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Industry can fight terrorism - and it must

The auto industry has been touched before by terrorism. In 1988, the lives of Volkswagen U.S. chief Jim Fuller and marketing boss Lou Marengo were lost when a terrorist's bomb blew Pan Am Flight 103 out of the sky over Scotland.

But that was old-fashioned terrorism: One dreadful act aimed at one target in one location - and, in sharp contrast to the concurrent Sept. 11 horrors in New York and Washington and Pennsylvania, so terribly simple.

Last week's events moved us to a darker level. No pain felt by anyone connected with the auto industry can begin to compare with the pain felt by those directly involved in last week's tragedies. Yet the auto world - and the entire world - was profoundly affected.

While the World Trade Center burned, Big 3 headquarters employees fled their offices and scrambled home in fear. Plants shut down. At the Frankfurt auto show, activity slowed to a near standstill; suddenly, those earnest debates about the styling of the BMW 7 series seemed trivial.

Living on airplanes - an ugly fact of life for so many in this industry - now takes on a whole new meaning. And a blow to an already shaky economy seems certain.

What can anyone do? Auto companies no doubt will revisit their security systems. But the industry together can do more.

The 1999 report of the Hart-Rudman Commission on American Security in the 21st Century warned: "The United States should assume that it will be a target of terrorist attacks against its homeland using weapons of mass destruction."

It continued: "Second only to a weapon of mass destruction detonating in an American city, we can think of nothing more dangerous than a failure to manage properly science, technology and education for the common good."

The report calls for a marshaling of the nation's technological resources in the name of national security. That includes the resources of the private sector. The auto industry has vast scientific expertise. It has created advanced sensor technology, for example, that could play a role in a technological defense against terrorism. It has experience working with national laboratories in the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles.

The industry must play a role. It is in its own best interest, and the nation's, and civilization's, to do so.

Tags: Security

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