Monday, December 14, 2009

How Safe Are We?

Are We Proactive Or Still Reactive?

Two incidents on Thursday, the memory of one that occurred on December 7, 1993 and another earlier this week got me thinking about how secure, in a free and democratic society, that we can really ever be.

This is not a commentary on freedom, because that is what makes this country and our society great. It is more a commentary on the fact that no matter how much better security is today than it was on 9/11, it can really never be good enough to make us safe from one maniac, or a group of maniacs, who have an agenda that they want to fulfill. It can be due to insanity or based on ideology, or both, but unfortunately where there is a will there is a way. Specific acts can be thwarted, but as the saying goes we have to be right 100% of the time, and the terrorists only once. We have to stay vigilant 24/7, while the terrorists can knock off for a while as they did between the first World Trade Center attack and the second.

Earlier this week five U.S. students were arrested in Pakistan, charged with attempting to join al-Qaeda. At least four of the five are U.S. citizens. The scenario of homegrown terrorists is particularly frightening, as one major problem in the puzzle would have already been solved. That of getting into the country. These five apparently showed no outward signs of radicalism, which creates a nightmare for those charged with homeland security and for tracking jihadist's.

Sixteen years ago a man, Colin Ferguson, in a racially motivated attack killed 6 and wounded nineteen on a Long Island railroad train. He had waited until the eastbound train had gone through the Jamaica station, because he thought all black passengers would get off there. Clearly he was and is insane, but was there a way to prevent this man with an agenda in his mind from committing this act?

Thursday, as I left a meeting and was walking towards Times Square, a man trying to con tourists was approached by an undercover cop. He squeezed off 2 rounds from his semi-automatic weapon until it jammed, leaving 20+ more rounds in the gun. He was then shot and killed. The fact remained, however, that there was really no way to stop him from either possessing this gun in a crowded street, or from using it. Luckily it ended well with only the shooter being killed.

Finally, this is what got me thinking in this direction in the first place. Taking the train into Manhattan, I watched the myriad of people getting on and off of the train. Some had backpacks, others had briefcases and some were carrying bags. No security. No monitors. Just free access as it should be. Because 99.999999999999999% of the people have no agenda other than going to or from work, shopping or seeing a play, there is really nothing to worry about.

The worry comes from the miniscule percentage of people whose agenda includes a wanton disregard for human life, and in some cases the desire to perpetrate an act that will claim as many as possible while inflecting devastating wounds on the rest. In New York, we all go over the bridges and through the tunnels that have "security" around them. The two cops at the entrance who pull over a suspicious looking truck every now and then while thousands of others go through. How can someone with an insane desire practically be stopped. I fear the answer is that it is very difficult. As an example, the picture above is a map of the New York City subway system. How can a network this vast possible be monitored 100% of the time.

Law enforcement does a great job with the resources that they have. The bottom line, as cliche as it sounds, is that we as citizens are also responsible for our own well being. The Kitty Genovese mentality where someone else will take care of it is not sufficient. This doesn't mean that we are all to become Rambo taking care of business ourselves. But as trite as the saying "If you see something, say something" sounds, it is the new fact of life. We have to stay vigilant, aware and involved.

Our lives just may depend on it!

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