Posts Tagged ‘terrorism’

September 11th will always resonate in the mind of Americans, and much of the world’s population as well.  Synonymous with deceit and murder, it raises the question of whether it is, or ever will be, possible for humans to trust each other.  The fact that the perpetrators of 9/11 were Muslims is really only incidental.  Half a century earlier an equally horrendous act was carried out by the Japanese.  Surprise attacks and treachery have been carried out throughout history, and there can be little doubt that there will be more attempts at mass murder in the future – if not by Al Qaeda then by someone else.  But the question that is on many people’s minds today, not the least of whom is Dick Cheney – the former Vice President who never fails to bring up the prospect of Al Qaeda sneaking a small nuclear bomb into the U.S. – is this: will Al Qaeda attack the U.S. mainland again?

There is little doubt that if they could they would. This group of men, who would probably serve as a good definition of the word “maniacs”, is committed to the destruction of Western civilization.  However, their capabilities are extremely limited, and it appears that even these limited capabilities are diminishing. The hallmark of Al Qaeda attacks has been improvisation and preying on unsuspecting targets – most of whom are entirely innocent of doing any harm to these people.  They are the “Jack the Rippers” of the Arab world.  The key to their prior success was that the western world did not take them to be a serious threat and therefore did not expend sufficient resources in trying to apprehend them or to defend themselves for what was considered to be an unlikely attack.  The fact that Al Qaeda had already bombed the World Trade Center years before 9/11 didn’t even produce enough concern in Washington.

The attacks on 9/11 changed everything.  Like the Japanese Navy many years before, Al Qaeda had awakened a sleeping giant.  Until then, Al Qaeda attacks had received only a relatively small response, and while Osama bin Laden probably expected (and perhaps even hoped for a massive response as a result of the attack) it is unlikely he could have conceived of the nature of the U.S. response in the years since 9/11.  It is unlikely he knew the extent of the capabilities of the NSA to intercept worldwide communications.  It is unlikely that he knew he would be identified so quickly as the leader of the effort, and it is unlikely that he expected the massive attacks on Afghanistan or Iraq.

The Al Qaeda teams that were responsible for the 9/11 murders had it easy.  They simply walked past our almost non-existent airport security mechanisms.  The flight crews and passengers on the planes were defenseless. The country was asleep.  Not any more.  Airport security continues to get ever tighter.  Many, if not most, U.S. flight crews are well armed.  Clandestine, but heavily armed, Federal Air Marshals also ride on U.S. airline flights.  The doors to all airline cockpits are now armored. There will never be a replay of 9/11.

But what about other types of attacks? What about Dick Cheney’s worst nightmare? Could it happen?  Could Al Qaeda pull it off? They say “never say never”, and in an inherently uncertain world we have to admit that is true.  Nevertheless, the probability of such an attack by Al Qaeda is extremely remote.  Every moment of every day Al Qaeda is hunted by clandestine warriors.  They are targeted by clandestine drones that fire high speed missiles at their mountain hideouts.  They are unable to use radio or telephone communications without being monitored.  A vigilant America not only guards its own borders and people, but it actively and relentlessly seeks Al Qaeda wherever they might be.  Al Qaeda’s only future is its own inevitable destruction – a destruction that will undoubtedly catch them on one dark night by complete surprise, much as 9/11 caught America by surprise.

Does this mean we can relax? Is it safe to fly again?  Is it OK to visit New York City?  Answering these questions in reverse order: yes, it is safe to visit NYC, yes it is safe to fly, no we cannot relax.  That was how Al Qaeda was able to succeed.  That is how Japan was able to succeed.  The lesson we have learned and forgot many times, most recently from Pearl Harbor, is that eternal vigilance is  the price for liberty.  Today, our country stands alert.  Our “War on Terror” continues both openly and clandestinely.  And it is because we are vigilant that we are safe, not only from Al Qaeda, but from others in the world who would also seek to harm us.

Our country has once again learned a difficult lesson about trust.  Let us not forget it this time.

