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Local Intelligence on Terrorists
James M. Ridgeway, Ph.D.

An alert local citizenry is an essential and effective guard against terrorists’ acts. Local alertness is essential for two reasons. First, national intelligence is complex, cumbersome, and slow. Second, terrorists’ acts are local; and inconvenience, injure and kill local people.

The first tier of local protection is the so-called "first responders": fire, police and emergency medical people. The federal Department of Homeland Security gives states money to improve these local services. In large cities and populous counties they form a good emergency capability.

The second tier is the management of local plants, stores and institutions. Some of these, particularly those dealing with hazardous materials, take safety and security seriously. In addition to these safety conscious units, local retailers should be sensitive to unusual orders and methods of payment. But, to raise warning flags, who guards pathogens in university laboratories; who at the public library is reading articles on how to make bacteria cultures or bombs?

While it is most essential, the third tier—local residents—is the least prepared and active. Terrorism challenges some of peoples’ long –held values and beliefs. In general people value their own privacy and want to be good neighbors—if they know who their neighbors are. What is called housing in the United States is really a series of honeycombs. People live in single-family mansions in gated communities, high-rise condominiums, apartments, flats, lofts, public housing units, manufactured homes, and RV parks. Some people store excess belongings in mini storage cubicles. Terrorists have many places in which to set up shop.

Some of the residents in these locations can be defined by economic status, occupation, age, health, interests and ethnicity. While there are positive social relations in, say, work, churches, or civic groups, person-to-person eye contact in cities is largely avoided. Most people do not like to be considered "nosey" or "snoopy". People who intrude on other people’s privacy are called tattletales, gossips, snitches, sneaks, informers, squealers, "rats", stool pigeons or finks. Of course, terrorists like the idea of privacy in the open society of the United States.

Police departments have had some success in establishing anonymous "crime stoppers" phone numbers and neighborhood watches, but gangs and drug pushers fight these quite well. Immigrants and some ethnic groups are highly suspicious of any person with even a taint of governmental authority. Even local school and national census takers have trouble getting answers from some people—if they can find them.

Granted the above view of society in the United States, what can be done? First, terrorists must live some place and have a base. This suggests managers of rental property should have some concern about who the renters are. Beyond this, people in contact with the public, like phone installers, utility meter readers, parcel truck drivers, and postal workers should be alert to anomalies in their work. If policy exists on such matters, it should be followed. If not, police should be told promptly.

Second, every resident—wherever situated—should be curious about unusual people, traffic or activities in their areas. If curiosity gives concern, the police should be notified. Actions by property managers, service people, and residents just described have two important aspects. They may help the police get the right lines between the dots and authorities can take preventative action before something blows and great harm is done.

The good life in the United States depends greatly upon technology. Utility lines and transportation nets are easily disrupted. It is also easy to take hostages. To prevent damage to essential utilities and prevent violent events, all local citizens should be willing to run the risk of becoming alert activists against terrorists.

How can public involvement in spotting terrorists threats be improved? First, if Congress does not have a bill before it to protect informing citizens from the prying press and aggressive defense lawyers, it should get one at once. Second, police and sheriffs should have well advertised, anonymous tipster communication lines. While these moves offend at least two "sacred cows" in the American tradition, they are justified.

Without such protection people will not come forward with information because: it is against social custom and may deprive them of their own privacy, may cause their involvement in complex and lengthy judicial procedures; and may make them targets for retribution.

Make no mistake. Current terrorists are vicious fanatics. If eyes and lips are shut to them and they are ignored, the blind and dumb are easily blind sided. If a person tries to be MacNice to terrorists and turns the other cheek, such a person may get a cut throat and be handed a head. These terrorists are blood bath, public enemies. Quick reporting on them protects public convenience and safety nation wide.