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What We Are Up Against

Yesterday, I bought the January/February issue of the Atlantic and this evening I finished reading the soon to be famous and/or infamous Richard Clarke cover page article in it called "Ten Years Later" (paid subscription).

Funny thing... the hypothetical history (2001 to 2011) of terrorist attacks that the hypothetical lecturer describes did not scare me that much. I guess that's because most of them take place outside New York City. I hate to say it, being all compassionate like I am and everything, but I'm comforted by this scenario. I can perfectly well believe that New York City has hardened itself enough  (on its own initiative) to possibly persuade terrorists to go elsewhere. I do not think New York City is invulnerable. Not by any means. But I do think the terrorists are smart enough to know they will have an easier time taking it to other places in this country.

Sorry about that, folks. Maybe you should pick up the Clarke article yourself and get reading.

What did scare me are the warnings in the article about economic near-collapse and the dangers to civil liberties. And here's the trick of it: The idea is not to stand around and bitch about Patriot Act I and Patriot Act II (as bitch-worthy as they certainly are). The idea is to have the debate now -- before the attacks--  over the issues and possibilities Clarke raises in his article.

Too many of us ordinary citizens, and too many people in government, are being way too stupid about not taking on any of this stuff now. And I'll tell you what, and as the Clarke article suggests, stupid people could cost us our country.

Say, come to think of it... want to meet one of those stupid people? Just as a "fer instance"?

Yesterday I was listening to the always reasonable and intelligent Brian Lehrer Show and Brian had Clarke on as a guest. Now, first of all, I have to say that the vast majority of Brian's callers are intelligent and informed people. "Sarah in Manhattan", who you will meet below, is an exception. Not a rarity, so much; an exception to the rule is more like it. Brian, bless his heart, is always patient, always reasonable with his callers. Which is, of course, one of the reasons I like listening to his show.

I typed out the transcript below myself, working from a .ra file of the segment which you can listen to if you want in order to verify my work. Corrections welcome.

And so, without further ado, here is what people who want to have a safe America -- with civil liberties intact -- are up against:

BRIAN LEHRER (BL): Let's take a phone call. Sarah in Manhattan, you're on WNYC with Richard Clarke.

SARA IN MANHATTAN (SIM): Hi, I was wondering if, uh, Mr. Clarke is trying to create fear so that he can create, uh, some kind of profits for those who may call and consult him because I think the ideas that he's putting forth may be helpful to the so-called terrorists who are, you know, conspiring to come into New, uh, America and do harm to Americans. I think it's disgusting.

BL: Well, whether you think he's right or wrong, I mean, you're not really accusing Richard Clarke, with his history of, you know, the jobs he's held, of trying to help terrorists, are you?

SIM: No, not help. Help himself by alluding-- there's such a fear factor that we should be aware of. Maybe, you know, people will start hiring him to-- to offset these so-called, uh, attempts, if any.

BL: So is there something in particular that you want to take issue with? That you think is unfounded?

SIM: Yes, when he said that there are still buildings, uh, there are, there are buildings that -- unprotected. There are, you know, there are certain entry, points of entry that, uh, that terrorists can access.

BL: Not true, in either of those cases?

SIM: I... I believe that the, that, that George W. Bush and, and, and, and, and, and Condolezza Rice and, and, and Colin Powell, everyone has done magnificent work with trying to deter these kinds of attacks. And I just don't believe that in this day and age that an attack could happen with all the measures that are in place after 9/11.

BL: Mr. Clarke?

RICHARD CLARKE (RC): The, uh, Inspector General of the Homeland Security Department was just fired[1]. Uh, he was fired by the Bush Administration because he had issued over 200 reports citing the failures of the Homeland Security Department to reduce vulnerabilities here in the United States. Rail security. Commuter rail security. Cargo rail security. Security at the airports. Security at the borders. Security of containers coming into the United States. Security of chemical plants. His reports document, uh, in great detail, how the Bush Administration has talked a good game about Homeland Security, but not significantly reduced our vulnerabilities. And that's what this article is about. It's not about spreading fear. It's about spreading a warning that the vulnerabilities have not been reduced.

Of course, the response that Sarah in Manhattan and others will always give to Clarke's arguments is to cite...

BL: ... Bush Administration statistics of more than 3,000 Al-qaeda operatives killed or captured since 2001 representing more than a quarter of known Al-qaeda forces. Are we not winning the war on terrorism in that respect?

RC: No, I think actually Secretary Rumsfeld finally got something right when he said in an internal memo that got leaked that we seem to be producing terrorists faster than we're killing or capturing them.

BL: But he says they're going to, um, to Iraq to fight us there rather than fight us here.

RC: Yeah, I've always been amused by that because the President seems to think that we've created some sort of terrorism magnet and -- in Iraq -- which we have -- but that the magnetic force of that, uh, phenomenon is so strong the terrorists can't come here. There's nothing stopping them from coming here.

One of the genuine tragedies of Kerry losing the last election is that I think there would have been at least a chance, if only an outside one, that Clarke would have been appointed to lead the Department of Homeland Security. Go to that .ra link above and listen to what Clarke has to say about Bush's latest appointment to that job. It's not snarky. It's totally reasonable. And it makes you want to gnaw your arm off.

Do track down and read the Clarke article, if you can. It's not, frankly, all that well-written in my view. Not nearly as well done as the first chapter in Against All Enemies, but it's still quite interesting, for the information contained in its footnotes, if nothing else.


[1] "Official Who Criticized Homeland Security Is Out of a Job"


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