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July 09, 2005

We're Still Not Ready

Today I found my self agreeing with Colbert King. It is not an experience I'm used to. He writes:

Within hours of learning about the bombs in London, a Metro spokeswoman stepped forward to tell us that our mass transit system, on which the entire Washington area depends, is vulnerable to attack, that it lacks funds for decontamination equipment, needs equipment to detect weapons of mass destruction, must expand its intruder inspection system and lacks a backup operations center.

My youngest son rides the Metro to work every day. He rides it home from work every evening. My oldest son is a police officer - he patrols the streets of Arlington, Virginia, right near where that plane hit the Pentagon on September 11th, 2001. And so Mr. King's words arose that little frisson of fear in the back of my subconscious. It never quite leaves me.

Because I happen to agree with him: we're still not ready, even after all the commissions and the studies and the millions of dollars we've poured into homeland security.

Why? Because we refuse to face a few unpleasant facts. Facts like this:

The House of Representatives foolishly voted 238 to 187 on June 15 to scuttle the Patriot Act's so-called "library provision." Even though seven of the 19 Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers used public libraries for Internet access and to purchase tickets on one of the doomed flights, the House seemed more worried that some overzealous FBI agent might try to learn who checked out "The Joy of Sex." If, equipped with court orders, the FBI can unravel Islamic terrorists' Internet communications via public library computers, hindering these investigators could hasten the day when American commuters suffer the fate of their British counterparts.

Even when we see clear, unequivocal connections in these attacks, we refuse to take action. We are so afraid of racial profiling that we meticulously search United States military officers traveling on official orders. We stop little old ladies but let Arabs pass unmolested through checkpoints at our airports. We know almost half of the highjackers used a library internet connection to kill 3000 innocent Americans, yet we won't allow law enforcement to monitor their communications in a public library. Americans have allowed the exact same anti-crime provisions outlined in the Patriot Act to be used against gangsters for years without a whimper of protest. But they are outraged when law enforcement tries to use them against the terrorists who took 3000 American lives in 2001.

We don't even begin to know where the real danger lies.

After watching the savage beheadings of women, the burning of corpses, and innumerable attacks on innocent non-combatants in Iraq, all of which violate all known laws of war, we fixate on mishandling of copies of the Koran we provided to detainees at Gitmo. We still stubbornly refuse to admit the nature of the enemy we're facing:

Moments after yesterday’s attacks my telephone was buzzing with requests for interviews with one recurring question: but what do they want? That reminded me of Theo van Gogh, the Dutch film-maker, who was shot by an Islamist assassin on his way to work in Amsterdam last November. According to witnesses, Van Gogh begged for mercy and tried to reason with his assailant. “Surely we can discuss this,” he kept saying as the shots kept coming. “Let us talk it over.”

Van Gogh, who had angered Islamists with his documentary about the mistreatment of women in Islam, was reacting like BBC reporters did yesterday, assuming that the man who was killing him may have some reasonable demands which could be discussed in a calm, democratic atmosphere.

But sorry, old chaps, you are dealing with an enemy that does not want anything specific, and cannot be talked back into reason through anger management or round-table discussions. Or, rather, this enemy does want something specific: to take full control of your lives, dictate every single move you make round the clock and, if you dare resist, he will feel it his divine duty to kill you.

The ideological soil in which alQaeda, and the many groups using its brand name, grow was described by one of its original masterminds, the Pakistani Abul-Ala al-Maudoodi more than 40 years ago. It goes something like this: when God created mankind He made all their bodily needs and movements subject to inescapable biological rules but decided to leave their spiritual, social and political needs and movements largely subject to their will. Soon, however, it became clear that Man cannot run his affairs the way God wants. So God started sending prophets to warn man and try to goad him on to the right path. A total of 128,000 prophets were sent, including Moses and Jesus. They all failed. Finally, God sent Muhammad as the last of His prophets and the bearer of His ultimate message, Islam. With the advent of Islam all previous religions were “abrogated” (mansukh), and their followers regarded as “infidel” (kuffar). The aim of all good Muslims, therefore, is to convert humanity to Islam, which regulates Man’s spiritual, economic, political and social moves to the last detail.

But what if non-Muslims refuse to take the right path? Here answers diverge.

Some believe that the answer is dialogue and argument until followers of the “abrogated faiths” recognise their error and agree to be saved by converting to Islam. This is the view of most of the imams preaching in the mosques in the West. But others, including Osama bin Laden, a disciple of al-Maudoodi, believe that the Western-dominated world is too mired in corruption to hear any argument, and must be shocked into conversion through spectacular ghazavat (raids) of the kind we saw in New York and Washington in 2001, in Madrid last year, and now in London.

