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Yonah Alexander interview - 2002-04-25


MR. BORGIDA:
And now joining me is Professor Yonah Alexander, a counterterrorism expert and Director of the Potomac Institute's International Center for Terrorism Studies.

Thank you so much for joining us, Professor Alexander. We'll get right to the questions since you've been here before.

Is the United States getting more secure? We're seeing these efforts to tighten the airports, to do better at making more failsafe passports and so forth. Are the airports safer? Let's take that for our first question.

PROF. ALEXANDER:
Yes, I think, after September 11, we learned the lessons and we tried to upgrade security, and also to strengthen the international cooperation with our friends and allies abroad. So this is a very important, I think, step so people can feel now safer when they fly.

MR. BORGIDA:
Let's talk about other areas of the American infrastructure -- ports, for example, nuclear power plants, those kinds of things. What about the rest of the infrastructure?

PROF. ALEXANDER:
Again, I think Americans have a greater awareness that we are vulnerable. In fact, the entire country is a front line. There is no absolute security. But I think the law enforcement and the various agencies in the United States, they are much more, I think, aware of the nature of the threat. And that's an important step in reducing the risks.

MR. BORGIDA:
Let's talk about another one, Abu Zubaydah, the al-Qaida terrorist in U.S. custody currently. He apparently is threatening the use of what's called a dirty bomb, and spreading radioactivity. Is that a serious notion? Is that something that's possible?

PROF. ALEXANDER:
Oh, absolutely. There is no end to the imagination of the terrorists, as we have seen so dramatically on September 11. And we know, on the basis of interrogations, on the basis of documents that were found in Afghanistan, that the strategic thinking of the al-Qaida and bin Laden was to resort to the ultimate weapon, biological, chemical or nuclear, as well as cyberterrorism. So, the question is not if, but when and where and with what impact.

MR. BORGIDA:
Let's talk where for a moment, too. We talked a moment about the United States and the threat here. Are U.S. entities, embassies and so forth, banks, U.S.-owned banks in foreign countries, possible threats as well? How safe are they? How secure?

PROF. ALEXANDER:
There is no 100 percent safety that you can be sure that you are going to be immune. That's the nature of terrorism. It's a very insidious kind of attack. You do not know where it's going to happen, when it's going to happen, who is going to perpetuate that attack. So all segments, for example, of the community and society are potentially a victim of terrorism. So the only thing we can do, number one, is not to panic; and number two, to develop whatever mechanism and procedures in order to reduce the risks.

MR. BORGIDA:
It's been a while since we've talked, so let's switch topics for just a moment and go to the alleged mastermind of all this, the al-Qaida network, Osama bin Laden. There has been an awful lot of speculation about where he is, is he alive, how is he using the media, and so forth. What is your take on that?

PROF. ALEXANDER:
The point is that we are really looking too much at the person. Because, you know, you can kill a person, but you cannot kill an idea. So it's not just the question of bin Laden, alive or dead; I think the concept is the important thing. And as long as children, for example, are being educated in hatred or to become the next suicide bombers, then we have a problem. So we have to deal, I think, with two aspects -- one, to try to disrupt the infrastructure of the terrorists, and not only bin Laden, but there are others, and they operate in about 76 countries around the world. And secondly, the long term is to try to find ways to educate the youth, that there are some other alternatives to political conflicts.

MR. BORGIDA:
Yonah Alexander, thank you so much for your views. Yonah Alexander, counterterrorism expert, here in Washington.

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