America:  Safer Than Ever, But Still Vulnerable



Terrorism “has become the challenge and the calling of our generation” said Michael Chertoff, the new secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security during his recent swearing-in ceremony. Created just over two years ago, the department is charged with protecting the United States from conventional and unconventional attacks as well as natural disasters. It coordinates the work of 22 different government agencies and about 180-thousand employees and has a budget of more than 30-billion dollars a year.

David Heyman, director of the homeland-security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, says the Homeland Security Department is charged with protecting the main infrastructure such as energy, water, industry, communications and transportation. It has additional tasks.

“The Department has a particular function for providing funding to states and cities to prepare against terrorist attacks. It provides some funding for specific cities – cities that might be at particular risk of terrorist attack,” says Mr. Heyman.

Those cities and states considered to be at more risk are entitled to more funds. Thus, there is special funding for the region of the national capital, a likely terrorist target. Some grants go to so-called “first responders,” such as police and firefighters to develop means of dealing with chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological attacks. Other funds are used to anticipate and treat illness resulting from such attacks. David Heyman says the department is also attempting to educate the general public on how to recognize and deflect acts of terrorism. As a result, he says, America is now better prepared for a possible attack than it was in 2001.

“There’s no question that the department has raised the awareness to the citizens of the threat. They’ve developed systems by which the state and local governments can coordinate if there is an attack, says Mr. heyman. "There are initiatives to protect containers, for example, from coming into this country containing material or people that could be harmful to us, new systems for the flow of citizens back and forth -- or visitors from other countries into this country: border security. There are a number of initiatives that are on the way.”

But critics say America remains vulnerable. In a recent issue of “The Atlantic Monthly” magazine, former presidential anti-terrorism advisor Richard Clarke describes a variety of attacks that could occur in this decade. They might be suicide bombers blowing themselves up in Las Vegas and Atlantic City casinos; simultaneous bombings of large shopping malls across America; or assaults on crowded underground trains and chemical, biological and nuclear facilities; or cyber attacks on crucial American financial institutions. Large installations are reasonably protected, says Daniel Hamilton, professor of international studies at Johns Hopkins University. The greater danger stems from smaller, potentially lethal attacks for which Americans are not prepared.

“The anthrax envelopes that were discovered in the US Senate some years ago – each had spores to kill hundreds of thousands of people. They are very tiny and can be transported anywhere. It’s different than a ballistic missile or a nuclear bomb. These are things that could be in a briefcase.” TEXT: Professor Hamilton says with the availability of hazardous material, one determined individual could wreak havoc almost any place, any time, at the cost of countless lives. There is also the matter of long stretches of unguarded US borders.

“We have thousands of miles of coastland that are really not well protected. And one cannot protect every single square mile. A key to look is where choke points might be. Where are areas of transportation, for instance, where key nodes of the economy funnel? Where do the containers come from abroad, what ports? How secure are those?” says Professor Hamilton.

Millions of containers still reach US shores without a thorough examination of their contents. Who knows what, in fact, they may contain?

Yes, much remains to be done, says David Heyman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, but then much has been accomplished. At least America has learned the lesson of the Nine-eleven disaster: don’t ignore warnings or take any safety for granted.

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs