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Just how vulnerable is America?

Stephen Flynn uses his book, "America the Vulnerable" to examine the steps the United States needs to take to prevent additional terrorist attacks. He's a guest tonight on "Scarborough Country."
Harper Collins

Stephen E. Flynn is a Senior Fellow in the National Security Studies Program on Foreign Relations.  He also served as a commander in the U.S. Coast Guard, served in the White House Military Office during the George H. W. Bush administration and served as the Director for Global Issues during the Clinton Administration.  Flynn recently wrote “American the Vulnerable: How Our Government is Failing to Protect US from Terrorism.”  He examines the ways in which the United States left their trade and travel lines open for terrorist attack.  Also, he speaks about the need for greater supervision of the people and good coming in and out of this country as well as the need to work internationally with other governments to try and protect ourselves.

Read the following excerpt from his book: “America the Vulnerable”:

Three years after September 11, we are still dangerously unprepared to prevent or respond to another attack on American soil. Faced with this threat, the United States should be operating on a wartime footing at home. But despite the many new security precautions that have been proposed, our most serious vulnerabilities remain ominously exposed.

Chapter One: Living on Borrowed Time

If September 11, 2001, was a wake-up call, clearly America has fallen back asleep. Our return to complacency could not be more foolhardy. The 9/11 attacks were not an aberration. The same forces that helped to produce the horror that befell the nation on that day continue to gather strength. Yet we appear to be unwilling to do what must be done to make our society less of a target. Instead, we are sailing into a national security version of the Perfect Storm.

Homeland security has entered our post–9/11 lexicon, but homeland insecurity remains the abiding reality. With the exception of airports, much of what is critical to our way of life remains unprotected. Despite all the rhetoric, after the initial flurry of activity to harden cockpit doors and confiscate nail clippers, there has been little appetite in Washington to move beyond government reorganization and color-coded alerts. While we receive a steady diet of somber warnings about potential terrorist attacks, the new federal outlays for homeland security in the two years after 9/11 command an investment equal to only 4 percent of the Pentagon’s annual budget. Outside of Washington, pink slips for police officers and firefighters are more common than new public investments in security. With state and local budgets hemorrhaging red ink, mayors, county commissioners, and governors are simply in no position to fill the security void the federal government has been keen to thrust upon them. The private sector has shown its preference for taking a minimalist approach to new security responsibilities. There have been private-sector leaders who have been bucking this trend, several of whom are featured in the pages ahead. But, by and large, trade and industry associations have been hard at work trying to fend off new security requirements that might compel them to address vulnerabilities and thereby raise their bottomline costs.

From water and food supplies; refineries, energy grids, and pipelines; bridges, tunnels, trains, trucks, and cargo containers; to the cyber backbone that underpins the information age in which we live, the measures we have been cobbling together are hardly fit to deter amateur thieves, vandals, and hackers, never mind determined terrorists. Worse still, small improvements are often oversold as giant steps forward, lowering the guard of average citizens as they carry on their daily routine with an unwarranted sense of confidence.

Old habits die hard. The truth is America has been on a hundred-year joyride. Throughout the twentieth century we were able to treat national security as essentially an out-of-body experience. When confronted by threats, we dealt with them on the turf of our allies or our adversaries. Aside from the occasional disaster and heinous crime, civilian life at home has been virtually terror-free. Then, out of the blue, the 9/11 attacks turned our national security world on its head. Al Qaeda exposed our Achilles’ heel. Paradoxically, the United States has no rival when it comes to projecting its military, economic, and cultural power around the world. But we are practically defenseless at home.

A number of post–Cold War realities have created a new global environment that places America in a position of especially grave danger. First, from nearly all points on the compass, there is rising anti-Americanism. To a large extent this is the inevitable byproduct of the United States’ unique standing as the sole remaining superpower. Our current predicament is that any unhappy person on the planet is inclined to lay the blame on America’s doorstep. If they think their society is being undermined by cultural pollution, they are likely to see the United States as the lead polluter. If they view the economic rules of the game as rigged to benefit the few at the cost of the many, they castigate the United States as the capitalist kingmaker. And if they imagine life would be better if there were a change in the local political landscape, they see the United States as standing in the background, or foreground, as a barrier to their revisionist dreams. When our actions and policies display periodic arrogance and indifference, we only add grist to the anti-U.S. mill.

For the foreseeable future, increased anti-Americanism will be a fact of life. Certainly it can be exacerbated or ameliorated by the approaches we take and the priority we assign to addressing some of the world’s most pressing public-policy challenges. There is too much pent-up rage and frustration around the world caused by overpopulation, limited education and job opportunities, and a lack of participation in the political process. As a nation, we should be mindful of these sobering realities and work to improve them wherever we can. But even the wisest, kindest, and gentlest American leadership will not appease groups like the remnants of the Taliban, whose beliefs are the antithesis of our own. There will be ample recruits to strike out at the United States as a means of defending or advancing their causes.

This rise in discontent is made more menacing by another disturbing fact of twenty-first-century life: groups with no governmental ties can acquire the most lethal tools of warfare. Certainly, state sponsorship can be helpful. But with so many pockets of the world hosting open-air arms bazaars, complicity with an established government is not essential. At one end of the spectrum, weapons like the AK-47 are so plentiful that they can be had for the price of a chicken in Uganda, the price of a goat in Kenya, and the price of a bag of maize in Mozambique or Angola. At the other end, there is enough separated plutonium and highly enriched uranium in the world to make thousands of nuclear weapons. Weapons-usable nuclear materials exist in over 130 research laboratories operating in more than forty countries around the world, ranging from Ukraine to Ghana...

The foregoing is excerpted from "America the Vulnerable" by Stephen Flynn. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022