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Counter-Terror Expert Warns of Possible Attacks - 2001-12-07

A counter-terrorism expert says the war on terrorism is entering a dangerous phase. The former official in the Reagan administration said that with Osama bin Laden cornered, the likelihood of terrorist attacks increases.

Paul Bremer was ambassador at large for counter-terrorism in the Reagan administration and was chairman of a national commission on terrorism when Bill Clinton was president. Today Mr. Bremer heads a consulting firm that counsels corporate clients on managing crises. He offered his analysis of the war on terrorism in remarks to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council Thursday.

Last year, Mr. Bremer warned of stepped up terrorist activity in the United States. Pointing to a failed attempt to destroy New York's World Trade Center in 1993, which killed six people and injured more than 1,000, Mr. Bremer said attacks on American soil were becoming increasing likely. Following the recent terror attacks in New York and Washington, the former official foresees a difficult time ahead.

He said this is true in particular because Osama bin Laden appears to be nearing his death or capture. "We're in a very dangerous period right now because bin Laden, as far as we know, is still alive," he said. "He may not be alive in a week. He's sitting in a cave somewhere and he knows he may not be alive in a week. Therefore he presumably has a high incentive to try to attack again before he dies."

Mr. Bremer said Osama bin Laden may not be able to communicate with his followers overseas, but that lack of communication does not remove the threat because modern terrorist networks are decentralized. The former official said that during the 1980s, most terrorists had specific political objectives. They were sponsored by states that included Iran, Libya and Syria. Today, spontaneous and less organized groups, sometimes inspired by religion, create a more diffuse kind of threat. Mr. Bremer noted the new groups are difficult to penetrate because organizational cells are able to act autonomously.

The analyst believes there is no room for negotiation with today's terrorists, whose hatreds, in his view, do not result from simple misunderstandings. The former official said that modern terrorists understand the United States only too well. But he said they despise its openness, which they view as an open door to moral corruption. "The new terrorists are not trying to set up a negotiation. There's really nothing to negotiate with al-Qaeda, for example," he said. "They are acting out of a deep hatred for America and everything we stand for, and so there isn't any negotiation to be had. What are we supposed to say? We're supposed to say, yes , we agree with you that we shouldn't let women vote? I mean, what's the discussion. There is nothing to talk about. We have to destroy them."

Mr. Bremer supports an aggressive attack against terrorists in their base of operations, like that taking place right now in Afghanistan. But he said an effective defensive strategy in the United States cannot be designed to protect all vulnerabilities, because an open society is inherently vulnerable. "So it's very difficult to start from the vulnerability end of the analysis and work back. Having said that, bin Laden and al-Qaeda have shown a remarkable capacity to be one tactic ahead of us over the last decade," he said. "They were always thinking of something that we didn't think of."

Mr. Bremer said it is possible the al-Qaeda network, if it is still intact, is planning a new kind of attack on a new kind of target.

Mr. Bremer noted that there has always been terrorism, as there has always been crime, and neither can realistically be eliminated. But he said nations can make it difficult for terrorists to operate if they refuse them a safe haven and deny them territory, which he noted is the policy of the Bush administration. Beyond that, the former official said he supports strong counter-terrorism measures, such as the heightened powers for law enforcement now being implemented in the United States.