Peter H. Asmus (spacedebris) Wed 24 Oct 01 09:45
Hello Harry -- I am a renewable energy advocate. My last book is "Reaping The Wind," which tells the story of wind power. I've been writing a lot of stories recently about how the terrorist attack should cause us to rethink our future energy strategy. One of my latest efforts is on the followign website: www.powertothepeople.org. Any thoughts about what this new age of terrorism means for the basic infrastructure of deliverying power. I was just told that even the military may be lobbying for an expansion of distributed renewable energy systems in light of the dangers associated with nuclear power plants and the vulnerability of natural gas pipilines and long-distance transmission lines. HAve you thought about this issue?
Harry Henderson (hrh) Wed 24 Oct 01 10:47
Flash: The bibliography has a section on "Chemical and Biological Terrorism." As a doctor you might be interested in: Burke, Robert. Counter-Terrorism for Emergency Responders. Boca Raton, Fla: Lewis Publishers, 2000. This is a procedure-oriented manual. Another relatively technical work is: Graves, Barbara, ed. Chem-Bio: Frequently Asked Questions. Tempest Pubishing, 1998. For more general readers: Cole, Leonard A. The Eleventh Plague: The Politics of Biological and Chemical Warfare. New York: WH Freeman, 1997. Peter: Welcome to this topic. In general there would be advantages in having a more decentralized infrastructure for power, communications, etc. I agree the most vulnerable part of the system isn't the plants but the transmission system - the giant power "ties" linking (I believe) southern and northern California, for example. Realistically, I can't see a large scale reconfiguration of our power infrastructure taking less than 10-20 years even if we started right away. I can see a trend of key installations (big hospitals, military bases, office and industrial complexes) going to local power sources, maybe renewables (though it would be hard to put a wind or solar farm in Manhattan, and if industry and business were moved out into the countryside wouldn't that cause an outcry by the "anti sprawl" activists? I've written about nuclear power (for ABC-CLIO). I think a nuke is a rather harder target than most people think. Certainly security needs to be stepped up. If they ever build new nukes I'd suggest a technology like the "Pebble bed" reactor that is inherently meltdown-proof and resistant to dispersal of radioactive material in the event of an attack. Anyway, it's a very interesting question.
Fuzzy Logic (phred) Thu 25 Oct 01 01:56
The nuclear power fuel cycle has a wide variation in targets and risks. Operating reactors are generally pretty well hardened; the buildings themselves are not that large and would be hard to hit from above via a plane, and the containments in the standard designs would withstand even fairly large munitions. A much bigger problem is with the far less secure and hardened storage facilities for used nuclear fuel, and the potential for diversion of nuclear materials in the nuclear-electric transportation industry (new fuel to power plants, used fuel and components to disposal sites, etc.), although both new and spent fuel are pretty well protected in transit. In regard to Peter's comment, the salient issues on energy system risk were first laid out in comprehensive detail by the late Wilson Clark in a series of research papers and books he did in the late 1970s and early 1980s, as well as papers by Amory and Hunter Lovins (the famed "Brittle Power" and others). The fact that a drunk with a rifle popped a hole in the Alaska pipeline last month, causing a spill of several thousand barrels of oil and a shutdown of the complete pipeline for quite a few hours is just one indication of our ongoing, pervasive energy insecurity. (Amory lately has been talking about how the pipeline could easily become an "800 mile candle" if it was shut down by someone with a truck, a grudge, and some serious explosives.) Oddly enough, on Sept. 3 we were heading over from Alexandria to Springfield and went past the Pentagon. Right out by the road was a demonstration display of solar panels. I think DOD has been starting to get serious about renewable and distributed energy for some time now. http://www.solartoday.org/2000/jan-feb/feature4.html
Fuzzy Logic (phred) Thu 25 Oct 01 02:15
