Richard Clarke, the counter-terrorism chief of the Clinton-era National Security Council, has been more right more times about the nature of upcoming terrorist threats than just about anyone else. He’s got an important op-ed essay about the failed Times Square and Detroit-bound underwear bombers and what they should tell us about the next phase of terrorist threats.
To begin with, he notes,
The unfortunate fact is that such cases represent a kind of terrorism that is virtually impossible to disrupt. These attempts will continue, and from time to time one of them will succeed, with many dead and injured. The more relevant question, therefore, is: How will we respond when that car bomb does go off?
Interestingly, most of his advice has to do with what should not happen. Don’t overreact, proceed rationally, don’t run around like chickens without heads. Specifically, he makes seven points. First,
we must anticipate that someday another terrorist may succeed. If that happens, we will refine our tactics and procedures, but we will not overreact.
We will reject politicians and commentators who automatically make counterterrorism officials the whipping boy after an attack.
Third, pay attention to the fact that
U.S. counterterrorism efforts have reduced the overall threat from what it was a few years ago. So we must not assume that a successful attack indicates that our antiterrorism efforts have, on balance, failed.
we have to do the time-consuming and less glamorous work of defeating radical Islamist ideology in the battle of ideas.
Fifth, understand that
throwing more money at the problem or abandoning our civil liberties and way of life will not reduce the threat,
we should not adopt procedures that inconvenience the public more than they do the terrorists and amount to little more than security theater.
Seventh and last,
let us warn now that those who seek political gain from the murder of Americans will be regarded as despicable – whether they are the terrorists who carry out the attacks or the politicians who seek partisan benefits from them.
J.J. Goldberg is editor emeritus of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).