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Posts Tagged ‘terrorism’

What Didn’t Happen on 9-25

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 2, 2009

With the change in Administration we’ve heard an awful lot about what George W. Bush’s sole saving grace is supposed to be: that America was not attacked again for the seven years following 9-11. I’m still left to wonder why.

If we posit that the 9-11 attacks were a sophisticated and complex operation requiring the coordination of scores of attackers, logisticians and money movers then we similarly must posit that al Qaeda was, at least at that time, a sophisticated and complex organization capable of organizing the strikes.

Yet on 9-25 no bombs went off in subway cars or on buses.

al Qaeda was able to attain flight training within the United States for several hijackers. They were also able to coordinate an attack in Afghanistan two days before 9-11 to kill the leader of the Northern Alliance by infiltrating two fake photojournalists into his heavily guarded camp and killing him with a bomb concealed within a working minicam.

Yet on 9-25 no men with simple assault rifles attacked a shopping mall.

The African Embassy bombings were carried out simultaneously on August 7, 1998 in Kenya & Tanzania, using sophisticated explosives mounted in trucks. Although the bomb didn’t penetrate the Embassy perimeter in Dar es Salaam, the truck in Nairobi effectively destroyed the American embassy while the Dar es Salaam truck killed 11 and wounded 86.

Yet on 9-25 nobody staged an attack on a school. In 1999 two teenagers carried out a massacre in a school in Colorado. In 2007 a single student killed 32 at Virginia Tech.

In October of 2000, al Qaeda staged the attack on the USS Cole, blowing a 40 foot hole in an American warship and killing 17 American sailors.

Yet on 9-25 nobody staged an attack on an apartment building.

I’ve always been at a loss to understand what al Qaeda was thinking in the planning of the 9-11 attacks and in their aftermath. The twin attacks in New York and Washington were obviously large scale attacks made to demonstrate that the United States could be attacked and attacked in spectacular fashion. Think back to those dark days on September, 2001; remember how jumpy we all were and how fear had taken hold beneath the veneer of resolution and the layers of outrage that we all wore.

What would’ve happened if two weeks later, just as we all started to get back into our work-a-day routines, a series of low tech, simple operations had been carried out? A suicide bomber detonates himself on a Cleveland bus, as has happened so many times in Israel. A couple of days later a bomb goes off on a BART train in San Francisco. These aren’t sophisticated attacks; if you have the online skills to find this blog you also have the skills to find a site that will show you how to build a simple backpack bomb and carry out this attack. Suddenly going to work is something we fear.

A few days later two men with assault rifles or submachineguns walk up to a schoolyard at recess and mow down the students. The reload twice before the police arive and a hundred kids die. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris had a more sophisticated plan requiring far greater logistical overhead. Now we’re afraid to send our kids to school.

A Saturday or two later a pair of gunmen walk into a mall and open up at the foodcourt during lunchtime. Maybe a third lobs a hand grenade or some simple IED into Macys. Now we’re afraid to shop or maybe even go anywhere that people congregate.

At three o’clock Sunday morning a truck bomb goes off after having crashed into the lobby of an apartment building. If Tim McVeigh and Timothy Nichols can pull it off with some diesel and some fertilizer, we can agree this isn’t something that takes much sophistication or planning– this isn’t Pearl Harbor we’re talking about. Now we’re afraid to sleep, and the country is paralyzed.

And none of these things happened in the weeks after 9-11. They aren’t the products of some great strategic mind, redolent of subtlety and deep thought. They don’t require massive transfers of money or logistic support. Highly trained operators– like men capable of piloting a commercial airliner– are not required. None of these attacks happened, despite the screaming obviousness of the logic that dictated them.

Attributing the failure of these attacks to happen obviously doesn’t go to American intelligence or law enforcement efforts– there is no reasonable way, even today, to prevent two or three guys with SMGs from walking into Roosevelt Field or Mall of America or Tyson’s Galleria or the elementary school down the street from your house. So, does this mean that al Qaeda either didn’t have the vision or the capability to pull off these attacks? Or did al Qaeda not have the desire to press their attack and shut down America?

I have my own theories about why al Qaeda didn’t reel in the fish after getting it to take the bait and after setting the hook, but the reality is that without bin Laden or al Zawahiri in custody and talking we are likely never going to know why our country literally dodged the bullet that any rational foe would’ve fired into us in the weeks following 9-11. The nightmare scenario was there for the taking, and was available at low cost and with no special effort made to pull the trigger. After the massive attacks of 9-11, every pinprick attack that could have come in the following weeks would have registered as sledgehammer blows. It didn’t materialize.

If we cannot answer why these attacks didn’t happen beyond saying that President Bush had no influence on them, should we really be crediting ex-President Bush with further spectacular attacks not happening? I don’t have a yes or no answer to that. Neither should history, despite what the George W. Bush Presidential Library will eventually be telling us.

