“The bastards changed the program,” the American representative told us as he
received us at the airport in New York. This was in mid-September 2001, just a
few days after the worst terrorist attack on American soil in history. I was
heading a delegation of high-ranking Israel Police officers which had been
scheduled to travel across the US speaking to human rights
According to the original program, we were supposed to
present ways of preserving security without infringing on the human rights and
the rights of the individual guaranteed by the American Constitution.
following 9/11, the purpose of the trip changed overnight. In the aftermath of a
trauma that had shocked a nation out of its tranquility and confidence, there
was no more talk of human rights. From then on, we found ourselves talking
solely about terror, and how to prevent it. It seemed that in those first days,
any and all means were acceptable in pursuit of that goal.
We had been
supposed to speak about how, one year before, 13 Arab-Israelis were killed
during the October riots, but the topic never came up. Instead, we were asked,
indeed questioned at length, about how to fight and defeat terror. Israel is
well-schooled in terrorism and considered a trailblazer in anything related to
this type of warfare.
OUR VISIT made the front pages; we were given lofty
honors, received applause and accolades and, in one instance, even the key to
None of which however prevented us from having to undergo, at
every airport and before every flight, the experience of being treated by
security personnel as if we were potential terrorists. The Americans claimed
these were random checks, coincidental, as if we were just part of a theoretical
survey sample. But the reality was clearly different. We were from the Middle
East, and America’s rigidity and panic following the attacks transformed every
flight into a nightmare that we accepted without argument.
arranged a visit to Ground Zero, which was still covered in dust and
We tried to help and to lend our collective experience to the
creation of the Department of Homeland Security, which was to spearhead the
American effort in the struggle against terror. Even today, I’m not convinced we
succeeded in our efforts there.
The first and most significant decision
the US made after 9/11 was to establish the Department of Homeland Security, now
the second-largest department in the federal government after the Defense
It has a budget of between $60-70 billion and employs 400,000
people. These numbers are enormous, even when taken in the American context.
This department was meant to be the central agency for establishing,
coordinating, integrating and putting into operation policies for the war on
Despite the formidable resources invested, however, there remains
a large gap between the vision and the reality on the ground. In the US, there
are 19,000 separate bodies responsible for law enforcement.
Yes, you read
that correctly. Furthermore, there is no definite hierarchy and there are no
clear-cut definitions of jurisdiction.
For example, when my daughter
called the police after a thief tried to break into my car in a small Washington
suburb, four different agencies arrived on the scene – local police, state
police, the marshals and the sheriff’s department.The Washington Post
recently published research on the various US intelligence agencies responsible
for fighting terror. It turns out that there are many different agencies, each
acting on its own and without any coordination with the others.
no central, unifying agency that can create a comprehensive understanding of the
intelligence gathered by these agencies.
Since the days of J. Edgar
Hoover, there has been an unyielding rule in the US that the power of these
agencies not be gathered together into one official body, but for them to be
acting in parallel but not in tandem is not a healthy situation
As an example of just how complicated and ungainly the US system
is, consider the American intelligence community’s numerous contradictory
estimations concerning Iran’s nuclear capabilities over the past
With regard to field operations, the situation is even more
complicated. In every city and state, the marshals, sheriff’s department,
traffic police, local police and subway police all operate separately – all of
these official bodies are still incapable of synchronizing their actions in the
Compare this to our situation; when there is, heaven forbid, a
terror attack in Tel Aviv, the question of who runs the scene doesn’t even
arise. We have only one national police force – there’s no other alternative.
The highest-ranking officer on the scene runs the scene. Period. It is this
method of field operations has led to efficiency and success.
continues to struggle to find a balance between the need to prevent acts of
terror and gather information to that end on the one hand, and the need to
uphold the US Constitution on the other. The Americans have no idea what to do
with the system known as “profiling”: the identification of potential terrorists
based on personal details such as place of birth, origin, religion or skin
color. So they invented what they call “random checks” in an effort to fool
themselves and circumvent the Constitution. These “random” security checks are
absolutely systematic. Because there is no other choice. That certain groups
pose more of a threat than others is a fact that cannot be ignored. It doesn’t
make sense to perform a stringent security check on a four-year-old boy, and yet
allow the three Pakistanis behind him to pass freely.
It is impossible to
keep track of everyone everywhere; there is a need to narrow the focus. Without
that focus, terrorists will slip through the net again and
Intelligence gathering is the first and most critical step in
Next comes operational ability; the ability to act
on that intelligence and carry out precise missions, as well as preventative
measures such as the use of checkpoints, helicopters and other, specialized
Finally, the use of security measures in the field. Whoever makes
light of this last should recall the terror attack on the Dolphinarium in Tel
Aviv. While the outcome of that attack was horiffic, it could have been far
worse – the security check at the entrance to the nightclub reduced what could
have been 250 casualties to 25.
Without the foundation, that is to say
the strategic intelligence, the whole security apparatus topples, and
intelligence cannot be obtained with huge waves of deployment. There must be a
listing of priorities and a reduction in the amount of orders.
Americans are aware of this problem, and I am convinced that they will find a
solution. I believe and hope that in the future the US will find a way to
continue to honor the principles of equality and human rights without
compromising too much on the needs inherent in the war on terror and the
prevention of deadly attacks.
