A FIGHT - Without precedentgreenspun.com : LUSENET : Current News - Homefront Preparations : One Thread
October 14, 2001
A Fight Without Precedent
Our enemies have employed previously unimagined tactics, which leaves us to wage a previously unimagined war.
By JOHN KEEGAN, John Keegan is a war historian and the author of, among other books, "A History of Warfare" and a forthcoming biography of Winston Churchill
LONDON -- This will be a long war. The Bush administration is speaking of 10 years. The truth is that the war will never end. Terrorism has tasted blood. And as the French say, the appetite grows with eating.
We do not understand why terrorists enjoy killing, but they clearly do. Even if Osama bin Laden is currently lying low, he and the terrorist organizations linked to Al Qaeda are unquestionably using their time in hiding to plan fresh outrages. When they detect an opportunity, they will strike again.
Fighting a war against such foes demands a whole new concept of warfare. It is not, as were previous wars, being fought over territory, nor is it a war of nation against nation. The enemy is difficult to identify, much less conquer. And technological innovations have given birth to an entirely new set of weapons, which demand an entirely new set of responses. In the short term, we must attempt to limit the terrorists' capacity to do evil. Western governments are currently warning their populations about the dangers of chemical or biological attacks. These are real threats. But they are by no means the only threat or even the most likely. Biological agents are worse than chemical agents, but both are dangerous to use, difficult to disseminate and--chemical agents particularly--quick to disperse into harmlessness. Were that not so, they would already have been used on a large scale by evildoers.
What the terrorists undoubtedly want to acquire are nuclear weapons, which promise spectacular results without the limitations of biological and chemical weapons. Western intelligence agencies believe that no terrorist organization has yet acquired a nuclear capability. But they also know it will be only a matter of time before one does, unless stringent measures are taken.
The technology of nuclear-weapon construction is now in the public domain. That is unfortunate, but the situation is irreversible. What the terrorists lack, we hope, is the practical know-how and the necessary fissionable material. Unfortunately, both may be available on the market for the right price, and money appears to be no impediment to Bin Laden. There are said to be 10,000 nuclear scientists in the former Soviet lands who are now unemployed, underpaid or in salary arrears. All must be seen as open to temptation.
In this new kind of war, Western intelligence agencies ought now to be operating in the employment market, offering retainers to keep such scientists out of mischief. Even if they were paid $100,000 a year each: One billion dollars, as an item in a homeland defense budget, would be a trifling price to pay to avert a nuclear explosion in downtown Los Angeles.
The concept has its roots in an earlier time, coming out of a more traditional war. In 1945, the United States conducted an operation, code-named Paperclip, to hire Germany's military scientists before the Soviet Union could. One of Paperclip's successes was Werner von Braun, the father of American's space program. An unfortunate mood of complacency during the years of American nuclear monopoly ultimately allowed the Soviets and their harvest of second-team rocket technologists to score a victory during the 1950s. The same mistake must not be made again.
It will be equally important to operate in the market for loose nuclear material. Fissionable material, closely guarded wherever it is held, is regularly reported missing. We do not know whether the reports are true or not, but we cannot afford, in this new war, to take a chance. Intelligence officers should be authorized to offer whatever it takes to buy rogue warhead material. Western states have an advantage in the marketplace over terrorists who, rich as they may be, cannot match what national treasuries can offer. And since terrorist networks, it can be said with certainty, do not today have the facilities to produce nuclear material, an advantage in the marketplace is crucial.
Another theater of this new war in which superior wealth is an advantage is electronic communication. It has not yet been revealed how the Sept. 11 terrorists coordinated their atrocity, but suspicion must fall on the Internet and e-mail. The so-called "strong encryption" developed by software manufacturers to guarantee secure online transactions can defeat the most intense attack by intercept and decryption agencies in even the most-advanced nations. As William Crowell, a former deputy director of the National Security Agency, America's cipher-cracking organization, has explained with only slight exaggeration, "If all the personal computers in the world were put to work on a [strongly encrypted] message, it would still take an estimated 12 million times the age of the universe to break a single message."
The computer industry is already bristling at the suggestion that the government should interfere in any way with Internet traffic, throwing up a smoke-screen of privacy and other objections. That is a matter that will have to be settled at the political and legal levels. But war does change things. Should Japanese foreign nationals have been allowed to transmit encrypted messages on the Internet, had it then existed, in the weeks before Pearl Harbor?
Would it not make sense to ban the passage of strongly encrypted messages, the key to which has not been supplied to the security agencies?
Internet professionals object that such keys, which are used to encipher commercial information, could never be held securely. The temptation of profit would guarantee that business rivals would acquire access. Frankly, if the choice is between damage to the business of private companies and damage to the lives of millions of innocent victims of terrorism, who cares? Civil libertarians will protest at the thought that a security agent may be listening in. A time will come when civil libertarians will wonder how they ever thought that enemies of society allowed for any liberties at all.
The world changed on Sept. 11. Now the nature of war must change to keep up with it.
-- Anonymous, October 14, 2001