Mon, May 19, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Is Taiwan prepared for terrorists?

Several major terrorist attacks have occurred in Chechnya, Saudi Arabia and Morocco. They are an indication that the US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have not quelled the terrorist threat. Much remains to be done in the war against terror.

These events may appear far removed from Taiwan. However, because the country has strongly supported the US-led anti-terror action, politicians both at home and abroad have questioned whether Taiwan has the capability to stop terrorism here, and whether the public will respond to terrorist attacks in the right way.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the US, the government supported the international anti-terrorist action. Certainly, there were political and diplomatic considerations behind this. But after having done so, the government also needs to strengthen its national security mechanisms in preparation for a possible terrorist attack.

The Presidential Office has reiterated time and again that the national security agencies have formulated contingency plans to ensure the security of state leaders and the stability of government operations in the event of a terrorist attack. Existing systems in many advanced countries were studied during the formulation of Taiwan's anti-terror program, officials say. The program integrates the recommendations of different national security agencies and is able to coordinate government departments in a prompt, concerted response.

It is easy to stage an exercise on a sand table or on paper. The question is whether security can operate smoothly, and whether the chain of command will be flexible and effective in a crisis.

A suicide attack occurred in Taipei City on Thursday. Wu Kui-ching (吳桂慶), a 46-year-old man drove a truck carrying drums of gasoline into the Po-ai district, which has a high concentration of government office buildings. Wu slammed the truck into the front of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) building, which is only 20m from the Presidential Office. Military police, police, firefighters and investigators rushed to the scene, but the response was chaotic.

The surprise did not end there. The Presidential Office convened an emergency meeting the next morning to tighten security. At around 8pm that night, another truck carrying huge banners drove around the Po-ai district, blaring songs from a loudspeaker. The truck finally stopped in front of the MOTC building, where the explosion had occurred the night before. The truck driver came out and set up an altar to mourn Wu. The farce continued for about an hour, during which there was hardly a demonstration of the purported efficiency of the strengthened national security operations.

In the days when the government, the KMT, the military and the secret police represented one and the same power, the president appeared to be unapproachable. Wherever he went, tight security measures followed him. Now that Taiwan has gradually democratized and the government has become closer to the public, the task of maintaining national security has become even more challenging. Since the transition of political power in 2000, the government has gradually dismantled authoritarian mechanisms. With his frequent public appearances, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has created an impression of being close to the public. However, given the terrorist activities in other countries and the erratic behavior of some people on the fringes of Taiwanese society, the National Security Bureau apparently needs to readjust its mission as well as the means for accomplishing it. Lack of vigilance would be its greatest failure.

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