After nearly two months of living with terror, both horribly real and fancifully imagined, we still know next to nothing about the true source of our immobilizing fears or can we even agree how to make our airports safer.
No hard evidence has been provided that Osama bin Laden, loathsome fanatic that he obviously is, masterminded the suicide attacks. His connection with the anthrax scare is much in doubt, with investigators now focusing on domestic, non-Islamic armies of god. Neither have charges been brought against any of the 1,147 people arrested and held in what increasingly appears to be an anti-immigrant witch hunt. The failures of US intelligence agencies to thwart the September 11 attacks have been compounded by an embarrassingly inept campaign to nail those behind it. All we know for certain is that fifteen of the nineteen men who commandeered those planes were citizens of Saudi Arabia, a monarchy we have indulged and protected as an ally for half a century. Two others were sons of the United Arab Emirates, another US-protected oil sheikdom that was the conduit for most of the money sent to finance the killers. Another was from Lebanon and the presumed leader was from our ally Egypt. In what seems more like a dangerous tantrum than a war, we are carpet-bombing Afghanistan even though not a single Afghan was among the hijackers. The bombing campaign may yet prove a wise response to terrorism if it breaks the Taliban and Al Qaeda, or it could lead to the most horrid of quagmires in which we train our second generation of Afghan "freedom fighters" as we once did the Taliban and Bin Laden's Arab warriors. Bin Laden is still out there instilling hate, as he did over the weekend in a twenty-minute television broadcast. While much of the world got to see the face of the enemy, we, living in the land of the free, did not. The TV networks heeled in obedience when Condoleezza Rice told them that such broadcasts might contain messages to terrorists. Since the broadcasts are readily available through the Internet, that would seem a lame excuse for self-censorship by news organizations.
Clearly, we are floundering–understandable given the unprecedented assault, but no excuse for missing real opportunities to make this country and its people safer. That begins with implementing still-stalled airport security measures. Most pressing is to hire and train a specialized national security force. A unanimous Senate approved that sensible measure, but President Bush and the ideological Republican House leadership oppose the federalization of airport security. It's obscene that they heeded the pleadings of lobbyists for the very same private security companies whose ill-trained and lax employees proved tragically inadequate. Yet like ambulance chasers, the lobbying–fed by campaign contributions–intensified immediately after the September 11 attacks.
Air travelers still are screened by poorly paid workers on a haphazard basis that has allowed people to enter planes with arms far more serious than box cutters. At a time when we rightly celebrate the heroism and efficiency of New York's firefighters and police officers, it hardly make sense to denigrate the value of hiring other government employees to provide airport security. Have the anti-government congressional ideologues failed to notice that the US forces fighting abroad are also on the government payroll?