10 Ways to Avoid the Next 9/11


If we are fortunate, we will open our newspapers this morning knowing that there have been no major terrorist attacks on American soil in nearly five years. Did we just get lucky?

The Op-Ed page asked 10 people with experience in security and counterterrorism to answer the following question: What is one major reason the United States has not suffered a major attack since 2001, and what is the one thing you would recommend the nation do in order to avoid attacks in the future?

1) Giving Muslims Hope

By Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, the co-chairmen of the 9/11 commission and co-authors of “Without Precedent”

He best news in our struggle against terrorism is that we have not been hit at home since the 9/11 attacks. Yet terrorists are patient. We remain a target and must expect another attack.

Our most important long-term recommendations involve foreign policy. First, preventing terrorists from gaining access to nuclear weapons, especially by stepping up efforts to secure loose nuclear materials abroad, must be our highest priority.

Second, the long-term challenge is for America to stop the radicalization of young Muslims from Jakarta to London by serving as a source of opportunity, not despair. Too many young Muslims are without jobs or hope, are angry with their governments, and don’t like the war in Iraq or American foreign policy.

We should cultivate educational and cultural exchanges, and vigorous public diplomacy. We must offer moral leadership, treating all people — including detainees — with respect for the rule of law and human decency. And we must put forward an agenda of opportunity for the Islamic world. This includes support for pragmatic political reform, as well as education and economic empowerment.

2) We Can’t Kill an Ideology

By Melissa Boyle Mahle, a former C.I.A. operations officer and the author of “Denial and Deception: An Insider’s View of the C.I.A. from Iran-Contra to 9/11.”

THOUGH it may not be immediately apparent to the casual viewer, Al Qaeda is attacking when and where it chooses. It is an ideology-driven global insurgency on the march. It has not hit America because it has chosen not to. Whether it lacks on-the-ground capacity for a spectacular attack, is still in the planning stages or is busy elsewhere is under debate within our intelligence community. The point is that five years out, Al Qaeda is as dangerous as, if not more than, it was on 9/11.

Yes, our intelligence agencies have struck the terrorist group hard, detaining or killing many of its founding leaders. But these are not death blows — because you cannot decapitate an ideology. Although the majority of Muslims reject the political vision of a Taliban-style Islamic caliphate, many agree with Al Qaeda that the Western-imposed political order is the source of their political and economic woes. Moreover, militant resistance to the current order is gaining acceptance and prestige, aptly demonstrated by the groundswell of popular support for Hamas and Hezbollah in the Muslim world.

During the last five years, our priority has been to beef up defenses and take the war to the terrorists. It’s time to start discrediting Al Qaeda’s ideology and offering Muslims nonviolent alternatives. The first step is to acknowledge that their grievances are legitimate and center on issues of dignity, economic disparity, border disputes and power alignment. The second is to acknowledge that our current approach is only helping Al Qaeda go mainstream.

3) How War Can Bring Peace

By Jack L. Goldsmith and Adrian Vermeule, Harvard law professors and, respectively, an assistant attorney general from 2003 to 2004 and a co-author of the forthcoming “Terror in the Balance.

OFFENSIVE action abroad has protected the homeland. Our military presence in Afghanistan and our aggressive policies around the globe have seriously disrupted the enemy. Through a mix of military and paramilitary action, pre-emptive strikes, deterrent threats and surveillance we have captured many terrorist leaders, destroyed training camps and structures of communication and control, and uncovered valuable intelligence troves.

Some maintain that such offensive action feeds resentment and spawns more terrorism. But if aggression can create resentment, passivity and defensiveness can inspire contempt. Our weak responses to Qaeda attacks on the Khobar Towers, the African embassies and the destroyer Cole, and our withdrawal from Somalia, emboldened the enemy and allowed it to organize and train for the 9/11 attacks.

Going forward, we should more vigorously embrace technology as a tool for taking the fight to the Islamic terrorists. The same technological changes that help terrorists plot to deliver weapons of mass destruction, including low-cost information and communication over the Internet, also make it easier for the government to monitor and pre-empt terrorist plots. Libertarians overreact to the new technology, stoking fears of an Orwellian surveillance state. But properly designed programs can produce large gains in security in return for small losses of privacy and liberty.

4) Walking the Terror Beat

By Michael A. Sheehan, former deputy commissioner for counterterrorism for the New York City Police Department.

