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Musings on the Bombings

2001-09-12 18:17:47+00 by Dan Lyke 18 comments

I was going to try not to fall prey to the terror, but... Last night Phil, Bill and I got together for a few beers, and I think we've hashed out most of the questions, to no reasonable solution. Some of my unanswerables:

  • Since I've been thinking about community a lot recently, especially in the wake of Burning Man, what is it that ties me closely to New York with so much a stronger bond than when accidents and deaths of similar magnitude occur elsewhere. Why does the changed New York skyline affect me more strongly than the changed Beirut skyline? And how does that bond differ from the bonds that lead to the attacks?
  • If a religion posits that this life isn't the primary human experience, when am I at risk from its adherents at risk to die for their cause?
  • What does this do to the suspense genre? Black Sunday[Wiki] suddenly seems tame in comparison.
  • Seems like the next hijacker who just wants to go to Cuba is toast. Hopefully not the passengers as well, but this ups the ante in air-rage and similar threats while airborne, and seems to make a case for more weapons in the culture.
  • Without caving to violence, how can we change foreign policy so that we're not consistently creating worst-case scenarios in countries with lots of turmoil? Is isolationism defensible?
  • What assumptions about governments and their representations of civilian populations can I make? What does it mean to allow civilian acceptable losses in taking down a government?
  • What cynicism makes me keep the Mossad on my short list?

No answers here, just some notes I can come back to later and see if I've come up with any answers.

[ related topics: Religion Burning Man Politics Sociology Law WTC/Pentagon attacks ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment made: 2001-09-12 20:31:27+00 by: Dystopos [edit history]

Those are all good questions. I would add a question to Mr. Bush. "In what sense do you believe that this was an attack on freedom?" Is there really anyone out there calling for the destruction of free societies? Isn't it more credible to think that these "cowards" believed they were fighting tyranny?

And then I would ask the terrorists. "What can this accomplish?" Even if the the U.S. would ever rethink those of our policies which are perceived as imperialist by a large segment of the world, to do so after such an attack could only be perceived as capitulation - which is never going to happen.

And then I just go back to praying.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:40+00 by: Dylan

Another question that I have...one that only came to me this morning...I spent most of yesterday crying and realizing that my oh-so-cynical and oh-so-unconcerned facade is bullshit.

How do we protect ourselves against this sort of thing without becoming a police state?

I'm reminded of a Tom Clancy book I read once in which some Palestinian terrorists detonated a low-yield nuke at the Super Bowl. Not so much the book itself, which was pretty much standard Clancy...but the afterword. In which he said the most terrifying thing was just how vulnerable a liberal democracy is to any sort of terrorism. Without becoming a fascist state, how do you prevent those who might commit incredible acts of violence from having the chance? Our incredibly open borders and (at least until recently) liberal immigration policies are among the things that define this nation. How do we protect ourselves without losing our national character?

I'm not sure there's an answer, and that worries me more than anything.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:40+00 by: Dan Lyke

That's part of why the foreign policy question is so important to me. Because while we've been a relatively free society we've been supporting police-states elsewhere. And police-states breed this kind of violence.

As for what this can accomplish, the only nation or group I can imagine benefiting from this is Israel. Only the scale of the civilian deaths has dropped the Mossad down my list of suspects.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:40+00 by: John Anderson

In the cynicism column, I'm really wondering about the veracity of the reports that the responsible parties were the "terrorism All-Stars". Somehow, it seems very convienent that bin Laden, Hussein, Iraq, and pretty much every other Middle Eastern government or leader that we have problems with was somehow involved in this. Not impossible, mind, but I really have to wonder if somebody, somewhere, hasn't decided that it's a good time to take some of these people out, or down a notch or ten...

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:40+00 by: Dan Lyke

I wonder if it's somehow reassuring. "They had to be brilliant to plot this..." when if I think about it it's the kind of plot I think we used to fantasize about in role-playing games back in high school. The only part of the plot that requires stretching is the number of conspirators willing to die. Heck, for all the talk about the piloting skill, the subtext the FBI would have us believe is that they hit the Pentagon 'cause they missed the Whitehouse.

