The War on Terrorism

A Personal Perspective on Bush’s War

W. A. Barrett,  San Jose, CA,  September 4, 2004


Global Business

 

 

 

 [Update note:  I read this on September 3, 2005 and found that almost nothing has changed.]

 

George W. Bush has chosen to make the “war on terrorism” the centerpiece of his campaign for a second term to the Presidency.  The Republican National Convention speakers almost to a person either attacked John Kerry for his “weak” credentials as a “war president”, while extolling president Bush for his leadership, his boldness, and his determination to bring the war to a successful conclusion.

Often in the same sentence, Bush has cautioned us that this war may go on for a very long time.  The “terrorists” are crafty, patient, and apparently everywhere.  They “hate freedom”, and they hate us because “we love freedom”.  In those simplistic terms, we are supposed to have all that we need to know to go to the polls and re-elect our war president.

 

No one has really raised the question of whether this really is a “war” or not.  Kerry seems to have agreed with Bush that it is indeed a war, and calls for a military response.  But let’s back up a minute and explore that question.

 

Iraq

We’ve seen the power of our military system as it invaded Iraq (twice).  Iraq was a convenient target for massive military action, since

·        Iraq was headed by an absolute dictator, Saddam Hussein, who has proven himself quite capable of destroying whole populations with any weapon at his disposal,

·        no one in the West or in the Muslim countries, particularly liked Hussein,

·        there were plenty of visible targets to bomb (Hussein’s palaces and government offices),

·        the Iraqi people (as nearly as we could tell) hated Saddam and even tried, on two occasions, to depose him,

·        Bush and others were convinced that he posed a threat to neighboring countries, Israel in particular, through WMDs,

·        the United Nations inspection teams didn’t seem to be getting anywhere, and the UN membership seemed unconcerned about Hussein’s “threat”, and

·        several of our European allies (Russia, France and Germany in particular) were reluctant to take on Hussein.

Mostly, a war against Iraq would “work” after a fashion, because Iraq was a real nation with territory to conquer, cities and fortifications to bomb, had a recognizable leadership, and an organized military.  Iraq was already at war with the US, in a sense, through their shooting at our surveillance aircraft, and testing our enforcement of their “no-fly” zone.  We were losing an aircraft (and pilots) from time to time through this dangerous, stalemated operation.

Most anyone would be ready to declare war on such a nation.  A President needed only a really compelling reason to do so, one that would secure the support of both sides of the House and Senate, and also the American people.  President Bush was keen on invading Iraq from the day he stepped into the White House, it now appears, so he was looking for any reasonable stretch of the truth that would let him carry it out.  No one should speculate on a person’s motivations for taking such an action, but George W was almost surely thinking of revenge against Saddam for the humiliation dealt to George’s father in the aftermath of the first Iraqi war.

So we went to war, without fully assessing the problems posed by the aftermath.  Bush’s two principal reasons for going to war, besides those given above, were these two falsehoods, promoted in public speeches by Colin Powell, George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheny:

·        Iraq was actively supporting the Al-Qaida terrorist cells, and

·        Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (biological, chemical, nuclear) in sufficient quantities to threaten massive destruction to its neighbors.

 

That these were lies is now clear from the testimony of dozens of Iraqi experts [3].

We are now living with the aftermath of that invasion, with no clear indication of when that unfortunate country will find its way back to peace and prosperity. 

Iraq should be among the richest countries in the world, with its productive soil, ample water, major oil reserves, its advanced, educated public, and its Western attitudes.  That it happens to be a Muslim country, divided between Shiite and Sunni factions, is less important than the fact that under Saddam, it was quite capable of supporting a competent and well-trained military, and of supporting a full range of manufacturing activities.  Enough people were loyal to Saddam to keep his bloody apparatus going and anyone from managing a successful coup d’etat.

