Thursday, July 14, 2005

The London attack: let's hope it needed an outside expert

Cracking the London Case - Agatha Christie vs. the terrorists. By Tim Naftali

Tim Naftali is the author of Blind Spot: the Secret History of American Counterterrorism. He's not a formal counter-terrorism export, but given the way he writes I wonder if he's had another past life he doesn't talk about. This Salon article, despite the stupid title, is an exceptional summary of how counter-terrorism operations proceed, including how the Lockerbie bombing was solved.

The most interesting part for me, however, was his conclusion:
The challenge now for the British is to determine whether they are hunting a large organization, with direct ties abroad, or a local jihadist gang. There is much debate now about the extent to which al-Qaida has metastasized in reaction to U.S. and allied attacks on Bin Laden's sanctuary in Afghanistan. There is no question that the group has devolved into a looser worldwide confederation. The question is whether it has also become more lethal. The solution to the London case may provide some answers. Counterintuitive as this may seem, it would be comforting to learn that these four suspected bombers relied on outside help. That would indicate that they are part of an army of terrorists, and armies have leadership structures that can be destroyed. If, on the other hand, the London bombings were done by four angry young men with the barest amount of local support, the challenge for Western counterterrorism becomes much greater.
Years ago, when I wrote a mini-book web page post 9/11, the falling cost of havoc was the single most important concept I wanted to communicate. This is the real bottom line. We've always had suicidal religous fanatics (remember Shinto pilots in WW II?). We've always had terrorists. We've always had religious and cultural strife. What's new is that havoc has become affordable. As technology reduces the costs and increases the diversity of weaponry, as communication allows ideas and techniques to be widely disseminated, as the pool of the educated disenfranchised grows, the risks and costs of terrorism rise.

This has implications. I think, for example, that we should be desperately funding research into the nature of paranoid schizophrenia and the sociology of antisocial action. We also need to think about how we'll survive a world in which engineering bio-pathogens becomes a schoolboy's exercise.

Let's hope this event required an outside expert. Let's hope the currently missing Islamic chemistry student wasn't all they needed. Let's hope the day of reckoning is still a few years away.

No comments: