The critical summer of 2004

On top of these were events more recently scheduled: The return of sovereignty to an Iraqi government on June 30 and in Washington, DC, the opening of a World War II Memorial on May 30.
But in the spring we had a truly unforeseen and unforeseeable event: On March 11, the bombing of commuter trains in Madrid, murdering 190 people.
While the Spanish people had every right exercise their democratic prerogative to change governments, and the government of José Maria Aznar ineptly handled the tragedy, the result was a resounding victory for the forces of terrorism—and they clearly recognized it as such. With several well-timed and placed explosions days before an election, terrorists overthrew a staunchly anti-terrorist government, forced Spanish troops to withdraw from Iraq, weakened the allied coalition, prompted other withdrawals and frightened all of Europe. Sadly, the results of March 11 proved conclusively that terrorism can work. The result, as we all know, will be more terrorism.
Indeed, Osama bin Laden was so emboldened by the results that he grandly offered Europe a truce in return for withdrawal from Iraq, as though he were a head of state rather than the world’s most hunted fugitive.
The reverberations of Madrid will continue to thunder through the summer and into the fall. American authorities are aware of the danger, which prompted Secretary Tom Ridge and the Department of Homeland Security to form a task force on the upcoming special events. I think there’s no doubt that Islamist terrorists will try to duplicate their Spanish success in the United States—and in any other democratic country holding elections.
Here at HSToday, we were already working on stories on Boston, New York and the lessons of the 1972 Munich Olympics when the bombs went off. In the immediate wake of March 11, Mike Elkin, who had long planned a move to Madrid, went to work on a piece on Europe’s reaction. We could immediately see the implications for the American elections and our senior correspondent Anthony Kimery, who is based in Oklahoma City, started looking at American efforts to secure the democratic process at home.
I’d also like to point out Michelle Delio’s report on homeland security in New York City. This is the first of our Regional Reports, which will appear every other month, alternating with our Cybersecurity Reports. As federal grant money is directed towards communities based on risk, we will focus on these localities’ homeland security responses and needs. New York was a logical starting point.
Schedule an orange alert
The heightened threat is occurring amidst the furor of a political year and that brings with it a danger in itself—that any security moves might be interpreted as attempts to manipulate the political process. Imagine the charges and counter-charges that might occur if an orange alert were announced days before the American election—and the public never knows the intelligence behind an alert, so there’s reason for skepticism.
There may be a simple answer to this problem: Our first pre-scheduled orange alert. Perhaps we should simply have a bipartisan announcement well in advance of the election that the nation will go to orange alert status on a certain date, for example on Oct. 1. This would take homeland security out of the realm of politics and might provide deterrence against any planned terrorist acts.
HSToday intends to start examining the politics of homeland security in the fall and bring you as clear, unbiased and illuminating coverage as we can provide.
This is potentially as momentous a year in homeland security as was 2001. Around the world, outcomes hang in the balance—whether in Middle Eastern and European countries that have been targeted by Al Qaeda; in Iraq, which is truly the front line in the war on terror; or in the United States, which faces a critical choice at the polls. Based on the results of these contests, the world next year may be a very different place —and one that we certainly hope will be better than today’s. HST

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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