March 30, 2003

By Michael Strickland

The Next 9/11?

Like many Americans, I have spent the past 18 months since September 11, 2001 wondering when the next big terrorist attack will explode on our soil. Our military has inflicted much damage on al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations since 9/11, but in what seems to have become the "Age of Terrorism," we're still deep in the woods. Like the busy road outside my window, the threat of terrorism is always out there, occasionally reminding me of its presence like the Harleys that sometimes drive by.

Such nagging concern lurking in the back of one's mind is nothing new for Southern Californians. We conduct our daily lives with such subconscious apprehension, perennially expecting the "Big One," the next great earthquake that's overdue to shake us out of our complacency. It's not a fear that most obsess over, but it does occasionally prairie-dog itself into one's conscious mind, barking "Hey, remember me?"

And so it has been for most Americans since 9/11. Snipers, mystery illnesses and Orange Alerts have kept us on the edge—perhaps not quite "terrorized," but certainly not relaxed. Now that we have invaded Iraq—a country that has been at least a friend, if not a supporter, of al Qaeda—it's hard not to think that the next big attack on our homeland will come sooner rather than later. But just what form would such an attack take? And why hasn't it happened before now?

CBS's "60 Minutes" may have answered the first question. For those who missed tonight's segment, the news magazine revisited and updated the known threat to commercial airliners posed by shoulder-fired missiles. Apparently, many of such weapons are in the hands of terrorists worldwide, and experts have speculated that many of them may have already been smuggled into the United States. Highly mobile and very easy to use, these missiles could be fired some distance from an airport, taking out an inbound or outbound commercial aircraft such as a 747.

As for the second question—why hasn't such an attack already happened—the short answer is, it already has. Last November, terrorists in Kenya fired two such missiles at an Israeli commercial jet, but missed. As for why such an attack hasn't happened here in the U.S., I have my own theory. On September 11, terrorists learned that it was possible to operate on a grand, spectacular scale. Al Qaeda showed what could be achieved with precise planning, patient preparation and military-like discipline. Perhaps al Qaeda or some other group possesses these shoulder-fired missiles within our borders, but is planning a much more spectacular attack than just one downed aircraft. Imagine waking up to news reports that terrorists had simultaneously fired such weapons at airports across the country, destroying 20 passenger airliners and killing another three thousand innocent victims.

In the past, Osama bin Laden's organization has operated on an approximately 17-month cycle, which would make us due for another attack here or abroad at any time. With war raging in Iraq, the threat becomes all the more tangible. The scenario I described above does not seem out of the realm of possibility. And it is a threat that our leaders have not ignored, whether seen as a threat against one or many commercial aircraft. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and colleagues have introduced a bill to install anti-missile countermeasures—already in place on Air Force One, some executive jets and all of Israel's El Al airliners—on all U.S. commercial aircraft. The price tag, $10 billion, is a cost that airline companies on the verge of bankruptcy can ill afford. U.S. taxpayers would have to foot the bill for such upgrades. Such a hefty expenditure is hard to contemplate with an economy that has been lagging for years, but Schumer made a good point on "60 Minutes": if even one passenger jet were shot down, everyone would stop flying. The economic effect of such a catastrophe would likely far exceed $10 billion.

Which leads me to my final point. It seems to me that we're losing the War on Terror. Even as we achieve military victories in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, our economy continues to reel a year and a half after 9/11. We have expended untold billions bailing out the airline companies; creating a new Department of Homeland Security; conducting military operations both large and small; beefing up security at airports, borders and ports; and cleaning up the World Trade Center rubble. Psychologically, we have become a skittish nation, despite the American flags decorating half the cars on the road. Even if terrorists never strike us again, the effect of 9/11 has reached far beyond the scar on Manhattan and caused far more devastation than the loss of 3,000 lives and two skyscrapers. Terrorists don't have to strike us again to cause us to spend billions preparing for attacks; we're already doing so. If politicians would make the American people assume a greater amount of risk for living in such a risky time, then perhaps we wouldn't have to spend so much, and maybe the economy would rebound quicker. But of course, such action would be political suicide. So to give every American man, woman and child a slightly greater sense of security, we will continue to bleed dollars from the wound inflicted on us 18 months ago.


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Michael Strickland ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

What is "The Daily Strick"?

I have long called myself a writer, but too often I don't do what a writer must do daily: write. So you, dear reader, are the beneficiary of my resolution to make a positive change in at least one area of my life. Every single day of this new year, I will write something, anything, and post it here. It is my intention to use this daily exercise to jump-start my too-long-dormant creative energies, and perhaps generate some worthwhile material this year. Hopefully you will find at least an occasional amusement or insight in my daily musings.

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3/29: Tomorrow's Gonna Suck
3/28: Willing to Change
3/27: Tropical Memories
3/26: Regurgitation
3/25: Piece of the Puzzle
3/24: Echoes in Eternity
3/23: Booing for Columbine
3/22: Not Recommending Diving
3/21: Works in Progress
3/20: Three Rings of Shock & Awe
3/19: Paris—A Beautiful Blur
3/18: Ignorant Idiot Man
3/17: The Pirate Queen
3/16: To War or Not to War
3/15: So Long, Seau
3/14: Telemarketing Pays
3/13: Free, For Now
3/12: Chicken Little Gets Respect
3/11: Axis of Evil
3/10: Writing Kept Me From Writing
3/9: King Arthur
3/8: The Women are Smarter
3/7: Salt on Old Wounds
3/6: 3/3/03, 3:33 p.m.
3/5: Beer Day
3/4: Pulling the Trigger
3/3: Make 'Em Laugh
3/2: Whither Iraq?
3/1: Strickland Cellars
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