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Posted in American History, American Politics, Bush, Intelligence (and lack thereof), Islamists, terrorism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Vaporware Navy

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 8, 2009

pirate_01We love to talk about military hardware. Its sexy. Missiles, fighters, cannons, tanks– they’re big, they go boom, they’re the ultimate guy toys. They’re hardware. Orders, commands, Rules of Engagement– that’s military software. Just like any other system, the hardware is useless without the software to run it, the software is useless without the hardware to run on. When you have one and the other is simply a promise, a notion, something that may or may not happen– that’s vaporware.

The US Navy, those fine folks in white with all that big expensive hardware, with all those complex software routines and systems to run that hardware… they know a little something about vaporware.

Today the US Navy announced the formation of Combined Task Force-151 (CTF-151) to take on one of the most vexing problems that the Navy has faced in a while– the very high profile, very annoying, very anachronistic presence of the Pirates of Somalia. Our friends who have traded in the cutlass for the Ak-47 and the 12 pounder for the RPG have become the nail that needs pounding down… but nobody seems to have a big enough hammer to do the job, not because the pirates are too strong to smash but because they have the annoying habit of not staying in one place long enough to get hit in a meaningful way. They’re guerrillas at sea, and guerrillas have never been our specialty. We’ve heard the brass tell us that we aren’t optimized for this mission, that there’s just too much ocean to track them consistently, too much shipping to protect. They were honest, but honesty, like guerrillas, has never been our specialty.

An intractable problem. A public asking why it’s intractable when it wasn’t in the Seventeenth Century. Some US hardware in the area. Why not issue a box of software to make it look like perhaps we’ve come up with a solution, but just maybe, perhaps, forget to put the CD in the box?

That is what CTF-151 is– a shiny software package that has nothing inside. CTF-151 is a commander, an org chart, and a big pile of paper– nothing more. CTF-151 isn’t getting any ships that aren’t already in the area under CTF-150. CTF-151 isn’t getting any orders to shut down piracy by hitting them in the one place where it could make a difference, on the beach. That’s just as well because it doesn’t have the hardware to do so. CTF-151 isn’t even getting an updated Rules of Engagement or legal advice one how to handle any latter-day Steed Bonnet that they might nab on the high seas– a particular problem because there’s pretty much nothing in the current law that would allow us to do anything with ones that we do capture in international waters and nothing effective to do with any we might grab in lawless Somali waters.

Somali piracy is a serious problem; these guys are grabbing ships on the high seas and making a fortune– a fortune– doing it. Estimates of their take in ransoms last year alone runs into the high tens of millions. They grabbed a ship full of Russian tanks and ammunition; they grabbed an Iranian ship that people are still wondering about the cargo of. They’ve grabbed a supertanker full of oil. They’ve attacked passenger liners– and won’t it be a bit of a pickle for the civilized world when they actually succeed in taking one of those and offer to ransom back the passengers for fifty million? How about when they take a real floating bomb– say an LNG tanker or one full of chemicals that are weapon precursors?

The UN is making the right noises about the problem– they authorized action on the sea or land to put an end to this problem. The UN, of course, is the biggest issuer of vaporware going; they can ask the producers to make the products and can even tell the world that they’ve ordered them to be developed, but they can’t enforce that order– they can promise anything they want, but they can’t ship.

Russia and even China are starting to show signs of life in at least getting some real force into the area. France, of all nations, has actually done a bit of ass kicking, launching commando raids to free hostages in Somalia and taking down pirate ships on the ocean. The reality, however, is that if anyone is going to put an end to this problem, it has to become too risky for hopeless Somalis to engage in, and that means blowing the living hell out of Somalia again, at least that part of Somalia where these guys are basing. That ultimately can only devolve to the US, we’re the only one with the power projection capacity to handle the job in the Horn of Africa. Of course, we also have had a bit of experience with combat in Somalia and aren’t eager to experience that again.

It’s time to figure out just what we are prepared to do about this problem and then do it. If the answer is “nothing”, then so be it– it’s a bad answer, but at least it would be some kind of an answer and the world could make alternate plans to avoid the Horn of Africa and the Suez Canal and we can get used to the further economic chaos that will cause. If the answer is to take out the pirate’s shore facilities, find a way to punish the pirates that we take on the ocean, and generally make life too dangerous for the pirates, then let’s get ready to deal with this as a front in the current war and get on with it. What we must not do is temporize, issue press releases, and pretend that the hardware and software is in place to do the job when we currently have no desire to put it there or use it to this end.

CTF-151 is vaporware, and vaporware is a singularly bad way to handle problems. Empty promises always are.

h/t to the Custodian at http://www.informationdissemination.blogspot.com/

Posted in Africa, Foreign Affairs, Warfare | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

 
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