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Opinion

Best defense against terror is the cop on the beat

On Sept. 11, 2001, I joined thousands of New Yorkers as

they walked uptown along Park Avenue. It must have been one or two o'clock in

the afternoon when suddenly two fighter jets roared through the airspace above

the center of Manhattan.

We all stopped walking and gazed up at the sky. Tears came into people's

eyes. Everyone turned to each other saying things like: "Thank God, they're

here."

But even as we stared at them in awe I remember thinking: Those jets were

helpless against this enemy. They didn't deter them and didn't intercept them.

Four years later, Osama bin Laden still is on the loose and terrorists still

are striking - in Bali, Madrid and London, among other places.

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Or so the

saying goes. In the aftermath of the second London terrorist attacks in two

weeks, the American-led and British-supported response to terrorism is looking

very much like a hammer.

At some point we have to come to grips with the fact that precision guided

weapons, F-18 fighter planes, stealth bombers and the educated, tough men and

women who wield these sophisticated weapons are like the hammers that fool us

into making terrorism look like a nail. We're supposed to be fighting

terrorists in Iraq so we don't have to fight them on our own soil. Go tell that

to a Londoner stuck in a blown-up subway.

Now is the time to stop and ask: If the greatest military force in history

can't stop terror, who can? Well, how about two women you've probably never

heard of - Aida Farsical and Diana Dean?

Farsical is a Philippine policewoman. One night in 1995 a fire alarm went

off in Manila. Farsical was on duty at Police Station No. 9. She sent a

patrolman to check it out, and he came back saying there was nothing unusual -

just some Pakistanis playing with firecrackers. But Farsical's intuition told

her that this was anything but routine and so she went to see for herself.

The end of the story is that Farsical wound up disrupting the infamous

Bojinka plot - a terrorist plan that, had it gone forward, would have resulted

in fatal explosions aboard 11 long-haul airline flights between the United

States and Asia.

Diana Dean is a customs agent on the Port Angeles border crossing between

Canada and the United States. On Dec. 16, 1999, she stopped Ahmed Ressam, an

Algerian-born Canadian who was driving a rented Chrysler aboard a ferry from

Victoria, British Columbia. Like Farsical, Dean had a hunch that all was not

well. Ressam was "acting nervous" when she asked him routine questions. So she

called over a colleague who opened his trunk and found everything anyone would

need to build large-scale explosives.

Dean and her colleagues interrupted the "Millennium plot," an al-Qaida

inspiration that would have blown up much of Los Angeles International Airport.

Terrorism is not a law-enforcement problem. It is much more serious than a

numbers racket in the South Bronx. But so far the record is clear. Smart cops

stop terrorists, smart weapons don't. Maybe the front lines of the war on

terror should be the precinct houses of every big city in the Western world.

We should spend more money and more time making the average experienced cop

on the beat part of our war on terror. We need undercover cops who can

infiltrate local Islamic organizations and immigrant communities; we need more

cameras in public places and more people trained to spot terror before it

happens. We need police we can trust with classified information, and we need

the local knowledge that only a beat cop has to make its way to the

organizations whose sole purpose is fighting terror.

For almost four years now, government leaders have moved around boxes on

those organization charts and created new jobs - in Washington. How about some

new jobs in the subways and on the borders?

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