In an analysis provided to ABC News, three American scholars advise the Obama administration on how to anticipate and respond to likely terror threats against the U.S.
The last things President Obama will want to confront in his first year in office are the bodies of dead Americans and complaints of ineffective government response following a terrorist attack within the United States. His predecessors both faced terrorism in their first year in office: President Clinton on February 26, 1993 at the World Trade Center and President Bush at the same location and at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. President Obama may well face a comparable attack.
Since the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002, there has not been a successful attack by a foreign terrorist on U.S. soil. How much of this is the result of good work and how much is just luck? It is impossible to know. However, Al-Qaeda remains very active and Osama bin Laden is likely plotting his next attack. His deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, commenting recently on our election, calls upon jihadists to continue the war relentlessly.
In the wake of 9/11, the anthrax incidents that followed, and concerns of huge caches of non-conventional weapons in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, the United States began a concerted effort to prepare for the possibility of a non-conventional attack on American soil. Billions have been invested and federal, state, and local officials have trained to respond to the consequences of a mass casualty nuclear, biological, or chemical (NBC) attack. Important and necessary accomplishments have been made on this score.
However, a recent Washington meeting co-sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Harvard's National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, raised the possibility that while we have placed extraordinary attention on these horrendous perils, it may well be a much more ordinary danger that we face next.
The meeting brought together homeland security, public health, and hospital officials from Boston, New York, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, U.S. cities with subways and mass transit systems that are "soft targets." They met with their counterparts from Madrid, London, Tel Aviv, Islamabad, New Delhi, and Mumbai, cities hit by mass casualty conventional attacks that left thousands dead and with preparedness and response systems that learned a great deal from the experience.
Those who attended the meeting were reminded that despite the impressive complexities of the 9/11 attacks, jihadist organizations prefer relatively easy and accessible soft targets, actions that shatter the population's trust in their government. Might we see in the U.S. the sort of terrorism that was experienced elsewhere? While no one can know for sure, it is wise to us to pay heed to the lessons learned abroad.
Our international colleagues reported being initially surprised by the inadequacies of their response systems when they were first hit.