What Now?

Email Print

this simple thought experiment. First, build a house. Make it a
nice two-story brick house with a two-car garage and a basement.
Can't do it? Well, get help (and money) and watch it being built.
It takes dozens of men months to build. A concrete crew, carpenters,
roofers, electricians, plumbers, finish carpenters, brick masons,
and more are needed. Now that your $200,000 house (adjust regionally
as needed) is built, go buy a gas can, 6 gallons of gas, and a cheap
lighter. Pour the gas liberally onto the exposed studs in the basement,
and throughout the first floor. Light it with your lighter, move
a safe distance away, and watch months of labor by dozens of men
destroyed in a few minutes, with $20 worth of equipment and no plan
beyond a few sentences.

try this thought experiment. How could terrorists create riots and
mass panic across America now that the airline industry is "safe"?
Easy. Steal a few eighteen-wheelers, pack on the ammonium nitrate
and fuel, and blast away at the beltway cloverleaves in Washington,
Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, and pretty much any major city during
rush hour. Then leak a press release to AFP from "Mujahadeen
Liberation Front" claiming to have seeded the air with Anthrax
from small private planes on all those stranded motorists. Don't
even bother with the Anthrax, just put out the press release. Sound
far fetched? Maybe it would work, maybe it wouldn't. This is just
a thought experiment to illustrate a simple point: an Internet hack
can come up with a plan to terrorize an entire country, shut down
the economy, create mass rioting and "price gouging" with
a few stolen rigs, some garden variety explosives, and some committed
individuals willing to carry it out. Before you get all worked up
and send nasty email thanking me for giving the terrorists new ideas,
read a little Tom Clancy and realize that I'm not all that creative.

does the world work this way? In a word: Entropy. Physicists use
the term to describe the way things progress from order to disorder
under normal circumstances. This is why your room never cleaned
itself when you were a kid. This is why that broken VCR gathering
cobwebs in the garage doesn't just up and fix itself. This is why
in our previous thought experiment, we easily destroy a house it
took months of hard work to build. This is why a group of two-dozen
committed terrorists who thought out, planned, trained, and observed
could wreak mass destruction without a huge support network, fancy
equipment, foreign government support, or a lot of money. As an
aside, this is why a missile defense will never work.

World War I, the French built the Maginot Line. An impregnable set
of defense fortresses ready to fend off a World War I style German
invasion. Hitler and his generals blitzed around it via the Low
Countries, and the Panzers rolled into Paris June 14, 1940, just
over a month after the blitz started. The blitz was something different,
something unexpected. The USS Cole was fueling up in a Yemeni port.
Launch a multi-million dollar ship-killer missile at an American
warship like the USS Cole, and it has defense systems to knock it
out and retaliate against the launcher. Two guys in a rubber dinghy
packed with explosives motored up, saluted, and nearly sent it to
the bottom. That was something different. September 11, 2001. The
terrorists used knives and box cutters to take over the planes;
they probably could have used flint arrowheads. They knew the response
to a hijacking: give in to the demands, land where they tell you,
and let the professionals negotiate; you'll live. This time it was

is reactive by nature; it can only counter threats it has seen before.
There is no conceivable way to defend against every kind of attack
imaginable, so we try to deter the kinds that might happen based
on past experiences. Only problem is, the government is now busy
deterring an old attack. The terrorists knew that their jetliner
as bomb attack was most likely a one-time assault. They won't use
it again. From the World Trade Center to those tricky Greeks with
their wooden-horse gifts, new tactics work because we haven't seen
them before. Put extra safety precautions on every jetliner, triple
scan every package, strip search every passenger, and the terrorists
will throw a bomb with a GPS tracker into an empty boxcar, and let
it blow as it rolls by an oil refinery outside Philadelphia or Houston.
We won't protect against it until after it happens.

security will not prevent future terrorist attacks.

at home, organized crime thrives. Criminal gangs import tons of
cocaine, heroin, and marijuana from abroad. They run Meth labs,
and make Ecstasy in basements. A literal army of domestic police
is losing the drug war one kilogram at a time. The United States
government can't stop drug use with a small army that all speaks
English, not even in its own prisons. These are the same people
who are going to setup intelligence gathering abroad aimed at finding
out who doesn't like us, what they plan to do, how, and why. I'm
sorry, but I don't have much faith in their ability to succeed.

takes massive amounts of time and training to obtain the fluency
needed to order a hotel room in Arabic without getting charged four
times the going rate, much less setup credible cover stories for
deep agents, or recruit informers in every potential terrorist country.
How many informers would end up duping us for years on end, taking
our money and leaving us with nothing? We would end up funding our
own enemies, or serving as hit men for inter-Arab conflicts. "Ya,
I heard that other gang from Iran is planning an attack. You should
take them out." How many countries that we're on friendly terms
with would allow our intelligence agencies access to spy on their
own citizens, much less Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan, and Afghanistan?

intelligence spending will not prevent future terrorist attacks.

probably thinking, so Mr. Smarty Pants, if we can't beat these guys
with added intelligence or increased domestic security, what's the

we should bring the terrorists to justice. Publish the evidence,
and screw the classification game. What good are top secrets in
a world where an hour at an Internet terminal in a public library
and google.com can teach you how to make Mustard
or an A-Bomb.
Robert Fisk makes
the convincing argument
that the leaders of the Islamic world
are shocked and embarrassed by what happened. Use that, and the
court of public opinion to secure the handover of bin Laden and
his agents by the Islamic world. Where Tomahawks and English-only
CIA spooks fail, Muslims disgusted by murder can succeed. No, it's
not a fireworks show, but it will work. And it will avoid creating
a new generation of terrorists.

get out of the Middle East. Have any more Marines been killed in
Lebanon since Reagan pulled out? No. Are we still be fighting Vietnam?
No. Does anyone think less of Ronald Reagan for pulling troops out
of Lebanon? No. The right decision is always lauded as wise in hindsight,
not cowardly, or giving in to terrorism. Pulling our troops out
of Saudi Arabia would have prevented the deaths of 6,000 Americans
had it been done at the end of the Gulf War, 10 years ago. We haven't
started shooting yet. It's time to realize that extra money for
the government, extra "security", increased "intelligence"
and bombing Afghanistan or Iraq, will just create more of the problem.

25, 2001

John Keller
him mail]
owns a Technology
and a Real
business in Atlanta, GA.

Email Print