Jewish World Review Dec. 28, 2005 / 27 Kislev
Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.
It's triage, stupid
One of the most serious threats we face in this War for the Free World is the possibility that
terrorists with radioactive material will find ways to detonate it inside the United States.
Such an attack could involve a "dirty bomb," capable of contaminating large parts of a city
with dangerous levels of radiation, effectively making it uninhabitable for many years. Another
possibility is that the perpetrators might have access to a crude atomic device, capable of
utterly destroying the targeted community.
How serious are these dangers? The former is more likely than the latter, but neither can be
ruled out. We know that al Qaeda is interested in such weapons of mass destruction. There have
been persistent reports that plots involving radioactive material in one form or another are
It is the first responsibility of government to prevent these and other sorts of attacks on
this country and its people. Consequently, we should not be surprised that federal authorities
have been using various means to detect the presence of radiation in unauthorized places. In
fact, if no such efforts were being mounted, those authorities would be derelict.
Yet, last week, US News and World Report precipitated a new firestorm of criticism of the Bush
Administration when it disclosed that such a program had indeed been instituted shortly after
9/11. Among the sites where air samples reportedly were taken for the purpose of monitoring
radiation levels were a number of "prominent mosques and office buildings" in suburban
Washington and five other metropolitan areas. The surveillance reportedly was conducted from
public property or publicly accessible spaces without search warrants.
In short order, the disclosure of this highly classified program, conducted by the FBI and the
Energy Department's Nuclear Emergency Support Team (NEST), prompted denunciations from
organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). In a December 23rd press
release, CAIR seized upon the published report to promote the idea that Muslims writ large were
being subjected to unwarranted government surveillance: "All Americans should be concerned
about the apparent trend toward a two-tiered system of justice system, with full rights for
most citizens, and another diminished set of rights for Muslims."
Actually, the sorts of facilities that were reportedly subjected to monitoring were in all
likelihood under surveillance not because they are Muslim. Rather, it is probably because they
have ties to the radical Islamofascist political ideology promoted by Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi
Far from engaging in the surveillance of all Muslims, or even Muslims per se, the federal
government would appear to be making a focused effort to do its sampling for radioactivity in
places known to have ties to Islamist causes and organizations. For example, by some estimates,
as many as 80% of the mosques in America have their financing held by Saudi or Saudi-associated
Typically, such financial support translates into ominous Saudi influence over such decisions
as: the installation of Wahhabi-trained imams to lead the congregation; the nature of the
curriculum in mosque-associated schools (which may, like Saudi-backed madrassas elsewhere,
offer only Koranic education); the choice of material disseminated in the mosques and their
schools (including rabidly intolerant and jihadist publications produced by the Saudi
government itself); the selection of which congregants will be allowed to make the required
pilgrimage to Mecca (known as the haj); and the use of members' charitable contributions to
the mosque (in some cases, these have gone to terrorist organizations).
Observing the air outside such facilities for radioactivity is not dastardly "profiling."
Rather, it is known in the medical lexicon as "triage" the effort to use limited resources
efficiently to minimize the loss of life in emergency situations.
As with other controversies of the moment (notably, National Security Agency wiretaps of
international communications involving al Qaeda-connected phone numbers and e-mail addresses in
the United States, alleged CIA "secret prisons" in Europe and treatment of terror suspects that
they or the American advocates might find "degrading"), one thing is clear: The use of
such measures is the exception, not the norm.
Moreover, these initiatives have in common a single purpose. They are aimed at preventing
another attack in this country by people determined to kill as many of us as possible. The test
of whether these sorts of counter-terrorism activities are justified should not be whether they
are exactly what we would do in peacetime.
Rather, the question should be: Would we forgive ourselves, and our leaders, if out of an
unwillingness to infringe in any way upon civil liberties in time of war we fail to bring
such tools to bear, only to discover after another horrific attack occurs that these measures
would have enabled it to be prevented?
President Bush and his subordinates are exercising common sense, something generally in greater
supply outside the Beltway than inside it. They are worrying about real threats and trying to
respond to and mitigate them in responsible ways. While the caviling of Islamist-sympathizers
and their lawyers will continue, we had all better hope that the "triage" being sensibly
applied today will spare us further, horrific loss of life in the future.
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JWR contributor Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. heads the Center for Security Policy. Comments by clicking here.
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© 2005, Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.