Sunday, September 9, 2007

Sept 11: I don't mean to scare you, but...

September 11, 2007 is nearly here.

WARNING! I don’t mean to scare you but…

If you think I’m not safe here in Iraq, but you are safe there in America, think again. Terrorists in America have the tactical advantage.

—I awoke the other morning to a suicide truck bomb attack. How could I not awake? The entire structure around me shook terribly. Like the majority of these suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (SVBIEDs), the target was the local Iraqi police (IP).

Many people choose to call them homicide bombers; I prefer the term suicide bombers. Why not? After all, these so-called religiously inspired fanatics kill themselves in the process of obliterating their victims. That aside, here’s what I was getting to:

Through exhaustive study and research over the years, I have found an interesting pattern. The majority of the attacks using VBIEDs (pronounced Vee-Bids) ever since the early 80s have not had great success compared to what could occur. For example, the terrorist-to-victim death ratio for al Qaeda-backed attacks against the U.S. is roughly 1 terrorist killed to 26 victims. (Note: This figure does not represent al Qaeda in Iraq attacks for a number of reasons that I won’t go into here, but keep reading.) Removing the Bali nightclub and U.S. East Africa embassy attack anomalies would change the ratio to approximately 1 to 12. This has significant implications, which I will soon tell you about. Are you anxious to know? Maybe scared a little…? I would be.

Often VBIED attacks, particularly here in Iraq, account for only 1 terrorist to 1 or 2 or 3 victims killed. That was the case in the bombing a few days ago that startled me out of a peaceful slumber. There are a few exceptions, of course, like the February 2005 attack against IP recruits in Hillah, the January 5, 2006 attack against Shi’ites in Karbala and IP north of Baghdad, and the more recent late August 2007 attack up north. More Iraqis are dying than coalition forces.

War is repulsive.

It is noteworthy to mention here that simultaneous or near-simultaneous attacks of a few suicide attackers have the tendency to bring total number of causalities up. But coordinated attacks require more terrorists, and when more terrorists get involved, they stand the risk of being intercepted by counterterrorist officials. Anyhow, my point is that for the most part, a car or truck bomb attack is not as effective as it could be. That’s the good news, if you want to call it that.

Keep reading. The scary part is just about here.

Considering the size of the explosive-on-wheels, the time taken in planning and gaining materials, and the damage that it could potentially do, the success rate for suicidal jihadists driving conveyances full of high explosives isn’t that great, as mentioned. Even though one death is one too many, that’s reasonably wonderful news. Why? Keep reading. But I’m warning you, it’s not good.

By contrast, consider these ratios. On September 11, 2001, for every 1 of the 19 hijackers who died, of 3,000 killed the odds changed drastically: 1 to 158. (NOTE: I compiled the original research; hence it’s subject to possible mathematical miscalculations and other slight errors. I’m not afraid to admit that my wife does the bills.) What I’m saying is 158 people died to each al Qaeda devil. Do you have any idea what this means?! Can you see the gut-wrenching significance of this? Probably not, but no worries (yet), I will explain.

Having sat as an undercover counterterrorism operator on board numerous aircraft attempting to thwart terrorists—and in some cases doing it—for over three years after 9/11, I have some insight on what these evil men can and want to do to commercial aviation assets and innocent, unsuspecting passengers. In fact, I even ‘predicted’ the method and timing of the London Bomb Plot (the UK-based terror ring who wanted to use suicide bombers to bring down numerous U.S. aircraft over the Atlantic in August 2006), but that’s another story all together.

Here’s the bottom line.

With such powerful odds in al Qaeda’s favor (i.e. 1-to-158 vs. 1-to-a small handful rarely exceeding 10), a much greater success rate than in suicide attacks that occur on the ground, who can doubt al Qaeda will not again try this altitude-based tactic? I would. Hitting a commercial airliner, both an economic and psychologically devastating tactical target, would also kill numerous people. Even better yet (for them), think if this! To bring down one jumbo jet with approximately 250 people on board it, would only take one suicide bomber. Even with two or three shaheed (‘martyrs’), the death ratio odds would still be better than most attacks by far. Even the suicide bombers on foot (person-borne IEDs), particularly active in Israel and Palestine, do not yield that many causalities—not even close.

