Terrorism: September 14, 2001


"To the Shores of Tripoli"- 

Two centuries ago American ships were beset by seagoing terrorists. These were the Barbary pirates, freebooters who operated out of bases in North African ports. The rulers of the North African kingdoms (the Barbary States) tolerated the pirates (considering it their God given right to do so) for a cut of the loot. Nations could protect their citizens from pirate attacks by paying large sums of money (tribute) to the rulers of the North African kingdoms who would then restrain the pirates. Today, we call this a protection racket. America paid the tribute for a while, but when asked to pay even more, the cry went up, millions for defense, not one cent for tribute. In went the US navy and marines and that was the end of the Barbary pirates. Thus the Marine Corps hymn contains the line, to the shores of Tripoli.

The situation today is very similar. The pirates are now terrorists. They are not interested in plunder and enslaving people, but mass murder and pursuing ideological and religious goals. The most active international terrorism organization is the Osama Bin Laden group. They take refuge in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Sudan, not the Barbary States. The main bases are in Afghanistan, a nation without a seacoast. The Taliban government of Afghanistan also pleads for international aid to relieve their dire economic problems, but refuses to have this aid linked with restraining the terrorists in their territory. The Barbary pirates were allowed to operate for so long because no one wanted to spend the substantial money required to launch a major military operation to attack the host nations and shut it down. Eventually America did, and it worked. But today we have a situation where, for years, America has protested the sanctuary terrorists are given in some nations. Afghanistan is currently under UN sanctions for harboring terrorists, but still refuses to take action. And Afghanistan continues to demand more humanitarian aid. At least the Barbary States were willing to make deals. So much for progress.

The Osama Bin Laden terrorist organization has killed more Americans than the Barbary pirates ever did. The nations that provide refuge for the Bin Laden followers are doing it for political, religious and ideological reasons, not for money. But Bin Laden also gets refuge because his exploits are very popular among Moslems, especially in the Middle East. The reason for this is that, since the Arab peoples achieved independence over the last 80 years (first from Turkish domination, then from European colonial rule), they have not been able to establish honest, efficient governments. Corruption and tyranny is the rule. The people either migrate (millions have come to America) or turn to Islamic fundamentalism and blaming the West for all their problems. These Arab grievances refer back to the Christian crusades of the 12th-14th centuries and a short period of colonial rule after World War I. Americans forget that in most of the world, people have long memories. Wrongs (real or imagined) committed centuries ago are the basis for current hatreds. The closest thing we have to this is when you hear someone from Alabama complaining about the war and realizing this reference is to the Civil War of 1861-65.

Ancient grudges are one thing, combining them with religion is lethal. When youre on a mission from God, anything is allowed, any means are justified and there are no limits. At least piracy was something of a profession; you did it for a living, not to deliberately slaughter civilians and destroy non-military property. The radical Arab attitude is that Western customs and ideas are polluting Moslems. Economic progress is not possible until all Western influences are driven out of Moslem areas. Most Moslems dont agree with this, but they do go along with the idea that someone else is the cause of all their misery. Unlike the West, personal responsibility does not extend much beyond family or clan. Islam was never a fan of democracy. Indeed, the word Islam means submission. While many of the increasingly better educated population realize that Western technology and business methods (rule of law and discouraging corruption) will help Moslem populations without degrading Islam, they are reluctant to speak out. The radicals have weapons, are willing to use them against dissenters as well as Westerners, and are generally not opposed. A small portion of the population is attracted to the radical groups. So we have corrupt leaders plundering the population from above, while a small number of radicals terrorize the democratic minded people from below. Many Moslems take a perverse pride in terrorist acts against non-Moslems. Thus you see public celebrations in Moslem nations after terrorist acts against non-Moslems. The huge death toll of the September 11th attacks shocked even those who say they are in favor of suicide attacks. Celebrations were muted, but they still took place. The radicals were still jubilant. But most Moslems realize that terrorist attacks only work if they get media attention and dont enrage the victims into a desire for massive retaliation. Most Moslems realize the September 11 attacks were over the line and now America will be out in force looking for blood. Everyone can understand the desire for revenge after a great wrong has been done. But for the radicals, death at the hands of the oppressor is a sure way to enter an afterlife paradise. But pirates are pirates, and in the 19th century, British courts ruled that pirates could be hunted down and killed when captured. In this sense, what worked to eliminate the Barbary pirates will work to eliminate terrorists.

September 13, 2001; The September 11 terrorist attacks depended on three things to succeed. First, the Bin Laden organization was capable of recruiting, screening and training men capable of carrying out the multiple aircraft hijackings. This is a difficult and exacting task. But its known that Bin Laden has recruited many able lieutenants and implemented efficient procedures to support successful terrorist operations. This requires people with technical and managerial skills and discipline. The key to a successful operation is thorough reconnaissance (collecting information), careful planning and willingness to walk away if it look like it wont work.

Second, unless you have the kind of hyper airport security the Israelis use, these kinds of hijackings are still possible. Consider that the September 11 hijackers didnt use guns. They smuggled small knives and things like box cutters that can be easily hidden the clutter of carry on luggage. Since these are suicide terrorists, they possess a fierceness that is difficult for passengers and flight crew to deal with. Back in the 1970s, sky marshals (armed security personnel) were put on commercial flights. But one sky marshal would not be a guarantee that half a dozen terrorists could not take over an aircraft. There will probably be proposals to put even more sturdy doors on cockpits and something like a small video camera outside the door so the pilots can see whats happening in the passenger compartment. To institute the Israeli type of airport security would be very expensive, and objectionable to some (the profiling would be very hard on anyone who appeared to be Middle Eastern.)

Third, the internet and more powerful encryption have made it much easier for terrorists to communicate. In the past, it was much easier to pick up phone messages or intercept mail and couriers. But new, industrial strength encryption, easily available on the internet, makes it much more difficult for US intelligence organizations to decode terrorist messages. Since there are thousands of messages captured that might be from terrorists, the longer it takes to crack them, the more time the terrorists will have to operate undetected. The combination of disciplined terrorists and secure encrypted internet communications allows planning to proceed undetected.

Bin Ladens success in the past has attracted more recruits. His financial resources enables him to maintain (pay) staff and make payments to the families of suicide terrorists (which also encourages more recruits.) The success of the September 11th attacks will bring in more recruits. Bin Ladens training camps in Afghanistan (and other camps in Iran) continue to operate. As things stand now, more such attacks could be in the works and ready to be carried out any time in the future. In response, there probably will be more detailed searches of carry on baggage (and limits on how


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