Iraq’s prospects are now much less clear.  The country is on the verge of a bloody civil war, with the unthinkable outcome of yet another dictator at the helm, perhaps with intolerant religious viewpoints, and surely a total hatred for America and the West.  We could well end up with another Iran, another Ayatollah heading a Taliban-style theocracy.  The Iraqi public’s general hatred toward all Americans has been confirmed by numerous polls taken there.  Even if our troops leave tomorrow, and Kerry is elected president with a wide majority, Iraq is unlikely to resume any level of normal diplomatic relations with us or our allies for decades to come. 

That will be the true legacy of Bush’s rush to war, his preemptive strike against what he considered to be a significant danger to the United States.  He has dug an exceptionally deep hole for us in the middle East, one that will remain deep for decades.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan has not exactly become a model of democracy, either.  There is an Afghan national government and parliament, and a president, Hamid Karzai, and they are working to unite the country under a common banner of civility, elections and normal political discourse.  They enjoy considerable favorable press in the US.  Karzai is an intelligent, determined man, and we all wish him well.  But he faces several significant challenges –

·        Large portions of the countrysize outside of Kabul are not under the control of the central government, rather are run by warlords and Taliban sympathsizers.  These are the leftovers from the Afghan struggle against the Soviet Union.  Most reject the idea of a representative democracy, and reject Karzai’s leadership as US puppets.

·        Karzai was promised foreign aid which has not materialized.  Bush promised some $8 billion for rebuilding Afhanistan’s schools, hospitals, police and the like.  Only a fraction of that has been funded by our Republican-dominated congress and our “allies”.

·        The resurgence of a Taliban leadership is a real possibilities.  The Taliban forces continue to strike from across the border in Pakistan, and may be impossible to totally eradicate.

·        Afghan farmers appear to be returning to their cash crop, opium, and selling it through various channels on the world market.   While this will help improve their livelihood and make them less likely to take up arms personally, it also opens the door to drug mafia types, who will not only profit from the illegal trade, but who will build up private armies to defend their illegal activities.  It also contributes to the corruption of Afghanistan officials and army officers.

My feeling about Afghanistan is that unless the current conditions change significantly (more aggressive US support for the legitimate government, massive aid programs, etc.) that unhappy nation will inevitably follow the path of Colombia, with a weak, corrupt central government, unable to control the murderous rampages of warring drug lords in the hinterlands.

Our Domestic Terrorists

We seem to have forgotten that the U.S. is rather good at producing our own brand of terrorists, all of them good old American guys.  Here’s a short list of my favorite bad guys –

·        The southern lynch mobs.  These murderous beauties worked with virtually no opposition from the local sheriffs, judges and juries from the 1870s until the late 1960s.  Any southern black boy could be hunted down, beaten, tortured and hung prominently from a tree by a mob, often witnessed by many of the residents, in any town in the deep south.  His crime?  Whistling at a white woman, or failing to cross the street smartly enough, or trying to excel in school.  There were thousands of victims, until enforcement of the civil rights act and the intervention of federal judges, put an end to that reign of terror.  No one thought of declaring “war” on the south as a result.

·        The abortion clinic bombers and snipers.  Dozens of people have been injured and killed by these characters, only some of whom have been caught and tried.  Their victims include medical doctors.  They have been effective in forcing doctors to be diligent for their safety, clinics to hide their purpose, and other such measures.  No one has suggested declaring war on them.

·        The Oklahoma City Federal Building bombers.  This was carried out by two young men who decided to get revenge for what happened at Waco, Texas a year earlier.  It turned out to be relatively cheap and easy for them to acquire the necessary rental van, the explosive mixtures and the timer.

·        The school shootings.  There have been several of these, the most notable being the Columbine disaster, perpetrated by two angry young men who managed to acquire several assault weapons and plenty of ammunication to carry out their deed.

·        The east coast snipers.  Two young men shot at people in shopping malls, randomly, throughout several eastern states.  They were finally caught and brought to trial, after leaving several dozen dead.

·        The DeAnza College bombing plan.  A young man named DeSuiza acquired a closet full of explosives and ammunition, and planned to detonate it at DeAnza college in Cupertino, CA.  He was apprehended and tried after he leaked his plans to a buddy.