That yesterday’s attack was intended as a ghazava was confirmed in a statement by the Secret Organisation Group of al-Qaeda of Jihad Organisation in Europe, an Islamist group that claimed responsibility for yesterday’s atrocity.

We do not need to become the enemy we are facing, but we will never prevail if we cannot summon the courage to look him in the eye, nor to admit the nature of the threat we are facing.

We are still not ready.

And we have no one but ourselves to blame.

And in unquiet moments, I often wonder which one of my sons will pay for that fatal blindness?

Posted by Cassandra at July 9, 2005 09:34 AM

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I stole this comment from another site;

" ...the very freedoms that we so cherish are the doors through which these terrorists are walking. "

True in the US, true in England, true in Canada, as a matter of fact it is true in almost every NON-muslim country...

Posted by: Friend of USA [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 9, 2005 11:28 AM

I don't want to see racial profiling, but maybe we do need to change some of our thinking. Little old ladies do not likely have a bomb in their bag.

Posted by: ArleneK at July 9, 2005 04:45 PM

I don't want to see racial profiling either Arlene, but some of the policies we have instituted to make it *look* like we're NOT racial profiling are just way stupid.

The bottom line needs to be that security comes first - there are plenty of Muslims living here too, and their security is just as important as that of non-Arabs. Who do we think we're protecting with these nonsensical policies? If there is another major attack, both Muslims and Christians will die - a point many forget in their zeal to be politically correct.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 9, 2005 05:04 PM

Great stuff you have here. It is scary, but you are so right. We are not ready. I will be adding you to my blogroll. Come by my site and consider doing the same.

Posted by: Jay at July 9, 2005 05:50 PM

I'm glad to see you writing about this, Cass. It has been my drumbeat for some time now that we need to devote more of our resources to protect our borders and infrastructures. Maybe it is because I live in New York City and we have never lowered our high terror alert since 9/11 but I fear that because of the war in Iraq--and I'm not debating its merits here-- many Americans have been lulled into a sense of complacency; that because we're taking the battle to the "enemy" over there, they won't hit us here. No unreasonable thinking if there was indeed only one enemy concentrated in one region. Regrettably, and as we keep learning--in Bali, in Chechyna, in Madrid, and now in London--there is not. Business is not as usual. We need to make as committed an effort--both financial and civic--to our domestic security as we are devoting half-way across the world. Whatever the cost Food for thought: Bush's 2006 Budget asked for $600 million to safeguard all of the nation's seaports, mass transit systems, railways, bridges, tunnels and energy facilities. Taxpayers are spending that amount roughly every three days in Iraq.

We can do better. Much better. Can we really afford not to?

Posted by: portia at July 10, 2005 11:58 AM

I will probably be writing more on this, after I've thought a bit more about it and done some reading.

You may or may not like what I am going to say, though (I have a feeling we probably agree more than we disagree :)

I did some *fascinating* reading today and need to absorb it.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 10, 2005 12:04 PM

And thanks Jay - I will definitely drop by :)

Posted by: Cassandra at July 10, 2005 12:05 PM

Good. I'll look forward to reading it.
I had just finished watching "Meet the Press" when I posted...I think it shows:)

Posted by: portia at July 10, 2005 01:04 PM

While I agree that we need to harden our in-country targets, I don't feel that we need to take anything away from the Global War on Terror.

As someone has already said "I would rather be fighting this war in our Away Jerseys. Some way must be found to do both tasks. An aware public is one of the least expensive. For this reason we need all our politicians to be honest with the people they represent. The ones who are not being honest are generally Democrats. Lets hope they wake up soon.

Posted by: Richard at July 10, 2005 10:17 PM

I've talked to somebody at DHS (Department of Homeland Security) about the Metro. I'm informed that they have policies in place for WMD (particularly bio/chem) use on the system. In case a device is set off on a Metro car, the driver is to seal all cars at once -- thus preventing the spread of contamination beyond the one car. All the passengers in that one will die, of course, but that's tough. That's the policy.

As for detonation of WMD in metro stations, they've run studies which show that the ceilings are high enough that it would require a truly massive chem/bio bomb to get a high enough poison/air ratio to be dangerous. There's also strong ventilation from the train tunnels, which hampers the ability to produce a fatal cloud.