The terrorists know this. I’m not giving them any ideas. They know even skilled air marshals would have difficulty stopping a suicide bomber. Even as dumb-looking as they are, they are ‘wise’ enough to figure this out. (For example, consider the oaf Richard Reid, the infamous ‘shoebomber’ who failed to detonate his big feet on an American Airlines route from Paris to Miami in December 2003. I don’t like speaking ill of others, but I have to say, it looks like he fell out of an ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down. He very well could have done some extensive brain damage at that time, too. Additionally, think of the brain-child who rented the Ryder truck that was used as the truck bomb in the 1993 World Trade Center attack. He went back after the fact to try to get his deposit money back! That’s how he got caught.) Terrorists groups have their dolts. They too, are scared, even though they speak ‘no fear’, that’s simply not true.

Considering the 1-to-over 150 dead ratio when terrorists attack commercial airlines is one of the reasons why recent news reports of multiple probes at airports did not alarm me. It came as no surprise. You know, the batteries, wires and blocks of cheese that more-than-suspicious persons were attempting to smuggle through airport security at various airports across the nation? These test runs—yes, I’m calling them that, ‘test runs’, probes, and rehearsals—using blocks of cheese and other detonating devices represented homemade explosives.

After getting onto a plane, terrorists could assemble these bomb parts in the lavatories. Columnist Annie Jacobsen gained national attention when she and her husband experienced something like this on Northwest flight 329 with 14 supposed Syrian musicians.

Consider this never-told-before surprising revelation. A couple of air marshal friends of mine watched a dozen Middle Eastern males who were grouped together in an airport in the eastern United States begin boarding an airplane two by two in spaced out intervals, as if they pretended not to know each other. My buddy called mission operations control. The watch officer said something even more shocking. “Woah, stay on the line. The exact same thing is happening at D/FW airport.” A rehearsal? A probe? A dry run? I think so. The same thing was likely coordinated at a couple more airports too. I’ve experienced things just as shocking, or even more so.

While I was an air marshal, one media outlet (I forget which one now) reported at the time that nine hijacking plots were thwarted since September 11th. The report indicated that terrorists would use bombs disguised as a cameras, and flashes which were really stun guns. The camera IEDs (a shoe bomb or any other IED) would blow the hardened cockpit door. The stun guns could possibly take out the not-so-undercover air marshals or any resisters, or so the thought went. Interestingly, a camera IED was used to successfully assassinate Ahmed Shah Massoud in Afghanistan on September 9, 2001, indicating that al Qaeda has the technical expertise. And, does anyone else besides me see this…? I know the terrorists notice it. When pilots need to use the lavatory or get meals, the hardened cockpit door is opened, leaving the aircraft entirely too vulnerable to a dedicated overwhelming force of terrorists or a hand thrown IED, camera other otherwise. These guys need to wake up!

One tiny female flight attendant once told me, in a very serious tone, “If someone tries to get into the flight deck, I’ll stop them. I’ve taken kick boxing classes.” She then gave a karate chop sign. I’ll give her an ‘A’ for effort and a positive attitude, but realistically…well, it’s not.

The British media reported in mid-June 2006, before the shocking London Bomb Plot revelation, that Islamic terrorists in London had plotted to bring down a plane. One suspect urged another that they didn’t even need to crash the plane into a specific target, just drive it into the ground. They were brainstorming. Eventually these apathetic imps would see the reasoning behind using a suicide bomber. Who needs to get into the cockpit (a.k.a. the flight deck), when that would risk apprehension and use more manpower?

