It was widely rumored late last year and early this year that al-Qaida or a similar group would use the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks to strike a major U.S. city or other high-profile target. The rumor became fact when material uncovered at Osama bin Laden's Pakistani compound after he was killed by U.S. forces last spring indicated that plans for such an attack had been discussed. It is understandable, then, that federal, state and local governments have heightened security in the weeks leading up to and following the anniversary.
It is prudent to do so, even though there is no information extant to suggest such an attack might be imminent. "While there is currently no specific or credible threat, appropriate and prudent security measures are ready to detect and prevent plots against the United States should they emerge," a Homeland Security Department spokesman said recently. Still, the additional concern and security measures are an acceptable response to the possibility of an attack on or around the anniversary of the worst terror attack on U.S. soil in history.
Some of the precautions taken by officials is readily apparent. There's more visible security at the nations airports and other mass transit facilities. Border patrols have been expanded and additional personnel are on duty at government and other public buildings and at major public gatherings, like sports events and outdoor concertos. There are, to be sure, other increases in security too. but officials understandably won't divulge any information about such activity.
The precautions are the result of extensive planning. A White House spokesman said that senior-level meetings of homeland security and counterterrorismofficials started several months ago to discuss possible threats to the United States and appropriate responses leading up the anniversary. They've not ended. The official confirmed that security reviews will continue through the 9-11 anniversary and beyond, "in order to ensure the federal government remains fully prepared to take whatever steps are necessary to mitigate any potential attacks."
President Barack Obama acknowledged such discussions last month when he said that the threat of a plot by a lone terrorist is a particularly troublesome possibility. "The risk that we're especially concerned over right now is the lone-wolf terrorist, somebody with a single weapon being able to carry out wide-scale massacres of the sort that we saw in Norway recently." The president, of course, was referring to the July attack in which 69 people were gunned down at a youth camp.
"You know," the president added, "when you've got one person who is deranged or driven by a hateful ideology, they can do a lot of damage, and it's a lot harder to race those lone-wolf operators." Counterterrorism officials and law enforcement agencies, of course, have to be prepared to deal with threats from both the lone-wolf terrorist and larger groups like al-Qaida.
Americans, who moved about the country with almost unfettered freedom before the 9-11 attacks, have grudgingly accepted the measures implemented to protect the country since 2001. And despite grumbling about some heavy-handed and intrusive measures, most agree that the security arrangements have produced a desirable result. No terrorist attack has occurred here since their implementation.
The government's current effort to tighten security during a time that terrorists view as a highly symbolic and appropriate time for another attack is commendable. The new procedures and policies, however, need not be permanent. When the anniversary passes and conditions warrant, a return to more normal security programs that promote a proper balance between the nation's need for security and personal freedoms is in order.