I want to ask Harry another sort of categorical question. Is it possible to have a terrorist group that operates purely online? I was thinking about this while attending the meeting of the North American Operators Group (www.nanog.org) this week in Oakland, and hearing reports by Sean Donelan and others about Sept. 11 and the Code Red/Nimda attacks. http://www.nanog.org/mtg-0110/ppt/donelan_files/v3_document.htm If terrorism is defined, more or less, as physical harm caused to innocent people for political purposes, is it possible to have "terrorism" that simply operates on the net? For example, if something like the February 2000 attack which brought down a significant number of major web sites like Yahoo for several hours were undertaken by an group with "political" motives in the conventional sense (as February 2000 appears not to have been, although it seems likely the attacker(s) were motivated by some kind of anti-big business stance), would that be "terrorism" if no direct physical harm occurred, just economic and time loss? I ask this in part as a theoretical/philosophical question, but also as a very practical matter, since the US Senate will this morning pass what is now HR 3162, the "counter-terrorism" bill, which adds some kinds of computer intrusion or defacement to the definition of "domestic terrorism." I guess the question is at the basic level of labeling and semantics. The restrictive view of terrorism is that it is limited to acts by non-governmental entities that cause injury or loss of innocent life. But what about acts that do not directly cause injury or death, but are aimed at government or public facilities? Sorry for rambling, but this seems like a very gray area.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 25 Oct 01 07:24
Slightly different question: my wife and I were talking about bin Laden's motivation, and I was remembering that he gained explosive's expertise working in his father's construction business. Could be that he just likes to blow things up, that he's not so much into the associated politics or religion... i.e. a vandal who's also, as Nick Lemann says in this week's "New Yorker," a "terrorist entrepreneur." I'm wondering to what extent terrorists throughout history have been mercenary and detached from the political implications of their activities?
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 25 Oct 01 09:24
That sounds at odds from what people say about his "creepy charisma" -- his ability to stir pride and faith with cadences I've now heard described as " Martin Luther King-like" from two very different sources.
Ross Alan Stapleton-Gray (amicus) Thu 25 Oct 01 09:24
Carlos the Jackhammer Guy?
Harry Henderson (hrh) Thu 25 Oct 01 10:44
Ironically the opposition to centralized nuclear waste storage (particularly Yucca Mountain) has probably made us more vulnerable because so much waste is in cooling pools and temporary storage at plant sites becuase there's no place ready to receive it. I think we need to finish Yucca Mountain and start stashing the stuff. There will be vulnerability during transportation, but high level waste containers are tested to withstand severe impacts and high heat, so blowing up or derailing a train isn't likely to cause radiation release. Theft/diversion is a concern, though. I have considerable misgivings about the latest anti-terrorism legislation (I think we on the Well are very fortunate to have people like Jack King keeping an eye on it for us.) However in terms of categorization, I don't see why cyberterrorism (the term sometimes used) isn't just as "real" as more physical forms of terrorism. To the extent we "live in" and are dependant on what happens in cyberspace, attacks in cyberspace are going to have real consequences. Our whole financial system depends on having secure networks, for example -- although these networks are already pretty "hardened." I think the more likely scenario would be widespread DOS (denial of service) attacks to cause attrition against the economy as well as the release of more sophisticated computer viruses with more destructive payloads. The danger with such legislation of course is that relatively innocuous forms of hacking will be given draconian penalties. Still, when the social immune system is so highly inflamed, I'd advise would-be hackers to stay out of sensitive systems just as I would advise people not to mail "prank" envelopes full of white powder. Besides the serious legal consequences, such actions are helping to accomplish the terrorists' objective of paralyzing our economic and social life.
Steve Cassidy (cassidy) Thu 25 Oct 01 16:39
A small question... Harry: you say further back up the thread that the prices of Gold & Silver are primarily driven by survivalists, and that your observation of the gold price post 11/9 show that the survivalists aren't moving much. Now, I spent ten years working in the place where the world price of gold is set every day. I talked, often, to guys who attempted to position the company in such a way to gain maximum advantage from movements in the gold or silver markets. With the exception of the Bunker Hunt brothers, it's interesting to note how little impact the US has had, at least in the last 25 years, wither as a government or as individuals, on the price of either gold or silver. The people who traditionally run into and out of gold at extreme speed just before things get touchy are the Arabs and the Jews, for apparently congruent but not necesarily 'shared' reasons! Now, I am out of touch with the gold market. I confess, I haven't tracked the physical or warrants markets for ages, and wasn't in any poition to do so during early september: but I'd be fascinated to know what the survivalists buy, when they buy it, and where their market is expressed.