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If there is one result that always occurs when a sneak attack takes place, it is the lack of trust.  The Al Qaeda attacks on September 11 rival the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in their element of surprise, horror, and disgust.  It is fair to say that any significant surprise attack will produce these emotions.  However, besides these immediate reactions, there is also a lingering effect on society – a prolonged lack of trust ensues.  Who, exactly, is the enemy? Will the enemy attack again? If they do attack again, what sort of attack will it be? Can we do anything to prevent such an attack?

After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. declared war on Japan and became fully engaged in World War II.  The war continued on for years until President Truman decided to use nuclear weapons against Japan.  Japan surrendered almost immediately after the devastating attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Our war against Al Qaeda has not come to any such conclusion.  Indeed, we seem to be fighting an unending series of skirmishes in Iraq, Afghanistan, and maybe secretly in Pakistan too.  Without some sort of surrender or formal peace agreement we have no other option than to keep our guard up.  However, unlike the post Pearl Harbor world, keeping our guard up means far more than aerial or maritime surveillance.  It means more than just rounding up potential suspects, either in the U.S. detention camps of WW II, or the Gitmos of today.  Technology has provided us a new way of being vigilant.

It is no secret that the Bush/Cheney administration interpreted the office of President as being essentially equal to Emperor.  They blithely ignored laws that protected Americans from unwarranted surveillance.  They instituted a set of measures, using whatever technologies were available, to find, locate, track, any and all potential threats.  They sifted through mountains of electronic messages and voice messages.  They used spy satellites to try to find unusual activities in unusual places.  Nothing was sacred, nothing was protected from this surveillance and none of it was done with court ordered warrants – as U.S. law requires.  The President simply assumed sweeping powers that, in fact, do not belong to the President, and he and his Vice President created a new world – a world that had been foretold in books like 1984 and Brave New World.

Here’s something to think about next time you call in sick to work and then go out to watch a baseball game.  If you have a cell phone in your pocket, it is possible to find and track you at any time.  If you have a two-way GPS system in your car, it is possible to track your car wherever it goes.  The question is: does the government do this as part of its anti-terrorism activities?  If you were the person in charge of anti-terrorism in the U.S., what would you do?

We may think we are anonymous when we go to a movie theater or a restaurant.  We might think that no one knows when we take a day off from school or work and head for the beach.  We might think that no one knows if we have a secret rendezvous with someone, but is that true?  Could it be that Big Brother is watching?  And if Big Brother knows, who else knows?  It’s a question worth thinking about.

Some other questions worth thinking about are these: will we ever trust each other again?  Will our government ever trust us again?  Will we ever trust our government again? Will we ever trust Congress again to stand up to a President who abuses his powers?  Will we ever trust strangers again?  Will we ever trust anyone from the Middle East again?

The list goes on and on.  The loss of lives in the 9/11 attacks was horrendous.  By any standard of conduct whether it is Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, American, Israeli, Palestinian – you name it – the large scale murder of innocent people is not only inexcusable, it is damnable and beneath contempt.  It is the act of cowards and shall ever be remembered as such – to the everlasting shame and disgrace of the perpetrators.  However, those of us who now live in  a post 9/11 world have to deal with another effect of the attacks: the loss of trust.  It is this loss of trust that can completely change how we live.  If we give in to the urge to commit blanket surveillance of everyone, where does the surveillance end? As technology gets better and better and sensors become more sensitive and more ubiquitous and more varied, will we lose all sense of privacy – or is it simply that we no longer have a right to privacy?

As we approach another anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and listen to Dick Cheney’s oft-stated fear of Al Qaeda with suitcase nukes coming to America, we need to ask ourselves whether we can draw a line.  Is there such a thing as too much government surveillance?  Have we forever yielded our right to private, individual lives in the name of security?

Could it be that we have already lost our private lives forever, but no one has told us?

