Monday, November 22, 2010

Responding to The Threat of Terrorism–Reactive or Proactive Pt. 2

In the first part of this article I dealt with the manner in which the USA has been reactive to the threat of terrorism, rather than being proactive. The end result of being reactive has been a series of measures, such as forcing people who are not likely to be terrorists to take off their shoes prior to entering the metal detector, as well as forcing many to undergo the indignity of searches that are akin to sexual assault.

In this part I will deal with the current threat being made against Germany, and how the German government has been proactive in dealing with a unknown but real threat of terror prior to the end of November. The details of this outline can be found in the following Der Spiegel article:,1518,727970-2,00.html

As a response to the intelligence received that there is an imminent threat in Germany, the security people there have done the following:

1. heavily armed police are to be seen at the Brandenburg gate;

2. increased security at airports;

3. bomb-sniffing dogs at the railway stations.

It should be noted here that the Germans successfully stopped a previous plot to blow up either railway stations or trains. It should also be noted that they have seen no reason to introduce measures that inconvenience their citizens that use trains on a daily basis. This is a direct contrast to the reactive restrictions and rules that have been introduced into the USA. However, I note that Germany uses the pornographic x-ray machines.

Der Spiegel notes the following:

The signs that Germany has increased security in light of a recent warning that terrorists may be planning an attack on the country are everywhere.

And it could stay that way for some time. Rainer Wendt, head of a major German police union, told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung on Friday that the "state of emergency" is likely to be maintained until the end of the year. He also said that, with hundreds of traditional Christmas markets, which could be potential targets, set to open soon, police in many German cities have had their vacations cancelled.

"All security agencies are in agreement," Matthias Seeger, head of Germany's federal police force, told the mass-circulation tabloid Bild on Friday. "On a scale of one to 10, with one representing no danger and 10 standing for acute risk of attack, we are currently at nine."

The drastic intensification of security measures comes following German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière's statement on Wednesday in which he said that the German government had "concrete indications" that Islamists were planning an attack and that Germany could be a target.

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes, in reference to Körting's comments and demands to intensify German law:

"The demands (to strengthen German law and keep an eye on your neighbours) are akin to robbing ourselves of that which terrorists would like to take from us. It's like destroying our free and democratic societies to prevent their destruction from terrorist bombs."

"Terrorists won't have won if they turn the world into a crime scene and a train station, Christmas market or subway into a battlefield. Rather, they will have triumphed if they occupy our heads, control our thoughts and write our laws. The security which we demand from the state is a valuable commodity, but it isn't the state's primary purpose. It is a condition for freedom: We need security in order to be able to live in freedom. But those who want to live in freedom must accept that freedom can never be had without a certain amount of risk."


The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"For anyone who had hoped to maintain calm in light of the allegedly heightened terror threat in Germany, there are apparently several others who are countering that effort."

"One German politician, however, cannot be blamed: Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière. During his term in office so far, he has acted with restraint, has not stoked fear unnecessarily and has avoided sounding alarmist. And he has declined to use the apparent threat to push through tougher laws. His behaviour makes both him and the warning he delivered more credible."

"Politicians, security personnel and investigators must do everything in their power to prevent an attack. A public warning is part of that effort. Such warnings can work as signals to potential attackers -- at best they can delay or even prevent an attack. Such a warning should serve public safety -- and should not be politically abused."

Rather than doing nothing when there is an uptick in the chatter, the Germans have put the nation on alert.

When the terrorists in Yemen attempted to send some bombs via air cargo, these parcels moved through Germany without being spotted. One of the packages was picked up by UAE and the other was nearly missed in the Midlands Airport in England. If it had not been for the co-operation between the various Secret Services, and that the English were told to have another look, there might have already been an air disaster once again over England.

As a result of that particular threat, packages being sent from Yemen and Somalia have been stopped. However, what is the point of putting into place a restriction that packages more than 1lb will not be flown by air from Japan? This is yet another silly policy that has been implemented because Al Qaeda attempted to send some bombs via UPS and FedEx in Yemen through to an address in Chicago. What gets me about this case is that there had been a dry run in September. U.S. intelligence must have known about the dry run, so why did they not put in place restrictions upon sending parcels from Yemen and Somalia prior to that attempt? Instead they have been reactive because the bombs were placed in toner cartridges, thus the restriction upon the size of the package.