Some of that will make you feel better, anyway. I ride the Metro myself on occasion, so I was curious.

Posted by: Grim at July 10, 2005 10:26 PM

This article is something all should read.

Intel analyst: Attack on U.S. imminent. Former Israeli agent says government not preparing citizens."

"Terrorists will try to carry out an attack on the United States within the next 90 days, a former Israeli counterterrorism intelligence officer predicts."

According to this consultant, we will probably see a London style attack soon.

"Juval Aviv, head of the New York-based intelligence company Interfor and a special consultant to the U.S. Congress, told Fox News his information is based primarily on intelligence 'floating in Europe and the Middle East.'"

If you follow the link, and read the article, you will also find out that Juval believes the target(s) will be rural America!!

Posted by: Richard at July 10, 2005 11:11 PM

Cassandra, I'm afraid that your post kicked me into a rather lengthy post of my own (and by extension, kicked FRW into one of her own). Stop by and visit. It's possible that I might have said some things that you're already pondering.

FYI - I'm no fan at all of DHS. I can't imagine how we can waste money worse in this country short of dropping 20 dollar bills out of C-130s by the thousands. I mean, think about this. One of the big things DHS does is to provide grants to states and local jurisdictions to fund first responders (trust me on this one - it's a big deal for the locals). Think about that, though. Does it make good sense for the Feds to tax you just to send that money back the the states (after reducing it considerably because of administrative overhead)? Doesn't it make a lot more sense to let the states tax that money from you directly to fund whatever they need instead? That way, they spend it more efficiently and they get it faster.

Ouch...that really did start to become a rant, didn't it? Sorry 'bout that. DHS is one of my huge pet peeves.

Posted by: Jimmie at July 10, 2005 11:43 PM

Unfortunatly, that's pretty much S.O.P. for quite a lot of programs. It's not unique to DHS so I'm not surprised that's the method they used.

Even at the county level, there are a lot of things taxed by the state and returned (reduced) back to the county.

"that because we're taking the battle to the "enemy" over there, they won't hit us here. No(t) unreasonable thinking if there was indeed only one enemy concentrated in one region. Regrettably, and as we keep learning--in Bali, in Chechyna, in Madrid, and now in London--there is not. "

The flypaper strategy has never claimed that by fighting the enemy over there that there would be no attacks over here. It has only claimed that the risk, number and severity would decrease. Even with multiple enemies in multiple locations, the ones in Iraq and Afganistan are using people and resources there, not here. This reduces (but does not eliminate) the resources and personnel that can be used against us.

The question is, would the London bombing have been worse (or not the first in Brittain) if we weren't in Iraq ('cause let's face it, they would have found a reason anyway. One excuse is just as good as another when you need one).

Posted by: Masked Menace© at July 11, 2005 10:17 AM

Yes, "it" never claimed that there would be no attacks over here, however, when President Bush states as he has several times "we've made the decision to defeat the terrorists abroad so we don't have to face them here at home," it's not difficult for many to embrace a similiar inference. Apparently, it's working: A Gallup taken in June found that a whopping 63% of Americans, nearly two of three Americans-- said that a terrorist attack in America is not likely. However, two days following the attack in London last week, the same Gallup pollsters found that 62%, nearly two out three Americans, were now worried that a terrorist attack would occur. I take comfort that Americans took the London attack as yet another wake-up call but wht the heck were we thinking in June? That the we were winning the war on terror? Hardly. The gist of my argument is that we need to be fighting the war on terror on two fronts; here and abroad. Every time we slip into September 10 thinking, we are putting ourselves at risk. September 10 thinking is what is responsible for the fact that an unattended suitcase was able to ride undisturbed recently on Amtrak train all the way from Washington, DC to New York City without one person--passenger or conductor-- "raising a flag." It's responsible for the fact that despite a CIA warning that a nuclear weapon will most likely be smuggled into the US by a shipping container, we still inspect less than 2% of the more than 9 million plus containers that enter through our ports everyday. I could go on and on. I appreciate that all the money in the Treasury may not be enough to foil an attack on NYC's subway nor detect contraband cargo in Seattle, but until we exploit our best technology, intelligence and manpower--including John Q. Public--close the gap between the DHS budget, which is 1/10 of the DOD budget, and make our homeland security our priority, we are fighting the war on only one front, and someday that will not be enough.

This reduces (but does not eliminate) the resources and personnel that can be used against us.

