A View from the Hill
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 1, 1998
CONTACT: Tom Nolan (617) 722-2230 or at Thomas.Nolan@state.ma.us
DEFUSING THE THREAT OF TERRORISM
Our office in Tanzania is (was) about one mile from the [United States] Embassy. The window and doors blew open from the blast. I thought the gas station [next door] went up. . . . I don't every (sic) remember seeing so many guns, blood and confusion in one place. The house was filled with about 80 of us [Americans], it smelt (sic) like smoke, sweat and dried blood. CNN provided a noisy background.
I have probably read thousands of e-mail messages on all sorts of topics and issues, but this message was the most shocking I have seen. I could hardly believe the words written by this person who happened to be in Tanzania, Africa on business at the time of the destructive blast. The account was numbing, yet jolted my sensibilities. We often hear or read about bloody accounts of terrorism in distant places and detached countries, but this was frighteningly different. The targets were two U.S. embassies in Africa and the victims included U.S. citizens.
The reports describing the recent bombings in Tanzania and Nairobi were not simply grisly accounts of sinister attacks in some foreign land that grab our momentary attention then drift behind our priorities for the day. These shocked our consciences, reminding us that the unthinkable can happen and that the United States is by no means immune to the nefarious acts of terrorist groups. From the World Trade Center bombing, to Oklahoma City, to TWA flight 800, it has become apparent that terrorism is not restricted to foreign people in far away places. The lives of innocent people are taken in the blink of an eye, seemingly without any rhyme or reason. To those who have lost family and friends, no amount of retaliation can make up for the loss of their loved ones.
The FBI defines terrorism broadly as the unlawful use of violence, committed by a group or individual, to intimidate or coerce individuals for social or political objectives. This definition hardly captures the egregious and depraved nature of these crimes. How certain groups are willing, and often times, focused on taking the lives of innocent children and adults for political or social gain is wholly inexplicable. The unfortunate truth, however, is that these groups exist, and these deplorable acts occur.
Rest assured, the United States has not stood idle. As we have seen with the swift and calculated response to the embassy attacks, the U.S. has made it perfectly clear that terrorism will not be tolerated. To be sure, a full range of federal programs and activities have been implemented to deter, defeat, manage and respond to terrorist attacks both domestically and abroad. With these effective strategies, citizens can be protected from the ensuing violence plaguing the U.S. and across the ocean.
Although predominantly a national issue, the state has also taken steps to prepare for and defuse incidents of terrorism. Local law enforcement agencies have coordinated efforts with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, (MEMA), the Department of Fire Services, the Massachusetts National Guard, the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, (NEMLEC), and various federal organizations to respond to bombs and other similar threats.
Last session, MEMA sponsored a Terrorism Awareness Seminar at the State House in which members of many of these organizations discussed their roles in preparing for and dealing with terrorist episodes. The seminar provided valuable insight into the many aspects of terrorism and counter-terrorism. One point raised that cannot be overemphasized, particularly in light of the recent events, is the value of being prepared for a bomb threat or other threatening situation. Nationally and locally, we must remain vigilant to the various threats and actions.
The seminar reiterated that with proper preparation, state officials and other administrators can reduce accessibility of public and private buildings. Advance planning will reduce the potential for personal injury and property loss. A definite chain of command or line of authority has been established to deal with incidents professionally and efficiently, while avoiding panic and instilling confidence. A bomb incident can only be handled properly when adhering to an established, organized response.
The message of this seminar was carried out in a real situation just last week during a bomb threat at the State House. The incident, fortunately a false alarm, was handled professionally and efficiently, illustrating that proper training produces positive results. The potential threat was identified and resolved quickly and methodically, maintaining the safety of everyone inside without instigating fear or chaos.
Terrorism is a harsh reality in today's world. Yet, collectively taking precautionary measures and defensive tactics can diffuse these threats. Increased security and heightened awareness must be maintained at national and state buildings that may be potential targets. In some cases, this may require individuals to accept routine security checks. Continued implementation of these measures, while they may impose modest inconveniences on the public, ultimately prevent potential catastrophic tragedies. Such prophylactic measures, coupled with proper training, are needed to guarantee the security and stability of the U.S. and the world.
Whether at the embassies in Africa or not, we all suffered the confusion and fear endured by the victims and staff members of those bombings. Our hearts truly go out to all of them. We share the loss as a nation. Nevertheless, we must continue to address this issue head on, refusing to succumb to the reckless behavior of a few. As the author of the e-mail message concluded:
I was blown away by how good the U.S. embassy and USAID staff were. Cool, totally calm, organized and highly efficient. . . . You should, as I do, feel proud of the foreign service staffs working abroad for us. . . they are very good people.
These closing words were reassuring as we continue to try to make sense out of something so senseless. Fueled by heartless, random and destructive motivation, terrorism truly can have us scratching our heads and looking behind our backs. Yet, we must continue forward, as the embassy staffers did, with a strong, decisive strategy and an acute awareness to the existence of terrorism. In this manner, we will free our world and our nation from the binds of violent intimidation.