I never expected to find myself sitting on an airplane watching live footage from a police/terrorist shootout taking place in San Bernardino, California.
I was flying from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. — a business – then fun — trip.
I will admit that the ISIS videos promising attacks in Washington and New York gave me a moment of pause before the trip.
But my sense of adventure won out.
Washington streets were bustling. Restaurants were packed with Holiday Season celebrants.
New York was crowded with tourists, theater goers, shoppers from all around the world on the busiest shopping weekend of the year. It took me an hour to walk 10 blocks from 7th and 55 through Times Square to 45th- — on my way to a Broadway matinee — swept along on an ocean of humanity.
Reactions to Terrorist Acts
San Bernardino dominated the news but none of the travelers or “locals” I met seemed overly concerned. None where concerned enough to change their plans.
My random sampling of opinions found no widespread fear of foreigners or of Muslims in particular.
There were maudlin jokes – some mine — but no fear.
A common theme was a desire for smarter government security rather than just more government security – i.e. heavily armed police on every corner.
Smarter Security Requires Exercising Imagination
The San Bernardino attack, the Boston Marathon bombing, the thwarted Times Square bombing, and the thwarted Fort Dix attack all share three common characteristics: inadequate research into visa applications, polite, political correctness, and — most frighteningly — an amazing lack of imagination.
These are exactly the same conditions that made the 9/11 attacks possible.
The 9/11 hijackers entered the US on student and tourist visas. All of these terrorists had been background checked and interviewed before the visas were granted; yet it took extensive post 9/11 investigation to piece together their true identities.
Has the US Consular Service (http://www.travel.state.gov/content/visas/en.html) put any of the “lessons learned” from the 9/11 post-event investigation into practice to “plug the holes”?
When a seemingly assimilated American citizen of Pakistani descent orders a mail-order bride from Pakistan and that fiancée shows up for her K-1 interview in a black hijab – it is a failure of the visa approval process, plus political correctness (PC), and a failure of imagination not to wonder “why” and perhaps to think “what if” — to not look a little harder into the applicants’ backgrounds.
Traveler Tracking Loophole Must Be Closed
Several of the 9/11 hijackers had over stayed their 90 day U.S. visas, but U.S. Immigration and Border Patrol officials as well as law enforcement had no process, no technical tools to track foreign travelers’ movements within the United States in order to detain and deport them.
The 9/11 Commission pointed to the urgent need for a foreign traveler tracking system more than 10 years ago.
The US government has spent $50 Billion to “harden the homeland” during that time but the tracking system still does not exist.
My iPhone and – consequentially — my car know where I am – latitude and longitude – and pop up the correct time and weather information unbidden.
My iPhone is able to track my every move – literally my every step — without any action on my part.
Congress should invite executives from Apple, Google, Microsoft, IBM etc. plus executives from Fed Ex and UPS to educate them on tracking technology.
Working with the private sector, the government should be able to test a prototype visitor passport tracking system in 30 days or 60 days – 90 days at the most!
Last, but not least, Congress must explain to you and me, the American people, why they have failed to exercise their oversight responsibility for homeland security over the past decade?
It took the deaths of 130 people in Paris to raise concerns. Fourteen Americans died in San Bernardino to focus their attention. That is shameful.
Congress, Action is Urgent.
Technology cannot immunize us against the threat of terrorism but it can aid our law enforcement officials to “level the playing field” against the unknown, unseen, unsuspected would-be terrorist.
It can, also, be a measurable “down payment” on stemming the flow of illegal immigration. Fully 40% of the estimated 11 million undocumented/illegal immigrants in the United States today are “tourists” who overstayed their visas and just blended into the population.
The clock is ticking!