Tuesday, October 19, 2004


Why Haven't Terrorists Struck The US Again?

Why Haven't Terrorists Struck The US again, since 9-11? I mean, big attacks, like the original.

Homeland Security was given an impossible task: protect the entire US from a band of suicidal fanatics who were already in the country, had been building their infrastructure for years, organized themselves into discrete hard-to-track cells, and had political support elsewhere in the world who also provided funding. They could strike anywhere: schools, bridges, power plants, traffic jams ... anywhere.

Yet the record since then is one of near-perfection. I think Homeland Security is probably doing a very good job overall, but perfection? That's too good to be true, so what else factors in?

Here's three theories; each comes with its own caveat:

Theory 1. Terrorists are not as freelance as they make themselves out to be. They are state-sponsored killers, and their sponsors - Iran, for example - are intimidated by the presence of US troops on their border. Fearing retaliation, they have called off the dogs for now.

Caveat 1: As soon as Iran gets nukes, they will be able to attack Iraq, finance terrorism, create suitcase nukes for terrorists, or do pretty much whatever they want with near-impunity.

Theory 2. The War On Terror (including Afghanistan and Iraq) has broken up the central bases and support systems that made large-scale terrorism possible. It may be hard for investigators to follow a trail from one cell to another, but it is equally hard for the terrorists themselves to coordinate their efforts. Their cells are limited to about 75-100 people, staffed mostly with amateur fanatics, and isolated from each other. They need a central coordinating base to be effective (interestingly, "Al Qaeda" is Arabic for "The Base").

Caveat 2: Allowing the terrorists to relocate to safe havens elsewhere will bring back more 9-11's. The terrorists have the will to destroy as much of the West as possible; they only lack the means.

Theory 3. Removing Afghanistan and especially Iraq from the ledger of terrorist supporters has crimped terrorist financing below a certain threshold, forcing the terrorists to cut back on operations. This is amplified by GWOT efforts to track down and eliminate terrorist financing worldwide.

Caveat 3: Funding can be replaced. As long as there are organized, supported terrorist groups, it's only a matter of time till they strike again. The West cannot play perfect defence forever in hopes of a scoreless tie.

You can assign a relative importance to each of the above, vary the weightings, ignore some or all of the theories, but the central question always remains: why haven't they been able to strike a second time?