January 5, 2004 | Commentary on Department of Homeland Security

Anti-Terror To-do's

Looking back at 2003, it's clear that the United States has made tremendous advances in the War on Terror. Without question, we are safer today than we were that fateful September day two and a half years ago.

But last month's thwarted Air France hijacking, and the news of security concerns on flights out of Britain and Mexico, can't help but focus the mind on the fact that the war goes on and the world remains a dangerous place. Terrorism in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey - not to mention all the pre-empted terrorist attacks that don't make the headlines - reminds us that resting on our laurels now clearly isn't an option.

With much work still to be done in 2004, it seems appropriate to make a few terrorism New Year's resolutions:

* Push out our air borders: Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge was absolutely right to put foreign carriers on notice that they may have to start carrying air marshals. But is it enough? 9/11 showed how lethal a plane can be in the wrong hands.

It doesn't matter if it's a domestic or foreign carrier. If we require domestic airlines to reinforce their doors, carry air marshals and let pilots bear arms, it only makes sense to hold foreign carriers flying into the United States to the same standards. And what of the cargo placed aboard passenger planes? It should be screened just like the passenger luggage.

* Improve our spy game: Intelligence is our first line of defense against terrorism at home and abroad. It must be top-notch.

Is the FBI up to the task of handling domestic counterterrorism intelligence? It's a concern; the bureau's focus has always been on law enforcement. Some have called for creation of a British-like MI-5 domestic spy agency. But that's not necessary if the FBI develops a dedicated career track - with advancement - for counterterrorism professionals.

Overseas, we need to continue to rebuild our clandestine human intelligence services, which were decimated in the Clinton years. Satellites are great, but they can't infiltrate a terrorist cell or attend a meeting in a safehouse - only a human agent can do that.

The dearth of Arabic and Farsi (Persian) speakers in the FBI and our foreign intelligence agencies, such as the CIA and the military, must be rectified - and quickly. And the numerous terrorist watch lists compiled by various federal agencies, aimed at preventing terrorists from entering the United States, must be also collated and centralized.

* Dry up terror financing: $23 million found on couriers in Syria . . . $150,000 paid for bombings in Turkey . . . $15 million in hashish seized by the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf . . . Al Qaeda has way too much pocket change. Cutting off terrorist financing is no easy task, but it must be done.

We must apply more resources to finding, tracking and interdicting terrorist cash . . . and more attention to the drug-running that funds so much terrorist activity.

According to the U.N., some foreign governments are not enforcing global sanctions on terrorist financing by individuals, businesses and charities. They must be pressed - and pressed hard - to do so.

Terrorist-associated Muslim charities must be shut down at home and abroad. In the New York City/New Jersey area alone, the Department of Homeland Security identified $100 million that was sent through hawalas (unregulated money-transfer businesses) from America to countries with possible terrorist ties.

* Enhance our image: Legendary British soldier and Arabist T.E. Lawrence once said, "The printing press is the greatest weapon in the armory of the military commander." This is true for the diplomat as well. Unfortunately, by many accounts, our public diplomacy efforts in the Muslim world are failing.

Some of this is understandable. After all, many Muslim countries lack a free press and actively hinder the flow of information from the outside world.

But we have exacerbated the problem. By collapsing the U.S. Information Agency into the State Department, the Clinton administration reduced our public-diplomacy corps by 40 percent. The American p.r. effort needs to be reinvigorated with more cash and people. (Of course, real progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - and success in Iraq - would help immensely, too.)

Yes, we've made great strides in the War on Terror. But al Qaeda and other terrorists still plot, still probe our defenses for weakness. Checking off these to-do's in 2004 will make their job harder - and our lives more secure.

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

First appeared in the New York Post.