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In so many parts of the world - the Middle East, London, Belfast, even New York City - the car bomb has been the terrorist weapon of choice. And now Oklahoma City.

"What this proves is that America is just ripe with targets, and there is no practical way to protect every target," said William Baker, who was the top FBI official responsible for counterterrorism when he retired three years ago.FBI officials in Oklahoma City said they couldn't say for certain that it was a car bomb, but the city's mayor said it was. A local FBI official said the explosion, which left a crater 8 feet deep in front of the building, "had all the earmarks of a car bomb."

Baker recalled the use of a truck bomb against a U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 and the use of car bombs by the Irish Republican Army.

As a terrorist weapon, he said, "It's primitive. It's not a high-tech form except for the type of explosives used, and it's proven effective, unfortunately, in the past."

Just before and during the Persian Gulf War, said Baker, the government tried to anticipate terrorist attacks.

"We did threat assessments of potential targets of terrorism," he said. "They included things like dams, power stations, nuclear sites, special military bases, airports, and then we coordinated at the state level with state police and with military intelligence to make sure that these sites are made aware that they could be subject to terrorist attacks."

"But you're talking immediately in the hundreds towards thousands of sites."

Robert Kupperman, a terrorism expert who has worked at the White House and State Department, said it has been difficult to persuade Americans to pay attention to the terrorist threat.

"We've had nerve agents in Tokyo and now a more minor scare in Yokohama and we've forgotten it; we've had the World Trade Center, and we've forgotten it," Kup-per-man said.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., who was chairman of a congressional task force on terrorism, said, "Here's the problem for us: Can you defend every target that a mad person will strike at in our country?

"The ultimate solution is intense infiltration and then coming down real hard with the death penalty on anyone who is guilty of crimes like the one today."