Harry Henderson (hrh) Fri 26 Oct 01 00:03
I'm not an expert on the gold market. I didn't mean to say that the gold or silver market is _primarily_ driven by the survivalist impulse. Rather, I'm suggesting that a widespread panic about the stability of the nation in the future is likely to express itself in an upward pressure on gold and silver, including bullion gold and silver coins like American Eagles and common dated bagged pre-1964 silver coins. Judging from the charts at http://www.kitco.com/cgi-bin/goldyear_new2.cgi spot gold went from around $273 up to about $295 following the attack, and then has fallen pretty much back to where it started (around $275 or so). Since survivalists typically buy gold rounds or bullion gold coins that sell for a premium above gold value, that would be a little harder to figure. If I had gold and silver I'd probably hold onto it simply because there's little downside.
Steve Cassidy (cassidy) Fri 26 Oct 01 12:11
it's not just survivalists. It's everybody, lead by ethnic groups whose interests have always tended more towards liquidity. That kind of move int he gold price is, as you say, nothing: a jump to over a thousand bux in a single day is typical of the onset of a war. That the price *didn't* move on this occasion, distinct from the Yom Kippur war, Gulf war, etc, raises a completely different and rather disturbing proposition: that the traditional gold refugees were forewarned about this.
Gail Williams (gail) Fri 26 Oct 01 21:53
Or already paranoid about the market for other reasons... the economy had been sagging for months after all. Interesting. Harry, looking at your definitions and introduction got me wondering about a lot of things. The quotes from I.L. Horowitz caught my eye, and look like a good list, for example "the terrorist distinguishes himself from the casual homicide in several crucial respects: he murders systematically rather than at random, he is symbolic rather than passionate... and his actions are well planned rather than spontanous." Timothy McVeigh or the unabomber fit these descriptions, but can be treated as murderers in our society rather than as terrorists to some respect because they have little or no constituency. They won't be martyrs, they won't be on tee shirts in 30 years like Che. One item in that list that I didn't follow was the first item -- "A terrorist... makes little if any distinction between strategy and tactics on one hand and principles on the other..." Can you give an example of that?
"Is that a British publication?" (jdevoto) Fri 26 Oct 01 22:06
(It seems to me serial killers also fit those three points mentioned in Gail's third paragraph.)
Gail Williams (gail) Fri 26 Oct 01 22:33
Oops, my fault, Jeanne. I left off the first line which said it was a person "...engaged in politics who..." but that's interesting. I guess some serial killers are symbolic, and that some have political sides to their crime. But they aren't inspiring others, they don't have a constituency, a movement, not even a group of trusted allies to be a militia or a cell or whatever term for a small group with a goal.
"Is that a British publication?" (jdevoto) Fri 26 Oct 01 22:58
Right. Their techniques and attitudes rather than their place in a small or large society of likeminded people. (Or their belief they have such a place. I think what makes McVeigh and those he worked with terrorists is their belief that they represented a lot of people, regardless whether those people agreed.)
Ross Alan Stapleton-Gray (amicus) Fri 26 Oct 01 23:00
Manson did. While David Berkowitz certainly terrified NYC as "Son of Sam," I doubt he much appreciated or cared about the larger effects.
Ross Alan Stapleton-Gray (amicus) Fri 26 Oct 01 23:00
Fuzzy Logic (phred) Fri 26 Oct 01 23:13
Harry, I wonder if you would elaborate a little on trends you see happening. I'm particularly intrigued by the notion that CNN, specifically, has changed the nature of warfare and certainly terrorism as well since the Gulf War era, just the same way that local and national TV news changed the way that civil protests and disobedience are typically organized (this is the topic of Todd Gitlin's fascinating "The Whole World is Watching," which in part was about how TV changed the way the anti-Vietnam War movement was evolving).
