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Terror Expert Warns: U.S. Safer ... for Now
Leonard Cole likened the United States to a car driving away from the events of 9/11, and as the incidents get smaller in the rearview mirror, they also recede in the national consciousness, making Americans more likely to become complacent and, potentially, at risk for another terrorist attack.
Cole spoke recently on the campus of Rutgers University-Camden in an event sponsored by the school's Political Science Society. He is the author, most recently, of Terror: How Israel Has Coped and What America Can Learn, and serves as an adjunct professor of political science at Rutgers University-Newark. While his presentation -- titled "Lessons from the Anthrax Letters" -- was focused on bioterrorism, Cole later spoke about Jewish issues and the problems of terror in a broader sense.
While the United States currently has large amounts of money budgeted for bio-security (about $5 billion or $6 billion, according to Cole), that figure will likely be challenged as a new administration takes charge -- something Cole said would likely have happened regardless of who won the election.
"Based on experience, since we've seen so few efforts to launch a biological agent as a weapon, this should give us comfort," he said. However, Cole was quick to point out that there are a large number of variables involved in launching an effective biological attack, and other methods of attack have a greater likelihood of success.
Though considered an expert on bioterror, Cole might likely add the modifier "accidental" to that title -- he said he stumbled on the topic while writing the book Politics and the Restraint of Science in 1983. Since then, he has written other books on terrorism, and has appeared on MSNBC and PBS, and in the pages of The Washington Post and The New York Times. In addition to a doctorate in political science, he also holds a degree in dentistry, and ran a private practice between 1961 and 2000, while also working at Rutgers and writing his books.
While much of Cole's work has revolved specifically around bioterrorism, that topic is obviously difficult to separate from the larger issue of terrorism. As such, the United States can learn a lot from the Jewish state's experience battling terror. But, he noted, it is no easy task to transfer one country's values and attitudes to another.
Israeli Kids Are Trained
"In Israel, people do not live in a constant state of paralysis or anxiety, but kids are trained that if you see an unattended backpack or package, you tell somebody," noted Cole.
While Americans have grown used to the changes in airport security regulations following Sept. 11, Israel doesn't have the same "one-shoe-fits-all" approach as the United States, said the author.
"It's funny, it's cute, it's insane what we do here," he said. "In Israel, you get an interview, you don't take your shoes off."
Cole also noted differences in emergency response strategies between the two allies.
"Israelis have something called 'scoop and run,' " he said. "They don't have major health figures at the scene of an event; they have police and emergency figures to get [people] out of the event and take them to a proper hospital." He emphasized that "scoop and run" means that "unless there is an immediate life threat to that patient, you don't do anything on the scene."
Cole contrasted the attitudes of both countries, noting the interconnectedness of Israeli society, as opposed to Americans.
"If there's a terror attack in Nahariya [in the north of Israel], the people who live in Eilat [in the south of Israel] feel it just as much," he said. "Partly, you can say that's because it's a smaller country," but Cole questioned whether Philadelphians would be as tuned in to events in South Jersey, as Israelis are aware of events that occur on the other side of their country.
Cole noted that the United States now is safer than in years past. But Americans at present are so focused on the dire economic news that terror issues are being pushed to the periphery of people's minds -- and he warned that, unless things change, the country could again find itself vulnerable to its own Sept. 10 mindset.