Five Pieces of Uneasy.
For those of us sitting around in one of America's Great Cities, sipping latte in coffee bars while perusing Avant Garde publications, adjusting our berets and waiting to get blown up by terrorists, there are three articles in the current New York magazine that might or might not make your exotic joes go down a bit more easily.
The first attempts (and/or purports) to list the "Reasons They Haven’t Hit Us Again". The reasons are divided into "five principal theories":
1. We’re On Al Qaeda Time.
The notion here is that al Qaeda is both patient and cautious.
In fact, there are many terrorism analysts who are convinced that bin Laden fully anticipated that the U.S. response to 9/11 would force him and his militants into hiding and that he planned from the start to go dormant and reemerge years later, when he’d have a cleaner shot at a spectacular second attack on the U.S.
That's one theory. Others suggest that we will see a series of smaller attacks, Madrid being one measure here of what a "smaller attack" is. Advocates of that theory, I suppose, have to rely on the other four theories to explain why there haven't been any attacks on an American city in three years.
2. New York Has Become A Difficult Target.
Here's where New York City might differ from other U.S. cities. I'm grateful for what I read in this section inasmuch as I live in NYC. If you live in another city, you might want to do a little checking up on how things are going in your home town.
“Al Qaeda is an extremely opportunistic organization that wants a soft spot,” says [Michael] Swetnam [CEO of the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies], the author of Usama bin Laden’s Al-Qaida: Profile of a Terrorist Network. “So the best way to protect yourself is to be guarded.” And New York, says Swetnam, who has studied the city’s defenses closely, has been surprisingly successful at turning itself into a hard target.... “The New York Police Department has one of the most sophisticated terrorist centers I’ve ever seen,” says Swetnam. “[Police Commissioner] Ray Kelly is having great success getting what he needs from Washington and cutting through bureaucratic obstacles that are holding up other departments.”
The really encouraging thing about this section is that it seems New York City has acknowledged the fact that it simply couldn't rely on the Bush Administration to help the city protect itself. It has, apparently, gone Way Proactive. We have a 24/7 counterterrorism operation getting regular updates about "vehicles in every lot in Manhattan". Hmm. That seems difficult to believe, but maybe. Nevertheless, other features of the operation: "a sophisticated network of informants", language experts in Arabic, Pashto, Urdu, etc. "monitoring transmissions and broadcasts". There used to be 20 NYPD officers on "the terrorism beat". Now there are 4,000. And other stuff I'm very glad to hear about.
The best is that NYPD has apparently "bullied" its way into getting regular and "unequaled" access to updates from the FBI.
“Remember when those disks were discovered with floor plans to New Jersey schools?” Swetnam asks, referring to the capture in July of a Baath Party operative in Iraq who was carrying a CD-rom with photos and safety policies for several schools in New Jersey and elsewhere. Though this information was later thought to be for educational use, not terrorism, the discovery raised serious concerns at the time. “I bet there wasn’t a police department in the entire state of New Jersey which knew about that disk till they heard it on the news. And I bet there wasn’t a police precinct in New York that didn’t know about it within hours of the discovery.”
But here's my favorite of the five theories:
3. The French Have Saved Us.
The article tells us there have been at least four attempts in the past 2 years to strike the U.S. One or more of those attacks was aimed at NYC. All have been "detected in advance and prevented".
How is that possible, when the CIA’s intelligence-gathering is supposedly in a shambles? Because of good friends in shadowy places. “The French intelligence services have been just phenomenal,” says Swetnam.... the French already have [an Arabic-speaking spy force], retained from their days as colonial masters of Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco, not to mention their mandates over Syria and Lebanon. French intelligence knows how to root out Arabic-speaking insurgents. And while Jacques Chirac may not lend us any French soldiers, he’s apparently been generous with the French spy network.
Heh. "Freedom Fries", indeed.
4. Suicide Bombings Don’t Work Here.
Yeah, well. Guess we'll see. This theory essentially relies on the idea, with some research justifying it I must add, that the conditions that account for suicide bombings elsewhere do not obtain here. But like I said, I guess we'll see.
5. Bin Laden Isn’t A Terrorist, He’s A Killer.
Here is where you have yer Good News and yer Bad News.
“Al Qaeda isn’t interested in scaring people-it’s interested in killing people,” explains [one expert].
The idea being they will take their time and be careful to set up something really awful, something that will kill a lot of people. Part of this is contained in the notion that what al Qaeda is up to is not a campaign of terrorism, but a real-life, actual-fact war.
[Bin Laden has] concluded that the best way to wound the United States is to lock its military in an unpopular foreign war. He essentially confirmed this in his preelection videotape message.
That's one front in the war, others include bringing down the national economy by causing us to divert billions of dollars into a war overseas.
The article concludes with a reminder of what we all should already know, that New York "remains a magnet for terrorists". So I don't know how much my mind is eased by any of this. I do like hearing about how the NYPD has taken the initiative. At times I feel like I live in the safest city in the world. At other times, I feel like I have a target pinned on my back.
Basically I don't know who or what I trust anymore on this subject. We have tons of purported experts. I have great hopes that they actually know what they are talking about. But then I think back to Richard Clarke, and the time when everybody, including George Tenet, was running around with their "hair on fire". And Bush went on vacation. Condi Rice had other things to think about.
Crap happens. Airliners go down because a series of unlikely system failures string themselves together in an unlikely manner and then suddenly everybody falls down and goes boom. But I will admit that I feel somewhat better about The Question than I did before I read this article.
The other two articles are both worth reading.
"Anatomy Of a Foiled Plot" is a disturbing story, both because it suggests some scary stuff is going on down low, and because it suggests that maybe we aren't being quite as careful as we ought to be about distinguishing people who are real threats, and people who are not.
"Camp Jihad" is about an NYPD narcotics detective who attends a counterterrorism training camp.
When I ask what [the detective will] take back with him to the force, he says, “The worst thing in law enforcement is to say ‘That will never happen.’ What I take from this is, we’ve never got to stop thinking of all the different ways bad things can happen to us.”
It’s a disappointing answer, given that I had hoped this course might reveal some radical new insight for combating terrorism. But there’s reason to be heartened by it, too. If there’s a common theme unifying America’s blunders in the war on terrorism-from missing the warning signs before 9/11 to misreading the strength of the insurgency in Iraq-it’s a lack of imagination. We have consistently failed to conceive of an enemy who is as resourceful and clever as we consider ourselves to be. If cops like Dan, and his fellow students, can understand this and change their way of thinking, maybe it’s not too late for those leading the war.
Go, Detective Dan, go.