"This is going to be a long war"

Former national security advisor Anthony Lake says the U.S. is spending too much on missile defense and too little on intelligence and fighting terrorism.

By Lee Michael Katz

Published September 12, 2001 12:02AM (EDT)

Beyond the horror of Tuesday's attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon lie the vexing issues of who is responsible and how a now-battered United States can battle terrorism. Anthony Lake, who served as National Security Advisor during President Bill Clinton's first term, tells Salon the culprit is likely Osama bin Laden -- and a missile defense system won't stop him.

Do you think Osama bin Laden is responsible for this carnage?

Obviously it would be premature to say so, but it fits his M.O. You'll recall, for example, the embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam were carried out almost simultaneously.

So it bears his signature?

You can't know that and you don't want to go off half-cocked. That's a good starting point for the investigation.

Could bin Laden's organization perform such complicated terrorist attacks alone, without any state sponsor of terrorism?

You can speculate endlessly about that. Whether or not it turns out to be the work of Osama bin Laden, there ought to be the most vigorous possible action against any government or state that offers sanctuary to terrorism -- as the Taliban has been offering bin Laden. We need to try to put together a global effort against terrorism and use, as a reminder of that, the coalition that President George Bush put together after the invasion of Kuwait.

Does today's tragedy show that we really aren't prepared to handle something like this in the U.S.?

The government had made a start in the last few years at getting better organized, but it's only a beginning. There are so many targets, especially the vulnerabilities of our computers and critical infrastructure that uses computers. What I hope is that we will use our horror and anger in ways that will first lead us to think a little differently about threats to our national security and then to act more vigorously.

Do you think our priorities have been misplaced?

We have devoted a huge amount of newspaper space and space on talk shows to debating national missile defense. We ought to have been spending equal amounts of time and thought on how to combat terrorism and put more resources into the defense of our homeland against threats like this.

There has been disappointment as to how the budget cuts have affected the intelligence community. Has the war against terrorism been affected?

I don't know whether we cut too much. But I do know its getting more and more difficult, for example, with the explosion of fiber optics and other means of communication, to monitor the communications of terrorists and criminal groups. If we're going to be serious about this, we're going to need to increase our spending on those kind of activities just as much as we think about missile defense or more conventional forms of combat.

The point is that we are at war. There is one group out there trying to kill Americans right now. That is not the North Koreans with their missiles. So I think when we can pin responsibility on some group there has to be an American response, but we also need to have a more strategic view and try to use this horrible catastrophe to help form a global alliance for a global war against terrorism.

Do today's events demonstrate that we have already lost the war against terrorism here in the United States?

This is going to be a long war. That's why we need a strategy.

Lee Michael Katz

MORE FROM Lee Michael Katz

Related Topics ------------------------------------------