What terrorists?

July 19, 2005

ROD J. ROSENSTEIN'S bosses in Washington must have been mighty happy last week when they read that his top priority as Maryland's new U.S. attorney would be to fight terrorism. Marylanders, however, should be unimpressed.

They don't need federal prosecutors focusing their resources and legal skills on terrorism. The enemies terrorizing communities in Baltimore and elsewhere are the drug organizations pumping millions of dollars of heroin, cocaine and other illegal narcotics into city neighborhoods and arming execution squads to keep a lock on business. Those are the terrorists who have to be hunted down and expelled from our midst.

Mr. Rosenstein, praised for his intellect and dedication, can't really believe that "terrorism" is the top law enforcement need in the area, not if he knows anything about Baltimore and its environs and the drug enterprises that his new staff has successfully prosecuted, as recently as this year. Combating drugs was third on his priority list, as relayed in two interviews with media, including The Sun. His stated intentions tell us he knows how to parrot the administration line. The war on terror is big in Washington, and Mr. Rosenstein comes to Baltimore from a high-ranking job at the U.S. Justice Department.

His predecessor, Thomas M. DiBiagio, apparently didn't keep to the Washington script enough. Mr. DiBiagio's preoccupation with public corruption got him in trouble with his Justice Department bosses, but it stemmed from an honest pursuit: There was a dearth of public corruption cases in the years preceding him.

No one expects Mr. Rosenstein to slight the new threats facing America. The post-9/11 world demands vigilance from everyone - prosecutor, police officer and parent. The recent terrorist attacks in London were a grim reminder of what hasn't occurred here since that awful, blue-sky morning in 2001. The woeful lack of security at U.S. ports, transit systems and nuclear facilities is a glaring example of the nation's vulnerability on display at a time when it takes little equipment and few volunteers to mount a devastating attack.

But the ruin wrought daily by violent drug gangs is eroding families, communities and society in vast ways and with crushing social and financial consequences. It's a chief cause of the high numbers of murders in Baltimore; it's wreaking the same havoc in suburban Prince George's County. The proof is on the streets just a few blocks from Mr. Rosenstein's downtown office, in the prisons across town and at the state morgue.

To aggressively combat the problem, federal law enforcement officers should enhance relationships with their state counterparts to pursue top drug suppliers. The U.S. attorney's competent, committed prosecutors have won convictions of murderous drug organizations, their leaders and enforcers who escaped punishment in the state courts. The leadership of the U.S. attorney is paramount because of the resources he controls and the federal system - with its tougher sentences - in which he works.

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