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Wiesner lecturer: U.S. remains susceptible to terrorist attacks

Despite the new Department of Homeland Security and heightened security measures, especially at airports and businesses, the United States still is as vulnerable to terrorists attacks as it was prior to Sept. 11, 2001, a terrorism expert said.

"We are not significantly safer than we were 16 months ago," said Lewis M. Branscomb, a Harvard University professor who lectured Jan. 14 at the Michigan League.

Giving the second lecture in the Jerome B. Wiesner Science, Technology and Policy Lecture Series, Branscomb said more cooperation among industry, cities and government is needed to combat international terrorism.

"The United States is not structured to deal with a problem that cannot be compartmentalized," whether it's domestic or foreign, short-term or long-term, or a public or private responsibility, said Branscomb, who recently co-chaired the National Academy of Sciences study "Making the Nation Safer: The Role of Science and Technology in Countering Terrorism."

The country faces a difficult task in deterring terrorism. Terrorists have stealth, patience and a lack of a clear political or military goal, said Branscomb, the Aetna Professor of Public Policy and Corporate Management (emeritus) at Harvard University. The United States has sought to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear, biological or military chemical weapons, but these are not the only means or the most probable threats of terrorism, he said.

U.S. counter-terrorism strategies involve predicting the terrorist priorities, which requires a better intelligence and understanding of radical Islam, he said.

Branscomb offered several ideas to counter terrorism, such as implementing a far-sighted foreign policy to make the United States and its allies safer and creating policies for federal-industry relations to harden critical infrastructure.

There are, however, structural problems inhibiting the contribution of technology. For example, state and municipal governments are responsible for responding to an attack, mitigating harm and recovery, but states are faced with severe budget deficits and have limited science and technology resources, Branscomb said.

The Office of the Provost and the Office of the Vice President for Research sponsored the Wiesner lecture. Branscomb's visit was co-sponsored by the Ford School of Public Policy.

 

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