Soft targets

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(HOST) The change in leadership at the CIA has reminded commentator Bill Seamans of the continuing terror threat here at home.

(SEAMANS) Gen. Michael Hayden, the probable new director of the Central Intelligence Agency, must first repair a CIA in disarray and accused of major failures including missing the terrorist preparations for 9/11. He must assure that we are not disinformed about Iran as we were about Iraq.

Hayden faces a major morale problem and must replace some highly experienced key operatives who have quit because of in-house politics. Hayden also is expected to increase the CIA’s focus on terrorism and to try to calm down a turf war with the intelligence operation that Donald Rumsfeld has created in the Pentagon.

All this comes during a time of unusual quietude – no terrorist attack within the country since the tragedy of 9/11 even as our
top security people say that another is sure to come – that the only question is when and where?

More than fifteen years ago when I was in Israel for ABC News,
I was told by the most informed intelligence sources that when a target country secures its most important places, the so-called hard targets, the terrorists will try to lull their objective into complacency then strike unprotected places, the soft targets, where the public normally gathers.

In his new book Open Target: Where America is Vulnerable to Attack Clark Kent Irvin, the former inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security and now at the Aspen Institute, warns that the hardening of vital targets diverts the terrorist’s attention to soft targets like shopping malls, bars, restaurants, hotels, schools and sports arenas and, yes, urban busses – places that here in the U.S. as yet remain unprotected against terrorist attacks.

Irvin contends that because there has never been a terrorist attack on a soft target in this country, the psychological effect would be disastrous even if the casualty toll were relatively low – that every American wherever he or she lived would no longer feel safe.

Coincidentally, in his newly published book, Man in the Shadows Efraim Halevy, the former head of Mossad, Israel’s highly regarded intelligence agency cautions that when the terrorists are quiet they are no less dangerous because they may be trying to create a state of apathy during which security is bound to relax and the people might start accusing their leaders of crying wolf.

As for the soft target threat here at home I’m reminded of seeing in Israel parents with their Uzzi submachine guns on guard outside their children’s schools. Will we some day see that scene here? How long can we live in our bubble of denial? As the Mossad’s Efraim Halevy warns us – after 9/11 you have to think of the unthinkable.

Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East.

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