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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, May 1, 2002

Homeland defense requires new sensitivity

Old-timers might recall those World War II air-raid wardens. Decked out in helmets and arm bands, these civilians patrolled their neighborhoods for suspicious activity and were on the lookout for enemy planes flying overhead.

Well, in the aftermath of Sept. 11, we're embarking on a new form of civil defense. Only, the world has changed dramatically since World War II. So has the enemy.

As part of our homeland defense effort, a Hawai'i Guard Civil Support Team trained to respond to bioterrorism threats has been certified, and federal money is being sought to build a terrorism-prevention training center in the Islands.

Homeland defense officials have developed color-coded threat levels and a database of vulnerable locations, including water, electrical and telecommunications services and even "symbolic" targets that could be attacked.

Next, officials will be seeking volunteers for a citizens corps of antiterrorism watchdogs. It's smart to marshal all our forces to protect the Islands from danger, just as we would in the face of a tsunami or hurricane.

But we must be careful that in the process of hunting down terrorists, we do not forfeit civil rights. Training citizens to report suspicious characters or behavior entails a certain degree of profiling, which could unfairly target people of Middle Eastern or Islamic origin.

Nor do we want neighbors spying on one other in the name of homeland security. In Nazi Germany, for example, one neighbor might report another for listening to BBC radio, which was strictly verboten.

Never again.

Another concern is the military's byzantine style of getting information out to the public. This is a nontraditional war so we will have to come up with nontraditional ways of sharing information.

If we're really all in this together, we have to communicate clearly and directly.