September 11, 2001

The Sum of All Fears

According to Richard Haass of the State Department?s Policy Planning Staff, “in a world in which borders count for less and less, it should come as little surprise that terrorism has come to America. Our cities are the new battlefields, and we are the combatants.”

Accordingly, Haass continued, Americans will have to endure some dramatic dislocations in their everyday lives: “People will have to accept longer lines before entering buildings, longer delays at airports, more intrusive searches of their belongings and persons, and higher ticket prices to pay for all of this. We may have to make it less easy to obtain the weapons and the tools that terrorists require to carry out their evil trade…. [The war] will require increased police and intelligence work. It will also take large amounts of public money, something that will require more taxes or less services in other areas…. Greater vigilance will also involve a willingness to compromise some of our civil liberties, including accepting more frequent phone taps and surveillance. Those who would resist paying such a price should keep in mind that terrorism could well get worse in coming years.”


So it is that American and British leaders now find themselves where Israel has been since Hezbollah introduced the suicide bomber into the Middle East as a new form of strategic weapon in the late 1980?s – assessing the possibilities of catastrophic terrorist assaults in their own lands as war with Iraq approaches.

Nerves have been frayed in London recently over the discovery of traces of the lethal poison ricin in an apartment housing Algerian Muslims, chemical warfare protection suits discovered at the Finsbury Park mosque in north London, and the surfacing of 1.200 names and addresses of British Muslims that were found by British military intelligence during searches of bin Laden’s cave complex at Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan. Special Branch detectives fear that some of the men who cannot be traced could be plotting terrorist attacks in Britain.

This comes amid reports that al-Qaida-linked terrorists in northern Iraq have been busy producing the toxic substance, which is extracted from the humble castor bean.

But far greater terrorist threats are keeping Western and Israeli leaders and security experts awake at night. The list is well known: anthrax, smallpox, sarin and other nerve agents, and of course, nuclear-laden dirty bombs. The worst nightmare of all is the use of full-fledged nuclear warheads such as the paranoid communist rulers of North Korea are now openly producing.

While warily gazing across the Pacific horizon for any incoming rogue missiles, U.S. officials are keeping very much in mind the possibility that one or more KGB-built nuclear suitcase bombs might have been smuggled into America. If the small Russian devices are somewhere inside the country, it is probable that Iraq had a hand in spiriting them in. After all, Saddam Hussein has been vowing out loud since the end of the original Gulf War that he would get his revenge on America – and in a very nasty manner.

As a result, unprecedented efforts are now underway to prepare America for the worst case scenario ? the successful use of chemical, biological or nuclear attack in the heartland of America.

Laser mapping

Based on new technology, the U.S. government is now in the process of laser mapping significant symbols of historical importance to America. To date, the Statute of Liberty, the Capitol Building and Mount Rushmore are being mapped in the event that al Qaeda sleeper cells destroy these symbols of American pride and achievement. Mapping will allow the reconstruction of exact duplicates to be reproduced at a later date in the event of a catastrophic disaster.

Fingering the Terrorists

TIME magazine recently disclosed that soon after the U.S. military went into Afghanistan, the FBI, the CIA and military intelligence began collecting fingerprints of al-Qaeda operatives and members of other international terrorist groups. They scoured caves and safe houses in Afghanistan and Pakistan and sought records from police and security services worldwide. Thousands of prints were digitized and entered into a classified database, along with names, aliases, mug shots, addresses, associates, descriptions of scars and, occasionally, DNA data.

Now, U.S. authorities say, this ambitious project is paying off. In the past three months, federal law-enforcement officials tell TIME, two men attempting to enter the U.S. were red-flagged when matches of their fingerprints and other information were found in the terrorist database.

Government continuity

But the surest indicator of a nation in fear is the continual rotation of top U.S. government officials – scores at a time – into a bunker deep underground and far from Washington.

As in the Cold War years, the issue of “continuity of government in the event of catastrophe” has led to the costly step of maintaining a permanent government presence underground. Among the sobering realities of this war on terrorism is the realization that vital elements of our constitutional government remain at risk of catastrophic attack. America is replete with “soft targets.”

At the White House, some officials see a dangerous gap in the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, a subject Bush has yet to address. If the top three constitutional successors are killed — the Vice President, Speaker of the House and President Pro Tem of the Senate — then succession moves down a list of Cabinet secretaries. But once the House elects a new Speaker, the law is unclear as to who can then claim the Presidency – the newly elected Speaker or the former Cabinet member then serving as President. That sets up a potential power struggle at a moment when the nation would need every available resource of unity and calm.

In the event of a catastrophic attack, Congress would have the gravest problem. The House, in particular, has yet to resolve a quandary that would shut down its lawmaking power for months – at the height of a national emergency – if a majority of its elected members were either killed or disabled. While the Senate can be replenished swiftly by each state’s governor in temporary appointments, the House requires special elections, which take an average of four months. In the chaotic days after a national calamity, according to testimony by American Enterprise Institute scholar Norman J. Ornstein before a congressionally appointed Continuity of Government Commission, simultaneous special elections in many districts would take at least six months, leaving Congress without a constitutionally mandated quorum.

Anticipating Attacks

It was this fear that led the U.S. government, in late 2001, to secretly erect a provisional defense perimeter against nuclear terrorism in the nation’s capital. It was called Ring Around Washington, and it aimed to detect a nuclear or radiological bomb before the weapon could be detonated. The project, however, was disbanded with the same secrecy with which it was created when tests proved the detection technology was simply inadequate.

