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Lake: No way to plan for every threat

Former National Security Advisor Anthony Lake offered a chilling assessment of the threats posed by terrorism during a recent talk at Lehigh.

"I could spend the next two hours scaring the life out of you by talking about all the different ways terrorists could attack us," Lake said in one of numerous frank statements during his talk on April 15. "There were thin little indications here and there that terrorists might use airplanes among thousands of possibilities."

The CIA is taking all of those thousands of possibilities seriously, which according to Lake, is a big part of the problem.

"These (CIA) analysts are paid not just to collect information, but to predict the future,” he said. “If they predict wrong, their careers could be ruined. So what do they do? Anytime there's a threat, they send it up. And there's just no way you can plan to organize against every possible threat out there."

9/11 hearings “a sad spectacle”

Lake, who was National Security Advisor under former President Bill Clinton, came to Lehigh primarily to promote the efforts of the Marshall Legacy Institute (MLI), a Virginia-based, non-profit international humanitarian organization working to rid severely affected countries of their scourge of landmines.

But Lake, who is on the board of directors of the landmine organization, spent much of his time answering questions about terrorism, the 9/11 attacks, and the war in Iraq.

Lake told the audience that he thinks America is wasting precious time with the 9/11 Commission hearings.

“I think it's become a sad spectacle—so partisan,” he said. “There is so much finger pointing and so little of taking of responsibility by anyone. We know there's a problem. We know the FBI and CIA haven't communicated very well. We're wasting valuable time and effort rather than figuring out how to fix the problem. I can’t think of another war—and in my view, we're at war with the terrorists—in history in which after the first battle we stopped everything and started holding hearings."

Lake also spoke bluntly about the war in Iraq, stating that he did not feel it was a justified retaliation to the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

"When you think about going to war, the central question should not be can you beat a military,” he said. “The central question should be what is your exit strategy? What is the state you're trying to create that will allow you to leave without losing? And in the end, whether it's in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, or Bosnia, what defines victory isn't kill ratios or cities taken over; it's leaving behind a legitimate government that can govern itself without your support."

Lake also pointed out the need for more troops in Iraq to "stop trying to put together a government through smoke and mirrors.

"Having said this was a mistake, we are there now, and I think we need to build up our forces seriously because the thought of an election in the current security environment is almost unthinkable."

Credibility of press, politicians suffers

When asked about current National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice's seemingly roundabout responses to questions from the 9/11 Commission, Lake blamed both politicians and the press.

"I remember 20 to 40 years ago in government, you could sit down with reporters and say, 'Look, we screwed this up and here's how we're going to fix it.' Today, if you admit fault of any kind, it's like cutting your finger in the shark tank—they smell the blood and will rip you apart,” Lake said. “

“So the bureaucrats won't admit any error. That irritates reporters and makes them all the more vigorous in trying to point out mistakes and lay blame and the bureaucrats try even harder to avoid it. Ultimately, what suffers is the credibility of both the government and the press."

Bill Hunter, director of the office of international students and scholars, was pleased with Lake's forthrightness.

"Mr. Lake was very candid about his skeptical thoughts on the 9/11 Commission and the need for additional American troops to allow for a peaceful transition of government in Iraq, and the suggestion that John Kerry might appoint a woman as his running mate," he said.

'Why shouldn't they become terrorists?'?

Lake also spoke openly about his primary reason for visiting Lehigh--to spread the word about the need to remove landmines from affected countries.

"Landmines are a threat to national security," he said. "The people who live near these mines know their lives could be taken at any moment. Their lives are less precious to them and therefore they don't place as much value on the lives of others. Why shouldn't they become terrorists?"

The Marshall Legacy Institute uses highly trained dogs to detect landmines, and Lehigh recently raised money to sponsor a dog, "Lehigh," who is currently being trained to sniff out mines in Sri Lanka. The university hopes to raise enough funds for a second dog to locate more mines and save more lives.

"Mr. Lake reminded the crowd that long after the soldiers are gone and the conflict is over, landmines remain a scourge, killing and dismembering innocent people, particularly children,” Hunter said. “The World Affairs Club, Progressive Student Alliance and Global Union united to bring attention to this important cause and to help raise funds to support the training of another dog able to detect mines."

Cassie Florian '06, co-president of the World Affairs Club, concurred. "For so many of us who easily get caught up in our own self-centered worlds, Mr. Lake helped to bring reality to the seriousness of landmines. I think this is a strong first step in establishing groundwork for future K-9 demining efforts on behalf of Lehigh."

--Elizabeth Shimer

Posted on Friday, April 23, 2004

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