 

Our reaction to each of these, and all of them collectively, was not to find a “nation” responsible for the act, then invade it as an act of war.  It was to carry out a police investigation, collect the necessary evidence, and bring the perpetrators to trial. 

Of course, stopping the lynchings wasn’t that easy, since the perps were friends of the local police, sheriff, prosecutors, judges and most whites in town.  

Even those captured on film as witnessing a lynching later denied in court that they saw or heard anything.  Of all my examples, this is the one that deserved to have a “war” declared against whole towns and counties full of miscreants.  Instead, lynching was combatted and eliminated by a combination of social persuasion (the rights marches), black voting power, a more vigorous federal investigation and prosecution of crimes against blacks, and, eventually, through the election of more moderate politicians.

The 9/11 Tragedy

I will always consider the 9/11/2001 actions as an immense tragedy.  It marked a major turning for Americans, in which no one could be quite sure again whether their life would end in a violent explosion, building collapse or aircraft destruction on their next day of life.  The increase in anxiety was as palpable as the grief expressed in the streets of New York for loved ones who never came home.  As mayor Giuliani remarked about the emotions of that day, “It is more than one can bear”.

But consider how it came about.  This was a well-planned attack by a handful of Islamic thugs armed with little more than a few box-cutters, fake passports and enough money to buy one-way air tickets.  Only four of them needed training in operating a commercial jet, and they easily acquired that through a Florida school that didn’t much care who received the training or for what purpose.  The remainder of the group was (apparently) largely ignorant of why they were on the plane, except to keep the passengers and flight crew from interfering.

 

What made it a national tragedy was its success in bringing down two major landmarks of New York City (and of the U.S.) within a few brief hours on that infamous day.  This was partly a tribute to the intensive planning of the operatives, though I personally doubt that they really expected to bring down the towers.  My guess is that they only hoped to make a big statement by destroying the aircraft and their passengers, and to kill a few dozen people in the buildings.  After all, the Empire State Building survived an aircraft accident in the 1950’s, when a B17 smashed broadside into it.  The twin towers were also designed to withstand a collision by a 747, albeit one without a full fuel load.

What brought down the towers and resulted in the loss of so many lives, including those of so many New York firemen, was the lingering fire of paper, plastic and wood.  That fire eventually weakened a series of steel cross-members, snapping their retaining bolts, and caused the failure by buckling of the supporting steel sheathing of the building.  Problems with the fire penetrating the damaged escape stairs running down the center of the building also prevented people in the upper floors from reaching the ground.

 

If the perpetrators had been American militia men, or fanatic religious-right activists, the public would have been angry at them and their group, but would not have wanted a war declared.  But they were connected to Al-Qaida, and Al-Qaida with certain middle-Eastern countries, Afghanistan in particular, and that made all the difference.

War Against a Nation?

The response of any civilized nation, when confronted with an attack on itself by foreign elements on the scale of 9/11 must ask itself a basic question:

·        were the perpetrators carrying out a plan orchestrated by some unfriendly nation and its leadership or not?

The answer to that question, regarding the crime of 9/11, was clearly, no.

The Taliban in Afghanistan were the logical “unfriendly nation”, yet they denied any direct involvement, and their lack of involvement is supported by subsequent investigations.  The Taliban did harbor training camps for these and other militants, so it had some stake in the 9/11 events.  But the Taliban leadership did not instigate, direct, or even fund, the 9/11 perpetrators.

Osama Bin Laden has accepted responsibility for that, but Osama is not a nation – he is a private individual with considerable financial resources of his own, various connections to his “friends” and the ability to raise additional funds for their activities.

Bush declared war on the Taliban, and indirectly, Afghanistan, on the grounds that the Taliban failed, or refused, to cooperate with the US government in bringing Osama and his followers to justice.  This is technically a refusal to grant and implement extradition of known criminals.  Now, several friendly nations routinely refuse extradition to the US of persons accused of murder, on the grounds that their trial in the US would result in their execution, and their laws do not permit executions.  We haven’t, so far, declared war on England for its failure to extradite criminal suspects, but instead have reached an agreement that the persons would receive a life sentence, if convicted.