Harry Henderson (hrh) Sat 27 Oct 01 00:28
Gail: With regard to: "A terrorist... makes little if any distinction between strategy and tactics on one hand and principles on the other..." I'm not exactly sure, but what I think he's getting at is that most "civilized" military or government agencies make some distinction between their principles and the means they're willing to use to achieve them. In other words, they won't do _anything_ it takes to defeat their enemies. I'm not of course saying that even "civilized" countries don't cross that line distressingly often. And of course in such actions as Waco it's hard to say just what "principles" the federal agents thought they were upolding. Which leads to another point: once you've decided to engage in an action, the immediate pressure of combat tends to make abstract principles recede. You're not upholding democracy or whatever, you're trying to get the guy because he's shooting at you. Phred: I'm not sure about the role of the media. On the military side it's pretty much a bust: day after day we see blurry pictures of bombs and missiles going off and shots of refugees. The Pentagon seems to have learned from the past and no longer raises our expectations even while saying that the bombing has been "successful." Successful at doing what? After awhile the media becomes irrelevant because they don't have the information that might enable us to tell whether we are in fact "winning." The coverage of domestic threats (the anthrax incidents mainly) I think will amplify the debilitating effect of these low-level attacks on morale if they continue - right now there's no way to know whether more anthrax is still being introduced, we have two known letters and suspecting at least one more because the two existing ones don't have a reasonable vector to the latest casualties. By endlessly repeating a relatively small number of incidents the media does create the impression that the attacks are far more widespread. Yes, they do say there are only 15 or whatever actual cases, but visually you see more and more buildings being checked ... on NBC I saw a map showing a bunch of states (including even Arizona). These states apparently represent mail-handling sites that will be checked for possible contamination, but the casual viewer might well conclude that anthrax is now spreading across the country. Which it may be -- but there's no real evidence yet. In some discussions in current I've posted some more thoughts on the possible long term consequences of the attack. I'll repost it in the next post.
Harry Henderson (hrh) Sat 27 Oct 01 00:32
See current 727 for the discussion in context: mthomas: Yes, I think you characterized my concern fairly. One thing that I think is often left out is that the reaction to war or other major stresses is, as mirmir suggests, usually an increase in the centralization, command-control type of economic management. We're also likely to get an increase in government regulation not only of individuals but of businesses, in the name of national security. But this in turn makes the economy _less_ efficient and introduces further distortions into it, and so on. And then we have the familiar feedback loop where economic shortfalls lead to government "welfare" (mainly to corporations at this point), which leads to more inefficiency and distortion. Obviously I don't know whether this effect will damp out before it becomes of lasting significance. If the "war" and low-level attacks on the American infrastructure and people continues more than a few months, I'd start to worry more. </begin side musing> If I were put in charge (hah!) I'd take a different course. I'd promote a decentralized, more robust infrastructure and put more decision-making power in local hands. And with the federal money I'd do things like offer prizes for the best ideas for improving security. I'd ask the mail carriers for suggestions on improving security, not the Postmaster General, who's never worked in a mail-sorting room. And I'd offer training on observation and reaction to terrorist threats to mail carriers, bus drivers, garbage collectors, taxi drivers -- people who are already out on the street in the thousands and who could become something like antibodies to protect against attack. <end side musing/>
Gail Williams (gail) Sat 27 Oct 01 11:13
Did I see a page a day or so ago citing the pentagon calling for suggestions? I don't believe it was parody though I don't remember where I saw it. Perhaps you can forward those musings along someplace. (And of course that's also a reason to post online, it gets ideas into circulation.) An educated decentralized response seems like a promising way to handle decentralized threats on civilians. Has that been the trend in Ireland, Palestine, Israel?