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Today, the government of Scotland released the only person ever convicted of the terrorist bombing that destroyed a Pan Am Boeing 747, named Clipper Maid of the Seas.  The plane was flying high over Lockerbie, Scotland when a bomb exploded in the luggage compartment.  Pieces of the plane rained down upon the town.  Two hundred and seventy innocent people were killed, eleven of them were people in the town of Lockerbie.  The attack on the aircraft, the airline, the passengers on the plane, the crew of the plane, and the country the plane represented (the United States – Pan Am used to call itself Pan American World Airways) was made by a group of Libyan terrorists who were trying to make some sort of point, a point that was never very clearly enunciated before or since.  In the years since, Libya has renounced terrorism.  Ultimately, the terrorist attack achieved nothing.  It was a pointless killing of innocent people.  It was also the final and ultimate cause of the the demise of Pan Am and thus a loss to all of us for whom Pan Am will always be the symbol of what air travel used to be.

Many of the families of those killed by the terrorists have now expressed outrage over the release of the terrorist, who is dying from cancer.  The man is in the terminal stages of prostrate cancer and the cancer has spread throughout his body. He has no hope to live more than about three months – three months of suffering no matter where he is.  Today the Scottish Justice Secretary, Mr. Kenny MacAskill, released a statement explaining why he decided to release this convicted terrorist, despite the objections of the families of those killed and the objections of the U.S. government.  It is an eloquent statement that informs the listener or reader of the role of Scotland in this man’s imprisonment.  It also explains the system of justice in Scotland, and while many people in America would say, “let the man rot in jail till he dies”, Mr. MacAskill explains Scotland’s reasons for his release and his reasons are worth hearing.

The U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, has also released a statement. He has condemned the release of the terrorist, who is being sent back to Libya to die.  The emotion is understandable.  The crime was extremely heinous.  Yet, at the same time, Scotland calls us to face reality.  You can’t kill a dead man.  Keeping a man in jail is not nearly as severe a punishment as having a body racked with cancer.  The question is this: is keeping a man imprisoned, who is dying from cancer that has spread throughout his body, justice or is it something else?  Does it go beyond justice?  Is this cruel and unusual punishment?  Granted that this man is among the cruelest of the cruel people who have ever walked the Earth, what do we ourselves become when we deal out an eye for an eye, torture for torture?  Do we not then become that which we despise the most?   The urge to deal out intense and everlasting punishment to this man is understandable, but the Justice Minister from Scotland is right.  We Americans pride ourselves on our magnanimity, yet the facts dispute this belief.  Our prisons are chock full.  We imprison more people, per capita, than any country in the entire world. Perhaps one good thing that will come out of this tragedy is that we Americans might listen to a voice from Scotland that says, enough is enough.  Frankly, I doubt that we will. We are already too far down that road.  We have more prisoners than Russia or China, Mexico or Venzuela, Germany or Japan. We have more than anyone.  We are really into punishment.  Thank God we’re a Christian country.

Abdel Basset al-Megrahi will soon die no matter what happens.  His fate is sealed. May God have mercy on his soul – whatever God he reports to.  Ultimately, this terrorist failed in his assignment.  Yes, he brought down the plane, and yes he killed a lot of innocent people, and yes there are no longer any planes that fly around the world bearing the name Pan Am.  But Pan Am lives on in our memory, as do the innocents who were murdered.  In the years to come no one will remember the name of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi.  In the end he was just another murderer.  But the families who lost their loved ones will always remember the joy they had experienced with their families before that fateful day.  Families of the crew members will always treasure the memories of their fathers, wives, and children.  And American’s will always fondly remember the glory days of aviation and Pan Am that safely took so many of us to those far away places in a style and comfort that is unheard of today.

So today, instead of castigating a Scottish Justice Minister for showing more charity than we would, let us pause a moment to consider the innocent victims and their families who can never be made entirely whole again, and let us also pause a moment and reflect on the loss of the Clipper Maid of the Seas and the greatest airline that ever circled the world, Pan American World Airways.

