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Terrorism: Could It Happen Here?

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

Terrorism has reentered the public consciousness in the United States in the last few weeks, leaving many with a growing sense of fear.

Beginning with the bombing of a U.S. military base in Saudi Arabia, continuing with the suspected terrorist involvement in the downing of TWA Flight 800 and culminating in the bombing of the Atlanta Olympics, the rash of recent acts of terror has made many American citizens question just how safe they really are.

Experts on terrorism say it is often very difficult to predict where and when terrorists will strike without some kind of advance intelligence largely because the terrorist's greatest weapons are fear and surprise.

Generally, however, prime targets are high-profile places with relatively open access, such as the World Trade Center or the Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, that will have a great deal of shock value to the general public by making them wonder if they, too, could be in danger.

Harvard is certainly high-profile. The nation's oldest, richest and most prominent university, Harvard boasts nine faculties full of presidential advisers and prestigious prize-winning scientists and an alum base that includes CEOs, lawyers and the vice president of the United States.

Harvard is also, as even the president of the University admits, somewhat open-access, at least as compared to many other high-profile institutions.

This combination, in the wake of all the recent terrorism involving Americans, has led some to wonder:

Could it happen here?

High-Risk Areas

According to FBI spokesperson Peter S. Ginieres, the FBI does recognize that some areas are at a greater risk than others to receive a terrorist attack, but he said he could not comment specifically on what they are.

"We don't alarm any segment of our society unless it is absolutely necessary," he says.

For example, after the attack on a federal building in Oklahoma City, the FBI cautioned other such buildings to raise their security. And since the downing of TWA Flight 800, security has been increased in airports, he says.

"As a result of what occurred in Atlanta, or if in fact the TWA crash proves to be a result of terrorist activity, everyone has to be mindful that there are a number of potential targets out there. Caution is necessary," Geneiris says.

When asked if universities are a likely target, Geneiris says the FBI can not speculate on possible future targets and "could not confirm or deny" if the bureau expects universities to be targeted in the future.

But one expert points out that attacks on academics are fairly common in countries where terrorism is more common than the United States.

"Particularly when academics take a prominent part in politics, they become victims and are attacked on or off campus," says Paul Wilkinson, professor of international relations and head of the School of History and International Relations at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.

Recent events seem to bear out Wilkinson's assessment. For example, attacks against university professors have occurred recently in Northern Ireland, Italy and Spain.

"It is not an unknown thing," he says. "It fits in with the picture of bomb terrorism we have which has attacked all kinds of targets, including the most accessible, most civilian ones."

Different Kinds of Terrorism

Terrorism is often difficult to define generally and is currently used as a catch-word for many different kinds of violence, according to Associate Professor of Government Louise M. Richardson, who in the fall will teach the class Government 90ls: "Terrorist Movements."

Richardson identifies two major kinds of terrorist activity. Many terrorists, she says, belong to specific movements that try to advance particular political objectives and have fairly predictable targets.

Terrorists that perpetrate more random acts, such as the downing of an aircraft, do not belong to movements, she says. Instead, they are individuals from countries without power trying to use violence against a more powerful country.

"Without intelligence, it is incredibly difficult to tell where they will strike," Richardson says. "As to if Harvard is likely to be targeted, it is impossible to say."

Richardson says universities as such have not been the targets of the second type of terrorist, but intellectuals and academics have been the victims of terrorist movements as a part of broader political conflicts.

The Unabomer

But there have been exceptions which could prove to be precursors to the trends St. Andrews' Wilkinson describes.

The most high-profile university terrorist in history has been the Unabomer, an individual who for almost 20 years specifically targeted academia as it relates to the advance of technology.

Theodore J. Kaczynski '62, a Harvard graduate turned Montana recluse, is now being prosecuted in California for the Unabomer's crimes.

During his string of bombings, the Unabomer attacked Yale University and the University of California at Berkeley, among other academic institutions. Last year, two Nobel Prize winners living in the Boston area reported that they received letters from the Unabomer.

Yale University Assistant Police Chief James A. Perrotti says his campus was rocked after being attacked by the Unabomer several years ago.

He says that at the time, Yale had a program in place for dealing with suspicious packages. But after the Unabom incident, the university provided additional training for its mail carriers and educational programs for the school as a whole.

"It went a long way toward calming people's fears," he says.

Suspicious Packages

Within a span of two hours last Sunday, two unattended packages were reported and checked as possible explosives at Harvard.

