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Making the Nation Safer: The Role of Science and Technology in Countering Terrorism
terrorism. Inducing industry to play its critical role in homeland security activities—to invest in systems for reducing their vulnerabilities and to develop and manufacture counterterrorism technologies that may not have robust commercial markets—may require new regulatory requirements, financial incentives, and/or voluntary consensus agreements. A public-private dialogue is required to define the best approach for particular industrial sectors and types of vulnerabilities.
Sustaining a long-term national effort against terrorism will require minimizing the costs of security efforts and avoiding as much as possible placing extra burdens on accustomed conveniences or constraints on civil liberties. Most of the recommendations in this report, if acted on, will not only make the nation safer from terrorist attacks but can also make it safer from natural disasters, infectious diseases, hackers disrupting the Internet, failures in electric power distribution and other complex public services, and human error causing failures in such systems. This promise will help sustain the public’s commitment to addressing the terrorism threat, and suggests that it is not inappropriate that many of the research and development programs to counter terrorism should be pursued in close coordination with similar efforts to improve the quality of life in civil society.
Indeed, America’s historical strength in science and engineering is perhaps its most critical asset in countering terrorism without degrading our quality of life. It is essential that we balance the short-term investments in technology intended to solve the problems that are defined today with a longer-term program in fundamental science designed to lay foundations for countering future threats that we cannot currently define. These long-term programs must take full advantage of the nation’s immense capacity for performing creative basic research, at universities, government laboratories, industrial research facilities, and nongovernmental organizations. A dialogue should take place between the federal government and the research universities on how to balance the protection of information vital to national security with the requirement for the free and open environment in which research is most efficiently and creatively accomplished. This dialogue should take place before major policy changes affecting universities are enacted.
The nation’s ability to perform the needed short- and long-term research and development rests fundamentally on a strong scientific and engineering workforce. Here there is cause for concern, as the number of American students interested in science and engineering careers is declining, as is support for physical science and engineering research. A dialogue should take place between the federal government and the research universities on how best to reverse this trend in human resources. If the number of qualified foreign students declines, the need to reverse this trend will become even more urgent. The report summarized here focuses almost exclusively on U.S. actions. However, the committee is not suggesting that the United States alone should provide all of the needed counter-