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Michael Chertoff: 21st Century Will Get More Dangerous

AFP | January 26, 2007 

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Thursday the world is facing a critical test as it seeks to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists, and that there will be no way "to put that genie back in the bottle" if it fails.

Chertoff told a high-level panel on terrorism at the World Economic Forum that the century will only get more dangerous as technology improves, and that global leaders must make some hard decisions now if they want to avert catastrophe.

"What we face in the 21st century is the ability of even a single individual, and certainly a group, to leverage technology in a way to cause a type of destruction and a magnitude of destruction that would have been unthinkable a century ago," he said. "And that is only going to get worse."

Chertoff said failure would mean a calamity that would dwarf even the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in its magnitude.

"You can't put that genie back in the bottle once a weapon of mass destruction or a nuclear bomb gets into the hands of a terrorist," Chertoff said. "You are not going to be able to reclaim that and it is going to transform the way in which we live."

Another panelist, British Conservative party leader David Cameron, said it was critical for Western democracies to face the new threat posed by al-Qaida with tough new laws, but also with steady thinking in order to avoid trampling on core beliefs.

"There are some big changes that we have to make ... but when we make those changes, its vital we get this balance right and don't lurch into an ineffective authoritarianism," Cameron said. "We've got to be very strong in combatting terrorism but equally strong in defending liberty, democracy and the things we are actually fighting for."

Chertoff bristled at criticism that some of the steps the United States has taken to combat terrorism - particularly the use of secret CIA prisons, the establishment of military tribunals to try terror suspects, and what critics see as a relaxing of the rules against torture - have degraded fundamental human and civil rights. He said governments must be realistic in an age of increasing dangers.

"We should not sacrifice fundamental human rights, but I think it is important also not to treat every departure from the ordinary set of rules that we use in criminal cases and treat that as a catastrophic departure from fundamental human rights," he said. "We have to be precise about what truly is fundamental and what isn't fundamental."

Terrorism has been a theme at the World Economic Forum since the Sept. 11 attacks, and this year has been no exception. The panel brought Chertoff and Cameron together with Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and the EU's terrorism coordinator, Gijs de Vries.

Outgoing U.S. National Intelligence Director John Negroponte was highly critical of Pakistan in remarks before Congress last week, saying the country has become a "sanctuary" for Taliban and al-Qaida militants who cross into neighboring Afghanistan to kill American and NATO troops.

Casualties in Afghanistan have risen sharply in recent months as the Taliban has stepped up operations and suicide attacks. Afghan leaders have accused Pakistani security forces of secretly trying to foment unrest, while publicly professing to be allies.

In his remarks, Aziz said Pakistan views the problems in Afghanistan as an internal issue, and repeated Pakistan's assertion that it has been wildly successful in fighting terrorism.

The country has captured hundreds of militants, but it is also believed to be home to several top al-Qaida leaders, including Osama bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, who have evaded a five-year dragnet.

"TerrorStorm is something that should be seen by everyone, no matter what their stance/affiliation/political bent. " - Rich Rosell, Digitally Obsessed UK
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