By BRIAN HOWEY
“Brian, we’re going to get hit again. It’s going to happen. I just hope when it happens, I’m not in Washington.”
This came from a high-ranking, former congressional staffer several years after the Sept. 11 attacks. And the worries of this staffer — someone I highly respect — went well beyond an improvised explosive device packed with ball bearings that we twice witnessed on Monday, Patriot’s Day, at the Boston Marathon along with the ricin letters sent to a President Obama and a U.S. Senator (Note to idiots: All Congressional and White House mail goes through biological screening). The warning was more along the lines of a rogue nuke or a biological attack in the U.S. capital or a major population center.
It’s been a little less than 12 years now since we’ve taken a terror hit on the U.S. homeland. I like to remind the folks who viscerally castigate the federal government that since Sept. 11 this entity has kept America safer than what our expectations might have been on that day, when Hoosiers watched the carnage in New York and Washington and feared a similar fate for the Sears Tower in Chicago. Presidents Bush and Obama and Vice Presidents Cheney and Biden have shepherded a leadership culture that has kept airliners aloft and, until Monday, IEDs off shore.
Indeed, every time I walk into a Colts or Pacers or White Sox game, or the Indianapolis Motor Speedway — the most populated annual sporting event on the planet — there is that thought, though not a fear, that if terrorists really wanted to strike fear in the hearts of America, the hit would come in the heartland.
Former Sen. Dick Lugar had conjured images of the “destruction of an American city in our lifetime” in the wake of the domestic terror at Oklahoma City, and even Indianapolis as a potential target. A radial area with Lucas Oil Stadium at the center would include, within a mile or two, the three stadiums, key fiber optics lines, two major east/west and north/south interstate highways, a university and medical research labs, at least one bunkered Internet hub (with 10-foot thick walls, I’m told) and one of the major insulin manufacturing sites in the world.
When I was growing up five miles northeast of the Grissom AFB runway, the frequent roars of B-58 Hustler bombers and KC-135 stratotankers over our house were a constant reminder that little Peru, Ind., could be a Cold War collateral site near a bullseye.
But we’ve watched the threat evolve away from Soviet ICBMs and Nikita Khrushchev pounding his shoe on the podium (a vivid childhood image) to rogues like Osama bin Laden dwelling in caves and now, faceless computer programmers who constantly probe our security, financial and utility infrastructure from Ukraine, Iran or North Korea.
It’s worth repeating a thought spoken by Sen. Dan Coats in last week’s Howey Politics Indiana edition: In a cyber 9/11 scenario, Americans could wake up some morning and find the TV networks off the air, the banking system debilitated and utilities not functioning. “You’ve got people constructing just that,” said Coats, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
And the rogues do exist among us. Just last week, the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Bloomington withstood a terror assault after police reported the arrest of an Ellettsville man on preliminary burglary and criminal mischief charges — allegedly destroying equipment and splashing red paint throughout the facility. The Bloomington Herald-Times reported that the man allegedly attributed his actions to his religious beliefs, saying Planned Parenthood employees murder babies.
In our post 9/11 world, Americans have resolved to live their lives, aware of the terror potential, but not living in fear of it. We fill our stadiums, run in and watch our races and ride the Metro and the South Shore.
Statistically, the chances of experiencing a terror strike are infinitesimal, yet there were 283 Hoosiers running the Boston Marathon, and dozens in the Pentagon and World Trade Center 12 years ago, not to mention the U.S. Capitol that was probably saved by the citizen patriots of Flight 93.
To witness such a thing is about as rare as having a tornado hit your home or knowing someone who was murdered. Yet, I know a dozen or so people whose homes or businesses have been hit by tornadoes and a Rasmussen poll last week reported that 25 percent of us know someone who was murdered.
Yes, it’s going to happen. A democracy with the openness we cherish will provide the small portals of vulnerability for the rogues who have given up on debate and persuasion and turned to bombs and germs and paint.
The remarkable element of this week’s sad story is that it took a dozen years for us to endure another hit on the homeland.
— Brian Howey publishes at www.howeypolitics.com. Find him on Twitter @hwypol.