By Kenneth T. Walsh
nearly a year since the attacks of September 11, enough time for Washington's
policy makers to reach some conclusions about the best way to avoid
such horrors in the future. What has become clear to nearly everyone
is the importance of science and technology, not only on the battlefield
but in the war on terrorism at home.
the assessment of John Marburger, President's Bush's chief science adviser
at the White House, who predicts that amid the ongoing debate over creating
a new Department of Homeland Security, this pro-science consensus will
war on terrorism is clearly a technology-intensive activity, Marburger
says, not only in the overseas operations where everyone has watched
the effectiveness of these remotely operated weapons and their very,
very impressive accuracy, and also the immediate communications and
very tight interaction of the combatants on the ground and the command-and-control
centers around the world. The role of satellites and sensors is very
evident there, he continues. But in the homeland, we have
a different situation, where technology that we use for daily life is
being turned against us and exploited.
our vulnerabilities are transportation, especially air travel, which
became all too clear in the hijackings on September 11; skyscrapers
that pose difficult problems of evacuation and fire containment if attacked;
telecommunications, which can be penetrated and disrupted; and even
the postal system, which already has been used to spread anthrax.
these systems are technologically intensive and growing more so,
Marburger says. The challenge is to find solutions that improve safety
but still permit us to go about our lives, he adds. That's
where technology can help immensely, but it won't happen overnight.
We're all trying to put cures in very fast, and there hasn't been
time for technology to catch up to the need of society to protect itself,
promise in using technology to more efficiently monitor border crossings
and prevent illegal immigrants from entering the United States. He wants
to improve the screening of goods shipped by rail or sea by using more
sophisticated labeling and packaging techniques that would prevent or
reveal tampering. Perhaps most pressing given the woes of the airline
industry since September 11, Marburger wants to focus on making air
travel easier, especially for the economically vital frequent flier
who can be given special foolproof identification using
various new and emerging technologies. Other Marburger goals are to
combat bioterrorism by developing better vaccines and finding better
therapies, and to improve cyber security for the government, business,
and individual Americans.
Marburger and Bush have taken a special interest in strengthening the
capabilities of first respondersthe fire, police,
and rescue personnel who are sent to a terrorism site immediately after
an attack. Among their needs are for better communications and technology.
One idea that is under consideration is to give fire departments high-speed
Internet connections so they can quickly obtain graphic information
such as satellite photography that might help clarify a dangerous situation
on the ground, and to provide them with the ability to quickly analyze
samples of possible chemical or biological contamination so they
know what they're dealing with, Marburger says.
how much federal money will be needed to accomplish all this, but the
science adviser admits that the amount will be substantial over the
long term. As Marburger says, Clearly, both the president and
Congress understand that the war on terrorism is going to be a technologically
George W. Bush's personal commitment, Marburger says, He's not
a technology wonk, and I'm sure he doesn't lie in bed at night reading
technology reports and science journals. But he certainly understands
its importance and he's been supportive of my office and of the whole
T. Walsh is chief White House correspondent for U.S. News & World
Report. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.