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THE CITY THAT CAN



Published: Tue, September 18, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Los Angeles Times: Over the years, whenever something negative happened in New York City -- an awful arson, brutal murder, subway strikes, blizzards, racial conflicts -- many Americans not from there, perhaps a few Californians, would shake their heads and congratulate themselves for not living on a rocky island famed for tough talk, hardheartedness and needless urban hassles. Perversely proud New Yorkers have never been accused of humility; they know they live where the Hudson River and Gowanus Canal merge to form the Atlantic Ocean. After Tuesday, Americans are shaking their heads again, this time with profound admiration for that city's stamina, stubbornness, courage, compassion and the leadership of its controversial, quirky mayor, Rudy Giuliani.

Inspiring example: In the last year Mayor Giuliani, who's earned much credit for enhancing New York's livability and much criticism for some policies and fights, has confronted cancer, a messy divorce and his term limit. New Yorkers expect their mayors at disasters. Last week Giuliani's strength, eloquence, sensitivity and calmness set an inspiring example, not just for New Yorkers but for anxious Americans all over the country.

Americans need not become Yankee fans (thank goodness) to salute the people of New York for the ways they handled and survived likely the deadliest day in national history. We witnessed countless acts of selflessness, heroism and compassion by firefighters, police officers, doctors, nurses and other extraordinary ordinary citizens. The unidentified men escaping with thousands of others down a World Trade Center stairwell who paused to portage a woman in a wheelchair down many floors, not knowing what the next minute would bring.

When was the last time you caught yourself praying for New Yorkers? Or congratulating them, as we do here and now?

WHY WAS THERE NO WARNING?

Washington Post: This country spends tens of billions of dollars a year on intelligence activity. The Justice Department, in addition, spends $23 billion to enforce the law. Given the size and technical capabilities of these agencies, how could they not have had even an inkling of the attacks that took place this week?

The scattered details that have emerged about the plot put this failure in stark relief: More than 50 people were likely involved, Justice Department officials have said, and the plot required extensive communications and planning to pull off. The group's size -- not to mention the complexity of its endeavor -- should have offered many opportunities for intelligence infiltration. Yet the conspirators proceeded unmolested. What is striking is how safe these people apparently felt, how unthreatened by law enforcement. Some of the terrorists were here for long periods. They left and entered the country unimpeded. Some were reportedly on the so-called "watch list," a government catalogue of people who ostensibly are not permitted to enter the country. Yet this apparently caused them no problems. The evening before the attack, some people reportedly boasted at a strip joint in Florida of the "bloodshed" America would suffer "tomorrow."

Terrorist groups: Since the attacks, law enforcement has been able quickly to tie many of the hijackers to terrorist groups. One, for example, came over from Hamburg, where German police say he regularly met with large groups of people planning spectacular attacks on American targets. The very speed with which such information has been gathered only begs the question of how much of it was knowable before.

How could an act of such monstrous flamboyance not have been prevented? Already, people are suggesting that the proper response is to roll back civil liberties to allow greater monitoring of possible domestic threats. That is entirely premature. Freedom and openness are features that define us -- what we are fighting for when we fight terrorism. In the past, attacks like the Oklahoma City bombing provoked legislative responses that were essentially unrelated to the vulnerabilities that permitted the attacks in the first place. Many of the new capabilities went unused, and the vulnerabilities remained. It may be that the FBI and the CIA need more resources, or a reallocation of the funds they have. But before Congress moves to give the law enforcement and intelligence communities new powers or new funds, it should study how well they used the tools already at their disposal.




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