An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
Every year when the weather turns cold, we go through the same battle in my family. I tell my kids to dress appropriately for the weather because “your body can only do one thing efficiently at a time—keep you warm or fight viruses.” Despite my motherly wisdom, they go off in short-sleeve shirts without a jacket and hat. I always warn them that if they refuse my advice and then get sick, I will not be very sympathetic. One of my parenting rules is never make an idle threat, so when they do come down with the inevitable cold, I stick with tough love and let them suffer (at least a bit). I am hoping that one day, they will wake up and realize that I was right all these years and they will don their hat and coat without being asked. I am a mom. I have faith that day will come.
An ounce of prevention is common sense. Scientific proof aside, it makes sense for my kids to dress for the cold weather. It makes sense for us to lock our doors at night and turn on the back light of our house. It makes sense for a woman to be cautious walking in a dark, empty parking garage or on the streets at night. It is practical to use caution and prudence in reducing our risk of being harmed.
The same is true for our nation’s safety in trying to prevent another terrorist attack in the United States. There is an important role for the preventative actions of our Intelligence Community, law enforcement, and Department of Homeland Security as long as we have reasonable expectations of their capability to succeed. America can’t expect one hundred percent success in predicting every plot and preventing every surprise: no one has yet invented the crystal ball.
Our ability to uncover terrorist plotting against the United States will rest on a number of factors, including our success in keeping our intelligence activities a secret. That is particularly difficult for most Americans because we are a nation founded on the idea of transparency in government. Since the attacks on September 11, and the public airing of shortcomings in the intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities, the public has had significantly less trust in the Intelligence Community. The need for keeping secrets may be as great as it has ever been right at a time when Americans want more oversight and scrutiny of the nation’s intelligence activities.
I am not in a position to explain the entire effort on the part of the Intelligence Community to prevent terrorism any more than I can provide my children a scientific basis for why they should wear their coats on a cold day. But I can offer a little insight into the people who work every day to try to keep Americans safe. The Intelligence Community is people. They are just like everyone else in America. They hope to build a better future for their kids. They hope to pay all the bills this year and save for retirement and college funds. They want to make a contribution that matters. The only difference for those of us who work in the world of counterterrorism is that we also hope to save lives. And we hope to succeed without anyone ever knowing.