Today’s news is a litany of mass murders. Cleared personnel possess a special skill which can help defend ourselves, those we love, and our fellow Americans. Those of us who live in the cleared world are perhaps more alert to certain dangers than others. At least we should be. We receive regular advisories of threats to our programs, and are instructed to counteract these accordingly. This skill should be translated to our daily life. We know how to stay alert, and this could help us stay alive.

In this day of random violence, the possibility of finding ourselves in a circumstance of mass killing are not to be lightly ignored. Churches, schools, and places of work are targeted, not to mention public entertainment venues.  As cleared personnel, we are particularly aware of our surroundings. We are trained to notice when something just doesn’t seem right, and to report it to the proper authorities. How has this worked in practice?

As the DC sniper wreaked havoc on the streets of our Capitol, police alerted the nation of a vehicle license plate sought in connection with those killings. A citizen reported seeing it. Shortly thereafter, an arrest was made. The alleged killer was off the street.

A waitress at a Shoney’s Restaurant in Georgia notified authorities of an apparent criminal discussion she overheard. Three men seemed to be planning to bomb a building in Miami. After police investigated, the bomb plot was determined to be a hoax. In both cases, these citizens did what any civic-minded American should do. Law enforcement was grateful to the reporters for both incidents. They reported a perceived threat to the proper authorities.  Such acts are our civic duty.

Not long ago I spoke to a World War II veteran. We compared the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor with the suicide assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

“Something a lot of people don’t remember about those opening days of World War II,” he reflected, “is that Americans were afraid. There were rumors across the land that Japanese had landed in San Francisco, at Los Angeles, and that saboteurs and spies were everywhere. Rumors spread fear, and fear fanned more fear.”

The greatest human emotion is fear, and the greatest fear is fear of the unknown. It was for that very reason that President Roosevelt reminded everyone that, “The only thing we have to fear is….fear itself.”

“You can’t imagine what a calming effect the president’s reassurance had for everyone,” he said. “We were sucker punched at Pearl, but pulled together for the fight to come. We believed the situation was dangerous, but that the right people were doing their best to take care of the nation. And it wouldn’t be over till we finished it.”

Every Terrorist Has an Address

Today we too might believe a dangerous shooter could be anywhere.  He seems capable of any number of horrific means of visiting destruction on us.  We might feel helpless to defend ourselves against an adversary we can neither see, nor identify, nor anticipate. We feel an unspecified dread. We don’t feel safe anymore. That is just what the enemy wants us to feel.

My favorite quotation came the day after the Sept. 11 attack. A German investigator, asked to comment on the apprehension of several al Qaeda terrorists in Hamburg, offered this matter-of-fact observation, “Don’t forget. These people are criminals.  Each of these terrorists has a face, a name, and an address.”

FBI Director Chris Wray identified domestic terrorism as one of the greatest threat to our personal security. That comment reflects the identification of a threat which we clearance holders, with our raised awareness, are at a particular advantage to diminish. We can keep our eyes and ears open, helping daily with our national goal to patiently but relentlessly pursue these killers anywhere they may hide. That can help reassure our fellow countrymen.

But how, clearance holders ask, can we take part?  We want to pull together, so what do we do?  The answer has been here all along; we’ve known it intuitively. Never, until now, have we really had an immediate need in this generation to act upon it. We know that loose lips sink ships. But now we know that our eyes catch spies, catch killers…and the criminal killers they might report to.

Each of the terrorists, foreign or domestic, has a face, a name, and an address, and now they too will know fear. World law enforcement is seeking them, and every day more Americans become more astute in what to watch for and report. We, who are entrusted with the nation’s most closely guarded secrets, should be the role models of awareness.

There are many practical hurdles to overcome, and the road won’t be easy. Whereas yesterday we weren’t aware of the domestic threat, today we know who to call if something just doesn’t seem right. We help each other. Americans are pulling together. We watch our surroundings in ways we didn’t before.

We are protecting ourselves, informing ourselves, and not letting fear defeat us before we’ve entered the fight. No one today will turn away if a security problem seems to require action. We contact authorities, offer assistance to others, and make sure someone takes action to protect us. If we see a better way, we speak up.

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.  Now the cowards who murder our people really have something to fear.

We are out to get them.

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John William Davis was commissioned an artillery officer and served as a counterintelligence officer and linguist. Thereafter he was counterintelligence officer for Space and Missile Defense Command, instructing the threat portion of the Department of the Army's Operations Security Course. Upon retirement, he wrote of his experiences in Rainy Street Stories.