authority to take account of all the cellular phones and beepers and other devices now in almost universal use. In other countries that have long had to live with internal terrorism, such a need is considered a given.

Now that the United States is belatedly waking up to the full dimensions of the horrors threatening modern society, the Group of Seven powers plus Russia have approved 25 new measures to coordinate and in some cases standardize their anti-terrorism procedures. Arab nations assembled in Cairo have vowed to do the same. Japan is calling for an Asia-Pacific meeting soon.

So the battle is gradually being joined against an enemy that appears in many forms in response to motivations ranging from ideology to psychosis. The threat of everything from the homemade pipe bomb to the sophisticated nuclear/biological/chemical weapon of mass destruction will be with us, alas, on a scale as potentially unsettling or destructive as the wars of yore. Nothing but an all-out international crusade to preserve this planet and the quality of life of its inhabitants will suffice.

Pub Date: 7/31/96

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