(So it occurs to me: Have we yet seen the effects of whatever demon was trapped within that summoning shape when the polygon was breached? I think I need to pick up Weekly World News[Wiki](I'd link it, but you don't want to enter pop-up hell) to see!)

And your rant on security nails it. I've got a friend who's trying to get home from Burbank, she was supposed to fly in to OAK tonight. I think we'll get her on the train tomorrow since it doesn't seem like Southwest is expecting to be back in operation, but many of the hoops they said she'll have to jump through if they were flying are just beyond bizarre. Apparently ticketless travel is out, so she'd have to bring a print-out of the web page she registered on. Huh? This would have stopped people who, if I can derive from how fast the FBI seems to be working, bought the tickets with their own credit cards to their own addresses?

(Digression: I think I've been through security one at OAK where I haven't had to open something that I was carrying. Last time it was my wallet. What freakin' profile do I match, especially now that I've got short hair?)

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:40+00 by: ebradway

Short hair? What happened?

I beleive the ticketless travel ban will simply require you to present your e-ticket code to a check-in agent, show ID and get a paper ticket. This is what I've done 99% of the time anyhow. It really only precludes the use of the computer checkin terminals and the way some of the bargain airlines used to just have you present your code as you board the plane. As Lynda pointed out, you can still switch tickets with another passenger after you are in the gate!

As far as the terrorism all-stars and the difficulting in planning - I think the FBI is 180 degrees wrong. The more groups involved - the more likely the plan would have leaked. The most startling fact about the whole scenario is that none of it leaked before the plan was executed. And seeing how the FBI is claiming that some of the hijackers were known to be responsible for prior terrorist attacks, wouldn't they have been picked up the the computerized face matching systems in the bigger airports? Or was that just a fantasy from the government?

When I look at what happened:

  1. Large commercial planes were flown with surprising accuracy into the WTC towers in New York - causing exactly enough damage to take down the buildings but leaving enough time for most people to get out.
  2. The White House - unoccupied by Bush - was a supposed target but instead they hit a relatively unoccupied wing of the Pentagon.
  3. The Pentagon keeps changing the number of casualties and the press is silent about WTC casualties. The emergency medical facilities have only been treating rescue works - not the onslaught of injuries expected. Everyone either escaped unharmed or flat-out died.
  4. Blame is essentially being pinned on Afganastan and Iraq. NATO is giving full support - even Pakistan has voiced support for military actions.
  5. The Republicans and the military are asking for a 'blank check' to attack the perpetrators.

Sounds to me like the military had the most to gain from these events and had the capability to do it - as scary as that my sound.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:40+00 by: ebradway

Oh yeah... I'm sure that post will ensure that I get searched every time I go through a security checkpoint...

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:41+00 by: John Anderson

You mean you don't *already* get searched every time? I evidentally trip the "long hair and beard = problem" filter...

On the "responsibility, aka who do we bomb first" tip: I have a feeling it's going to be a long and frustrating week, with my scientist's sense of proof running up against people's need to have somebody, anybody to pin this on...

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:41+00 by: sethg

For a network of terrorists to be effective, it needs more than just people willing to die for their cause. It needs people who are not quite so committed, but willing to provide intelligence, donate money, let a friend-of-a-friend crash in their living room without asking questions, and so on. Furthermore, people join such an organization when they are young and idealistic may sour on it a few years later, for any number of reasons. (Remember, one of the prosecution witnesses in the first[Wiki] WTC bombing became disillusioned after he compared his own paycheck with those of his comrades.)

All of these people, after they "flip", can become witnesses and informants for The Good Guys. Furthermore, the more effort the terrorists have to devote to protecting themselves from informants, and the harder it is for them to find people willing to provide this kind of cooperation, the less effective they are at achieving their objectives.

Now, if the group behind the WTC destruction is in fact Arab- or Islamic-oriented, there are many Arabs and Muslims living in the US who could have information that would help track down the responsible parties. If people with Middle Eastern names and complexions become despised by their fellow-citizens and harrassed arbitrarily by police, will this make them more or less likely to cooperate with law enforcement?

