So are we safer today than 9/11? Posted by: McQ
on Tuesday, August 28, 2007
That's an important question and one that is continually batted around within the respective political parties and among the presidential candidates.
Mark Hosenball and Jeffrey Bartholet interview retired Vice Admiral John Scott Redd, head of the National Counterterrorism Center in a Newsweekweb exclusive.
In the beginning, a lot of talk about Osama and al Qaeda in general, but the most interesting part of the interview comes near the end when the discussion turns to "we've heard there is a credible threat against us" talk:
Q: Tell us about the threat that emerged earlier this year.
A: We’ve got this intelligence threat; we’re pretty certain we know what’s going on. We don’t have all the tactical details about it, [but] in some ways it’s not unlike the U.K. aviation threat last year. So we know there is a threat out there. The question is, what do we do about it? And the response was, we stood up an interagency task force under NCTC leadership. So you have all the players you would expect: FBI, CIA, DHS, DIA, DoD, the operators—the military side comes into that—participating in an integrated plan, but integrated in a much more granular and tactical way than we’ve ever done before. This is my 40th year in government service, 36 in uniform and almost four as a civilian. This is revolutionary stuff, and it is affecting the way we do business.
Big changes, much more interconnectivity and sharing, integrated planning - a whole new ball-game than pre-9/11.
So, back to the attack:
Q: Earlier this summer, there was talk that people were picking up chatter that reminded them of the summer before 9/11. The Germans basically said this is like pre-9/11. They said, “We are very worried.” What do you make of this?
A: We have very strong indicators that Al Qaeda is planning to attack the West and is likely to [try to] attack, and we are pretty sure about that. We know some of the precursors from—
A: Well, they would like to come West, and they would like to come as far West as they can. What we don’t know is…if it’s going to be Mark Hosenball, and he’s coming in on Flight 727 out of Karachi, he’s stopping in Frankfurt, and he’s coming on through with his European Union passport, and he’s coming into New York, and he’s going to do something. I mean, we don’t have that kind of tactical detail. What we do have, though, is a couple of threads that indicate, you know, some very tactical stuff, and that's what—you know, that’s what you’re seeing bits and pieces of, and I really can’t go much more into it.
The Germans are saying it reminds them of the summer of 9/11, given the info and activity. But the obvious point is we know now what the summer of 9/11 indicated while at the time, we didn't. That goes back to the "revolutionary" way we're doing business now.
The bottom line question:
Q: Last thing: Are we winning or losing the war on terrorism?
A: This is a long war. People say, “What is this like?” I say it’s like the cold war in only two respects. Number one, there is a strong ideological content to it. Number two, it is going to be a long war. I’ll be dead before this one is over. We will probably lose a battle or two along the way. We have to prepare for that. Statistically, you can’t bat 1.000 forever, but we haven’t been hit for six years, [which is] no accident.
I will tell you this: We are better prepared today for the war on terror than at any time in our history. We have done an incredible amount of things since 9/11, across the board. Intelligence is better. They are sharing it better. We are taking the terrorists down. We are working with the allies very carefully. We are doing the strategic operational planning, going after every element in the terrorist life cycle. So we have come a long way. But these guys are smart. They are determined. They are patient. So over time we are going to lose a battle or two. We are going to get hit again, you know, but you’ve got to have the stick-to-itiveness or persistence to outlast it.
Are we winning? I'd say it's a little early in the "long war" to make any such assessment. However, given the bold part above, I think you could say we're doing a lot better.
If I were to guess, I'd say Redd doesn't have any particular partisan ball in play here. He seems like a pretty straight forward type of guy who is looking back at 40 years in the business, both in and out of uniform and assessing that we're doing a much better job now than we did then. And he also knows as well as anyone what our capabilities were prior to 9/11 and now. All political posturing about 'bumper stickers' aside, it appears that we've at least begun to set up the type interagency networks and groups necessary to address the problem of terror attacks on the US.
That's a good thing. And six years of no attacks here speaks to the success of those changes and that too is a good thing. That the bad guys will keep trying is a given, and we should undertand that the chances of them succeeding, or as Redd says, seeing us "lose a battle or two" are probably inevitable as well.
But it is a "long war", it will take time and patience and it will require that we continue to refine and adapt our methods, procedures and agencies to stay up with this enemy.
Are we safer today than 9/11? Heck I don't know. Nor do any of the politicians. Reading this I'm heartened by the progress we seem to have made in some very important areas. But I'm sure they're still not where we want them as an end state. And I'm also sure we're still developing our contacts and capabilities with our allies. I'd also guess human intelligence (HUMINT)isn't yet at a level it needs to be.
That said, the "no attack here in 6 years" points to doing something right (or being lucky, or both) and that's more than we could say on that September morning in 2001, isn't it? We're at least aware of the threat now, and frankly awareness is a very important step in the direction of making us safer now than we were then.
A more appropriate question might be "Are we safer today than if we changed nothing after 9/11?"
Even if we didn’t change after 9/11, it would have changed Al Queda and terrorist. Especially in how they viewed attacking America. A hugely successful score against America with no backlash or change in her policies would have begged for more.
the "no attack here in 6 years" points to doing something right (or being lucky, or both) and that’s more than we could say on that September morning in 2001, isn’t it?
There’s a two-pronged strategy here:
1. Plug the gaps that rogue operations might slip through (it’s far more complicated than that, but let’s keep it short).
2. And assure certain nation states that regardless of how innocent they might seem that they will be held responsible (i.e., blown into the next world). Saudi Arabia, for instance, whence American troops have long since been removed. Iran, Syria, Libya, for instance, incentivized to make sure there are no more 9/11s.
While not inconsequential, "are we safer today than we were X years ago and "is not the question that should be asked. Rather, we should be focusing on have we been safer than we would have been had we not reacted to the threat.
If the question is "So are we safer today than 9/11?" my answer is "I am". My neighborhood has improved as crime is moving north and west of here and I’m driving a newer car with better brakes. The reason for this flippant answer is that the question is usually a rhetorical one asked by those who think that we should have asked ourselves why they hate us rather than stopping them from acting upon that hatred.
Number one, there is a strong ideological content to it. Number two, it is going to be a long war. I’ll be dead before this one is over. We will probably lose a battle or two along the way.
No. 1 - what ideological content and how is it formed? Does it spring magically out of the void or is there schooling used to cultivate the ideology?
No. 2 - Why not make it a short war? If the ideology is formed by indoctrination a wider war against those funding the schools would be a shorter war. This would be more costly, but reduce the chances of America being hit.
We are going to get hit again, you know, but you’ve got to have the stick-to-itiveness or persistence to outlast it.
Why is this the preferred scenario and what indication is there that they are going to vacate the field at any time in the future?
It’s been going on for 1400 years, so it has a tendency not to end, even after it goes into hiding behind something like the Cold War, or the 1914-1945 war continuum.
But we can shorten the current terrorist moment.
I originally thought that it would take the intensive killing of 10,000 or so front line jihadis. I think that number is going to turn out to be considerably higher, but that we might already be approaching the higher number.