At about 2:45 p.m. on Sunday, state and local authorities evacuated half of John F. Kennedy Park to examine a knapsack that witnesses said had been dropped off by a man who then ran out of the park.

Members of the bomb squad arrived and found the bag to be harmless.

About 45 minutes later, a security guard in Holyoke center picked up a bag he found unattended in Au Bon Pain.

The bag turned out to contain the belongings of a patron who was inside buying a sandwich.

The quick reactions to these incidents by local authorities are no surprise. According to Cambridge Detective Chuck Mottola, local authorities are being especially cautious after the bombing in Centennial Olympic Park and the suspected terrorist involvement in the crash of TWA Flight 800.

Harvard is, however, no stranger to bomb scares and suspicious packages. According to Harvard Police Lt. Lawrence J. Murphy, there have been 58 suspicious packages reported and four bomb threats phoned in over the past year. Several of the packages turned out to be potentially dangerous and had to be checked out by Cambridge or Boston police, he says.

Perrotti reports that Yale Police investigated 35 suspicious packages and received four bomb threats during that same period, none of which turned out to merit concern.

Professors say they take the possibility of mail bombs, like those employed by the Unabomer, very seriously.

Emery Professor of Organic Chemistry Elias J. Corey says he has taken seriously the possibility of mail bombs for some time and makes sure both he and his secretary are careful with his mail.

"It certainly seems like Harvard's prominence would be a factor to make it more at risk, just like I would imagine MIT is at risk or the White House is at risk. The more important some institution is, the juicier it is as a target," Corey says.

While he says he is not terribly concerned with the type of random violence that has seemed prevalent in the U.S. recently, Pfeiffer Professor of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology Robert R. Rando says the possibility of more focused groups taking action is enough to make him cautious with his mail.

"The type [of terrorism] you'd see if you see anything here is the sort of terroristic activity these animal rights groups are using," Rando says. "That sort of focused activity is more of a concern than the random events that are going on world-wide."

Police Procedures

Law enforcement officials say they are not taking the possibility of terrorist activity lightly and have set procedures for dealing with bomb threats.

According to Murphy, Harvard takes every bomb scare seriously and responds to each one however it is necessary.

"The procedures we use vary," he says. "We notify the administrator of that facility, be it an administration building, classroom etc. We take all information we can and go from there. It may be a situation where we ask people clear area so the place can be searched by technician or whatever."

Most often, the aid of local or state authorities is then enlisted. According to Sgt. Larry Gillis, the public information officer for the Massachusetts State Police, the state has well-developed techniques to react to terrorist attacks or threats but can do little to prevent them.

"We're prepared to respond on a reactionary basis," Gillis says. "If we receive information that there is the possibility of a terrorist attack, we can do something, but as far as preventing a sneak attack, it's very difficult."

The preparedness of police for attacks has risen in recent years because the increased availability of bomb-making materials and information has been on the rise, Gillis says.

Most often the bomb threats don't pan out, he says, but each one has to be taken seriously.

"If they can pick a high-profile target that can make the public aware of whatever their cause might by, they'll use anything as an attack. There's no place that would be completely invulnerable. It's the idea of terrorism to spread fear," Gillis says.

According to Geneiris, the FBI is prepared to work with local and campus police forces in the event of a terrorist attack on a university.

"We have very good liaisons with all of the university police departments throughout our territory," Geneiris said.

The FBI often works with universities when foreign dignitaries or VIPs visit campus, he says.

Could It Happen Here?

While it may be difficult to predict the possible targets of terrorism, the consensus among experts and law enforcement officials is that the upswing in terrorist activity in the United States means that nowhere is perfectly safe.

Still, Harvard faculty and administrators, by and large, say they are not worried about the possibility

Harvard President Neil L. Rudenstine expresses confidence that the University is safe.

"I think the security we have is appropriate. I myself wouldn't feel we were unduly exposed. I'd be extremely surprised if we were [attacked]," he says.

Rudenstine says the fact that Harvard has such a high-profile and often attracts extremely influential politicians as speakers--such as PLO leader Yasir Arafat who visited here last fall, shortly after the assassination of Israeli President Yitzhak Rabin--the University has little to fear.

"If people really wanted to get at the leaders in government, there are places of much higher concentration," Rudenstine says.

Rudenstine does, however, acknowledge that government centers of comparable prominence generally have much higher security than Harvard.

While high-profile areas like government buildings and airports have restricted access since the recent rash of terrorist activity, the gates of Harvard Yard remain open, allowing the public to stream in and out.

