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US Adjusts to New Security Restrictions - 2003-04-04

Americans are adjusting to new security restrictions in public buildings, air terminals and in the workplace. A panel of experts recently looked at the challenges facing the country on the domestic front.

Contrary to popular perception in America, terrorism is not new, says Jules Kroll of Kroll Incorporated, a major security firm. He says recent terrorist acts have historical precedents.

"It wasn't that long ago, in fact at the end of the 1960s in the context of the Vietnam conflict, that there were bombs being placed in lobbies of banks in California and other places," he said.

Mr. Kroll was among several experts speaking at a conference in Los Angeles. He recalls that through the 1970s, groups like Italy's Red Brigades and Germany's Baader-Meinhof gang terrorized Europe. In the United States, domestic terrorist groups like the Weathermen caused fewer problems. He says European countries had varying success in curbing terrorism while safeguarding the rights of their citizens.

Terrorism by Islamic militants came to America in 1993, when a group headed by Ramzi Yousef bombed New York's World Trade Center, killing six and injuring more than 1,000.

Mr. Kroll's company was then asked to evaluate the center's security, and he says it suggested improvements, including better evacuation procedures. The security analyst says it took four-and-a-half hours to evacuate the buildings in 1993. In 2001, it took just 45 minutes.

Unfortunately, he says, no one could guard against the World Center terror when airliners were used as missiles. More then 2,800 people died when fire blocked exit routes and the buildings collapsed.

Since the attacks, the analyst says private companies now view security more seriously. "So, for example, a major movie studio has insisted and has set up a program that their vendors have to provide background checks for people entering onto their studios because clearly studios are a major target of people who do not believe in modernity or in the Western way, and view things like Hollywood as essentially evil," said Mr. Kroll.

As private companies boost their security, city and state governments are joining the war against terrorism.

A newly hired Los Angeles official first looked at terrorism as a reporter. John Miller, a former television journalist, once interviewed Osama bin Laden and later wrote a book about terrorist networks. He was recently named to head the new counter-terrorist bureau of the Los Angeles Police Department. When it is fully organized, the bureau will consist of more than 200 officers.

"Half of it will be dedicated to investigation, surveillance, intelligence. The other half, which would include the bomb squad and the hazardous materials unit, will have an expanded reach to include planning and prevention," he said.

The cost of added security remains an issue for local officials. Los Angeles took $6 million from other city funds to pay for protective chemical suits for police and firefighters. Federal officials have promised the funds but have not yet provided them.

Security costs have soared at U.S. airports since September 11 because of added security workers and additional screenings for passengers and baggage. The new Transportation Security Administration oversees airport safety, spending about $6 billion a year.

Travel is also more difficult than before. Gary Wilson, the chairman of Northwest Airlines, says the cost and hassle could be reduced through a "preferred traveler" program, in which those who travel frequently would undergo background checks and be issued a special pass to bypass some of the screenings. "What this would do is two things," he said. "Number one, it would allow you to get your plane quicker. And secondly, it would allow the authorities to spend more of that $6 billion on the high-risk group."

The airline executive says security is excellent at the nation's commercial airports, but lax, in his opinion, at private airports.

Leftist and anarchist groups were behind much of the terror of the 1970s. Many of today's terrorist groups are Islamic extremists. Los Angeles police official John Miller says Muslim and Arab anger over the Palestinian issue is behind many terrorist incidents, including, in his opinion, those of September 11.

David Gordon, who directs the Office of Transnational Issues at the Central Intelligence Agency, takes issue with that assertion. He calls Osama bin Laden a late-comer to the Palestinian cause.

"The motivator for al Qaida, the motivator for bin Laden, was not the Palestinian issue," he said. "[But] I do agree that increasingly the Palestinian issue is the oxygen that is driving the growth in Islamic extremism around the world."

The intelligence official agrees with Mr. Miller that a Mideast peace plan must be part the strategy for addressing terrorism.

These panelists say other strategies include hardening targets like seaports and gathering better intelligence on terrorist networks.