The Taliban was different, however, and just refused to extradite Bin Laden.  Or it may be that they couldn’t find him.  Bin Laden was very skilled at moving around, as we’ve discovered, and could easily just slip over the border into Pakistan, where he would be with friendly sympathizers.  He’s probably somewhere in northern Pakistan now.

 

This little scenario illustrates the difficulties of applying military action against a government for the sake of cornering a few miscreants of a crime, however horrendous its consequences.  Yet we did just that.  The Afghan campaign was undertaken without UN support, and, as I’ve pointed out above, has not really done much to end the reign of King Osama.

 

Police Action as an Alternative

Much too little has been said about developing ordinary police investigation activities to combat terrorism.

Those on the Republican right appear to think that this is much too “soft” an approach to take toward terrorism.  (They and most politicians like to run on a platform of “tough on crime”).  My feeling is that they are just making political hay out of a criminal incident involving a few dozen people, that happened to yield a truly horrendous and tragic loss, and an embarrassment to the power and prestige of the United States.

In fact, the greatest progress against Al-Qaida and its terror cells have come about through patient, diligent, and sometimes dangerous police and intelligence work.  Dozens of cells have been rounded up, not just in the US, but in Germany, France and Spain, through following up on tips, tracking phone messages, planting double agents in large mosques, and the like.  No need for tanks or RPG’s in that.  Any one of those apprehended cells might have carried out a similar strike in New York or elsewhere, but of course, they didn’t.

That level of police work is understood and accepted by the Muslim world.  Islam is not a religion of violence and destruction, at its core, any more than is Christianity.  Islamic nations have its police, who routinely investigate homicides, theft and the like, and they have court systems and prisons to deal with the culprits.  Some have a rather different set of standards of sentencing, relative to the Western nations, but the problems are the same and the treatments are approximately the same.  Killers will be sent to prison or beheaded.  Thieves may have a hand cut off, or may serve a long prison term.

So when the Munich police arrested, tried and convicted several cells of terrorist activistics on the grounds of planning mass murder, and acquiring the means to do so, there was no uprising in the Muslim world against Germany.  It was accepted, quietly.

Compare that to the riots and demonstrations in the streets of Cairo, Damascus and Tehran, not to mention in the US, protesting our bombing and invasion of Aghanistan and Iraq.

 

International Cooperation by Police and Banks

Effective police action in the international scene requires extensive cooperation with foreign police, something that the Bush administration seems loath to do.  I have considerable difficulty picturing George W. Bush calling the French premier Jacques Chirac and begging for help in tracking down a suspect in France.  He would have to swallow at least one large crow to make that call.

Yet this is what he must do.  Bush may dream that America can defend itself without any help from other nations – the United Nations in particular.  But you and I should not be so fooled.

For example, we depend very heavily on help from Pakistan, and that depends on the continued life of their president Musharref.  Without him and Pakistan, we have no hope of capturing Osama Bin Laden, or any of the other terrorists.  Musharref has pledged his cooperation and his investigative teams, but even he cannot depend on much cooperation from his northern provinces.  There’s also the ticklish issue of the Indian-Pakistani dispute over Kashmir.  Both India and Pakistan want our support on that issue, and demand it each time we ask for a favor.  Yet we need such favors and Bush and his staff are beginning to realize that.

Tracing Al-Qaida funds has been exceptionally challenging.  It appears that much of the cash transfers are through little third-world “chit” transfers, which evade the database record trails of major bank transactions.  If you want to transfer money from (say) Pakistan to (say) Frank in the US, you find a “chit man” in Karachi, who takes your money, gives you a coded chit, then promises that it will be delivered to your party.  The chit man calls an associate in the US who withdraws the cash from a local bank and delivers it to Frank, along with the chit code.   Frank then calls you back and reports the money and the chit code, usually in the presence of the chit man, which essentially verifies the transaction for both parties.