THE most important counterterrorism activity since the fall of the Taliban has been the close cooperation of the C.I.A. with foreign intelligence services.

Powerful American technologies identify names, locations, phone numbers and computer addresses of suspicious people. Local intelligence services operate informant networks. The C.I.A. station chief works with intelligence officials to follow up and coordinate hundreds of leads generated by these joint collection efforts. The connections often cross national boundaries, and periodically they “connect the dots,” identify a key terrorist and have the local services execute a nighttime raid against a terrorist safe house.

Such coordinated efforts have led to the captures of key Qaeda operatives including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind; Hambali, the planner of the Bali bombings; and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who oversaw the attack on the Navy destroyer Cole. With midlevel leaders like these out of commission, terrorist operations have been left to less capable local operatives. As a result, the Qaeda movement has been limited to only two successful operations in the West in the past five years, in Madrid and London.

To prevent the next attack in the United States we need a similar coordinated intelligence effort at home. In New York City, the F.B.I. and Police Department share this responsibility. And although they do not always love each other, they find ways to work together. The Police Department brings grit, creativity and street smarts to the investigative programs. The F.B.I. connects local efforts with information from national and international intelligence databases. Other cities should emulate their example.

5) The President’s Plan

By Frances Fragos Townsend, White House homeland security adviser.

AS a result of the horror of Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush has transformed the way we fight terrorism and the tools we use. We successfully attack those very things our enemies need to operate and survive: leadership, communications, the ability to travel, weapons; foot soldiers and financing. The president has strengthened and transformed the intelligence community, integrated our military and intelligence assets, and broken down the barriers that kept domestic law enforcement and intelligence agencies from sharing information.

The United States has enhanced relationships with allies around the world, recognizing that this is truly a global war on terrorism. Working together, we have denied Al Qaeda the safe havens and resources it needs to plan and carry out attacks and made it more difficult for our enemies to travel. We use their communications against them and have cut off their money.

At home, the president has transformed the fight by creating the Department of Homeland Security and by ensuring that the F.B.I. had the necessary tools, like the Patriot Act, to get the job done. The airline bombing plot disrupted by our British allies this summer is only the most recent case of brutal terrorists continuing to plan mass murder. We must be right 100 percent of the time; the terrorists have to succeed only once. On Sept. 11, 2001, each of us became soldiers in this fight to protect freedom. We’re in a war we didn’t ask for, but it’s a war we must wage and a war we will win.

6) Don’t Forget Our Values

By Joschka Fischer, the foreign minister of Germany from 1998 to 2005 and a visiting professor at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School.

THE 9/11 attacks were a defining moment for the course of world politics and a strategic assault against the world’s leading power at the beginning of the 21st century. But the question is, were the terrorists successful? The answer is mixed. In the aftermath of 9/11, the world was united with America. Even in Arab and Muslim countries, the sense of shock and feelings of solidarity with America far outweighed any sympathies with the terrorists.

Since then, international counterterrorism cooperation has disrupted the terrorists’ activities. Yet even public awareness of the threat, counterterrorism cooperation, and more stringent anti-terrorism laws in democratic societies around the globe couldn’t prevent the bombings in Madrid, London and Istanbul.

Immediately after 9/11, Al Qaeda seemed to be losing its battle with America and the West. Unfortunately, that changed when America invaded Iraq. The fight against the jihadists will not be decided simply on the battlefield; it will also be decided in the sphere of international legitimacy. We know that Islamic extremists celebrate death through martyrdom, and the killing of innocents. But what are we in the West fighting for?

We fight for our values: for our freedom, for democracy, for the rule of law, the equality of all human beings and for peace. In this context, Guantánamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and the situation in Iraq could hardly be called successes. Against the new totalitarian challenge of Islamic extremism, we have to defend our values; and this means sticking to the values of our democratic societies, even under fire.

7) What Really Scares Us

By William Gibson, novelist.

ANOTHER attempt on the scale of the 2001 attacks hasn’t been necessary. The last one is still doing the trick, and the terrorists’ resources are limited. The fear induced by terrorism mirrors the irrational psychology that makes state lotteries an utterly reliable form of stupidity tax. A huge statistical asymmetry serves as fulcrum for a spectral yet powerful lever: apprehension of the next jackpot. We’re terrorized not by the actual explosion, which statistically we’re almost never present for, but by our apprehension of the next one. The terrorist tactic that matters most is the next one used, one we haven’t seen yet. In order to know it, we must know the terrorists. Without a national security policy that concentrates on the vigorous and politically agnostic maximization of intelligence rather than, in the phrase of the security expert Bruce Schneier, “security theater,” that may well prove impossible.