Taking out one single plane (i.e., Boeing 767, 777, or 747) would result in anywhere between 190 - 340 deaths. A suicide bomber could accomplish this well. One suicide bomber could kill anywhere between 190 and 340 people. Wow! That figure is better than the ratio killed by the 9/11 hijackers (1 suicide terrorist to 158 persons killed). Such an attack could kill more than the first suicide truck bomb attack on the U.S. Marine Corps barracks did in Lebanon in the 80s (241 killed). Remember, that attack largely inspired the use of suicide terror.

It’s sickening. The factors just increased dramatically to 1 ‘martyr’ dead for 250-plus killed. Even better, if they can pull it off, they won’t have to use suicide bombers, but more on that later. It’s uncanny and nauseating.

On August 24, 2004, two Islamic radical Chechen “black widows” successfully detonated themselves in two separate planes over Moscow. Everyone on board both planes died.
The radical Islamic cleric Abu Hamza al Masri encouraged his followers in early 2006 to use suicide bombers to bring down commercial aircraft. His former followers included Zacarais Moussaoui, the ‘20th hijacker’ and Richard Reid, the ‘shoe bomber’. In fact, this London-based cleric helped motivate the London tube (subway) attackers (7/7, London’s 9/11), as well as others. Consider the London Bomb Plot link now. A little so-called religious [mis]guidance can go a long way.

Since an average plane carries at the low end, 100 passengers, bringing down a plane would be a more attractive target than most, not to mention the symbolic and psychological impact it would carry in a post-9/11 America. To make matters worse, to bring down a plane al Qaeda would not even have to sacrifice a single ‘martyr’. Terrorists could use an IED in the un-inspected cargo or checked in luggage. Terrorists could use the same tactics they applied in the 1995 Bojinka Plot: plant a bomb on the plane, leave the plane and catch a connection, then Kaboom!

There go a dozen planes scattered over the Pacific Ocean. Terrorists could shoot down planes with surface-to-air missiles, place a VBIED under an airplane’s flight path, or ram a VBIED into a loaded taxiing plane on the tarmac. All of these tactics and techniques would not require sacrificing a bomber. Those suicide terrorists could be saved for future operations.

Now, back to VBIEDs.

Car and truck bombs will continue. Terrorist use what works. VBIEDs work. And even though the aim of hundreds dead isn’t always the end result for these blood-thirsty vermin, the death toll still occasionally gets way too high. Moreover, since there has occasionally been a tremendous amount of deaths by sacrificing one or two shaheed per VBIED attack, we can assume al Qaeda will keep this tactic and undoubtedly use it over and over, perhaps in America very soon.

The targets for suicide VBIEDs may be varied from high rise buildings to apartment complexes, or hotels to crowded commercial airports. I believe that high rise buildings stand the greatest threat (i.e., Sears Tower or other less popular and not well secured buildings). The psychological shock value, not to mention the loss of life or economic ruin, would appeal to terrorists.

I had a passion for countering terror way before 9/11, so I often held my breath when walking from the crowded entryway of the airports to deep into the back. Why? Because even several years after 9/11 there are still airports that are terribly vulnerable to a car, van or truck driving into—or close enough to—the huge ticket counter lines. I gasped hard one day a few years ago when I learned through the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) an airport bus was stolen. I had previously envisioned such carnage. Steal it, pack it with explosives and blow it up. To make matters worse, training and prevention methods were not being implemented in a way to best stop it.

Now I’m getting into why I left the FAMS, so let’s get back on track.

Reports and trends indicate that al Qaeda seeks to use limos or emergency service vehicles, or buses in this case, as VBIEDs since those vehicles can usually get closer to a target. Moreover, semi trucks, buses and other large moving vehicles are also being sought. For instance, the terror suspects in Canada last year who purchased several tons of ammonium nitrate (a.k.a. fertilizer) and fuel oil (ANFO) to use like Timothy McVeigh did in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

A growing number of Somalis in Minneapolis and Columbus are attending truck driving school. (Note: Just in case you didn’t know, Somalia is an al Qaeda bastion.) Many Middle Eastern men have gotten commercial drivers licenses in the U.S. Too, semi trucks carrying highly toxic and flammable materials that could be used as explosives have been stolen. They’ve disappeared.