The funds between the various chit men mostly balance out, but when transfer must be made, they can be done in large denominations between trusted parties, usually cooperating banks, with no clue left as to the ultimate origin or destination of the funds.

This can be very hard to crack, but crack it we must.  It will require tighter controls over bank transactions, and more scrutiny of the operations of these small-time operators, who are legion in third-world countries.  None of the links in such a transaction can be effectively scrutinized, although the international phone calls between known chit-men might be monitored and for evidence of Al-Qaida funds transfers.  Some of that is undoubtedly occurring now.

 

Border Security and ID Cards

Bush, to his credit, worked pretty hard on looking at our vulnerabilities.  One can argue that his government was obsessed with airport security, to the relative neglect of other obvious vulnerabilities (ports, bridges, stadiums, large apartment buildings, etc.).  But something was done, and done relatively quickly.

He has also worked to improve communications between our domestic agency, the FBI and our foreign intelligence agency, the CIA.  Bush and senator Hatch of Utah have claimed many times that the two were unable to talk “across the wall” because of a legal barrier.  However, Richard Clarke and other CIA operatives have testified that there really was no such “wall”, and that the two agencies in fact did cooperate rather well.  Clarke, along with David Kay and other CIA/UN officials, also claim that the CIA had examined the situation before the Iraq war in detail and concluded that there was no link between Iraq and Osama Bin Laden’s people, but the Bush administration was so focussed on an Iraq war that they either ignored their intelligence estimates or made up their own. [3]

Border security has been and continues to be, a security hole.  The lack of effective border security arises, in my humble opinion, from the failure of the American people to accept an unfalsifiable form of personal identification, and to be willing to present it to an authority on demand.  The idea that an American citizen should have to show an ID card to anyone, let alone a police officer, has long been a politically poisonous idea, an infringement on our “personal freedom”.

I don’t share that view, despite my long membership in the ACLU, which has consistently fought the idea of a universal ID card for American citizens.  The Europeans have long accepted that idea, even after the horrors of the second world war, when Hitler made very effective use of ID cards and papers as a way of controlling his people, and ensuring that every last Jew would be carted off to a concentration camp. 

That war was scarcely over when the French government immediately began to clean its house by issuing new, certified ID cards to each of its citizens.  That you might have to leave your papers in a hotel room overnight, so that the local police can check on who’s staying there, is just taken for granted. 

It’s a simple measure, in the end, that ensures that you are safe by ensuring that someone else who’s wanted by the police will be caught.  Hiding out in France under an assumed name is a lot more difficult than hiding out in America.

 

Good ID cards would make the INS’s job much easier.  Without them, anyone can cross the Canadian or Mexican border into the US on the strength of a driver’s license, from any state, claiming to be a citizen.  Our passports have become much stronger, and are now verified through a database system, but they weren’t at the time of 9/11.  When you enter the US now with a passport, it isn’t the passport that admits you, it’s your appearance in an official, encrypted database system.  The passport provides a unique key to the database, and the INS officer is shown a picture (from the database) of the person, as well as corroborating address, birthdate and other information.  This raises a formidable barrier to anyone trying to use a false passport – it cannot be just copied from someone else’s, it must also have an identical image in the federal database.

The INS is also experimenting with the use of a digital fingerprint (a biometric) as a means of further ensuring that the person in front of them is who he/she claims to be.  The digital fingerprint can be compared quickly with one carried in the database, independent of anything carried on the passport.  A failure to match is a red flag, calling for an investigation of the entering person.

 

The use of passports at the border is a good first step toward a national ID system, one that is preferably based on a biometric measure, along with a database.  National databases also raise privacy issues, which I also feel are exaggerated.  But the use of a national fingerprint database (AFIS, operated by the FBI as a service to local law enforcement officials) has enabled local police to identify and hold wanted criminals.  Among those criminals might well be the next would-be terrorist.

