Thursday, September 4, 2014


“ The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself”
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1933





(Thursday, September 4, 2014 Langley, VA)   Exactly seven days from today we will mark the 13th anniversary of the al Qaeda attacks in New York City, Washington, DC, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  For most New Yorkers and those in the metropolitan area, September 11, 2001 represents a profound diving line that defines their lives into “before” and “after” time lines.  As has been the case since September 11, 2002, in NYC and DC and elsewhere throughout the land, people will pause to remember their losses, mourn with other fellow travelers who have lived within the narrow confines of grief, anger, and frustration, and otherwise remember, honor and respect all who perished on that Tuesday morning. 

As we roll into this second week of September many among us will have our conscious minds more occupied with vivid 13 year old memories; how could we not?  And, with all the atrocities and horrific mass murdering soaking the sands of Syria and Iraq as the terrorist group known as ISIL or, as they now prefer, the “Islamic State”, intelligence officials from London to New York City are well aware of the increased “chatter” among terrorist groups and cells and are as prepared for this time of increased risk as any organization can be. Just as 9-11-2001 holds a deep national significance for us, it is as potent a day in the minds of many of those who still aspire to repeat a similar terrorist attack. The asymmetrical nature of our fight against terrorists with a global reach, always favors the terrorists; they have to succeed just once while to counter and thwart their evil designs, we need to be right 100% of the time:  a distinctly lopsided equation.

But, as has also been the case, Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA’s) across the country will be on high alert since the day itself represents so much to Americans and New Yorkers in particular.  The Intelligence and Counter Terrorism Divisions of NYPD will do what they do everyday year in year out; they will protect our City using all available legal means necessary. Despite all the condemnations and criticisms of these NYPD Division’s operations and tactics largely emanating from misinformed and ill-informed blowhards, NYPD’s capability in these areas has proven to be not only effective and efficient but is also unrivaled in scale and scope. They are working closely with Interpol, Scotland Yard, the British M15 and M16 units as well as other foreign intelligence sources who have provided credible information in the past. 


When intelligence officials and officers speak about terrorist threats to our homeland, they first make the distinction from what we are witnessing on the news from Iraq and Syria and other countries that harbor terrorists, and the nature of their concerns here.  They emphasize that battles raging across the blazing sands of Iraq and Syria constitute actual warfare, albeit guerrilla warfare in most instances, except when the talk turns to the Islamic State or ISIL or ISIS.  This group has carved out a significant segment of territory, has seized huge caches of American made weapons intended for the nascent Iraqi army and security forces, and is more centrally commanded and organized than any force that has opposed them thus far. What has caught the attention of the intelligence community here and in the United Kingdom and France, is the numbers of their citizens who have traveled to war zones ostensibly to join in jihad, and the realization that anyone of them could return to their homeland after acquiring the skills needed to execute a terrorist event. While it is difficult to know with any certainty how many young men from western countries have heeded the call to arms, they all possess “western” passports that likely can deflect scrutiny as they travel back and forth. We have already seen two young men from suburban Minneapolis die for the cause.  As the world knows it does not take many men or much money for a committed, determined, disciplined cell to create death and destruction of epic proportions in America or any of the other countries they have carried out operations including the United Kingdom and Spain, as well as anyone they view as enemies.


Terror, in its simplest definition means “extreme fear”.  Terrorism is defined as “the unofficial or unauthorized use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims” and, lastly, a terrorist is  “a person who uses terrorism in the pursuit of political aims.”  Of course each of these definitions is relative.  One man may act out confident and firmly believing he is doing the right, noble and just actions his ideology, religion, tribe, sect, country or group demands of him.  His act might be to shoot dozens of young men standing atop a mass grave where their bodies will fall after the hail of bullets takes their lives.  To the relatives of those young men, the perpetrator of the act is a barbaric savage, a terrorist, extremist or evil incarnate zealot.  You see where this is going.

In a sense terrorism can be more accurately understood as psychological warfare.  While the death and destruction terrorist attacks can unleash, their true goal is provocation; they seek to humiliate their enemies, attract world-wide attention and supporters (particularly financiers) and demonstrate to the world their operational prowess.  They want a reaction from their target.  Osama bin Laden’s primary goal for attacking the United States in such a spectacularly evil manner on September 11, 2001 was to goad us into engaging him and his jihads in a full out war in Afghanistan.  As ludicrous as it obviously did appear to the CIA in the years leading up to 9-11-2001, the notion that a man living in caves in the most remote and rugged terrain on the planet could pose a threat to the homeland, was never taken seriously.  There was one “six man desk” here in the CIA that had been tracking bin Laden and all his militancy and successful attacks on United States interests from the embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi in Africa to the bombing of the USS Cole moored in Aden, Yemen.  But they were lone voices unheard in the din of business as usual in the pre – 9-11-2001 CIA. 


