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Security risk still high

BY HEATHER MOYER | BOSTON | September 18, 2001

"Uncrackable encryption is allowing terrorists -- Hamas, Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda and others -- to communicate about their criminal intentions without fear of outside intrusion."

—Louis Freeh

After last week's terrorist attacks on New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, many Americans are wondering about their continued safety.

Airports are now under the strictest security regulations in history, with officials saying that air travelers should now arrive two to three hours before their flight so the have ample time to make it through the new maze of security checks. The U.S. is now also discussing the idea of a team of federal air marshals that will be on every flight to guard against hijacking.

Terry and Tina Wesbrock, security specialists with Church World Service, said the world is also greatly affected by these new security risks. "This tragedy has far-reaching implications," said Tina Wesbrock. "Everyone is under a heightened awareness and alertness."

The Wesbrocks will be at a meeting later this week with other countries' non-governmental organizations, where they will learn more about the security risks that these countries as well as our own might be facing. Tina Wesbrock does know that the situation is tense in the Middle East, as some countries with a significant supportive population Osama bin Laden come out in support of the U.S.

Pakistan has made the most significant statement since the attacks, calling for the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan to stop harboring bin Laden or face the consequences. "The increase in Taliban support in Pakistan has the country on edge, we're all waiting to see what happens," said Wesbrock.

U.S. officials have acknowledged Web encryption as the latest mode of communication used by bin Laden's Al-Qaeda and other terrorist networks to avoid detection. Just last year, former FBI Director Louis Freeh testified to a Senate panel on the internet as a terrorist threat. "Uncrackable encryption is allowing terrorists -- Hamas, Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda and others -- to communicate about their criminal intentions without fear of outside intrusion," said Freeh.

Even human feeling is coming out as a threat. Officials say that bin Laden is successfully able to menace the US because he has capitalized on anti-American sentiment in the Arab world.

And Americans are also nervous because of just how long the hijackers of last Tuesday's flights had been in the United States, and of the complex network of helpers they have in this country, too. A now-heightened stigma against people from the Middle East is plaguing the country, with many reports of racial harassment and violence against people who just 'appear' to be from Arab countries.

Tina Wesbrock said these physical and verbal assaults only make the situation worse. "You can't stress it enough -- don't do this, do not take justice into your own hands against people who are completely unrelated," she said.

Wesbrock's best advice to those who feel unsafe is to be sure of one's surroundings. "Pay attention to where you are, be cautious and aware during travel," she said. Although fears among the American public may persist, the recent security measures may help to reduce both risks and fears now associated with air travel.

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