The kinds of restrictions that have been put in place are unnecessary because they are closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. Let’s face it:

  • Richard Reid was caught before he could ignite his shoe bomb. You could say that the shoe bomb was a failure.
  • The Underwear bomber managed to singe his balls with his underwear bomb. That bomb attempt was also a failure.
  • The Times Square bomber was interrupted by the vigilance of a street vendor. Quick thinking saved everyone in Times Square at the time.
  • The plotters in the U.K. who were planning to use their children to place bombs in baby drink bottles were discovered prior to carrying out the plan. No one else has wanted to imitated them.  There is no need to restrict liquids being carried in flight.
  • People with prosthetic limbs are unlikely to be bombers.
  • People with small children, and the children themselves are not likely to be bombers.
  • Young attractive women are unlikely to be suicide bombers. It might be true if they are wearing a burqa.

One thing should be noted here: the Arabs and Somalis and other bombers have been dressed in the same way as westerners. Richard Reid had fair hair but he also had a Muslim alias. 

Once an unsuccessful bombing attempt has been made it is unlikely that it will be repeated. These Islamists will try to find other ways to carry out their plans, just like they did with the World Trade Centre. The first bombing attempt failed. However, taking over aircraft and then sending the aircraft into the twin towers worked: they succeeded in bringing down the WTC.  There must be a lesson that can be learned from this fact. So far everybody has failed to learn from the lessons regarding the first and second attacks on the WTC.

The German stoicism in face of a terrorist threat

Intelligence has been received by Germany that there is a very real possibility that Al Qaeda is planning a terrorist strike. I have already blogged about how the Germans are reacting to this threat, that is they are responding in what I consider to be a proactive way. They have tightened security around the airports, the railway stations and at such places as the Brandenburg Gate. These are of course, necessary measures due to the nature of the threat involved.

What I admire most about the German response is the outright stoicism of the people, regardless of being on the left or right of politics. Der Spiegel online has been running a few articles regarding the response to this current threat. Here is an extract from those articles:

Commenting on the new terror warning in their Thursday editions, Germany's main newspapers reiterate de Maizière's exhortations for ordinary Germans to keep calm and carry on, with one newspaper suggesting that Germans seek inspiration in London's famous "Blitz spirit" during World War II.

The centre-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Every individual, irrespective of the degree to which they -- rightly -- trust in the state (to protect them), can respond to terror, not only by being vigilant but continuing to live their life as they please. The minister said there was no reason for hysteria. That also applies even in the event of an emergency."

The centre-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"What should citizens do (in response to the terror alert)? Should they not fly any more and not go to the opera or the movies? Should they avoid public transportation, Christmas markets and busy supermarkets? That would be the hysteria that the interior minister warned against. The terrorists will have already half won if they succeed in paralyzing public life."

"What should the state do? It can show strength. A democracy is strong if it can defend its principles with a cool head and calm courage. A state is strong if it realizes that human and civil rights are the best guarantee of homeland security. An interior minister is strong if he promises citizens every possible vigilance and keeps that promise. … But being vigilant does not mean immediately drafting a new anti-terror law at breakneck speed, as has so often been the case in the past."

"Germany's homeland security is at stake. But homeland security also requires the guarantee that the principles that are intended to protect democracy also apply when that democracy is being defended. Homeland security requires inner resolve and an unwavering confidence in the fundamental rights laid down in the constitution -- even in times of terror."

Did you note the wording here? This is what I mean about being proactive and at the same time safeguarding the rights of the population at large. Contrast this attitude to what we are witnessing in the USA where new useless and dangerous procedures are being implemented in airports around that nation. Those new laws indicate a government that is reactive to a threat that has already passed.

The conservative Die Welt writes:

"Islamists sometimes accuse Western societies of being too complacent and ill-equipped to deal with existential crises. Supposedly they are wimpy, unable to fight and lacking in pride. One of the most compelling features of our civilization is the fact that such accusations are not true. Again and again, Western societies have overcome severe crises without throwing their democratic nature out of the window and taking refuge under supposedly strong leaders with dictatorial powers. When London was being bombed by Germany during World War II, its society remained as free as ever, yet still managed to mobilize amazing strength. The same applied in New York in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks."

"There is no evidence that the Germans, who also reacted calmly to the financial crisis, will now be tempted to panic and overreact. There are situations in which keeping calm is actually a civic duty that has nothing to do with apathy. The population should react with a relaxed vigilance. The increased police presence will give them the sense that they are being protected. It is not a sign of indifference but of strength when life continues as normal even in dangerous situations. In democracies, heroism and everyday life can go hand in hand. The murderous nihilism of the fanatics is no match for such strength."

The mass-circulation daily Bild writes:

"As of yesterday, the ugly face of Islamist terror has become a bit clearer for us in Germany, in the form of a threat. But we shouldn't allow ourselves to be led astray. If, out of fear of attacks, we no longer go to Christmas markets and avoid large-scale events, then the devil's spawn from the terror camps in Afghanistan will have achieved their goal."

