Why we are no safer today than we were before 9/11
The mainstream media has more or less treated the news that a group of British-based Islamist terrorists — presumably suicide bombers — planned to blow up as many as ten airliners with colorless liquid explosives as the planes cruised over the Atlantic as a new development. It isn’t. The idea is 11 or 12 years old. It was conceived by the same group that tried unsuccessfully to topple the Word Trade Center in 1993 by detonating bombs in the underground garage of the twin skyscrapers. Called at the time Bojinka — opinion varies on whether the origin is Serbo-Croatian or Arabic — the plot’s name loosely translates into English as “Big Bang.” Only a handful of international security experts and an even smaller number of public officials took those threats seriously until five years ago, when soldiers in Osama bin Laden’s jihad succeeded in felling the Twin Towers and killing 2700 by crashing two jets loaded with passengers into the Manhattan icons. As we are all so painfully aware, a third jet crashed into the Pentagon and a fourth went down in the Pennsylvania countryside that day, scuttled by passengers who sacrificed themselves to keep the aircraft from being used as yet another piloted bomb.
The history is relevant and instructive for a number of reasons.
The terrorist threat is real and longstanding. Last week’s foiled attacks are not — as some of the loonier fringes of the left would have us believe — prompted by outrage over our outrageous war in Iraq. Nor are they in any way connected to the surprise war between Israel and Hezbollah. The planning had to be well under way before those hostilities erupted. The would-be British bombers are part of the same dedicated group of Islamofascists who attacked New York and Washington, Indonesia and Madrid, and London last summer. They want people like those reading this newspaper dead, women treated as chattel, democracy replaced with theocracy, and a medieval form of Islam to triumph. Theirs is a sobering agenda. And the truly scary thought is, had they not conceived such a grandiose attack involving so many planes and so many people, they might have actually succeeded.
The shame of it all is that, despite George Bush’s ineptly prosecuted war on terror, despite the right-wing subversion of the Constitution, despite the secret torture camps in Europe and the open disgrace of Guantánamo, this nation is only marginally more secure today than it was before 9/11. It is true that the still-at-large bin Laden has been neutralized and Al Qaeda fractionalized. But the centrally organized mayhem they represented has been replaced by grassroots terrorists who, while inspired by the likes of Al Qaeda, are, according to European experts, essentially self-directed freelancers. That is a threat with which it is admittedly hard to contend.
Windy talk aside, Bush, along with both Democrats and Republicans, has failed to do what needs to be done. The borders of the United States, a continental land mass, are too sprawling to secure completely. But points of entry — harbors and airports — remain dangerously vulnerable. The ease with which a nuclear or toxic bomb could be ferried into a major coastal city is frightening. The potential for death and destruction is truly staggering, conceivably well beyond the quantified horrors of 9/11.
: The Editorial Page
, George W. Bush, Transportation, Al Qaeda, More