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Threat assessment

"Threat assessment" Continued...

Issue: "Daniel of the Year," Dec. 17, 2005

WORLD Another common statement: Halliburton made a fortune in Iraq, and that's an example of how lives are being lost to improve the bottom lines of U.S. corporations. What's the evidence?

MINITER Many like to say that Halliburton is a "war profiteer," but it actually hasn't made much profit out of its two Iraq contracts. Audited financial statements from 2003 show that Halliburton earned $85 million on sales of $3.6 billion-a profit margin of 2.4 percent. Most people do better than that in their mutual funds. The cost of capital (i.e., corporate borrowing rates) is often higher than 2.4 percent, meaning that Halliburton could be losing money.

As a result of such poor performance, Halliburton considered suing the federal government to get out of its contracts and when that proved to be a non-starter, the company put the unit doing the Iraq work on the auction block. So far, no bidders that I am aware of.

WORLD In the war on terrorism, how should we improve airport security?

MINITER At first glance, focusing the searches on Arab males seems sensible; after all, all the 9/11 hijackers were Arab males. But, al-Qaeda is already recruiting non-Arab women or white men or anyone who doesn't fit the profile. Remember John Walker Lindh? And several white Australians, including David Hicks, Jack Roche, and "Jihad" Jack Thomas joined the ranks of the Taliban or al-Qaeda. Additionally, al-Qaeda is recruiting in French prisons and among Filipino women who were born into Roman Catholic families and married Muslim men. The main flaw with racial profiling is that it fails to acknowledge that for every move there is a countermove in war.

The one thing that will work is "relationship profiling." Identify everyone of every race or creed who has shared a lease or bank account with a known terrorist, add in everyone who has a received a phone call from a known terrorist or placed a phone call to a known terrorist, and include people who are related by blood or marriage to known terrorists. We know that terrorism, while profoundly anti-social in its effects, is very social in its internal operations.

WORLD Conservatives often complain about the porous U.S.-Mexico border, but you argue that entry from Canada is far more likely.

MINITER While certainly the Mexican border is open enough for tens of thousands to stream across each year, so far not a single al-Qaeda terrorist has been captured on or near the Mexican border. By contrast, several al-Qaeda operatives have been captured on or near the Canadian border, including Ahmad Ressam, who was arrested at a border crossing near Port Angeles (Washington state) in 1999. Mr. Ressam was at the center of a plot to blow up the Los Angeles airport during the millennium celebrations.

From al-Qaeda's perspective, Canada offers three unique advantages over Mexico as a staging area and entry point into the United States. First, many major Canadian cities have significant Muslim immigrant populations, making it easier for al-Qaeda members to blend in. Mexico does not have a large Muslim immigrant population. Second, captured al-Qaeda manuals lay out detailed instructions for establishing a terrorist cell. If a cell is established in a Western country, one of the first things the cell leader is instructed to do is to get every cell member onto welfare. That way they don't have to work; they can work full-time on terrorism. Canada has one of the most generous welfare systems in the world-while Mexico, for all intents and purposes, has no welfare system.

Third, Canada fights crime the way the United States did in the 1970s-with a skeptical eye on the police and a sympathetic one on the criminal. Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers who arrest a suspected terrorist will often see themselves attacked in the Canadian press as racists or worse, will find Crown prosecutors reluctant to bring the case absent perfect evidence, and will find judges more apt to criticize than congratulate them. As a result, Canada's law enforcement treats terrorists the way its fisherman treat trout: "catch and release." Canada, like France, is a more conducive environment for terrorists than we'd like to admit.

WORLD The idea that the post-9/11 world is more dangerous for Americans than ever before is a staple of political speeches. Is that true?

MINITER The statistical likelihood of death or injury from terrorism is virtually identical today to the pre-9/11 level. Indeed, you could argue that during the Cold War era Americans faced a greater threat than they do now. The USSR had enough nuclear bombs to end the lives of all Americans many times over, and it sponsored wars in Korea, Vietnam, and elsewhere that devoured the lives of some 100,000 Americans. The USSR funded, trained, and directed dozens of terrorist groups that killed or maimed many Americans and their allies.

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