'Can't Defeat Them Unless We Understand Them'

How can countries be best informed of potential terror threats? Is al Qaeda becoming more decentralized? ABC News Consultant and former National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism Richard Clarke responds to a selection of your questions in this online Q+A.

Marcus in Austin, Texas asks: Do you believe that terrorism and suicide bombings, while perhaps not occurring in great number, will be a way of life for this generation?

Answer: Our hope has to be that we make it very difficult for terrorists to do these kinds of attacks in places like the U.S. and Western Europe, but we will have to understand that sometimes one of these guys will get through even the best defenses. We must shoot for zero incidents, but recognize Mark, that for many years there will be some attacks until this jihadism burns out.

Katie in Arizona writes: Good day, Mr. Clarke. As a recent college graduate, I have noticed many concerns regarding safety within the university and college systems. Some of these institutions house tens of thousands of students in close proximity, as well as containing numerous modes of on-campus transit. What do you think is the danger regarding universities and colleges? Are steps being taken to protect this rapidly growing population? What can those institutions do to better protect their students from terrorism?

Answer: Universities must, by nature, be open. Thankfully, Katie, they have not been targets of terrorism here or elsewhere. Many universities have, however, been plagued by crime and have increased the use of smart cards for building access, closed-circuit TV for monitoring, and larger numbers of professional police. The key on campus as elsewhere is for everyone to be the eyes and ears ... and report suspicious activity and dangerous vulnerabilities ... while respecting civil liberties and peoples' right to dissent and to be different.

Lucio in Houston asks: Do you think federal money for terrorism preparedness must be targeted toward cities, such as New York and Washington D.C., that are at a greater risk of attack than say Des Moines [Iowa]? If so, (even though you aren't a politician) what will it take for this to happen?

Answer: It would take political courage, Lucio, and that is something in short supply in the U.S. Senate, which just voted to continue the pork barrel approach to security funding ... over the objections of Homeland Security Secretary [Michael] Chertoff.

Shawn in Chesapeake, Va., asks: What kind of measures are our military bases taking to assure their protection from terrorist attacks and the safety of the communities around them? Living here in Chesapeake, Va., I am in close proximity to the Little Creek Naval Base, Norfolk Amphibious Base and the Oceana Air Force Base.

Answer: DOD has spent a great deal of money over several years on Force Protection enhancements at bases. They have the ability quickly to modulate their security posture based on threat information, using both military personnel and contractor security guards. Most bases will not create a security threat for their communities, Shawn, although obviously an attack on certain bases could release toxic materials into the neighborhood. In those cases, the bases should have worked out a joint response plan with local governments.

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