In the years since September 11, 2001, the intelligence community has hotly debated the significance of that particular date 9/11.  Since 911 is universally known in the United States as the telephone number for emergency services, many naturally thought that bin Laden and his cohorts had specifically chosen that date for that reason.  Others dismissed that concept arguing it was more a matter of Mohammed Atta, the leader of the 19 operatives who carried out the attacks, determining the time was right.  They insist that it was more a coincidence that the various flights Atta had determined to be needed for the air assault happened to be available on that Tuesday morning.  Since then it has become common knowledge throughout the intelligence community that the date 9/11 was not just a random date; it was specifically chosen because of what it represents to us.

Just as target selection is important as means for terrorists to achieve their ends, timing is just as important.  The twin embassy bombing in Africa occurred on August 7th, 1998, the eight year anniversary of the arrival of American military troops in Saudi Arabia to stage their fight to retake Kuwait after Saddam Hussein had invaded that small, oil rich land.  Bin Laden saw the presence of infidels, American troops in the Holy Land of Mecca and Medina. Bin Laden, himself a Saudi national, had offered his services to the House of Saud to defend Saudi Arabia from Hussein’s army but the ruling family opted for United States military intervention instead.  This deeply troubled bin Laden and was the nascent spark that ignited what would become his driving passion to lash out and destroy American much as he believed that he and his fighters had driven the mighty Soviet army from Afghanistan after 10 years of protracted warfare.  Many see that defeat of the USSR (at the hands of American supported mujahedeen) as one of the primary reasons the Soviet empire soon collapsed.

Timing, the desire to pull off a successful terrorist event on a specific date is nothing new.  Virtually every religion, creed, ideology or any group bound by some dogma or doctrine observes the historical significance of various dates.  Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims both have special days that define their religious beliefs through the centuries.  Even the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh chose April 19th as the date for his attack on the federal building because it was the anniversary of the lethal FBI raid on the home of Randy Weaver, a separatist living “off the grid” with his family and was also the anniversary of the tragic end to a long stand-off between FBI and ATF personnel pitted against the followers of David Koresh who ran a religious commune of a sort in Waco, Texas.

Most recently on the national stage, Libyan extremists attacked the United States Embassy Compound in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 in a surprise attack that left four Americans dead including Ambassador Stevens.  There was nothing coincidental about that date. 


In the wake on the shocking predawn air raid on the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor Hawaii that decimated the naval fleet of battleships and drew the United States into World War II, President Roosevelt gave one of the most memorable public addresses in our history.  It was in that address he called the date of the Japanese sneak attack a “day that will live in infamy”. He reminded Americans of a belief he first stated in his first presidential inaugural address at delivered on the cusp of the Great Depression: “The only thing to fear is fear itself.”  That one simple statement served as a good hard smack to the collective cheeks of all citizens that broke the spell of numbing confusion and ushered in a new wave of determination and grit that would see us through to victory in 1945.

We will never again engage in the kind of warfare utilized on the numerous fronts during WWII.  It is highly unlikely that another developed country would ever confront us on a conventional field of battle.  Since the days of our protracted involvement in Vietnam, virtually all our “wars” have been asymmetrical in nature.  That is what makes the world exponentially more dangerous; the ability to utilize the tactics of terror against us here at home is the preeminent threat of our time.


We are a country born out of war.  Our war for independence from the tyranny of the British rule set this ongoing experiment in a democratic Republic possible.  Wars have defined much of our history; we went to war in 1812, suffered our own brutal Civil War, engaged on battle fronts around the world and went through two devastating World Wars in a 40 year span.  We fought to a standoff in Korea and left Vietnam after our first experiences with asymmetrical warfare.  We survived the Cold War, that six decade stretch of time that the USA and the USSR were the two towering Super Powers each possessing sufficient atomic arsenals to destroy the world several times over.  There were some very close calls during those years but, we never wavered, never blinked and continued to grow as a country and as a people.

We first entered the Middle East to protect Saudi Arabia from Iraq’s army that had invaded Kuwait as mentioned earlier. Our troops completed that mission in short order and we followed the well-defined exit strategy that had been crafted before our first troops had stepped foot on Kuwaiti sand.

Since October 2001 we have been engaged in warfare of an entirely new nature, of an infinitely different form than we had ever imagined before September 11, 2001.  Terrorists brought their jihad here, to our shores, to our City and the heart of our military command, The Pentagon.  The fourth plane that the passengers on board managed to wrest control of from the hijackers crashed and burned in an anonymous field in western Pennsylvania.  That plane was most likely heading for the Capitol or White House.  Brave Americans sacrificed their lives to save those targets from the fate of those stricken in New York City and Washington DC already.

How and when or even if our President choses to confront ISIL and the other terrorist groups committing atrocities from the Middle East to sub-Saharan Africa is a matter for another matter for a different time and place.  Our thoughts this week will become increasingly closer to home, more personal and private.  And, that is how it should be.  The wider world roils and broils in chaos and bloodshed but we will take this time to remember and honor those who shed the “first blood” is our continuing fight against terrorism. 

There are 51 other weeks in the year to consider world events and how they may impact us here in America and New York City in particular.  This week is not the time for such pursuits. 

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