Maj. Tim Connors of the Center for Policing Terrorism presented a lecture in Forcina Hall on Tuesday, April 17, on his work and the increasing role of local public safety departments in the fight against terrorism.
He illustrated the importance of regular public safety workers with examples, including that of Ahmed Rassan, an Algerian trained in Afghanistan, who plotted to detonate a car bomb in the Los Angeles International Airport. He was stopped while crossing the border into Washington state by a border agent who suspected him of smuggling drugs. After searching the car, she discovered the bomb and a map with the airport circled.
“The only thing that prevented that from happening was one law enforcement person,” Connors said.
He said while he feels it is the chief responsibility of the federal government to protect people, it must prioritize.
“Do we protect the petting zoo in Alabama or do we protect the stock exchange?” he asked.
The responsibility for protecting that which the federal government does not, Connors said, falls to local police and fire departments.
“Local public safety people are part of this game,” he said.
Connors said improvements need to be made for local public safety workers to better protect people, especially in the area of “jointness.”
Connors defined jointness with the example of the U.S. military, which is comprised of several groups, including the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. Connors explained that these groups did not work well together until legislation in the ’80s forced them to collaborate.
“Nowadays it’s not uncommon for Army helicopters to deploy off U.S. Navy carriers,” he said.
Connors said the same concept should be applied to the different local public safety departments, specifically in New York, where he said the police and fire departments “are not where they should be in terms of working together.”
Connors attributed the need for increased effort from local law enforcement to an increasingly smaller and more technologically advanced world. He said today, fast and cheap transportation allows easy movement between countries. Also, technology allows potential enemies to coordinate more easily.
“Small groups of individuals using these tools can be very powerful,” Connors said.
In the past, he added, the distance of the United States prevented enemies from reaching its shores. Today, he said, “The oceans will not protect us.”
He also said the enemy is not necessarily a specific country, but an ideology, which anyone, not simply those abroad, can support.
“The threat is home-grown,” Connors said. “It’s here. We can’t keep this stuff out.”
After his presentation Connors took questions from the audience of about a dozen students, made up primarily of members of the College Republicans, who sponsored the event, as well as members of ROTC.
S. Lee Whitesell, senior philosophy major, asked Connors, “To what degree do you think other nations are dropping the ball in their persecution of terrorism and how is that making our struggle harder?”
Connors gave the example of protesters holding signs saying “behead those who oppose Islam,” while British police officers looked on.
“There’s a real problem in Europe,” Connors said.
“You don’t dialogue with someone who holds up a sign that says ‘behead those who oppose Islam,'” he said. “You arrest them.”