English novelist and critic Aldous Huxley, the author of Brave New World, once said: "That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach." As we approach the tenth anniversary of the terrorist tragedy of September 11, 2001, just six months away, we must ponder what we have learned from that awful event. Is America safer and more secure now than the nation was then? Sadly, an honest answer to that question does not generate optimism, a truth which Aldous Huxley would indeed understand. That honest answer would be: No.
During the intervening period, a tremendous industry has been developed to promote our preparedness for another terrorist attack, starting with a so-called War on Terror and a new Federal Department of Homeland Security. Yet little is heard of the War on Terror recently, and we must wonder if we have surrendered in that misnamed War - misnamed, because while one can indeed declare war on a nation or a group, warring on a behavior does not make much sense. Thus, our counter-terrorism efforts have been flawed from the start, and remain flawed today, as appearances continue to be substituted for realities.
After witnessing the ravages of terrorism in Israel, and accidentally seeing the bombing of the Turkish Information Office near the United Nations by the Armenian Liberation Front some three decades ago, I began to study the handwriting on the American wall. It was only a matter of time before our nation itself was attacked -- and because we were totally unprepared, any such attack would be likely to succeed. America was napping -- indeed, we were asleep at the preparedness switch. We felt invulnerable; we were wrong.
After a great deal of thought and study, in 1997 I proposed a Centurion Program to develop a home guard here in the United States. About one person in a hundred would be recruited and trained for several weeks in the detection and effective reporting of a wide variety of terrorist threats. Like liberty, the price of security is eternal vigilance. A cadre of some three million highly-trained and perceptive volunteers would be likely to spot the makings of a terrorist event well in advance of its implementation, catching it in time.
My initial 1997 article describing the Centurion Program appeared in the North Adams Transcript newspaper, which shortly afterwards gave me a regular column during my service as senior safety and security coordinator for the Town of Adams, MA. There was quite a reaction to this article because it stated clearly that America was at severe risk of a terrorist or similar attack, which we could and should take steps to prevent. Copies of the published article were sent to the White House, many members of Congress and to the United States Defense Department, along with moving pleas for serious preparedness.
Nearly all of these efforts fell upon blind eyes and deaf ears, even after the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, attacks on several embassies in Africa, and other incidents It seemed America just couldn't be bothered, and wouldn't wake up to terrorist threats. A trail of clues that we were targeted for a major attack was ignored. Arabic documents outlining those attack plans were left un-translated in the vaults of our security agencies. Suspicious people who wanted several flight schools to teach them to fly airliners without learning takeoff or landing techniques were ignored, even after being reported to the FBI. Handwriting for the September 11, 2001 plot was on the wall, but nobody was reading it.
Fast forwarding to the present, is anyone really watching now, here in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave? Is America also the Land of the Wise and the Home of the Prepared? Probably not yet, judging from the preponderance of the evidence today. While we do watch some aspects of terrorism, many others go unwatched, and some even go unnoticed.
And then, we have the problem which worried the ancient Romans, who asked in Latin: Who will watch the watchers? Nobody in authority seems to be doing so. All of this has been a focus of my recent book Turning the Tides, available via pdf, Kindle, or even iPhone app. It has been said: Know the truth, and the truth will set you free. Americans cannot afford not knowing the current truth about terrorism and terrorists, nor can we allow our nation to ever be caught unprepared again.
As a case in point, take the recent and ongoing uprisings in so many Middle East nations. Thankfully, these are not terrorist events -- indeed, quite the contrary; rulers such as Mubarak and Qaddafi are themselves perpetrators of state- sponsored terrorism. But that is absolutely no excuse for our so-called intelligence agencies, like the CIA, the National Security Council, and those other shadier operations with hidden budgets, to miss the mark so broadly and egregiously. The truth is that no American security agency, including the intelligence arm of our State Department, foresaw Middle Eastern trends.
Yet, those same uprisings, which became revolutions and are far from over, were posted on the Internet. They were trumpeted on Twitter, focused on Facebook, and emailed all over the world -- but not seen by those here at home charged with watching such events. Our vaunted intelligence agencies were not just asleep at the switch -- they failed to even find that switch. Wikileaks could probably have done a much better job than America did in tracking what was really happening in the Mideast -- and done that job without much in the way of resources.
There is a Pennsylvania Dutch saying which applies: We get too soon old and too late smart! If America does not, very soon, get much smarter in ways of promoting our safety and security, and really coping with terrorism, some Americans, sadly, may not live to get much older. Who needs to watch the U.S. watchers? We all do.