Investigating Terrorism

Joke:


Reporters Expose Airport Security Lapses By Blowing Up Plane

Not a joke:
As a terrorism analyst, I am both appalled and confused by many of the post-9/11 articles published at home and abroad, in newspapers, news magazines and academic journals, as well as on the Internet.

Many of these articles have clearly identified for terrorist groups the country's vulnerabilities -- including our food supply, electrical grids, chemical plants, trucking industry, ports, borders, airports, special events and cruise ships. Some of these articles have been lengthy and have provided tactical details useful to terrorist groups. No terrorist group that I am aware of has the time and manpower to conduct this type of extensive research on a multitude of potential targets. Our news media, and certain think tankers and academicians, have done and continue to do the target vulnerability research for them.
Pluchinsky (a professor in my program) can only even bring this up as an issue because of the assumption that the operational tempo of terrorist groups is much faster than that of the US government. i.e., that a terrorist group would be able to exploit information published in a NYTimes scoop faster than the government would be able to fix the problem. Yet the only solution ever put forward is to restrict the press....

8 comments:

subadei said...

Quite in line with your collateral damage in IO post though perhaps a different facet.

He completely misses the mark that behind what is virtual, public brainstorming isn't a blueprint for potential terror attacks, rather quite the opposite. An intellectual preemption of sorts. If I'm al qaeda I'm planning my tactics around what has already been discussed.

I can imagine an aq roundtable where one terrorist pitches an idea only to have another say "Nah, the Post had a piece about that last week. They'd never fall for it."

Adrian said...

Given the operational tempo of Al Qaeda in particular its unlikely in my view that they'd be able to see something in the newspaper and immediately set their plans into action.

You paint a funny mental image. I've heard different US policy people say "You wouldn't believe the amount to which US policy is driven by what's on the front page of the Post." Perhaps that is true for Al Qaeda as well!

Michael said...

Probably true for old-school AQ, but at what point of the super-empowerment process does this no longer apply I wonder?

Adrian said...

Would a super-empowered individual be able to achieve a higher operational tempo than a functional networked agency? As an individual, they'd have to do it all themselves - planning, procurement, logistics, then implementation. If even a super-empowered individual tried to do that within a short timeframe, flags would probably go off - increasing operational tempo means increasing risk. The Unabomber, Zenpundit's prototypical super-empowered individual, operated over a couple decades for a few dozen bombings.

Kids Fellow said...
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subadei said...

adrian, consider the "DC Snipers." That's about as "high speed low drag" as an operation can get. AQ could enable an SPI (or a few hundred of them) through a method of "sovereign action," i.e an actor armed with little more than an ideology and otherwise on his own. At the risk of playing into your professors worries, imagine ten or twenty small scale terror acts (shootings, bombings, etc.) in the space of a month all carried out by individual actors, each sparked or initiated by the others action.

Adrian said...

re: DC snipers - low risk, low reward. Unfortunately I'll be callous, but the DC snipers' terror was a result of media hype, not of any great impact they had. They killed ten people, randomly chosen, in a month in 2002, in DC, Virginia and Maryland. There were 264 murders in Washington DC alone that year. Curtailing a free press might have been an option back when people were unsure of Al Qaeda's capabilities and thought we could be hit by one or two 9/11-scale events a year, but to stamp down on the press for a few mall-shooting-type events would be ludicrous, IMHO.

Ultimately it's a decision of how much risk we will tolerate as a society. That decision will be made every election, and framed by the media. I find it twistedly ironic that a corporate media interested more in their short-term bottom line could potentially be complicit in restricting press freedoms in the long term.

A.E. said...

"e: DC snipers - low risk, low reward. Unfortunately I'll be callous, but the DC snipers' terror was a result of media hype, not of any great impact they had."

Media hype, unfortunately, is going to be a given in today's information age. As I said in my DNI essay on superempowered individuals, the only real way around this is firm crisis leadership that lessens the public hysteria that will be created by the media.