"We are supposed to be afraid of them? We are supposed to change our lifestyle, because they can't deal with the way the world is? We cannot allow that to happen! The police and security agencies have to support us in that effort and send the following message to the terrorists: You have no chance!"

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:

"It is debatable how useful terror warnings are. Anyone who hears that something might happen, but doesn't receive the slightest information as to the what, when, where or how (of the planned attack), tends to feel more unsettled than on guard. … Why then is the interior minister, who has previously showed no tendency to adopt the strong-arm anti-terror rhetoric of his predecessors, warning the population about an attack that could even happen this month? When the authorities have specific information about a terrorist attack, only one thing is worse than warning the public -- not warning them. Even if citizens cannot respond to the warning in their everyday behaviour, they at least want to be sure that the authorities recognize the danger and are reacting accordingly."

"All the tightening of security measures which are now being carried out across the country could ultimately turn out to be futile. But if a bomb goes off after the population has been warned, the interior minister can explain it by referring to the impossibility of absolute security. If a bomb explodes without warning, the minister does not need to give any explanations. Instead, he need do nothing more than hand in his resignation -- because he would be seen as having failed."

-- David Gordon Smith

Saturday, November 20, 2010

What is the best way to respond to threats of terrorism? Reactive vs.. Proactive part 1

The threat of terrorism has been around for a very long time. In the 1960s we had a spate of hijackings and aircraft being blown up, and in the end this activity was the death-knell of Pan Am. In the 1970s this activity continued and it included the terrorist attack upon the Israeli Olympic team at Munich – oh how I cried that day when I read about what had been done in the name of terror. There have been many other incidents including the first attempted bombing of the World Trade Centre, the bombing of the Murrah building (why is it that the FBI stopped looking for that Middle Eastern person who was with McVeigh?) and eventually we had the most despicable of terrorist attacks when the Islamists successfully declared war by flying aircraft into the World Trade Centre killing thousands of people at the same time. Then there was the train bombings in Spain that killed hundreds, the Bali bombings that killed hundreds, the London bombings and so on it goes. All of these acts of terror have one thing in common – Islam.  (Yes, there is an Islamic link to the Oklahoma City bombing but the FBI simply did not go far enough with the investigation).
Most of the reactions to these acts of terror have been reactive. Now I do agree with going through the metal detectors. These do make me feel a lot safer when I fly. I do not however, think that stopping people from having nail clippers and knitting needles is a reasonable response.  People who knit are not going to hijack an aircraft and you cannot hide a ticking bomb in a knitting bag (it is usually stuffed with too much yarn and other bits and bobs!!). What is unreasonable in my view are the methods that are being recommended and put into use in the USA and elsewhere that involve the use of body scanners, and now with extraordinarily offensive and pat downs that are truly sexual molestation.
These new measures in the USA that are now being abused by the TSA are measures that are reactive. The introduction of what is now known as the porno scanners (they have been around for a few years) and the pat down measures are a reaction to the Christmas Day underwear bomber who failed, just like Richard Reid the failed shoe bomber, to ignite his bomb. In both of these cases the TSA and authorities elsewhere implemented new procedures. As a result of the attempt with the shoe bomb everyone has to remove their shoes to go through scanning. This is ridiculous because there has not been further attempts, no copycat shoe bombers, nothing, nada. It is a waste of time and it is inconvenient as well as being difficult for some people with balance problems. Yet, in the USA we have to take off our shoes to go through security. Time to put an end to the nonsense and reassess if this is indeed necessary.
It is the same with the underwear bomber and his failed attempt to light a bomb that was placed in his underwear. The only thing that got burned was his crotch. Now if we look at the facts that emerged in that case we find that he boarded the flight in Amsterdam. Not only that, but a person or persons unknown helped him to get onto the flight ergo the threat exists in Holland, in Amsterdam, not in small airports in the USA. There has not been any American, Australian or any other foreign tourist who has tried to duplicate the underwear bomb.
Whilst some new threats have emerged – an Islamist from Yemen blew himself up when detonating a bomb planted in his anus and it has been rumoured that some Islamic women are being fitted with bombs in breast implants – it is unreasonable to put ordinary travellers with the USA through the intrusive pat downs that are now being mandated.
Banning liquids because an Islamist terrorist cell in the UK was planning to bomb aircraft via the use of a baby bottle is reactive. Again, the normal American travelling public are not into duplicating the murderous deeds of the Islamists who hatch these plots. Forcing people to take off their shoes before going through security is also reactive. Why not let people walk through the metal detector and if the alarm is set off, then they can take off their shoes. All of these searches are reactive, not proactive. They are useless when they come after the fact. It is not likely that someone trying to board a flight in Florida to return home to New Hampshire is going to blow up the aircraft and this applies to the thousands who fly every day.