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Delicate balance: security, openness

After the bombing at the Olympics and the loss of TWA Flight 800, Americans grappled Sunday with how to maintain security in a society that prizes individual liberty above all.

Travelers said they would accept longer delays for better baggage checks and politicians reopened debate over thorny provisions cut from an anti-terrorism bill. But many weighed the desire for safety against the pleasures of an open society.

"We must never accept as a fact of life that we will have to live with terrorism," said Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick. "We must and will come up with the tools to prevent these events."

But Gorelick conceded there may be a price. "Balancing the competing interests in openness and security will be something that will be a subject for all of us for many years to come," she told NBC's Meet the Press.

For decades, terrorism was largely a foreign problem. While car bombs and kidnappers plagued Europe and the Middle East, the United States suffered relatively few incidents.

But terrorism became a domestic preoccupation after the bombings of the World Trade Center in New York, the federal building in Oklahoma City and the rise of armed anti-government groups.

The downing of Flight 800 has yet to be declared terrorism, and the pipe bomb that exploded in Atlanta's Centennial Park may have been a malicious act of delinquency. But they have renewed concern about U.S. vulnerability.

Joyce Lee, catching a train home to Newark, Del., from Washington's Union Station on Sunday, said she's "a little leery about travel these days."

"You don't know when you're going to get it. A bomb could go off anywhere, anytime," she said. "I would definitely be willing to go through more security because safety and having to wait a few extra minutes is worth it."

Security consultants predicted public pressure would force greater restrictions in public places and increased scrutiny at airports. But others noted that security was tight at the Olympics before the bombing, and warned that adopting a police-state mentality would represent defeat.

"I don't want to see the terrorists win by, in effect, revoking our Constitution," Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said on Fox's News Sunday.

A terrorist can always move on to the next target. If airports are sealed, will train stations be safe? How about movie theaters?

"Ultimately the question is, can you protect perfectly in public places?" said Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell. "And the answer is no."

Frank Detorie, a Washington resident who frequently travels from Union Station, said "I believe in the power of retribution."

"People will not murder . . . if there's tough punishment," Detorie said. "There's only so much you can do in the way of preventing these things."

The recent tragedies raised concern about security at the August political conventions.

San Diego Mayor Susan Golding held an emergency meeting Sunday with police and Secret Service officials to discuss security preparations for the Republican National Convention, which opens there in two weeks.

GOP presidential hopeful Bob Dole stressed that "this is not a partisan issue; this is an American issue" and said he wanted to "send a message to terrorists (that) we're not going to tolerate it."