Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Monday, January 29, 2007

If I were a terrorist... part 1

A few years before 9/11 I gave a presentation at the Ethnographic Museam in Belgrade called, "Weapons technology and culture: is the world becoming the Balkans?" In it I made the point that modern technology had put the capability of producing both small arms and weapons of much greater power in the hands of basically anyone motivated enough to make or acquire them, and that this was only going to get worse as technology advances.

The Oklahoma City bomb was, as everyone knows by now, made from ammonium nitrate fertilizer and diesel fuel. IED's in Iraq are remotely detonated with devices made from cell phones and TV remotes. Any modern machine shop with computer-controlled milling machines can, with the appropriate programs, turn out any small arms, from pistols to heavy machine guns, etc. (It's actually more difficult to produce the primers and modern smokeless powders for bullets. I think they can be made with a setup equivalent to the average meth lab though.)

When the attack happened I was asked to comment on it in print in the English-language media in Warsaw. I wrote, "It gives me no pleasure to be proven right." So a little while later I set myself the exercise of trying to think like a terrorist for the purpose of anticipating the worst that terrorists could throw at us.

How'd it work? Not very well actually - thank God. I came away from the experiment convinced that I could plan a better terrorist campaign than these freaks. By which I mean, I think I figured out a number of tactics to bring disruption to the American economy and create a state of constant low-level tension among our people. All this and live through it too.

That was the odd thing. Jihadist terrorists seem to be obsessed with suicide/murder attacks and seem to show no interest in preparing their agents for multiple survivable missions. Like the managers of the Nazi labor/annihilation camps, whenever they have a choice between efficiency and death, they choose death.

I wrote my thoughts up and then sat on them for a while, out of a sense of responsibility. Now I'm going to voice them anyway, with some trepidation. We need to have some serious discussion about how to go about attacking a country like ours before someone takes the project really seriously.

9-11 proved that an airplane with a pilot willing to die is a cruise missile. But that's likely to prove a one-trick pony. The citizen militia that constituted itself on United 93 made "Let's roll" a battlecry for our people for all our subsequent history, and made that plan obsolete while the operation was still ongoing. Even without the often tiresome security at airports these days, no load of passengers is going to passively submit to a hijacking again.

It's still easy to make ANFO (Ammoium Nitrate and Fuel Oil) and deliver it by truck, or perhaps even by plane, but these days if you show interest in buying large quantities of fertilizer you're going to attract some attention.

And perhaps most importantly, in spite of various groups screaming bloody murder about discrimination, racism, Islamophobia and whatever; groups that produce and support terrorists are being watched. And yes, that means all you Muslims who have lived in the US for years, become citizens, etc etc. Now you know what it feels like to be Irish and have every romantic idiot think you're foursquare behind the murdering psychopaths in the Ould Sod.

In part 2 I will explore some thoughts about how to run a terror campaign in the US with available resources, and then I'll really let my morbid imagination run wild and think about Terrorist R&D: futureweapons of terror.

Sweet dreams.


  • At 11:07 AM, Blogger metapundit.net said…

    Bruce Scheier (well regarded security expert) did a "come up with a movie plot for a terrorist attack" contest a while back that had tons of participation. Some were deliberately farcical and Bondsian but many were quite plausible.

    My own idea (plant cell-phone triggered incendiary devices in national forest land during california's dry season) would cost essentially nothing (a few thousand dollars worth of disposable cell phones, detonators, and half filled gas cans). It would be easy to do a billion dollars worth of damage and shut down major transportation arteries...

    Check out the thread at

  • At 11:14 AM, Blogger metapundit.net said…

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • At 9:17 AM, Blogger dchamil said…

    You know those signs that say, "Caution - Natural Gas Pipeline"? They might as well say, "Terrorists Dig Here." The Soviets may have had a point with their mania for preventing tourists from photographing bridges.

  • At 9:30 AM, Blogger Steve Browne said…


    I looked at the list and almost all suggestions struck me as not serious or overly elaborate.

    Your idea however, is a good one.


    Good point, see part 2. The whole of a distribution network cannot be hardened, whether wire, rail or pipeline.


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