Let’s just remember for a moment, for auld lang syne.

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In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration determined that if we only had a federal agency charged exclusively with protecting our homeland we could have prevented the terror attacks. As a result they promptly eliminated the rent-a-cops that used to provide security at our airports and replaced them with a uniformed corps of Americans who would be taught to search our luggage far more thoroughly than your average rent-a-cop could ever be trained to do.  However, the new Department of Homeland Security had a mandate to go far beyond simply searching our luggage; they were to be the giant eyes and ears of the government, an all pervading presence that would detect a terrorist the moment his toe crossed our border, and then, a moment later, swoop down sweep the hapless terrorist away to a remote detention facility for “questioning”.

Before 9/11, I had always thought that this role of protecting our homeland had already been sort of given to the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, National Guard, FBI, NSA, CIA, State Police, local police, U.S. Border Patrol, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals, rent-a-cops, and no doubt others that I can’t think of at the moment. However, I was wrong.  Apparently none of the foregoing organizations have the duty of protecting our homeland.  OK.  I understand.  I had it wrong. So, anyway, we created Homeland Security to keep us safe from being infiltrated by enemy terrorists (I won’t mention the other roles they were assigned, like disaster response, for which I am sure they must be equally effective.)

Just to keep us on our toes about the terrorist threat, our recent ex-Vice President, Dick Cheney declared that we face a “high probability” of a nuclear attack or a biological attack in the near future. Whoa!!!  Dick….Dick, wait a minute.  What about Homeland Security? Aren’t they going to prevent that?  I know they can’t stop nuclear-tipped missiles, but those aren’t launched by terrorists. We’re talking about terrorists smuggling in a nuclear device or a biological weapon here, right?  And we don’t really have to be concerned because Homeland Security has that covered, don’t they?  I mean, that’s what they do, isn’t it?

That’s what I thought, but something has started to bother me. It was a recent story about the arrest of a Mexican drug ring in the U.S.  About a week ago 775 people were arrested throughout the U.S. for smuggling cocaine from Mexico.  They were all part of the Sinaloa gang. It seems that this was the culmination of a 21 month surveillance effort by the Mexican authorities, as well as the U.S. and Canada.  Twenty-one months.  I wonder if they caught all the smugglers?  I wonder what else they were smuggling besides drugs?  I wonder if Homeland Security knew about this and if so, why didn’t they just catch and search the smugglers for nuclear weapons and biological weapons as soon as they set foot across the border?  Did they figure they were just ordinary cocaine smugglers and therefore it didn’t concern them? Did Homeland Security even know this was going on?

I wonder how many smugglers cross the U.S. border and are never caught?  I wonder if Cheney is right. Maybe the terrorists have already smuggled a weapon into the country. Or maybe Dick is thinking that the terrorists will sneak something through under the noses of Homeland Security in the next few weeks or months, or maybe next year.  What did Dick really mean, anyway? Is he saying that Homeland Security is not up to the job? It sounds like it, doesn’t it? If you look at all these Mexican drug traffickers importing tons of cocaine into the U.S. without being intercepted by Homeland Security, I think maybe Dick is telling us something here.  Sort of a hidden message, maybe. I think he’s saying that we would be just as well off with the old rent-a-cops.  They were a lot cheaper and they couldn’t find smugglers either.

It seems to me that the ease with which smugglers can enter the U.S. proves that Homeland Security is  a failure (I won’t mention Katrina here).  When you step back and consider our fleet of aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, B-2 stealth bombers, spy satellites, warrentless phone monitoring, soldiers, sailors, airmen, spies, policemen…the list could go on and on. And now the Department of Homeland Security. You would think that someone could get the job done. Right? But according to Dick Cheney, and according to the clear evidence of all those drug arrests, after almost two years of investigation, the job isn’t getting done – by any organization acting either singularly or as part of a group! Smuggling stuff into the U.S. seems to be pretty easy.

This is an abject failure of Homeland Security, and it should make us wonder if we need this organization at all.

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