 

Will we ever have good personal ID cards?  I don’t know.  This appears to be an issue that Democrats are opposed to, on privacy and civil liberties grounds.  Given their opposition, and Republican indifference to (or ignorance about) the issue, it is unlikely to happen.  [Update note: as of January 1, 2006, the INS will require Americans returning from Canada or Mexico to present a valid passport.  So it is happening!]

 

Identifying Explosives

A simple measure intended to positively trace and identify all explosive chemicals has been available for decades.  It amounts to dropping tiny RFID chips into each chemical batch of explosive.  These carry a tag (a large number) that can be extracted with a simple (and cheap) electronic scanner.  The manufacturer then records the tag as well as the buyer of that batch.  Buyers, who must be licensed through BATF, would be required to track explosives as they find their way into mining sites, etc, and can do so with a similar scanner.

When the explosive device is ignited, the RFID chips of course are scattered around.  However, they are robust enough that a few percentage will survive the blast.  It’s easy for any officer at the scene to acquire the tag number, and, in a few seconds, to trace the explosives back to through its suppliers to the manufacturer.   That’s a major step forward in any explosive investigation.

Unfortunately, under pressure from the gun lobby, the Republican Congress has repeatedly blocked implementing such a law.  They have therefore robbed BATF and police investigators of a potentially valuable tool in this “war” on terrorism, which is the ability to pinpoint where the explosives came from. 

The Oklahoma bombing was carried out with the use of fuel oil and fertilizer (potassium nitrate), both readily available with few or no restrictions.  It’s impractical to tag all fuel oil or fertilizer with RFID chips – they would clog any diesel engine’s system, for one thing.  But the explosion required a firing cap, which could be so implanted.  The Oklahoma case was cracked through an ID number on a part of the van, which enabled the FBI to trace it back to a rental agency and thereby its renters.

 

Public Perception of the Danger

Working against an intelligent, police-level, investigative activity is almost surely the overreaction of the public to an incident of the level of 9/11.  Many Americans were understandably angry about it.  One New Yorker that I caught among the televised interviews said that “he wanted to see some big bomb holes somewhere overseas as a payback.”  If that person had his finger on the nuclear trigger and was told that it could destroy the middle East and half its Muslims, he would probably have pressed it.

 

I can hardly blame people for their angry reaction, but consider that the number of lives lost in that tragedy is less than the number of lives lost to auto accidents in each fifteen weeks in the US, as of 1982.  [1]

What made 9/11 so poignant and unforgettable was that it happened so quickly, to so many innocent people, and it took the lives of hundreds of brave fire fighters and police officers.   Of course, it also made a spectacular show of itself, seen by millions of people around the world.  Few auto accidents are shown that way by the media.

I am not denigrating the magnitude of the loss and pain to their families, rather just pointing out that the number of deaths associated with 9/11 is dwarfed by the many other forms of death by accident that we take for granted in the U.S., for example:

·        motor vehicle deaths, 60,000 per year

·        home accidents, 27,500 per year

·        death through falls, 15,000 per year

·        and many more categories, of which these are the top three.

Of course, the 9/11 tragedy was not an accident, rather a deliberately planned mass homicide.  It was especially shocking to Americans, who did not expect such an attack on American soil, in the form of suicidal killers, and in such a spectacular manner.

 

Yet the statistics don’t lie.  Your chances of dying in a terrorist attack are about the same as dying by electrocution, which is how approximately 5 out of a million people die each year in the U.S.  (This is accidental electrocution, not by electrocution in the electric chair). [2]

 

That may change, of course.  If the Islamic world is really as inflamed against us as it appears to be, no American will be safe travelling in a Muslim country, or even within large Muslim populations within a Western country.   

The French have much to say about terrorist risks, having survived many horrendous attacks by Algerian radicals even decades.  Few Frenchmen lose sleep over their Algerian terrorists.

The English have survived literally hundreds of attacks by IRA radicals.  Those attacks are now diminishing, but even at their peak, few Englishmen were terrified of riding the Metro to work.

