By Ed Brock
If someone had walked into Sept. 11 hijacker Mohammad Atta's apartment a few months prior to the attacks there would have been precious little evidence, short of a common box cutter, that he was a terrorist.
"But he had something else that, when coupled with that box cutter, made him a very dangerous man ? he had a plan," FBI Special Agent Jon Watson told the members of Riverdale's TRIAD organization during their monthly meeting.
The theme for this month's meeting was homeland security.
An introductory speech by Clayton County Sheriff Stanley Tuggle, who represents the Georgia Sheriff's Association on the state's Homeland Security Task Force, started a recurring motif for the meeting.
"Any time we have a natural disaster or something the biggest problem we have is where is everybody, where are the people in our families," Tuggle said. "That's why we have to make plans now."
Watson echoed that theme throughout his presentation, saying the nation would need a plan to fight terrorism and fortunately, one is already in place. And the first of three principles in the plan is prevention rather than investigation.
"I don't want to find a smoking gun," Watson said. "If I find a smoking gun that means it's been fired. We don't want the gun to be fired."
Working with other federal agencies as well as with state and local law enforcement agencies in the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the government is seeking out terrorists.
Terrorists like Atta, a member of Osama bin Laden's al Quaida network.
"They are very well funded, they are very well trained and they are very well deployed," Watson said. "They are in America, and the only question is how do we get them out."
But when one considers that the highly effective Israeli counter terrorism squad, the Mossad, cannot fully prevent terrorist attacks in that much smaller country, Watson said it is unlikely that we will be more successful here.
So the second part of the plan is protection of important infrastructure. That means tough choices have to be made in deciding what is to be protected.
"I wish we could protect every elementary school, every grocery store, every car wash ? but we can't protect everything," Watson said.
And the third tenet in the plan is preparation, making a plan for what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
"The airport just blew up, what do we do?" Watson said. "The time to be asking that question is not when it happens."
One way the average citizen can help is by not becoming a burden on rescue workers if possible by being prepared themselves.
"Be able to take care of yourself the best that you can," Watson said.
Without preparation, some experts say, the Sept. 11 attacks will look like a warning shot.
"If that's a warning shot, I'm not sure I want to be around for the battle," Watson said.
The need to be prepared struck home with TRIAD member Thelma Williams.
"When the tornado warnings came this week I didn't know what to do," Williams said.
John Herche asked Watson his opinion on the Department of Homeland Security and its color-coded terrorism alert system, to which Watson admitted it hasn't helped him yet but, like most big projects, it might improve with time.
Herche was still skeptical.
"I think they're grabbing in the dark," Herche said. "Like he said, it might work but I don't see it."
A dietician from Southern Regional Medical Center is scheduled for next month's TRIAD meeting and a representative from the Clayton County Parks and Recreation department for the meeting after that.
The Riverdale TRIAD, a liaison organization between law enforcement and senior citizens, meets on the second Friday of every month at Riverdale City Hall. To join call Officer Russell Rogers at (770) 996-3382.