USA TODAY US Edition
Higher security on planes moves terrorists to airports
Before Independence Day 2002, the first after 9/11, the White House issued this message: “As Americans gather for July 4th it will be a time of both celebration and vigilance."
Almost 15 years later, the nation’s mood is much the same as it heads into another patriotic holiday weekend. Americans will rejoice in their liberties but remain on alert after the latest terrorist attack, this one on Istanbul’s international airport.
Terrorism has become even more difficult to prevent as Islamic State fanatics, some operating as lone wolves, have widened their hunting grounds to nightclubs, restaurants, train stations and subways — any place where people gather with scant security.
Still, a decade and a half after the 9/11 hijackings, terrorists seem fixated on aviation. With jetliners now far more secure, they attack airports instead, first in Brussels and now Istanbul. Protecting these crowded spaces and learning from each attack are essential.
As CIA Director John Brennan told Yahoo News, “I’d be surprised if (the Islamic State) is not trying to carry out that kind of attack in the United States.” The comment is less of a prediction than a statement of reality.
In the wake of Brussels and Istanbul, adding more armed police at the doors of major U.S. airports is smart. (Ataturk had moved its first line of security to the front doors, and the roving armed guards likely prevented even greater carnage.)
The federal Transportation Security Administration, whose main job is checking passengers and baggage, has a particular responsibility to keep the lines moving at checkpoints, to prevent the lines themselves from becoming the ripest targets. Wait times, a problem in the spring, have been reduced considerably, the TSA says.
Success also depends on not wasting money on “security theater.” At Chicago’s O’Hare, for ex- ample, about 300 uniformed aviation police patrol the airport
unarmed, according to a CNN report. (Airport officials say that’s because they work with armed Chicago city police.) The aviation officers have been told to run and hide if terrorists or other shooters strike. Good advice for civilians. Ridiculous for police.
Not every soft target can be protected, of course, particularly from suicidal terrorists who aren’t even looking for escape routes. So the best defense remains a good offense. Only a multi-pronged attack on the Islamic State can hope to keep America safe. That means hitting its leaders in Syria and Iraq or wherever they lurk to orchestrate or incite violence. It means strangling their finances and countering their propaganda. And it means anticipating their moves through intelligence.
While each terrorist attack, and every life lost, is a tragedy, America’s record on thwarting attacks is an enviable one. Of the nearly 90 Islamist terrorist plots hatched against the United States since 9/11, more than 85% have been foiled, according to a count kept by the Heritage Foundation.
Americans should remain vigilant on this patriotic holiday, especially at airports, but most of all they should celebrate knowing that they enjoy the freedoms that the terrorists despise.