America the Vulnerable

Courtesy Reuters


It is painful to recall that, prior to September 11, Washington's singular preoccupation when it came to protecting the U.S. homeland was national missile defense. That urgency about guarding the United States from a potential missile attack now stands in stark contrast to the government's complacency about policing America's transportation networks and land and sea borders. On September 10, just over 300 U.S. Border Patrol agents supported by a single analyst were assigned the job of detecting and intercepting illegal border crossings along the entire vast 4,000-mile land and water border with Canada. Meanwhile, after a decade of budgetary neglect, the U.S. Coast Guard, tasked with maintaining port security and patrolling 95,000 miles of shoreline, was forced to reduce its ranks to the lowest level since 1964 and to cannibalize its decades-old cutters and aircraft for spare parts to keep others operational. While debates over the merits of new missile-intercept technologies made headlines, the fact that America's terrestrial and maritime front doors were wide open did not rate even a brief mention.

Until the World Trade Center towers were reduced to rubble and the Pentagon was slashed open, most Americans, along with their government, were clearly in denial about their exposure to a terrorist attack on their own soil. Oceans to the east and west and friendly continental neighbors to the north and south had always offered a healthy measure of protection. And Americans have generally disapproved of extensive efforts at domestic security. They were willing to staff and bankroll the defense and intelligence communities to contain the Soviet Union and to deal with conflicts "over there," but the quid pro quo was supposed to allow civilians at home to enjoy the full extent of their accustomed freedoms.

As Americans now contemplate the road ahead, they need to accept three unpleasant facts. First, there will continue to be anti-American terrorists with global reach for the foreseeable future. Second, these terrorists will have access to the means -- including chemical and

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