In this way, I think our freedoms enhance[Wiki], rather than impede, our safety. At least, I hope they do.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:41+00 by: webwide

Our own *military* behind this? The Mossad? You guys must watch too many movies, or read too much Lyndon LaRouche material. :o)

The fact is that some people just don't like America. Whether it's Bin-Laden or some other group I see no possible gains for our military or the Mossad that would outweigh the possible losses were the connections to become public. Remember, the more people involved the more likely it will NOT remain secret. Hell, the President can't even get a blow job in the privacy of his own Oval Office bathroom without the entire world finding out about it....

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:41+00 by: John Anderson

And in the "paranoia" column, I'm noticing that lists hosted through yahoogroups.com are much, *much* slower to complete delivery than normal. I'm wondering if that's simply due to load, or if the introduction of certain, um, "meat-eating" systems to the pipeline might not be slowing things down just a little bit.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:41+00 by: Dan Lyke

Wired is reporting massive Carnivore deployment.

On the conspiracy column, how long did Ollie North and friends operate? I simply made a list of the people who stand to benefit from these actions. Then I pared it down by those willing to commit suicide to acheive those ends. That cut out the South Americans and the eastern Europeans. Then I started weighing acceptable civilian losses. It was only then that the US intelligence organizations and the Mossad dropped down the list.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:41+00 by: ebradway

"Remember, the more people involved the more likely it will NOT remain secret."

Exactly! I doubt that many more than the 12-20 hijackers and a finacier like bin Laden knew anything about this. I would also suspect that the pilots did not know the targets until they first met the hijackers.

The fact that no one was tipped off over such a grandiose plan means they did NOT get help from many other people. Yes, they rented houses and cars. Yes, they acquired falsified papers stating the pilots flew for Saudi Air. Yes, they rented cars and bought plane tickets. But all of that can be done with sufficient CASH without having to disclose the plans.

And if there was help - there are many right-wing Muslims in the US that would help in many small ways if they assumed the plan was to do something like attempting to burn the White House. You don't have to tell the BIG PLAN to get help with little things like food, housing, education, etc.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:41+00 by: Dori

(So it occurs to me: Have we yet seen the effects of whatever demon was trapped within that summoning shape when the polygon was breached? I think I need to pick up Weekly World News (I'd link it, but you don't want to enter pop-up hell) to see!)

Heh. I was wondering if I was the only one who thought about that (when I mentioned it to Tom, the first day, he gave me a look like I'd completely lost it this time).

Sorry; from the news reports I've seen at least, the Pentagram, excuse me, Pentagon, wasn't completely breached. A couple of the interior rings, at least, stayed up.

It's an interesting thought to play with, though, about what'd be going on now if it'd been breached.

And for those wondering about the money trail, well, that's Bin Laden's specialty from what I understand. He's the money and support guy. Outside of that, the cells are fairly autonomous. So, he may have financed the deal without knowing any details.

Backup Brain

#Comment made: 2001-09-13 23:48:15+00 by: webwide [edit history]

The face of the devil appears to have come from the World Trade Center instead......

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:42+00 by: ebradway

"Wired is reporting massive Carnivore deployment."

It appears that something is intercepting packets in and out of @home and altering TTL and send times. I'm getting 'bursty' pings but the times are WAY too consistent to be real (variation of < .01ms).

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:42+00 by: John Anderson

> It appears that something is intercepting packets in and out of @home and 
> altering TTL and send times. I'm getting 'bursty' pings but the times are 
> WAY too consistent to be real (variation of < .01ms).

Great. The 'Net, which stayed up fairly well during Tuesday's attacks, and whose denizens comported themselves very well, is being mucked with. Presumably by members of the US intelligence community -- the same community that presumably dropped the ball and let Tuesday's attacks happen in the first place.

What's wrong with this picture?

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:43+00 by: meuon

At the small ISP level, attacks, strobes, pings, exploits and such BS saw an immediate increase on the 11th. We are also monitoring things much more aggressively and taking actions.