03 February 2006

So how would you do it?

On January 19, 2006, Usama Bin Laden released another audiotape warning that he had authorized another attack on the United States. He did the required bit of offering his enemy a "truce," i.e., terms on which his enemy could get him to call off the attack. This is required by Muslim martial tradition. What is not required is that the terms be realistic, and these were not. In other words, a new attack is coming.

What can we say about it, given the message in his text, and his past history? Well, he operates fairly long term. That would mean that the attack leaders have presented their plans to Usama, and he has sanctioned them. He has probably given them financing. In other words, they are on their way.

Now, if the next attack on the US is to be like the last one (9/1/2001), but bigger and more spectacular, the following things can reasonably be said:

(1) The operatives (attack leaders) will not bring weapons or material or any other observables into the country. They didn't the last time. They used big bombs, and huge delivery systems, which would have given them away if they had brought their own. Instead, they used what we ourselves supplied: lots of jet fuel transported by big airplanes. All they had to do was hijack a few planes with improvised hand-weapons. They'll do something different this time, but the principle stands: travel light - turn the enemy's own resources against him.

(2) The operatives will not necessarily fit seamlessly into our society. They will require social cover, and they will require "handlers," pre-emplaced sympathizers who will provide them with the necessities of life, shelter, and whatever items they will require for their attack.

So, how do we deal with them? Why don't we make sure that President Bush can't use the NSA to intercept conversations between the handlers in the US and the operatives abroad as they arrange their travel? Let's refuse to streamline the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court procedures for approving and keeping secret such intercepts. Let's spend all our energy trying to impeach Bush for not following those procedures. Let's hail those who leaked the information about the intercepts as heroes rather than try them for treason in time of war. (It was so much more appropriate to take the matter to the New York Times rather than to security-cleared Democrat members of the House and Senate Select Committees on Intelligence!)

There. Don't you feel safer already?

Seriously, though, there is an irreconciable tension between democracy and the secrecy needed to defend it. Eternal vigilance is indeed the price of freedom - vigilance of ourselves and our enemies. And still seriously, the danger to Liberal Democracy (in particular its concepts of privacy and freedom of expression) is al-Qaeda and its style of Islamic Fundamentalism, not President Bush. He is merely dangerous to a certain liberal (small "l") worldview. Because if he is right, then they are wrong, and if they are wrong, they lose their reason to be.

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