With the dismantling of the Ring Around Washington, there is now no adequate prospect that the unexpected arrival of an atomic weapon or a radiological device will be detected, and in the field of biological weapons, there is almost no prospect of detecting a pathogen until it has been used in an attack.

The Bush administration is correct in adopting the doctrine of pre-emptive strike. The problem, however, is that it is dealing with ghosts and sleepers in this country who are every bit as dangerous as rogue nuclear states abroad.

After settling a long argument over smallpox vaccinations, the Bush administration is now working through scenarios in which a large-scale disease outbreak takes place. The United States may have to declare martial law someday in the event of a devastating attack with weapons of mass destruction causing tens of thousands of deaths.

This could mean that the military would be given the authority to impose curfews, protect businesses and communities, even make arrests, and the Secretary of Health and Human Services has the power to declare a national public health emergency, in which he could impose a quarantine and require inoculation or treatment of unwilling citizens in the name of public health.

But the Secretary has no troops at his direct disposal, and the Bush administration is still working through the complex questions of the Secretary’s relationship to the military’s new U.S. Northern Command, which is now responsible for homeland defense.

Gaps in Homeland Defense

As Tom Ridge makes the transition to his new role as Secretary of the new Homeland Security Department, he will have major gaps to address. The biggest, in the view of many experts, is seaport defense. The marine industry contributes $742B to the Gross Domestic Product of America each year and the ripple effect from an attack on one or more of this country’s 300 plus seaports would have a devastating impact on the U.S. economy.

The government’s new Transportation Security Agency now screens the shoes of millions of airline passengers – yet less than 2 percent of the 21,000 shipping containers that arrive in U.S. seaports every day are screened. Each is 40 feet long and easily holds the contents of a private home. There is virtually no security for what is the primary system to transport global trade. Incoming cargo is neither screened offshore nor in its originating port overseas. The White House has proposed no specific funding for container security even though there are fears that al Qaeda operatives have already entered the country in this fashion.

American customs agents have yet to be stationed at foreign ports to check foreign cargo bound for the United States and to require foreign shippers to itemize their cargo at least 24 hours before departure. Nor does any plan exist for profiling high-risk containers and requiring radiation-detection equipment to be issued to each inspector.

Catalina Island, off the California coast, has been mentioned in the U.S. Senate as a possible destination for about 40 al-Qaida terrorists seeking entry into the U.S.. Two months ago, Italian authorities found an Egyptian man suspected of having ties to al-Qaida in a Canada-bound container. His luggage included false identification, airport maps, a computer, a satellite phone and lots of cash. Hawaii has already asked for $4 million in federal funds in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks but in June 2002 received only $650,000 of the $73 million in recent federal funding to upgrade security.

Missile Defense Systems

In the months following 9/11, a Ukrainian missile launched during a training exercise accidentally locked onto an Israeli civilian jetliner over the Black Sea. Over a hundred passengers perished. Although the downing of civilian jetliners has occurred, either by accident or design, in the past, the easy access to stinger missiles by terrorist groups or rogue states has led the U.S. to consider installing anti-missile defense systems onto its overseas commercial aircraft. The Israelis have already done so for their intercontinental El Al aircraft, but the American dilemma is that the system costs between one and two million dollars to install per aircraft, and to equip all U.S. overseas commercial flights would represent an astronomical expense. As in all things, priorities will be determined based on necessity – a necessity, unfortunately, that will be dictated by our enemies.

Dealing with crises

The 9/11 tragedy and anthrax scare that followed it has shown that Americans are not either psychologically nor physically prepared for catastrophic attacks.

In fact, the only model available is Israel ? a nation that continues to produce technological, agricultural and scientific breakthroughs in the midst of horrors few Americans have ever been asked to endure.

Safe rooms and gas masks

One of the goals of the Israeli government is to prepare people for a catastrophic attack, while encouraging them to stay in their own homes. Neither Israel nor the United States has enough public facilities to shelter millions of panicked people racing through their streets.

Following the 1991 Gulf War, Israel passed new housing codes that required new residential buildings to have so-called safe rooms, shelters capable of withstanding conventional attack. Israelis currently receive kits containing gas masks and atropine injectors capable of delaying the effects of chemical agents until medical personnel can respond. More than 2.4 million masks were updated in the last year (2002) alone – a huge number considering Israel has a population of about 6 million.

The government also realized that a frightened public would be starved for information.

Now, in emergencies, the Israeli Defense Forces can broadcast to the public on a special television channel (Channel 33) and the military also has the ability to break into every radio and television channel and broadcast live nationwide.

On the Israeli Defense Forces Web site, new information was posted about what to do in case of an attack. It gives detailed directions about how to detect symptoms of exposure to chemical attack, how to use the injection needle and how to keep children calm by drawing, playing games or listening to music.

They even produced films and opened call centers that provide similar information in five languages.

And the public is continuously urged to obey all the guidelines issued by security forces.

Terrorists use media

The public must understand that the motive of terrorists is to create fear and anxiety. Too often the media will play into terrorists’ hands by repeatedly showing scenes of bloody destruction on TV. The Israeli media is urged to not repeatedly play such scenes, and to avoid close-ups of carnage. The networks avoid close-ups of carnage.


September 11th has become a watershed in modern history. Whatever may happen in future, the actions and reactions of this nation have now been fundamentally altered. Our children will never know, except from books and videos, what life was like before the twin towers fell. With the ability and willingness of “ghost terrorists” to inflict massive civilian casualties on an unimagined scale, this nation, indeed the entire free world, must now adjust itself to the new realities of the 21st century.

We will win the war, but it will come at great cost.

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