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Thread: Diplomatic Security

  1. #1

    Default Diplomatic Security

    December 21, 2003

    OP-ED COLUMNIST

    Where Birds Don't Fly

    By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

    ISTANBUL

    If we ever run out of room to store our gold in Fort Knox, I know just the place to put it: the new U.S. Consulate in Istanbul. It looks just like Fort Knox without the charm.

    The U.S. Consulate used to be in the heart of the city, where it was easy for Turks to pop in for a visa or to use the library. For security reasons, though, it was recently moved 45 minutes away to the outskirts of Istanbul, on a bluff overlooking the Bosporus surrounded by a tall wall. The new consulate looks like a maximum-security prison. All that's missing is a moat with alligators and a sign that says: "Attention! You are now approaching a U.S. Consulate. Any sudden movement and you will be shot. All visitors welcome."

    But here's the stone cold truth: A lot of U.S. diplomats are probably alive today because they moved into this fortress. One of the captured terrorists involved in the Nov. 20 attack on the British Consulate in Istanbul which was just a short walk from the old U.S. Consulate reportedly told Turkish police that his group was interested in blowing up the new U.S. Consulate, but when they cased the place they found it was so secure "they don't let birds fly" there.

    This is where we've come to after two decades of anti-U.S. terrorism and 9/11: The cops are now in charge not the diplomats. As one U.S. diplomat in Europe put it to me, "The upside is that we are more secure, the downside is you lose the human contact and it makes it way harder to have interactions with people who are not part of the elite. It makes my job less fun. [Some days] you might as well be in Cleveland, looking at the world through a bulletproof plate glass window."

    Some of our embassies have such a Crusader castle look, they're actually becoming tourist sites. Fuat Ozbekli, a Turkish industrialist, told me: "I was just on a tour to Amman and we stopped our tourist van in front of the U.S. Embassy there. We asked the guide why they need all these tanks around it, and the guy told us that within this American Embassy they have everything they need so they can survive without going outside . . . I felt really sorry for the Americans there."

    It's not just the brick walls that our embassies are now putting up that are increasing American isolation. Beginning next year, in order to get a visa to the U.S., you will have to come to the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate and be fingerprinted first. Some European diplomats have already started warning their American counterparts not to expect them in the U.S. anytime soon if they have to submit to fingerprinting.

    U.S. diplomats understand the security reasons for this. But, they note, it is really awkward to call up a Turkish writer or a Chinese dissident, extend an invitation to come to America on a State Department exchange program, and then say: "But first you have to come into the embassy and get fingerprinted."

    Give us your tired, your poor and your properly fingerprinted.

    Serhat Guvenc, a lecturer at Bilgi University in Istanbul, was actually flying to the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, and was diverted to Canada. He's been avoiding the U.S. since because of all the already intrusive visa requirements. "All the new measures the U.S. introduced intimidated me," he said. "In Turkey, unless you are a criminal or a potential criminal, you would never be asked to leave your fingerprints. It is kind of humiliating. It's uncomfortable."

    A Turkish columnist friend, Cengiz Candar, told me: "I was traveling to Iraq recently and my very old mother was very, very worried. I told her, `Don't worry, Momma, I've been there before. It is very safe, as long as you know what to do.' She said to me, `Stay away from the Americans.' "

    Is that what mothers will tell their kids from now on? I don't know. Many people would still line up for America if we charged $1,000 per visa and demanded their dental X-rays. But others, especially young Europeans, are thinking twice because they don't want the hassle. Better to go to France or Germany. Add to this the shrinking capacity of U.S. diplomats to reach out and, in 20 more years, we could wake up and find that we've gone from America the accessible to America the isolated. The only Americans foreigners will meet will be those wearing U.S. Army uniforms and body armor.

    We need to figure out a better system. Because where birds don't fly, ideas don't fly, friendships don't fly and mutual understanding never takes off.


    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  2. #2

    Default

    What a shame, people need to be finger printed to get into US embassies and consulates now! :roll: It's just too bad that we now use some very basic security procedures! :roll: Stupid Conservatives!

    This is something that has needed to be done for a long time. If saving American lives and making the United States more secure comes at the price of some people getting their fingerprints taken, then so what!? If they don't like it, then they don't need to do it. People shouldn't complain that the United States is looking out for terrorists and other dangerous people. I'm sure if another attack were to occur the NYTimes would bring out an article criticizing lapses in security in embassies and consulates, etc. I guess nobody cares what happened in Kenya or Beirut. Hundreds of dead Americans so a few foreigners can have easier access to the U.S. Seems worth it to me. :roll:

  3. #3

    Default

    The author didn't question the need for these measures, but as summed up in the last sentance, the irony that they negate the main reason to have embassies.

    Though tempting, I'll resist employing the rolling eyes icon.

  4. #4

    Default

    No matter what happen: take care your arses.....

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