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There is a new and growing threat to our national security. It is one that all the sophisticated weapons systems the Pentagon buys in the name of national defense are unable to contain. Nuclear missiles, planes, tanks and aircraft carriers are inept weapons for dealing with terrorism.

This past week, a mail bomb badly wounded an eminent research physician in California, a bomb exploded at Yale University injuring a computer sciences professor, terrorists reputedly Kurdish attacked Turkish offices and threatened to kill hostages in five cities in Europe.Most threatening was the ring of eight alleged terrorists arrested in New York. Early reports indicate the FBI and New York police did a magnificent job in gathering intelligence, ferreting out and arresting the members of a ring whose purported targets included the U.N. building, FBI headquarters in New York, and the Holland and Lincoln tunnels connecting New York and New Jersey.

Even aside from such institutionalized acts of terrorism as those that have taken the evening news to Bosnia and Azerbaijan, reports from around the globe demonstrate this is a planet with a populace at war with itself. It is a war in which most of the weapons we have provided for our defense are useless.

Even in Bosnia, which most resembles a classic war scenario, the targets are too small and too elusive for our overpowering weapons to be brought to bear. There, as in the smaller acts of terrorism being perpetrated around the globe, the critical factor is to know who your enemies are, where your enemies are, what they are doing and what they plan to do.

This need for information joins the problem of terrorism with the problem of invasion of privacy. Everyone except the plotters would be in favor of tapping the phones of people plotting to kill someone, but the relative values of intelligence and privacy become murkier as our information becomes less certain, more suspicious. Do we tap the phones of anyone whom someone has reported to the police as "acting suspicious," "looking suspicious" or "looking foreign"? We do not.

Sen. Alphonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., was on CNN suggesting the alleged terrorists were financed with money from Iranian-backed Muslim extremists. A shadowy Muslim cleric, illegally in the United States but fighting deportation, has had among his congregation several of those indicted for the bombing of the World Trade Center. He may or may not have preached to the eight arrested last week.

Do we deport this Muslim cleric? All Muslim clerics whose sermons seem to some listener to advocate violence? Or do we accord them the same freedom of speech and religion we give to any other clergyman?

On such issues the war against terrorism must be fought, and nuclear weapons lose their power to help or threaten.

Already, in response to terrorists of the past, we have lost a great deal of our freedom. We must pass through metal detectors to view Congress, see the inauguration of our president or board a plane. We lock doors we once left open.

The war against terrorism won't go away, it will escalate. And we will be asked to give up more freedom in order to win.

The fine lines that must be drawn between safety in our homes and workplaces on the one hand and individual liberties and privacies on the other will take intelligence of the same degree, but of a different kind, as the scientific intelligence that has gone into our weapons of mass destruction.

The intelligence must grapple with such eternal issues as justice and freedom and morality; with the rights of majorities and the protections of minorities.

It is a different war, with different kinds of victories and casualties, and all of us are in combat.