MM, Al Qaeda supporters are located in 40 countries, including ours, so I find little comfort that the terrorists in Iraq/Afghanistan alone are preoccupied. Besides, I have a sinking suspicion that some of them are pretty good at multi-tasking.

Posted by: portia at July 11, 2005 02:43 PM

FWIW, my husband was working in anti-terrorism threat assessment on September 11th. He had been traveling all over the world inspecting ports, military facilities, etc. and assessing their readiness to withstand terrorist attacks.

The idea that we can somehow spend our way into hardening domestic targets over here is largely illusory. The willingness simply isn't there and even if it were, they'd just find and exploit the chink in our armor. I just spent two years living on a base that was locked down so tight my husband, who was one of the two BN commanders living on base, couldn't even get a fricking taxi on base without my coming to the gate to escort him in. It was ridiculous.

Terrorists don't target buildings. They target people, and people are everywhere, so the targets of opportunity are everywhere and they are mobile and impossible to protect.

MM is actually right. The best bet is to tie up their resources: money, personnel, weapons, etc. If they are in use elsewhere, they are not being used against us. Of course this is not a 100% proposition - nothing is - but it is better than doing nothing.

I did not have time to write about this this morning and may not tomorrow but will try to get to it. I was out late last nite, didn't get any sleep last night and was just too exhausted to think about it this morning :)

I don't believe - not for a second, Portia - that PREVENTING another attack is realistic, really. What makes far more sense is having steps in place (as Grim mentioned) limit the damage once an attack occurs and address treating the wounded and burying the dead.

That's how crappy this is.

The truth is that we are not willing to live in the kind of world you are describing Portia. My son is a cop. After the London attack they were scrambled. People were looking at them like they were all the Anti-Christ. The paranoia in this country about the Patriot act is just plain silly - you'd think people would be HAPPY to see the fricking police out after London attacked, but they were pissed to see police out in SWAT gear.

They were complaining.

So you tell me (and my bitterness is not for one minute aimed at you) what in the f***ing hell the government is supposed to do? They can't go to war to reduce the threat, they can't institute the same legal measures we've used for years against the mob, they can't put police in SWAT gear on the metro the day London is attacked to be prepared in case there's a similar attack on OUR nation's capital...

...and yet, if they were to fail to do a single one of these things, the howling would be un-fricking bearable.

I'm married to a military man and the mom of a cop. These guys are willing to put their lives on the line to protect the rest of us, but somehow they're the bad guys.

I don't get it.

Yeah, I know I'm venting. I went to bed mad about this last night. Probably why I couldn't sleep.

John Q. Public, for the most part, doesn't want to be protected if it inconveniences him.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 11, 2005 03:06 PM

I don't disagree that many people have the wrong impression about the strategy and that the statement you mentioned should be clarified. Personally, I always thought that another domestic attack would occur. But it's 2 or 3 instead of 6 or 7. Sadly, there is no way to prove this position as it's only conjecture.

I also agree that we should be doing more at home. Many DHS dollars are spent unwisely and many people are too lazy to act or that pointing out the dark skinned guy who's acting suspiciously would brand them a racist.

Lastly, terrorists in Iraq and Afganistan are not only from those two countries. They are coming from Syria, Jordan, Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, Saudia Arabia, and others. And while they may be able to multi-task, every dollar spent or hours used to steal RPGs, every terrorist we kill is one less thing to worry about domestically. They are large and spread out, but they deal with limited time and resources just like everyone else.

We need to do both home and away, but choosing the balance between the two is somewhat subjective.

Posted by: Masked Menace© at July 11, 2005 03:24 PM

You hit on the point I made in my post exactly. The police department can't be everywhere and if, for some miraculous reason they could, we wouldn't want them there.

The problem is that, since 9/11, our politicians have told us time and again, that the panacaea for our terrorism fears lies in beefing up homeland security. They've told us that the only way to protect ourselves is to dump millions of dollars into "security features" that purportedly will keep us safe from harm.

The fact is that we've not gotten serious at all about understanding that we're in a war right now. We've said "keep us safe" and our politicians have responded in the only way we know how: spending money and building new big government programs. What we need to do is to take charge of our own security. We can't just sit back and be passive and hope the police can protect us. They can't, no matter how hard they try (and I know this pretty well having been a police dispatcher for the past 15 years).

We need to get serious about this if we ever hope to end the threat we saw realized on 9/11 because as long as international terrorism exists as a potent force - and it still does - we'll get hit again.

Posted by: Jimmie at July 11, 2005 10:18 PM

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