And although experts say there is little precedent for a wholescale attack on a university, it certainly seems that Harvard fits the two criteria that make a terrorist attack more likely--a high profile and easy access.

"Maybe," Rudenstine shrugs.

"Maybe."

Bomb blasts around the world, from Saudi Arabia to Long Island to Atlanta, have rocked the nation. Citizens across the country are beginning to realize that terrorism is not a phenomenon limited to the rest of the world. Harvard University, in fact, might be an excellent target, with its high-profile and easy access. And the community is left to wonder...Crimson/File Photo

Could it happen here?

High-Risk Areas

According to FBI spokesperson Peter S. Ginieres, the FBI does recognize that some areas are at a greater risk than others to receive a terrorist attack, but he said he could not comment specifically on what they are.

"We don't alarm any segment of our society unless it is absolutely necessary," he says.

For example, after the attack on a federal building in Oklahoma City, the FBI cautioned other such buildings to raise their security. And since the downing of TWA Flight 800, security has been increased in airports, he says.

"As a result of what occurred in Atlanta, or if in fact the TWA crash proves to be a result of terrorist activity, everyone has to be mindful that there are a number of potential targets out there. Caution is necessary," Geneiris says.

When asked if universities are a likely target, Geneiris says the FBI can not speculate on possible future targets and "could not confirm or deny" if the bureau expects universities to be targeted in the future.

But one expert points out that attacks on academics are fairly common in countries where terrorism is more common than the United States.

"Particularly when academics take a prominent part in politics, they become victims and are attacked on or off campus," says Paul Wilkinson, professor of international relations and head of the School of History and International Relations at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.

Recent events seem to bear out Wilkinson's assessment. For example, attacks against university professors have occurred recently in Northern Ireland, Italy and Spain.

"It is not an unknown thing," he says. "It fits in with the picture of bomb terrorism we have which has attacked all kinds of targets, including the most accessible, most civilian ones."

Different Kinds of Terrorism

Terrorism is often difficult to define generally and is currently used as a catch-word for many different kinds of violence, according to Associate Professor of Government Louise M. Richardson, who in the fall will teach the class Government 90ls: "Terrorist Movements."

Richardson identifies two major kinds of terrorist activity. Many terrorists, she says, belong to specific movements that try to advance particular political objectives and have fairly predictable targets.

Terrorists that perpetrate more random acts, such as the downing of an aircraft, do not belong to movements, she says. Instead, they are individuals from countries without power trying to use violence against a more powerful country.

"Without intelligence, it is incredibly difficult to tell where they will strike," Richardson says. "As to if Harvard is likely to be targeted, it is impossible to say."

Richardson says universities as such have not been the targets of the second type of terrorist, but intellectuals and academics have been the victims of terrorist movements as a part of broader political conflicts.

The Unabomer

But there have been exceptions which could prove to be precursors to the trends St. Andrews' Wilkinson describes.

The most high-profile university terrorist in history has been the Unabomer, an individual who for almost 20 years specifically targeted academia as it relates to the advance of technology.

Theodore J. Kaczynski '62, a Harvard graduate turned Montana recluse, is now being prosecuted in California for the Unabomer's crimes.

During his string of bombings, the Unabomer attacked Yale University and the University of California at Berkeley, among other academic institutions. Last year, two Nobel Prize winners living in the Boston area reported that they received letters from the Unabomer.

Yale University Assistant Police Chief James A. Perrotti says his campus was rocked after being attacked by the Unabomer several years ago.

He says that at the time, Yale had a program in place for dealing with suspicious packages. But after the Unabom incident, the university provided additional training for its mail carriers and educational programs for the school as a whole.

"It went a long way toward calming people's fears," he says.

Suspicious Packages

Within a span of two hours last Sunday, two unattended packages were reported and checked as possible explosives at Harvard.

At about 2:45 p.m. on Sunday, state and local authorities evacuated half of John F. Kennedy Park to examine a knapsack that witnesses said had been dropped off by a man who then ran out of the park.

Members of the bomb squad arrived and found the bag to be harmless.

About 45 minutes later, a security guard in Holyoke center picked up a bag he found unattended in Au Bon Pain.

The bag turned out to contain the belongings of a patron who was inside buying a sandwich.

The quick reactions to these incidents by local authorities are no surprise. According to Cambridge Detective Chuck Mottola, local authorities are being especially cautious after the bombing in Centennial Olympic Park and the suspected terrorist involvement in the crash of TWA Flight 800.

