CARLSBAD, CA — The general didn’t pull any punches.

At the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association’s (GAMA’s) recent annual meeting, members were privileged to hear retired General Dennis J. Reimer’s remarks on the state of terrorism readiness in the United States today. He also speculated on events that he believes led up to the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington. (See accompanying article, below.)

Reimer, currently director of the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism in Oklahoma City, OK, served 37 years in the U.S. Army. He became the Army’s 33rd Chief of Staff in 1995. Before that, he was the Commanding General of the U.S. Army Forces Command in Fort McPherson, GA.

He urged Americans to remain vigilant in the face of terrorism. America should not hit the “snooze alarm” because the last six months have been relatively quiet, he emphasized. He reminded his listeners that the last serious foreign threat on continental U.S. soil was in 1812. “There is no pattern to follow.”

His comments coincided with other top government warnings recently about the certainty of more terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

Reimer reminded his audience that the United States is still at code yellow, according to levels set by the Homeland Security Advisory System. Yellow represents “elevated”; there is “a significant risk of terrorist attacks,” according to the Homeland Security system.

“Many Americans want to be more prepared,” said Reimer. “Many have asked, ‘What do you want me to do?’”

The color code system is a start, he said. “We are in code yellow, but do we know what we need to do if we go to orange?”

More detailed guidelines are coming, he said. “There’s a lot in the hopper. I think we’re in a race.”


As the homeland terrorism analyses are being disseminated, one strong fact is emerging, said Reimer: Partnership and cooperation are at the heart of the solution — partnership between private and public sectors; sharing of information, maybe even between manufacturing companies, such as possible explanations of vulnerabilities; and partnership between the military and civilians, and between various levels of government.

The military may be the most visible means of security, but it may not be the most important component, Reimer said. Cooperation among all levels of government, and cooperation between public and private sectors, could be more crucial. “Keeping our guard up at all levels of society will be most important,” he said.

The military is accustomed to “coming in and taking over,” said Reimer. For homeland security, this might be a more appropriate role for the National Guard, leaving the military available for other tasks.

Increased security measures at ports of entry could have an effect on all industries, he continued, pointing out that roughly one million containers the size of a truck flow through Long Beach, CA every day. “Increased inspections could affect the just-in-time economy we have built,” he said.


Then there’s the complicated balance, Gen. Reimer said, between security and personal rights. “These are complex issues that require difficult tradeoffs.” The U.S. needs to strike a “fundamental balance,” he said, between the protection of individual rights and national security.

“We want a United States that has more freedom to maneuver,” Gen. Reimer said. The U.S. also wants to keep terrorist organizations such as Al Quaeda off balance, using “informational tactics” such as dropping food for the people of Afghanistan.

As for restrictions on immigration, “I am hesitant to closing our border to immigrants,” Gen. Reimer said. “Most of us have come from immigrant ancestors. But maybe we need to pause and get organized.”


In addition to security and information issues, the U.S. security task forces have been dealing with developing an Anthrax vaccine (one that can prevent Anthrax 18 hrs after exposure, Gen. Reimer said) and “getting enough smallpox vaccine for every man, woman, and child in the U.S.” These projects are moving forward, Gen. Reimer said.

“Understand the issues,” he advised. “Get all the information you can.” He suggested that concerned citizens visit, the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism’s website.

“Be realistic,” he said. “There are no silver bullets.” The future “is not going to be like the last six months.

“Be resolute,” he continued. Not being resolute “is the only way we can lose this battle.

“Victory is not preordained,” he added, “but I am an optimist. But let’s not kid ourselves, there are dark days ahead.”

Sidebar: What Led Up To September 11

Retired U.S. Army General Reimer told members of GAMA that the reasons behind the “why” of Sept. 11 are relatively complex and go back a number of years. He traces it back to December 1989: the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“We inherited a world we didn’t understand,” he said. “We understood the Soviets very well. We inherited a world that was very unstable.” The U.S. took on the problems of the Middle East and the Balkans, problems that are almost 1,000 years old, and adopted a peacemaking role.

Reimer said that the end of the Cold War added still more security threats because so many Soviet scientists who developed weapons of mass destruction were out of work.

In addition, “The American people wanted a peace dividend,” Reimer said. “They had paid for the Cold War and they wanted a peace dividend.” This was achieved partly through downsizing of the military.

Also, “We didn’t take time, at the end of the Cold War, to develop a [type of] Marshall Plan” to govern former Soviet satellite nations, Reimer pointed out.

The U.S. role as world peacemaker brought our military into “Operation Desert Shield.” Before that campaign was launched, “military strategists ran scenarios to estimate casualties,” Reimer said. Although there were less than 100, “it could have been 10 times worse,” he said.

These wars were made somewhat for TV, he added. Military leaders were fixated on zero casualties. “The world says, ‘You are only concerned with your own safety, not with collateral damage.’” This was interpreted by some as softness, Reimer said.

“All these things came together in a very meaningful way Sept. 11.”

Those who thought the U.S. soft “were wrong,” he added. The events of Sept. 11 “galvanized us,” brought out patriotism, and focused world attention on what is acceptable.

The question of the day seems to be, was Sept. 11 an intelligence failure? No, said Reimer. “It was more of an imagination failure. It flat out wasn’t on our radar screen.”

He added that “We needed to have humans in the Al Qaeda organization.” There was a lot of information available, but “We needed to interpret the information.”

— B. Checket-Hanks

Publication date: 06/03/2002