 

We Americans are rather different.  We’ve been so safe for so many years, and feel so powerful through our relative isolation and military strength, that we still find it inconceivable that a few thugs armed with boxcutters could destroy the two tallest buildings in the US and cost us thousands of lives.

 

Get Over It

We obviously need to work to prevent other such attacks.  But my overall feeling about it is – get over it. 

·        We will be attacked by thugs regardless of how many nuclear missiles we have, or how many we think we can deflect, if the will and the means is there.

·        We will be attacked regardless of how many Muslim countries we invade.

·        We will be attacked regardless of how well we try to pull ourselves in as a country and ignore the world’s problems.

 

The worst reaction to some future attack will be to declare war on some nation or state that (we think) was responsible, without a careful assessment of the truth of that premise, and without the consensus of a large majority of our people. 

The best reaction is to take a deep breath and realize that rather mundane police operations are the most effective way of countering terrorism.

We’ve tried war in two countries so far, and the result is (according to many strategic analysts), more likely that we will see terrorism against Americans and American embassies.

I do not agree with president Bush that we are “safer” today because of his unilateral military actions. 

I do agree that air travel (within the US) is more secure against terrorist attacks, that various police activities around the globe have made us safer, and that serious efforts are underway to secure our airports, marine ports, bridges, etc.

 

But the anti-American feelings in Muslim countries are stronger than ever, and they are not going to dissipate in the near future.  There are still too many angry young Muslims ready to sacrifice their lives on a bombing mission, and too much money, and too many munitions available for them. 

The challenge of this century is to defuse those feelings, and that will require a massive humanitarian effort on the part of a generous United States, plus good police work, plus a resolve to never again launch such a destructive unilateral war against an innocent population, however vicious their leader.

 

References and Notes

[1]  Vincent T. Covello, Peter M. Sandman, and Paul Slovic, Risk Communication, Risk Statistics, and Risk Comparisons: A Manual for Plant Managers,  Washington, DC: Chemical Manufacturers Association, 1988, pp. 38–53, also found at the web site http://www.psandman.com/articles/cma-appb.htm

From their table B.1, there were 60,000 motor vehicle deaths each year in the US in 1982.  (Could be considerably more this year).  The 9/11 tragedy cost about 4,000 lives.  So one 9/11 tragedy corresponds to about 1/15 of one year of motor vehicle accidents, counting lives alone.  The loss in value of the twin towers and to businesses located therein and around them, plus the value of the airplanes is being estimated at some $80 billion, which is far greater than the material cost of 4,000 motor vehicle accidents, which, assuming each vehicle is worth $20,000, comes to $80 million.

 

[2] op.cit. Covello et al.  Table B.1 lists “electrocution” as 5.3 per million.  Assume that we have one 9/11 level attack every three years.  (There will no doubt be many smaller-scale attacks).  Then its risk level is (4000 deaths)/(3 years x 250 million population) = 5.3 per million.  This number assumes that the risk level is about evenly divided across the US, which is not likely.  A jet plane smashing into the largest building in Grand Island, Nebraska, the Yancey Hotel, would kill more people on the aircraft than in the building.   To the extent that Al-Qaida is interested in large buildings dedicated to finance and government, their occupants are at considerably higher risk than this average suggests.  Whether it approaches the accidental death rate from all causes in the U.S., 9,000 per million, according to Covello, is unlikely.

 

[3]  Robert Greenwald, Uncovered: The War on Iraq, a feature-length documentary showing around the country.  The web site http://www.uncoveredthewaroniraq.com has a summary of the film, which is also available in DVD format.  The film has very little commentary from the director, but is rich in live statements made by several dozen former CIA agents.  There’s a  lengthy summary by David Kay, who spent several months and some $20 million in Iraq looking for anyone willing to step forward with verifiable information about WMDs – he offered a rich retirement in a land of their dreams just for ratting on Saddam’s weapons program.  He talked to many wanna-bees, but found no one who could actually direct him to any such weapons.