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David Miller: Why The US Must Shake Terror's Grip

David Miller Online

Why The US Must Shake The Grip Of Terror

This weekend’s Memorial Day holiday in the United States was another illustration of that country’s frayed nerves when it comes to international terrorism. Security was reported to be have been extremely tight at all of the attractions throughout the country and especially at landmarks such as the Liberty Bridge and the Statue of Liberty, with the FBI warning that they may be on the terrorist hit list. The FBI warnings have come at a time when the Bush Administration is facing questions over a report it received prior to September 11 warning of possible aircraft hi-jacking and that terrorists were exploring the possibility of an airborne attack. Whether there is any substance to these latest reports is a matter of debate but what it does is demonstrate that the US is still in the grip of fear of terrorism and that the real damage inflicted by al-Qaeda is on the psyche of the US rather than anything material.

Terrorist reports and alerts are not a recent development in the US and did not suddenly begin in the aftermath of September 11. Throughout the 1990’s such alerts became more prevalent with incidents such as the 1992 attack on the World Trade Centre and the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings demonstrating that the terrorist threat was becoming more identifiable. With the emergence of Osama bin Laden as the so-called ‘terrorist mastermind’ such alerts increased in number. As is the case at present, the threat of an attack centred around areas such as the New York subway, Brooklyn Bridge or Statue of Liberty however there was always the overriding fear that US targets abroad where more at risk. These reports where usually based upon intelligence information that had been received and measures where taken such as Independence Day celebrations scaled down around the world or extra security at facilities in the US itself but always the psychological threat was there. It always appeared that in no matter what else was happening around the world or no matter what other threats the US faced, the country was always looking over its shoulder and awaiting that major terrorist strike.

Now that it has happened, the US is looking over its shoulder even more so, despite knowing that it cannot go on doing so. Once again the FBI said it had received “uncorroborated and unconfirmed” information about a possible terrorist threat, which often this information is and nor did the agency divulge which sectors of the US would be likely targets. As a result security has been heightened around everything from nuclear power plants, through to tall buildings, landmarks and the city subways. There have also been reports that the FBI even believes terrorists may use scuba diving equipment as a means of carrying out an attack. CNN reported that the alert was issued after information had been obtained based on information given by the Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees captured in Afghanistan and have since September 11 have asked dive industry officials for the names of all people who have been trained in the use of sophisticated closed circuit "rebreathers” that when in use do not leave bubbles and allow a diver to travel underwater undetected.

Such a scenario may seem like a script or a scene from a Hollywood movie but it demonstrates the seriousness with which law enforcement officials in the US attach to such potential threats and the diverse methods through which they believe the US or any country can be attacked. What this does is not only heighten the level of the alert but it also shows the fear and anxiety that still exists within the US and where the real power of terrorism lies - the psychological.

When focusing on terrorism, this column has often stated that its power lies in the psychological rather than the physical or material. This has proved to be the case in Europe over the past four decades and has been so clearly illustrated in Israel with the suicide bombings. What terrorism does is tell a government and a people that no matter the size of their armed forces, the size and strike power of their weaponry or even the number of nuclear weapons they hold, the military and law enforcement cannot protect them. Even if there is not another terrorist incident within the US borders this year or even next, the threat perception has been placed within the US mindset and overcoming it will prove extremely difficult if not almost impossible. The images of the planes hitting the twin towers will always be there despite the US military successes in Afghanistan and with it the fear that it can happen again.

Ironically it is the US people themselves that are the only ones who can defeat terrorism in this regard. They have to be prepared to go about their lives as normal and commemorate Memorial Day without worrying of a terrorist strike. Because if they do not and are constantly on watch for suspicious behaviour and stray packages lying around then they have let terrorism beat them. If the US government and people cannot overcome such a threat perception then there will be no return to ‘normality’ because the normality will always be a country and a people living in fear of another terrorist attack.

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