8) Less Political Correctness

By Rafi Ron, a security consultant and the former head of security at Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.

THE reason we have not been attacked on American soil is that the war started by radical Muslims is not against the United States, but against everyone who does not conform to their beliefs and way of life. It is the first global war we have experienced since globalization became a factor in our life, and the terrorist battlefield has included Madrid, London, Bali, Moscow, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and India. The terrorists have had a very busy five years. The struggle imposed on us is, by nature, a long-term struggle. Only an effective homeland security system will provide us with the necessary political power to prevail in those instances where the terrorists do find value in attacking within the United States. In that sense, we must be less politically correct, and begin a program that looks for risks where they are most likely to be found. For example, it is crucial to identify high-risk airline passengers through all criteria — including appearance and behavior — and spend more resources on them, rather than maintaining an across-the-board, politically correct low level of search.

9) Qaeda Set the Bar High

By Clark Kent Ervin, the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security from 2003 to 2004 and author of «Open Target».

So hy haven’t we been attacked in five years? Terrorists — especially those directed by or affiliated with Al Qaeda — are committed to carrying out spectacular attacks that maximize death, injury, economic damage and political symbolism. If their aim were merely to blow up the odd bus or to level a supermarket, doing so would be a very short order. But, the more spectacular the scale of a plot, the longer it takes to plan, the costlier it is to finance, the more operatives you need to carry it out, and the greater the chance that something will go awry.

For the future, we must take a hard look at how to improve the Department of Homeland Security, which has earned its reputation as the most dysfunctional agency in all of government. It has played little role in keeping us safe since 9/11.

One need look no further than the recently foiled London jetliner plot. The department had nothing to do with uncovering the plot; that was primarily the work of British counterterrorism agencies. If not for their efforts, it would very likely have succeeded. This is because we still lack defenses against liquid explosives, although the Transportation Security Administration, part of the department, has been aware of this particular vulnerability for years and claims that its principal focus nowadays is on detecting explosives.

If after spending some $20 billion on securing the nation’s airways since 9/11 we are still vulnerable in the skies, one shudders to think how much more vulnerable our seaports, land borders, mass transit systems, chemical plants and “soft targets” like shopping malls and sports arenas are to terrorist attack.

The good news, then, is that we are unlikely to see many future attempts to strike our homeland. The bad news is that the few we will see are likely to be giant in scale, and the likelihood that the Department of Homeland Security will be able to stop them is small.

10) Keep American Muslims on Our Side

By Jessica Stern, a former National Security Council staff member and the author of «Terror in the Name of God».

SINCE 9/11, terrorism has increased significantly around the globe, but the United States has been spared. Eurasia rather than America has been the main source and victim. Why?

Increased awareness and surveillance have made a strike as sophisticated as the 9/11 attacks far more difficult to achieve, especially without local support. Unlike their counterparts in Britain, for example, few of America’s Muslims at least for now subscribe to the notion that Western governments or their proxies are deliberately hurting and humiliating Muslims and that the way to restore dignity is to join a jihad. Moreover, terrorist strategists like Ayman al-Zawahri have warned that while smaller strikes serve as training opportunities for their fighters, major strikes can backfire; attacking the wrong people at the wrong time would reduce the popularity of their movement.

The jihadists understand that they are fighting a war of ideas. According to “The Management of Savagery,” a Qaeda manual, the success of the movement will ultimately depend on the jihadists’ ability to damage America’s prestige throughout the globe, sow discord between America and its allies and expose the hollowness of American values. The manual prescribes a strategy of forcing America “to abandon its war against Islam by proxy” by provoking it into direct military confrontation with a Muslim country. When the United States attacked Iraq, it inadvertently “expanded the jihadi current” just as Osama bin Laden’s strategists had hoped.

Every foreign-policy decision entails tradeoffs in regard to terrorism, especially with respect to the spread of the jihadist idea. Attacking the wrong people at the wrong time can backfire, just as Al Qaeda’s strategists say. Let’s not make that mistake again.