U.S. facing tough choices on terrorism
By Don Johnston
Newsline staff writer
In the wake of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington Sept. 11, the nation is going to have to face some "uncomfortable options" in domestic and foreign policy to combat terrorism, according to Jay Davis, former head of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA).
Davis, who left DTRA in July to return to the Lab as a fellow in NAI’s Center for Global Security Research, spoke to the Livermore Rotary Club Wednesday on "Terrorism: An Insider’s View." Prior to serving as founding administrator of DTRA, Davis was associate director for the Lab’s Earth and Environmental Programs Directorate from 1994 to 1998.
DTRA was formed within the Department of Defense in 1998 to consolidate the efforts of three agencies in addressing the threat from weapons of mass destruction.
Emphasizing his views on last Tuesday’s attack were personal comments, Davis said the attacks were not a simple matter of an intelligence failure. "As we’re structured we don’t have the tools to detect things like what happened last week.
"We’re the most open society on the planet," Davis said, noting that unlike many other nations "we don’t collect intelligence information on our own citizens."
Suggesting later in his talk that "legal relief" might be needed in some areas for intelligence gathering, Davis said as things stand now, "Internet vendors can collect information on you that intelligence agencies can’t."
The very nature of our open society, in which "foreigners enjoy the same civil rights as citizens," allows a situation where "the other side gets to pick the place and time" of an attack.
To address these and other vulnerabilities, measures are now and will be put in place that will impact our lives, he said. "Air travel will be less fun for the rest of our lives."
Foreign residents are also likely to encounter "a less pleasant experience" entering the country, Davis said.
"We may have to address some uncomfortable domestic options," he said, including institution of a national identity card, diminished rights for foreigners, more intrusive security measures and "extensive costs to the economy."
The nation will likewise face some uncomfortable foreign policy options as well, Davis said. "We are going to have to deal with the causes of terrorism, not just the symptoms."
Along the same lines, he said "we’re going to have to understand foreign societies on their terms not ours.
Foreign policy will need to be guided by a "less simple morality" and "more pragmatism," he said.
Davis added that the United States has reached the end of the "zero, zero" policy of no American casualties and no collateral foreign casualties in conflict. "We will pay the price and we will extract the price."
Noting that we’re dealing with a "very sophisticated opponent," Davis said the war against terrorism is "very different from dealing with a nation state."
"The thing about terrorism is that we have the weapons but not the target," he said. "All this works against countries, but it doesn’t work against terrorist cells."
The "uncomfortable options" the nation faces "are a proper subject for a national debate," Davis said. "These are very important issues. But we’re the best in the world at this."
In his opening remarks, Davis said his interest in terrorism goes back to his days as a doctoral student in nuclear physics at the University of Wisconsin in 1971. "My perspective is colored by my past," he said. "My own laboratory in Sterling Hall at the University of Wisconsin was destroyed by a terrorist bombing 31 years ago. These things kind of mark you."