America the Vulnerable: How Our Government Is Failing to Protect Us from Terrorism

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9780060571283: America the Vulnerable: How Our Government Is Failing to Protect Us from Terrorism

America is living on borrowed time -- and squandering it.

Three years after September 11, we are still dangerously unprepared to prevent or respond to anotherattack on American soil. Faced with this threat, the United States should be operating on a wartime footingat home. But despite the many new security precautionsthat have been proposed, our most serious vulnerabilities remain ominously exposed.

In this powerful and urgently needed call to action, Stephen Flynn offers a startling portrait of the radical shortcomings in America's current plan for homeland security. He describes a frightening scenario of what the next major terrorist attack might look like, revealing the tragic loss of life and economic havoc it would leave in its wake, as well as the seismic political consequences it would have in Washington.

Despite increased awareness, we still offer our enemies a vast menu of soft targets: water and food supplies; chemical plants; energy grids and pipelines; bridges, tunnels, and ports; and the millions of cargo containers that carry most of the goods we depend upon in our everyday lives. The measures we have cobbled together to protect these vital systems are hardly fit to deter amateur thieves, vandals, and smugglers, letalone determined terrorists. Worse still, small improvements are often oversold as giant steps forward, lowering the guard of the average citizen and building an unwarranted sense of confidence.

It does not have to be this way. Flynn carefully outlines a bold yet practical plan for achieving security in a way that is safe and smart, effective and manageable. In a new world of heightened risk and fear, America the Vulnerable delivers a timely, forceful message that cannot be ignored.

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Review:

The most gripping portion of Stephen Flynn's examination of America's defense shortcomings in the war on terror arrives early. The entire second chapter imagines an elaborate but feasible dirty-bomb attack that brings the nation's transportation system to a halt and presents the President with two dreadful options: reopen borders closed by the emergency and risk further attack, or inspect everything that comes into the country and accept the cataclysmic economic consequences. Flynn, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations and veteran of the George H. W. Bush and Clinton administrations, paints a picture of a government that is flailing in its efforts to protect its citizens. We are, Flynn argues, hamstrung by entrenched intelligence bureaucracies and ideological power centers on the right and left, and he isn't optimistic about the near-term likelihood that we'll meet our greatest challenge: "identifying how to formally engage the broader civil society and private sector, not just the federal government, in a national effort to make America a less attractive terrorist target." America the Vulnerable isn't as powerful or contentious as the bestseller Imperial Hubris; Flynn is a practical government veteran who keeps his outrage largely in check. It's clear he aims to have an impact with this expose of a national defense he compares to France's in the days of the Maginot line. And we know how effective that "impenetrable" defense stood up in the face of an unconventional opponent. --Steven Stolder

About the Author:

Stephen Flynn is the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He was the lead author of the task force report "America: Still Unprepared, Still in Danger," and his articles have appeared in Foreign Affairs. He spent twenty years as a commissioned officerin the U.S. Coast Guard, served in the White House Military Office during the George H. W. Bush administration,and was director for Global Issues on the National Security Council staff during the Clinton administration.

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