Stanford Review - Archive - Volume XXVII - Issue 1 - Front Page
Responding to Terrorism
Hoover fellows respond to terrorist attacks
by David Myszewski
Senior Staff Writer
"The problem is we have not taken terrorism seriously."
Abraham Sofaer's assessment, and the notion that the United States should not have been surprised by the terrorist attacks of September 11, were echoed in the 2001-2002 academic year's first session of the Hoover Institution's World Affairs seminar series.
Mr. Sofaer, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and former State Department legal advisor, was joined by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, Joseph McNamara, and moderator John Dunlop on October 3 in analyzing both the United States' response to terrorism and the reasons why the September 11 attacks were not prevented.
Mr. Sofaer emphasized the vital roles that technology, intelligence, deterrence, and accountability play in terrorism and anti-terrorism. Mr. Sofaer said that the U.S. is not using technology to its fullest extent giving the examples of impenetrable cockpit doors and airplane skins that cause the airplane to explode immediately upon a missile impact, both technologies which the Israelis employ.
He argued that criminal prosecution is not an effective deterrent to terrorists. Since the terrorists who hijacked the planes on September 11 were going to die anyway, he said, there was absolutely no deterrence from criminal prosecution.
One area that is currently dismal, according to Mr. Sofaer, is accountability.
"The people who fail to act meaningfully against terrorists after telling us they will do so are not held accountable. The team that allows a massive failure should go."
It shouldn't have been a surprise. Due to past history, "I was not surprised by the attack on the World Trade Center," said Mr. Sofaer.
He cited several historical acts, including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the famous Japenese kamikaze fighter pilots, indicating that ramming of planes into buildings uses the kamikazes' techniques and a scope similar to that of bombings.
Joseph McNamara and Bruce Bueno de Mesquita gave some examples of their own.
Mr. McNamara, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, explained part of a 1985 speech that he had made to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco while he was Chief of Police in San Jose. In speaking about what conditions would exist in the criminal justice area in the new millennium, McNamara gave the prediction that "domestic terrorism would occur on a scale here in the United States that we have not seen."
Mr. McNamara, who spoke mainly about issues related to local law enforcement, said that he had reached that conclusion for two reasons.
First, he attended an FBI conference to which police chiefs from major cities all across the country had been invited, where leaders of several countries described terrorist incidents that had occurred in or around their respective countries. ". . . .the overwhelming questions in my mind were: why have we not had similar occurrences of that magnitude in the United States? We are a freer society; we certainly have more access to weapons and explosives than the countries that were describing the terrorist attacks, and there really was no answer."
Second, after finding out that one of his police officers accidentally took a gun through the airport security, Mr. McNamara directed several officers to go through security in civilian clothes with knives, guns, and other weapons, and found that the metal detector did not detect any weapons in about two-thirds of the people.
The threat of the airplanes as terrorist devices should not have been a surprise to the United States. Abraham Sofaer recalled an event more than a decade ago, something that people in the United States now find much more reasonable. "I remember our criticism of Israel for shooting down a civilian jetliner that came into its territory in the 1980's without announcing itself."
Isreal's explanation was plain and simple: they had no idea who was flying that plane, and they didn't want to take any risks.
What is the appropriate response?
Hoover Institution senior fellow and New York University professor Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, who spoke primarily on the response to the terrorist actions, was only a mile away from the World Trade Center on September 11. He argued that perhaps the most important thing the United States has done so far is restraining from action.
The Taliban's military, he explained, has had to remain ready for an attack 24 hours a day.
"You can't sustain maximum vigilance for very long."
Mr. Mesquita said, "It is, as was the contest to eliminate the threat of Al Capone, primarily an unexciting but effective struggle by accountants." By shutting down the financial access of organizations like the al-Qaida network, the organizations become "no longer economically viable."
"It's not as exciting as shooting Tomahawk missiles at tents, but it's much more effective."
He examined a possibly unexpected avenue of finding people in the al-Qaida: getting help from other terrorist organizations.
"When we go out and have to deal with unsavory characters, we will also need to deal with unsavory organizations to achieve the President's stated objectives."
Organizations like the IRA and PLO "engage in terrorism because they have concluded . . . . that they have no process of advancing their agenda through normal means. These groups have a "substantial political wing" and may be interested in "cutting a deal and finding a middle ground." Perhaps most importantly, he stated, these organizations may know how to find the terrorist organizations like the al-Qaida network.
He emphasized the extreme importance of ensuring that governments in the region, such as Pakistan's, are not destabilized and replaced by governments that are even worse than the current ones.
Mr. Mesquita indicated with a little-known statistic that the Taliban has been strengthened by past actions of the U.S.
"Every dollar of per capita aid to a country increases the probability that that country's autocratic leaders will stay in office by 2 percent. Last year, we gave the Taliban government of Afghanistan $175 million in foreign assistance." Since Afghanistan has about 25 million people, that is $7 per capita in aid, which "increased the probability that the Taliban government will remain in charge of Afghanistan by 14 percent."
"It is good to help poor people who are poor through no fault of their own. It is foolish to do so by turning the assistance over to the control of a government who uses that assistance to bribe its cronies, to create a black market, and to suppress its people and keep them poor while sustaining themselves in office. That is what we are doing--today, even--in Afghanistan."
The biggest problem that we have, though, is not in the acquisition of the information, but in sorting it out.
"In December 1941, an intelligence failure--a failure to sort out messages and recognize a message that made clear the intent of the Japanese with regard to Pearl Harbor--was overlooked, leading to cataclysmic consequences. Apparently we are not much better at sorting out information."
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