Harry Henderson (hrh) Sat 27 Oct 01 12:15
Well, Israeli citizens have certainly been encouraged to be vigilant, and many of them are armed reservists. This obviously hasn't stopped all the car bombings, etc. You can't really stop everyone who might be determined to commit suicide and take some of your people with them. There obviously is also a role for central government planning. For example, getting an epidemiological picture of a bioterrorist attack requires that local data be quickly communicated to a center where it can be correlated. I just think that our response thus far has emphasized the central over the local, and has emphasized government action over citizen education and empowerment.
Gail Williams (gail) Mon 29 Oct 01 10:01
I was going to ask you about the other terrorist groups you list who share some ideology with Bin Laden's loose network. I thought about posting that I knew they were unlikely to be sophisticated enough to form an alliance... then this morning I get a pointer to this. They don't include Al Quaeda yet: http://www.jpost.com/Editions/2001/10/29/LatestNews/LatestNews.37154.html Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Tanzim have have formed an alliance under the leadership of Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti, Col. Yosef Kuperwasser, head of the IDF's Intelligence Research Division, said today. The selflessness you mention as being part of what makes terorists hard to deal with might even extend to their groups. I was just guessing that they would have egomanaical cult-leader types with a lot of vanity around any martyr stance, but that might be totally wrong. If most are lead by idealogues who are as "selfless" as the rest of there group, then even the processes of alliance might look different. And martyrdom might be a lot less like the whiney metaphor and more like historic accounts of people who just believed they were doing a humble duty and dying for god. That level of faith and conviction is so alien (and frightening) to me. Do you think more of these groups will band together? Will jockying for leadership be the same kind of issue as in familliar political and business aliances?
Harry Henderson (hrh) Mon 29 Oct 01 10:46
I think the "egolessness" is one of the most difficult aspects in dealing with terrorist groups. Conventional organized crime groups, for example, often involve egotistic leaders who react to real or imagined slights and create internecine battles that law enforcers can take advantage of in various ways. I'm not saying there's absolutely no egotism among terrorists. The ego and the normal psychodynamics are still there in some form, but buried beneath the overwhelming commitment to the cause and to the identity that committed terrorists have assumed. (This applies mainly to religious and some political terrorist groups, not more pragmatic ones like the old IRA). As for cooperation, terrorist groups have cooperated for years. Libya used to run a sort of "Terrorism University" where members of IRA, Red Brigades, PFLP, and others trained and mingled and no doubt compared notes. But I think the cooperation is likely to be loose, and involve things like providing hideouts. I wouldn't think they would actually set up a common timetable for coordinated attacks. However many groups would want to take advantage of the heightened sensitivity of the targets and get more "bang for their buck" now when even a small attack is guaranteed a great deal of publicity. There might be some sense of oneupsmanship or competition (that "buried" ego functioning perhaps.)
Linda Castellani (castle) Mon 29 Oct 01 13:36
This is a first. We've never had someone send a single e-mail to two different interviewees before. I'm going to post a copy in each topic and see how that goes. E-mail from Ed Prell: this message is directed to John M. Ford and Harry Henderson. you two could do an incalculable service to humanity by collaborating to write, lickety-split, a gripping novel that would reach out to the america snoozing in the pickup-truck belt and other places and grab them where it hurts. the essential message i have in mind is that rednecks and similar types will be dead meat after their usefulness to the rightwing junta in amerika has run its course. this novel would get to the present moment (early 2002) about 1/3 or halfway through the book. this story line would follow true to history but add in very plausable but unproven dirty tricks. from the present we are taken, again very plausably, into a future that could be best described as a worse-case scenario. the fictional characters could be for instance a dysfunctional family in which the patriarch runs a material yard or trucking firm in birmingham or butte or points between. his sons assume the roles we would expect, except for the black sheep that becomes a radical labor organizer. as the big historical events take their twists and turns, our rednecks take and give some punches, often with heavy metal objects being thrown about. and eventually in their own way, they twist in the wind. done in by the very folks they aspired so much to be like. i am completely unqualified to write such a book. i hope a talented and knowledgable author(s) can produce a piece that reaches and wakes up huge numbers of folks. we, the already aware, do not have anywhere near the numbers to make a difference. thanks for your attention.
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