Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Acting on Evidence

Within the last hour, the city of Baltimore has closed several of its tunnels, in response to a reported terrorist threat. The always-insightful Counterterrorism Blog has an update on media reports/speculation about the reported "threat."

Assuming that terrorists don't blow up the tunnels, this situation is likely to fuel the debate over when local officials should tighten security. Apparently, the tunnel closings in Baltimore were based on a single, uncorroborated source, and some federal officials doubt its veracity.

Erring on the side of caution, city officials elected to close the tunnels, just as NYC tightened security in response to a recent threat against its subway system.

Closing a tunnel, or increasing subway security means an inconvenience to thousands of commuters. And, in some cases, local leaders are probably guilty of over-reacting. But in a post-9-11 world, it's probably the right call.

These incidents underscore the need for better cooperation between federal, state, and local officials on terrorism analysis. Most local leaders don't have security clearances, so they can't access classified information relating to terrorist threats. Instead, they have to rely on what the feds choose to disseminate, with little accompanying information on the source of the information and its credibiity.

There should be some sort of middle ground. I'm not sure the police chief in Hornersville, Mo needs a security clearance, but it wouldn't be a bad idea to grant access to anti-terrorism units in more of our major cities, and among state police departments. Better information will result in better decision making, and fewer angry communters.

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