Nobody can guarantee that the Americans will not receive for Christmas a turkey infected with the bacilli of anthrax, or a "dirty" atomic bomb will not be exploded under the fir-tree at the Rockefeller Centre. Slightly more than year after the September 11 tragedy, the United States is still not ready to defend itself from a terrorist attack. This conclusion has been recently drawn by the independent working group, headed by former Senators Gary Hart and Warren Rudman, co-chairmen of the bipartisan National Security Committee which has been existing for several years now. The American average man could choke with a piece of his Christmas pudding after reading even the name of the report of this working group: America Is Not Yet Ready, America Is Still in Danger. And Hart and Rudman are not known as panic-mongers. They are authoritative and responsible politicians, not deprived of the gift of foresight.
In January 2001, several days after coming to power of the George W. Bush administration, it was the Hart and Rudman commission which for the first time warned: the main danger for the country comes from terrorists. The military superiority of the USA cannot ensure a full defence for us - the commission's report sounded the alarm.
The authors of the report recommended to make urgent politically structural changes. In particular, to immediately form a new department - the US Office of Homeland Security, to re-orient the national guards exclusively to fight against terrorism, and so on - altogether fifty reasonable proposals. Not a single of them was adopted at that time. In order to attract the attention of the Washington authorities to the report, its pages had to be covered by the crushed stone of the ruined towers of the World Trade Centre.
Today, America has, so far only on paper, a national security super-department. And the national guards now have twenty-two detachments, trained to fight against the consequences of the use of mass destruction weapons. But all this is really not enough - warns the same Hart - Rudman commission on the eve of Christmas 2002. America is still not ready either to prevent new terrorist acts or to reply to them.
In the past few months, the membership of the group, which has passed such a gloomy verdict, has substantially changed. But it has not become less impressive because of this. Today it includes two former Secretaries of State, three Nobel Prize winners, two former heads of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, the former director of the CIA and the FBI, and several well-known in the USA experts in the sphere of finances, law and medicine.
Well, the enumeration given in the report of the drawbacks in the anti-terrorist defence of the USA suggests the idea of sending to the American friends not Christmas cards but express fax to all: "Save yourselves if you can." The final conclusion which the report draws is really striking.
Today's America is pictured by its authors if not as a self-murderer, but a masochist for certain. The main enemy of the United States is not bin Laden who has now hidden himself in his winter den, but American security itself. Our own non-readiness can inflict a greater damage on the country than only one attack by a terrorist - such a sad forecast by the well-known colleagues, Gary Hart and Warren Gudman.
They are in a hurry to propose new measures which could, they believe, quickly patch up the holes in the USA's national security.
Most likely that this time the George W. Bush administration will not dare to ignore these pieces of advice. The ashes of the 4,000 people who were burned on September 11 will make it impossible. But at the same time it would be naive to think that a group of people, even influential, can change overnight the system of political priorities in Washington. However, in this system the obsession with the war against Iraq has ousted today from the first place its fight against international terrorism.
The bright and radiant holiday of Christmas is just the time to admit the things which many officials in Washington think it awkward to admit. Iraq is not a stronghold of terrorism. Saddam Hussein is not bin Laden. By diverting its moral forces just in order to poke Baghdad's nose into the problems of its weapons dossier, by sending another 50,000 servicemen in addition to those 60,000 who are ready for a accelerated march in the Persian Gulf, the United States risks a great deal - it pushes to the background the task of defending its population from a real terrorist with a flask of bacteria in his bosom or with a "dirty" bomb in his shopping bag.