Five points to keep in mind:

First, a salute to those who went running toward the smoldering Nissan Pathfinder in Times Square on Saturday night. On 9/11, as the Twin Towers were burning and tottering, we learned that hundreds of our best Americans were running up the stairs, even as thousands were running down. As we know, those who went running up all died--died as heroes. And the same could have happened last night in Times Square. And while nobody was hurt last night, there will be another dangerous night, and another dangerous morning. The first responders don’t get billion-dollar bailouts, they don’t get invited to swanky dinners in Washington; they simply keep the rest of us safe. And if our national values system doesn’t sufficiently express our gratitude toward gritty heroes, then there’s something wrong with our national values system.

Second, it’s easy to make an explosive device. If all that’s needed is propane and alarm clocks to set off a near-bomb, then just about anybody with bad intent can do it. The plans are on the Internet, even on YouTube. And we might note the enormous explosive punch of gasoline, as well as a hundred other industrial chemicals. In 1995, Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people in Oklahoma City with a bomb made of fertilizer. We all know how he did it, and so do would-be terrorists. If they didn’t get it right last night--they will keep trying.

Third, if explosive materials are all around us, then it follows that the real issue of concern is not the potentially lethal material, but, rather, the potentially violent intent of individuals and groups. A hundred million or so people in this country have guns; it is not possible to monitor all the lethal weapons. Instead, we need to monitor dangerous people and their actions. Let’s hope, for example, that surveillance cameras in Times Square will help us determine the identity of the would-be bombers. But let’s not stop there--we need to be pro-active, as well as reactive.

Fourth, the issue, then, is alert police and intelligence work. While it is true that some people just “snap,” that is not the pattern for terrorist attacks. McVeigh was part of a loose network of extremists; one other person, Terry Nichols, was convicted in the attacks, and many others seem to have had at least some knowledge of the plan. The police need the capacity to infiltrate and monitor networks--and yes, that means that we need the Patriot Act, and other such enforcement tools. Yes, the potential for abuse exists, but the worse potential is that we could lose a city. In a world of dangerous people and dangerous devices, purist libertarianism is not an option.

Fifth, if we need to keep track of dangerous people in the U.S., then it follows that we don’t need still more dangerous people in the U.S. And that suggests a greater emphasis on border security. Wars are raging in the Middle East; it’s only natural that Middle Easterners would bring some of that conflict here to our soil. Indeed, they already have. And, of course, a war is also raging in Mexico; some 23,000 people, including 1,100 police and other government officials, have been killed in the last four years, according to The Washington Post. Do we want that sort of mayhem here? Of course not.

As the American Legion writes in a recent report, “A Strategy to Address Illegal Immigration
In the United States
,” Americans have good reason to be concerned about open borders. As the Legion puts it:

The vulnerability of this country to acts of terrorism because of our porous borders and lack of enforcement of immigration laws has most Americans concerned, and rightfully so. Last year, thousands of illegal immigrants were apprehended entering the United States from countries with known terrorist connections. These countries included Afghanistan, Angola, Jordan, Pakistan and Yemen. It was reported by The Christian Science Monitor that 44,000 OTMs (Other Than Mexicans), most of which are from Central America, entered the United States illegally in 2004.

The chaotic situation in Mexico makes lax border enforcement a national security threat. At least two major rings have been uncovered, which smuggled Middle Easterners into the United States via Mexico. In 2001, Iraqi-born smuggler George Tajirian pled guilty to forging an alliance with a Mexican immigration officer, Angel Molina Paramo, to smuggling 1,000 Palestinian, Jordanian, Syrian, Iraqi, Yemeni, and other illegals into the country from Mexico. Until his arrest in 2002, Salim Boughader Mucharrafille, who ran a café in Tijuana, Mexico, also smuggled Lebanese illegal immigrants into the United States.

Those are sobering statistics. If we don’t heed their warning, what happened last night--indeed, what happened on 9/11--will seem like just an overture.

James P. Pinkerton is a writer and Fox News contributor. He is the founder/editor of Serious Medicine Strategy.com.

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James P. Pinkerton is a Fox News contributor. He is a former White House domestic policy adviser to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.