http://www.nationalpost.com/scripts/printer/printer.asp?f=/stories/20011016/738367.html John O'Sullivan National Post October 16, 2001 Even before the events of Sept. 11, military experts were warning of the dangers posed by Osama bin Laden's brand of terrorist warfare. "Asymmetrical war" is a strategy employed by the weaker side in a conflict to compensate for -- and even to profit from -- its enemy's strengths. A small bomb placed near the ammunition room, for instance, might cripple a battleship. In fact a small bomb, ferried to the ship in a tiny supply boat, did damage the USS Cole in Aden. Such modest expenditures by the terrorist not only cause costly damage. They also force the stronger side to embark on expensive precautions over a wide expanse of territory while the terrorist can choose his point of attack from an almost infinite number of opportunities. In his poem "Arithmetic on the Frontier," Kipling caught the financial asymmetry exactly: A scrimmage in a border station A canter down some dark defile Two thousand pounds of education Drops to a ten rupee jezail. At first glance the events of Sept. 11 -- in which the terrorists, armed only with primitive box-cutters, seized four planes and drove three of them into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, killing thousands -- seem to demonstrate the usefulness of such warfare. Look more closely, however, and a different picture emerges. Almost every action taken by the terrorists was dictated by their need to evade regular air safety precautions. They used box-cutters because X-ray machines made it too risky to bring guns or grenades on board. Because box-cutters might not be sufficient to intimidate a planeload of people inclined to resist, they had to cow other passengers by sheer force of numbers -- potentially arousing suspicion. And, finally, because a bomb had proved insufficient to bring down the World Trade Center six years earlier, they had to transform the hijacked planes into flying bombs, aim them at the buildings, and "suicide" themselves in the process. An advocate of asymmetrical warfare might still judge the operation a success -- cold-blooded and ruthless perhaps but also relatively cheap and very ingenious. Again, however, look more closely. The operation may have been cheap in financial terms -- US$300,000 is one estimate -- but it cost the lives of 19 terrorists who had been expensively trained in munitions, architecture and flying. (Any future such hijackings will require new suicidal devotees and new training courses.) It also demanded years of meticulous planning to outwit what until a month ago were often casual safety precautions. Consider, by contrast, the extraordinarily rapid response of ordinary Americans to this terrorist "success." Less than 90 minutes after the planes slammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the passengers on the fourth plane rebelled against their captors and brought it down in Pennsylvania, sacrificing their own lives to save perhaps thousands of others and the White House. Supporting this heroism were two recent developments in U.S. life: cellphones and round-the-clock news. Within minutes of the attack on the twin towers, the world learned about it via radio, television and the Web. And passengers on two of the four planes learned the news from family and friends over their cellphones. Those passengers found themselves in a uniquely horrific situation. Unlike all others who had been hijacked up to that moment, they could not assume they would suffer a few days' inconvenience and humiliation before negotiations released them. They knew they were the doomed inhabitants of flying bombs. The first plane hit the Pentagon at almost exactly the same time as the passengers learned of their fate and before they had time to react. The second was brought down by heroic passengers. And that courageous response took not years of meticulous planning and indoctrination, but minutes of spontaneous co-operation by ordinary people used to the everyday procedures of a self-organizing civil society. Any future hijacker must contemplate not only improved official security precautions, but also the likelihood that the passengers will resist. It sharply increases the odds against him. Asymmetrical war has produced an asymmetrical response. And the lesson goes beyond hijackings. In making war on modern civilization, bin Laden has taken on two forces that together are probably invincible -- the first is the patient, methodical, bureaucratic procedures of the modern state, the second the spontaneous organizing power of ordinary people in a democratic society. What took Osama years of meticulous planning in his remote cave was rendered obsolete within minutes by the courage of a randomly selected group of American travellers. He may not know it yet; he may even score a few more victories; but the Cave Man is already extinct. John O'Sullivan is editor-in-chief; of United Press International in Washington, D.C. *==============================================================* "Communications without intelligence is noise; Intelligence without communications is irrelevant." Gen Alfred. M. Gray, USMC ================================================================ C4I.org - Computer Security, & Intelligence - http://www.c4i.org *==============================================================* - ISN is currently hosted by Attrition.org To unsubscribe email majordomoat_private with 'unsubscribe isn' in the BODY of the mail.
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