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Deutch predicts more Sept. 11-type terrorism

Institute Professor John Deutch, former head of the CIA, makes a point in his talk last week on terrorism.
Institute Professor John Deutch, former head of the CIA, makes a point in his talk last week on terrorism.
Photo / Donna Coveney

The United States and its European allies will be the targets of a series of terrorist attacks on the scale of Sept. 11, former US Director of Central Intelligence John M. Deutch predicted last Tuesday in a lecture titled "Combating Catastrophic Terrorism."

"In my judgment, attacks are likely," Institute Professor Deutch told an audience of about 500 in Room 26-100, noting that 20 terrorist groups worldwide are capable of such acts.

Deutch advised MIT and other universities to steel themselves for inquiries into the activities and identities of foreign students and other government interventions that will threaten privacy and civil liberty.

He said that following 10 years of remarkable peace and prosperity, the world may be entering an era where US society must question whether the government needs to be reorganized to protect the American people effectively.

"The distinction between law enforcement and national security has to be clarified," he said. Since Sept. 11, lines have been blurred between wartime and peacetime, foreign and domestic threats, and national security and law enforcement concerns.

Deutch recommended that the two main counterterrorism centers--one housed in the FBI and one within the CIA--be combined.

The FBI, he said, is oriented toward catching and prosecuting a criminal after a crime has been committed, while the CIA collects information before an act is committed to prevent it or prepare for it. Their methods and approaches are too different to approach a broad problem such as catastrophic terrorism. The possible use of biological or chemical weapons of mass destruction, as well as cyberterrorism aimed at disrupting the country's information infrastructure, take old definitions of "normal" terrorism into a previously unknown realm.

Deutch said American agencies are not well-prepared to work in concert in response to an event such as Sept. 11. There is no coordinator and no budget for all the essential local and national activities needed to ensure the safety of the American public.

"We not only have to develop vaccines, we also have to buy and test them and train people how to use them," he said. "We need a whole integrated coherent government approach."

In addition, more research is needed on the groups that give rise to terrorist activities and the communities that harbor them. "We don't spend as much time as we should on studying other parts of the world," Deutch said. "If you don't understand the forces behind terrorism, you will get nowhere."

He suggested that MIT contribute by using its strong background in biological defense mechanisms, immunology, the information infrastructure, aviation security and regional studies to help the government defuse or respond to future attacks.

Deutch said acts of catastrophic terrorism such as the the Sept. 11 attack have some similarities to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian empire that ignited World War I. The political agenda of the well-trained and well-funded group responsible, called the Black Hand, intended only to drive the Austrians from the Balkans.

Deutch, a member of the MIT faculty since 1970, has served as head of the Department of Chemistry, dean of the School of Science and provost. Before serving as director of central intelligence from 1995-96, he was undersecretary and deputy secretary of defense in the first Clinton administration.

The lecture was sponsored by the Department of Chemistry.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 28, 2001.

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