By Daniel Pipes, September 12, 2001
It is likely that more Americans died yesterday due to acts of violence than on
any other single day in American history.
Two parties are responsible for this sequence of atrocities. The moral blame
falls exclusively on the perpetrators, who as of this writing remain unknown.
The tactical blame falls on the U.S. government, which has grievously failed in
its topmost duty to protect American citizens from harm.
Specialists on terrorism have been aware for years of this dereliction of
duty; now the whole world knows it. Despite a steady beat of major, organized
terrorist incidents over 18 years (since the car bombing of the U.S. embassy in
Beirut in 1983), Washington has not taken the issue seriously.
Here are some of its mistakes:
Seeing terrorism as a crime.
American officials have consistently held the view that terrorism is a
form of criminal activity. Consequently, they have made their goal the arrest
and trying of perpetrators who carry out violent acts. That’s all fine and good
as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. This legalistic mindset allows
the funders, planners, organizers, and commanders of terrorism to continue
their work untouched, ready to carry out more attacks.
The better approach is to see terrorism as a form of warfare and to
target not just those foot soldiers who actually carry out the violence but the
organizations and governments who stand behind them.
Relying too much on electronic intelligence.
It’s a lot easier to place an oversized ear in the sky than to place agents
in the inner circle of a terrorist group, and so the Central Intelligence Agency
and other information-gathering agencies have put on their headphones and
Clearly, this is not enough. The planning for the events that took place
yesterday requires vast preparation over a long period of time involving many
people. That the U.S. government did not have a clue points to nearly criminal
ignorance. As critics like Reuel Gerecht keep hammering home, American
intelligence services must learn foreign languages, become culturally
knowledgeable, and befriend the right people.
Not understanding the hate-America mentality.
Buildings like the World Trade Center and the Pentagon loom very large
as symbols of America’s commercial and military presence around the world.
The trade center was already once before attacked, in a bombing in early 1993.
It should have been clear that these buildings would be the priority
targets and the authorities should have provided them with special protection.
Ignoring the terrorist infrastructure in this country.
Many indications point to the development of a large Islamist terror
network within the United States, one visible to anyone who cared to see it.
Already in early 1997, Steven Emerson told the Middle East Quarterly that the
threat of terrorism “is greater now than before the World Trade Center bombing
as the numbers of these groups and their members expands.
In fact, I would say that the infrastructure now exists to carry off twenty
simultaneous World Trade Center-type bombings across the United States.”
The information was out there but law enforcement and politicians did not want
to see it. The time has come to crack down, and hard, on those connected to
this terror infrastructure.
If there is any good to come out of yesterday’s deaths and trauma, it will be to
prompt an urgent and dramatic change of course in U.S. policy, one that looks
at the threat to the United States as a military one, that relies on human
intelligence, that comprehends the terrorist mentality, and that closes down the
domestic network of terror.
An easy assumption pervaded the airwaves yesterday that the morning’s
horrors will have the effect of waking Americans to the threat in their midst.
I am less optimistic, remembering similar assumptions eight years ago in
the aftermath of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. But that turned
out not to be the wake-up call expected at the time. Perhaps because only six
people died then, perhaps because the bombing was not accompanied or
followed by other incidents, that episode disappeared down the memory hole.
We owe it to yesterday’s many victims not to go back to sleep again.
We also owe it to ourselves, for I suspect that yesterday’s events are just a
foretaste of what the future holds in store. Assuming that the attacks in New
York and in the Washington area were only what they seemed to be, they killed
and injured only those who were in the buildings under attack or in their
Future attacks are likely to be biological, spreading germs that potentially
could threaten the whole country. When that day comes, this country will truly
know what devastation terrorism can cause. Now is the time to prepare for that
danger and make sure it never happens.