Just as critical as the gathering of
intelligence, however, is its distribution. Intelligence that is not used is
wasted. The police officer in the field needs to know, in real time, if there is
a threat in the area. For this to happen, the information coming into the
various agencies from all levels has to be unified into a comprehensive
understanding of the situation, while at the same time addressing the need,
shared by all intelligence agencies, to minimize the exposure of their
This level of cooperation still does not exist in the US. Even
with us, a small country in the midst of many, it took time to achieve this.
Though many improvements have been made in America in this regard since 9/11, it
is still far from being able to distribute intelligence at an Israeli
HOWEVER, WHAT’S true of America isn’t necessarily true of New
York. Because New York is, in a sense, another America. The city, which bore the
brunt of the 9/11 attacks, is not “just another place” but rather a unique city,
a symbol of a greater America, in the living spirit and soul of the American
nation. New Yorkers understood that the best thing to do would be to take
matters into their own hands. The leaders of the city decided that in addition
to there being a permanent representative of the FBI in Israel, there would also
be a permanent member of the NYPD in the Holy Land as well. And not just in
Israel. New York has a representative of its police force in 38 countries around
the world. The Israeli representative travels around to every possible location,
arranges meetings, visits the scenes of terror attacks, and learns from open,
secret, governmental and nongovernmental sources before sending anything of
interest back to the headquarters in Manhattan. The NYPD has established, in
effect, an independent intelligence network, headed by a former CIA deputy of
The results can be seen in the field, and with an
unexpected side effect in the struggle against crime. When there is good
intelligence in matters of terrorism, it spills over into other areas as
The change that began in the US in the last decade is prominent and
decisive, but the results are not conclusive yet. The US is like a giant
aircraft carrier – turning it around takes time. We currently find ourselves in
the middle of that turn. When it needs to address a problem, the US can invest
an incredible amount of resources due to the strength of its
Though everything still operates on a level of efficiency that
is far too low and the coordination between the various agencies is still far
too insubstantial, the US has succeeded in preventing another largescale act of
terrorism on its soil, and that’s the bottom line. They still need to
internalize a few important principles and this will take time. They need to be
efficient yet flexible, to focus on the essential and relax when it comes to the
During my visit, the Holocaust Museum in Washington was
attacked. Someone shot and killed the guard on duty. A small attack in a
strategic location. I was surprised to discover that, following the attack, the
street was closed for five days.
Why? Close it for two hours, for half a
day, even a full day. We’re not talking about a coordinated attack by al-Qaida,
we’re talking about a local assailant, an amateur who was caught immediately. So
why all this extra effort? WITH ALL this, there is the need to touch upon the
issue of the US’s cooperation with Israel. Israel is an American strategic asset
of the first order. Israel’s experience in these matters, its cumulative
know-how and methods of operation, its location at the front line of the war
against terrorism, close to central hotbeds of terrorist activity – all of these
make Israel an asset worth its weight in gold to the US. It’s been said that
Israel shouldn’t hold anything back from the US, for its own sake. Full
cooperation, intelligence transferred over in its entirety, without any “ifs”
“ands,” “buts, or “maybes.”
We live in an age when pivotal countries,
specifically in our region, are disintegrating into various groups and tribes.
The next world war will be against terrorism, in the midst of terrorism.
According to several definitions, this is already happening today. Iran, which
is attempting to duplicate itself throughout the Middle East, is a prime
example. The Iranian octopus is extending its tentacles in all directions, while
the Muslim Brotherhood is undermining traditional regimes, some of which have
already fallen and some of which are on the way. Africa is unstable, and already
contains quite a few potential terrorist groups acting on the basis of
All of these fuel the flourishing of terrorism, which seeks to
go beyond conventional means and attain the capability for mass
This is a significant challenge for the US and for the West in
general. It is not a war between nations, but rather one between values, between
cultures. In this context, Israel is a flexible, efficient commando unit on the
front line that is capable of making the difference between victory and defeat.
Israel is capable of moving the world toward victory. There is a need to make
the war on terror more effective and efficient. It should be smaller, smarter,
more flexible and more sophisticated, rather than enormous, expensive and
unwieldy. This is not just a budgetary matter; it is more about a point of view.
There is a need to teach the world how to conduct its daily routine while
dealing with terrorism, how not to lose a sense of proportion, how to get the
street open three hours after a terror attack and to go on as normal, because
there is no other alternative.
The world needs to start using a biometric
identification system in all areas, instead of IDs and documents that can easily
be forged. The biometric system is a trailblazer that allows for efficient
tracking in real time, and needs to become a world standard. All of the
democracies across the globe need to work together in the war on terror, to
synchronize their intelligencegathering efforts and their methods of fighting.
If we don’t hang together, we will all hang separately.
We need to start
preparing for the coming war instead of for the wars we’ve already fought. We
are in a new age, one entirely different and more dangerous than the last. We
cannot afford to flinch in the face of this new reality. Israel is capable of
teaching the world a few things in this regard, but we cannot lose our sense of
The leader of the free world is the US.
9/11 and after. The US is the seat of power and all roads pass through
At the end of the day, the aircraft carrier will turn around, and
head off in the right direction at full steam.The writer served most
recently as the Israel Police and Public Security Attaché in North America and
is considered an international expert on fighting terrorism.