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Experts Submit 'Mixed' Report Card on US Anti-Terrorism War - 2002-12-30

A group of U.S. experts on terrorism gathered in Washington to look at the U.S. campaign against terrorism during the past year and what lessons can be learned for the future.

Most experts give the U.S. government a mixed grade for its war against terrorism.

On the list of positives, they point to the successful disruption of several terrorist attempts and the arrest of some key suspects of the Al Qaida terrorist network.

On the negative side, experts complain about the lack of coordination among intelligence agencies that could help prevent future attacks.

Few experts doubt there will be more attacks inside and outside the United States. But terrorism expert Yonah Alexander of the Potomac Institute of Policy Studies said the attacks do not have to be many or as spectacular as the one against the World Trade Center in New York to achieve their aim. "It's not the number of incidents, it's the cost, the political cost, the psychological cost, the human cost and so on," he said.

Paul Bremer, former State Department official involved in counter-terrorism, said the approach to fighting terrorism has shifted dramatically during the past year in response to the changing motivation behind the attacks. He said terrorists are less driven these days by a political cause than by religious beliefs or hatred of America.

"First of all, the most important lesson is that this war cannot be won on the defensive. There is no way we can defend all of the targets the terrorists can come after. Therefore we have to go on the offensive. To be blunt, we have to go and kill the terrorists before they come here and kill us," Mr. Bremer said.

He justifies the tough U.S. approach toward Iraq, as a way to show states that sponsor or help terrorists there is a price to pay. "It is an important part of the war on terrorism, first because Iraq continues to support terrorism as it has for 10 years. Secondly, because Iraq has robust programs looking at weapons of mass destruction. And, finally, because we must show that opposing the United States has a price," Mr. Bremer said.

Not quite, says Philip Wilcox, President of the Foundation for Middle East Peace. He argues that the new focus to Iraq shifts attention from the wider war on the root causes of terrorism. "The problem is the animus, the anti-U.S. sentiment, the hatred," Mr. Wilcox said. "While we go after the leadership of Al Qaida and other groups that can be identified, we have to realize this ideology is breeding new cadres of terrorists. Therefore we must find a way to attack the ideology and address the root causes."

One way, Mr. Wilcox said, is to take a more active role in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Still, former United Nations weapons inspector David Kay worries about states and companies that give terrorists access to sophisticated weaponry to wreak havoc. "I think 2003 will see terrorists finally making offensive use of technology to do us great harm. We are beyond the point of seeing terrorism and terrorists as 18-year-olds from disenfranchised backgrounds willing to sacrifice themselves with an explosive belt," Mr. Kay said.

Mr. Kay raises concerns about the threat of germ warfare and cyber-terrorism - attack on computer networks.

At the same time, terrorism experts do not underestimate the importance of combating the distrust and misunderstandings between Muslim and American societies that fuel the anger and the terror.