In an interview, Cordesman elaborated: "Generally we deal with these sorts of things by patterns: If something causes enough deaths, it is time to fix it. Here, because of the very nature of asymmetric warfare, we are not going to be getting the same attack each time. In fact, fixing one thing might tell terrorists to go attack something else, to go find a new target."
Coast Guard Cmdr. Flynn sees a "small window of opportunity" to put in place significant security measures, a race against the apathy that will arise in the absence of a second strike.
A few weeks after his Washington testimony, he flew into Newark, N.J., to meet with shipping executives. During the flight, Flynn reflected on his performance before the Senate committee.
As he waited to testify, and listened to the placid exchanges about the movement of bureaucratic boxes, he wondered to himself:
"Are we going sit around and have one of those Washington conversations about how hard it is to restructure government, to reapportion power? You know, 'Isn't there a more painless way to do this?' All that usual stuff."
On the ground, he spent the day debriefing managers of shipping lines, port terminals and truck companies. These tended to be men with big necks and big hands and big concerns about anything that might slow down the flow of containers through the port--part of the ever-churning conveyor belt of the global economy.
At each meeting, Flynn would suggest security measures--better tracking of freight through computer technologies, inspection of containers as they are loaded rather than at their destinations, tamper-proof metal seals to identify suspicious cargo so that non-suspect freight could move more quickly.
"But with all of these issues," said a shipping company official who had listened warily to Flynn's pitch, "there's going to be a cost factor. Where does the cost fall?"
Flynn had a ready answer. It's a point he's been making since Sept. 11 to anybody who will listen:
In the immediate response to Sept. 11, this nation did something no foreign power would dare even attempt. It placed an almost complete blockade on its economy, grounding airplanes, closing ports, cinching up the borders. For day after day, nothing moved.
The hijackings had been interpreted not as a "breach of security," Flynn said, "but as an absence of security." So it seemed only prudent to assume that "any plane, train, ship or truck could have been a bomb."
Should a second strike occur before a credible system of security is in place, it will happen again, Flynn said. It might even be worse.
"They will shut you down," Flynn told the shippers.
Not just Newark but across the country and beyond.
"They will turn the spigot off, and they will shut you down."
This seemed to get their attention, at least for the moment.
Times staff writer Julie Cart in Missoula and researcher Nona Yates contributed to this report.