Harvard is, however, no stranger to bomb scares and suspicious packages. According to Harvard Police Lt. Lawrence J. Murphy, there have been 58 suspicious packages reported and four bomb threats phoned in over the past year. Several of the packages turned out to be potentially dangerous and had to be checked out by Cambridge or Boston police, he says.

Perrotti reports that Yale Police investigated 35 suspicious packages and received four bomb threats during that same period, none of which turned out to merit concern.

Professors say they take the possibility of mail bombs, like those employed by the Unabomer, very seriously.

Emery Professor of Organic Chemistry Elias J. Corey says he has taken seriously the possibility of mail bombs for some time and makes sure both he and his secretary are careful with his mail.

"It certainly seems like Harvard's prominence would be a factor to make it more at risk, just like I would imagine MIT is at risk or the White House is at risk. The more important some institution is, the juicier it is as a target," Corey says.

While he says he is not terribly concerned with the type of random violence that has seemed prevalent in the U.S. recently, Pfeiffer Professor of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology Robert R. Rando says the possibility of more focused groups taking action is enough to make him cautious with his mail.

"The type [of terrorism] you'd see if you see anything here is the sort of terroristic activity these animal rights groups are using," Rando says. "That sort of focused activity is more of a concern than the random events that are going on world-wide."

Police Procedures

Law enforcement officials say they are not taking the possibility of terrorist activity lightly and have set procedures for dealing with bomb threats.

According to Murphy, Harvard takes every bomb scare seriously and responds to each one however it is necessary.

"The procedures we use vary," he says. "We notify the administrator of that facility, be it an administration building, classroom etc. We take all information we can and go from there. It may be a situation where we ask people clear area so the place can be searched by technician or whatever."

Most often, the aid of local or state authorities is then enlisted. According to Sgt. Larry Gillis, the public information officer for the Massachusetts State Police, the state has well-developed techniques to react to terrorist attacks or threats but can do little to prevent them.

"We're prepared to respond on a reactionary basis," Gillis says. "If we receive information that there is the possibility of a terrorist attack, we can do something, but as far as preventing a sneak attack, it's very difficult."

The preparedness of police for attacks has risen in recent years because the increased availability of bomb-making materials and information has been on the rise, Gillis says.

Most often the bomb threats don't pan out, he says, but each one has to be taken seriously.

"If they can pick a high-profile target that can make the public aware of whatever their cause might by, they'll use anything as an attack. There's no place that would be completely invulnerable. It's the idea of terrorism to spread fear," Gillis says.

According to Geneiris, the FBI is prepared to work with local and campus police forces in the event of a terrorist attack on a university.

"We have very good liaisons with all of the university police departments throughout our territory," Geneiris said.

The FBI often works with universities when foreign dignitaries or VIPs visit campus, he says.

Could It Happen Here?

While it may be difficult to predict the possible targets of terrorism, the consensus among experts and law enforcement officials is that the upswing in terrorist activity in the United States means that nowhere is perfectly safe.

Still, Harvard faculty and administrators, by and large, say they are not worried about the possibility

Harvard President Neil L. Rudenstine expresses confidence that the University is safe.

"I think the security we have is appropriate. I myself wouldn't feel we were unduly exposed. I'd be extremely surprised if we were [attacked]," he says.

Rudenstine says the fact that Harvard has such a high-profile and often attracts extremely influential politicians as speakers--such as PLO leader Yasir Arafat who visited here last fall, shortly after the assassination of Israeli President Yitzhak Rabin--the University has little to fear.

"If people really wanted to get at the leaders in government, there are places of much higher concentration," Rudenstine says.

Rudenstine does, however, acknowledge that government centers of comparable prominence generally have much higher security than Harvard.

While high-profile areas like government buildings and airports have restricted access since the recent rash of terrorist activity, the gates of Harvard Yard remain open, allowing the public to stream in and out.

And although experts say there is little precedent for a wholescale attack on a university, it certainly seems that Harvard fits the two criteria that make a terrorist attack more likely--a high profile and easy access.

"Maybe," Rudenstine shrugs.

"Maybe."

Bomb blasts around the world, from Saudi Arabia to Long Island to Atlanta, have rocked the nation. Citizens across the country are beginning to realize that terrorism is not a phenomenon limited to the rest of the world. Harvard University, in fact, might be an excellent target, with its high-profile and easy access. And the community is left to wonder...Crimson/File Photo

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