Is the Terrorist Anxiety Quotient Rising?

It appears that news items over the past few days have deepened concern among Americans about terrorist threats. Is this deepened concern justified? Consider the following news items and then decide whether they are cause for greater anxiety about safety and security in America.

Among these factors are: 1) widespread, rabid protests and threats against Westerners by Islamic extremists over the publication of cartoons depicting Muhammad in unflattering ways; 2) a recent speech by Osama bin Ladin in which he made it clear that his jihad—holy war—against America calls for a new attack soon; and 3) the revelation that the United States government secretly agreed to allow an Arab government-owned company to take over the management and security of six large ports of entry on the Eastern seaboard. While these events are not obviously all tied together, they do seem to have strong potential for serious mischief or worse.

An important point to see in the cartoon controversy is the radical Muslim claim that Islamic law is transnational; that is, that it transcends the laws of all nations. This view conflicts with the American view that its constitutional law is supreme for its citizens. As a practical matter, this means that Islamists demand that American free speech must give way to Islamic law—that depictions of Muhammad, especially cartoons, are unlawful, even evil. Cartoonists, in their view, must be severely punished—have their hands cut off Islamists suggest. We may expect Islamic hot-heads to continue using the cartoon issue as an excuse for jihad in America too.

Second, though most Americans are not aware of it, bin Ladin has declared war on the United States many times in the past decade. His speech of January 19, 2006, printed in full on February 20, 2006, strongly suggests that another attack will come in the next months. Experts on his speeches and actions point out that he generally announces an attack some months ahead of time. That was true not only of the 9/11 attack but also of attacks on embassies and other American installations in the 1990s.

How well is America protected against more attacks? Not very well, many think. After all, would it not be easy for makers of mischief in the Al’Qaeda camp to gather nuclear or other nasty materials in Mexico, trucking them across the border and then on to a big American city? San Antonio, or Houston, or San Diego would be less than a day’s drive, not to mention Los Angeles. Not only is it true that the Mexican border is porous, but also about 95% of all shipments into American ports of entry are uninspected. Thus, the ports are a continuing opportunity for terrorists. Surely the porous borders and lightly protected ports are a cause of anxiety for many Americans, especially since a bin Ladin inspired attack seems more likely in the months ahead.

More astonishing and irritating to most Americans was news in the past days that an inter-agency committee of the government secretly agreed to let an Arab government-owned firm take over the management and security of six large east coast ports of entry. Once this decision came to light, government officials scrambled to note publicly that this arrangement was a minor changing of the guard in their view. Of course, details of the agreement could not be discussed because they were classified. But, was it a minor changing of the guard?

Pertinent facts include the following. Foreign firms have managed these eastern ports and many others for years—a fact that most Americans would also find astonishing. The six ports in question [Baltimore, New York, New Jersey, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia] had been supervised by the British firm Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company. Last week, however, this firm was purchased by Dubai Ports World, a government-owned firm of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Part of this deal called for approval by an inter-agency committee buried deep in government bureaucracy; that is to say, it was a not deal approved by a congressional committee—which one might expect when homeland security is involved.

Surely there are many fine people in the UAE government who see themselves as allies of the United States. On the other hand, two of the 9/11 hijackers were citizens of UAE. Moreover, banks in UAE laundered money that found its way to the hijackers. Being situated in the heart of the Mid-East, no doubt makes UAE-owned Peninsular an attractive target for infiltration by Al’Qaeda operatives. Moreover, should there be enemies of America working for Peninsular they would likely have immediate access to American methods of security at American ports.But, to the average man in the street, this whole matter is very simple. To him the government proposal to turn over management and security of six of our largest ports to an Arab-owned firm is like letting “the fox in the hen house!” Foolish.

Listen to your friends and neighbors. What do they have to say about these events, especially the decision to have an Arab company manage American ports and their security? Does this generate greater confidence in our security? Certainly not! More apprehension and more anxiety about terrorist threats seem to be on the rise, and that with good cause. There is hope. Congress may begin to look beyond daily partisan bickering and show some concern for their anxious constituents, blocking the Arab deal with legislation. If they do, at least some of this rising anxiety among Americans may be alleviated.