These could be easily converted into drivable bombs and driven virtually anywhere there is concrete.

Sure, al Qaeda elements and the global safalist movement have had an interest in chemical and biological weapons. But in all likelihood, a jihad-inspired group will stick to what works. They’ll stick to what they know. Chemical attacks would have spread rapidly after the 1995 Sarin gas attack on the Japanese subway had it been something Islamically-based terror groups seriously wanted. Even the chlorine bomb attacks here in Iraq haven’t worked as planned. (Keep your fingers crossed.) Chemical attacks have taken a back seat to high explosives. Ever since terrorism raised its ugly head, that has been the case.

There is a tacit feeling, and conversely an openly expressed notion, that the federal government must protect its people 100 percent of the time. That’s not possible. Even Dr. Condi Rice, as the National Security Advisor, said in her testimony to the 9/11 Commission, the odds that we can stop every plan, attack or incident are 1 to 100.

No person, group or organization can or should expect perfection in the government’s ability to keep us totally safe all the time. That is simply an unreasonable request. Can more be done? Sure. Should more be done? Absolutely. But you and I can’t only blame the government nor leave it all upon the government’s shoulders, as if ‘the government’ is some superhuman saving power instead of a group of humans with strengths and weaknesses just like you and I. We’re each to blame: every person, every company, every organization. It’s up to us to make the difference. (Quick marketing message: check out my website at I’m also an attitude coach and conference speaker. Seriously. Hey, I couldn’t resist.)

If we can demand perfection on an individual, a group, or a monolithic government, we should do some serious self-introspection. We should ask ourselves: what can I do to better perfect my own life, my own circumstances and the sphere of influence I have some control over?

Finally, mourning the loss of single military service members killed here in the desert wasteland is profound beyond expression. The grief and heartache experienced when fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen, or Marines depart from this life is nothing, however, compared to the burden of depression which attacks the heartstrings and soul of their loving family back home. I cannot fathom that pain. One death is too many.

Needless to say, while I’m dodging car bombs here in Iraq, just remember this. I’m expecting it. I’m looking for it. Most American’s are oblivious to the threat back home. Note this: Terrorists will wait. They will find the perfect target. They have plenty of opportunity to hold out and find the biggest crowds for the biggest effects.

There are only two reasons why another major terrorist attack hasn’t occurred on American soil. First, the terrorists are waiting for the opportune time. Secondly, Divine intervention. I believe it’s more the latter than the former. Because while it’s difficult, collectively, we can ‘handle’ one or two Americans dying at a time here in a somewhat forgotten battle zone; but having 100, 200, 300 or 3,000 die again, all at once, in America at the hands of wicked murderers would devastate the spirit and cripple tender hearts.

I earnestly pray that terrorists won’t do more damage here or back home, but as the Arabs often say—inshallah, God willing.

God bless America and keep her safe. And, God bless the troops.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Greetings from Maryland. Hope all is well. I have to disagree with you on one point. Terrorists, in my opinion, are out to scare and reak havoc, and one way they do that is by the eliment of suprise. They've done the airplane thing before, and it worked. Now we as a coolective focus too much attention and energy insecuring and worrying about airline safety; we almost expect another attack and they know it, so I think that they wouldn't use that vehicle again based solely upon predictability. They are not caught up in Vietnam era body count #'s as a score.

We (westerners) look at war like a football game, the team that scores the most points (kills the most) wins. They are in it for the "moral victories." Like fewer turn-overs and holding the oponent to under a 100 yards. They know they will never bill able to kil more of us than we will them, they are trying to undo our resolve with terror and hope we just give up.

-Shawn Lee
Bel Air, MD