January/February - 1997
Vol# 13 - Issue# 1
The Un-Civil War
-Sam Perry (Journalist and Business Consultant)
"Terrorism, as an instrument of war, will influence out lives and those of our children for the next several decades."
That is a direct quote from a highly decorated CIA veteran with nearly thirty years of experience in the intelligence arena. It also seems to be the frightening consensus among most counter-intelligence professionals. Faced with such an unnerving prediction, what can the United States do? Where will the resources come from to prevent another World Trade Center, Oklahoma City, or Atlanta bombing? Who is leading the fight and what are they asking us to do?
In order to put these questions into proper perspective, it is necessary to step back and take a pragmatic look at modern terrorism, how it developed and where it is likely to be headed. It is a fact that foreign groups, not U.S.-based, perpetrate most acts of terror and such acts are on the rise. Some attacks are carried out by independent groups. Others are state sponsored. The important new development is that the growth line between the two has been crossed. Today, more acts of terrorism are undertaken by independent groups than by state sponsored organizations.
Bombs remain the terrorist's weapon of choice. They are easy to manufacture, difficult to track and generate a great deal of media attention. Guns, also important, are readily available world-wide. For example, in Soweto, AK-47s can be rented by the hour. Open-air gun bazaars in the southern republics of the former Soviet Union operate without government interference. Visitors often drive across adjoining borders to purchase the most exotic suppressed-fire automatic weapons.
In Russia, crime and corruption rule. Experts say everything there is for sale. Kazakhstan's former supply of atomic materials has been virtually depleted. It is feared that most of it has gone to aggressor nations with the facilities to manufacture atomic weapons. Counter-intelligence intercepts are said to indicate there is a threat of transfers of such materials between countries such as Iran and North Korea. This creates the potential for state sponsored terrorist attacks using nuclear weapons. Events in Japan show that the use of chemical/bacteriological warfare is a very real and potentially devastating terrorist tactic.
How do we structure programs to prevent such insidious attacks here in the United States? Indeed, throughout the world? Which direction do we take?
The New York World Trade Center, a symbol of the affluent western world, covers over sixteen acres; a total of 12 million square feet. There are seven buildings, including two twin towers. One hundred and fifty thousand people a day go in and out of offices and the largest shopping complex in the New York metropolitan area.
A van enters. It parks in an unrestricted area, close to a mechanical shop. Not at all unusual. The truck's now infamous cargo later would account for over 1,000 injuries, twelve deaths, 500 people stranded in elevators for eight hours and a 16-alarm emergency response – the largest in New York City's history! On-the-scene emergency workers would find a 60 ft. crater at level B-2, below the Vista Hotel dining room and close to the complex's police operations and control center. According to first hand reports, within minutes the entire tower was filled with smoke, "so thick as to be barely tolerable." Investigators would later find traces of cyanide poison in the sooty residue and canisters of the same in lockers of the attackers. The perpetrator's computer would show that their intent was to take the tower down, toppling in onto the adjoining tower, thus destroying the entire seven-building complex.
The building structure held. Columns did not collapse, as was the case in Oklahoma City, a federal facility. In just fifty-six days (four shy of the target), a 1,000-man reconstruction team had the complex again open for business.
Lighting at the World Trade Center now has battery operated back-up systems. Phosphorescent paint is used in key signage. Obsolete equipment has been eliminated. City building codes have been enhanced. And, a special Security Council was established to develop "value engineering" recommendations on an on-going basis. This committee is the result of workshops, which WTC and federal officials conducted after the explosion. They brought together leaders from dozens of emergency management groups, law enforcement, federal agencies and outside security specialists. Their purpose simply was to develop better threat assessment. Most important, the Security Council is comprised of the World Trade Center CEO, Executive Director and General Council. In short, attention at the very top. Attention to security – attention to a problem that, I am told, is not even a separate line item in federal building budgets.
John Strauchs, CEO of Systech Group, Inc., is an expert in "security engineering". He also is co-author of the Hallcrest Report II, which is highly regarded for its look at where security is headed as we move into the next century. John says the major problem we face is communications.
In the seventies and eighties, our major terrorist problem was skyjacking. I was part of the effort to stop that menace and we did it. Through technology and by changing the world's passenger processing systems, we bought some time. But recent tragic events underscore our continued vulnerability. Now, and in the near future, Strauchs and others tell us, terrorism threat analysis also must concern itself with buildings – all buildings – especially U.S. government buildings.
In June 1995, the State Department issued a document titled "Vulnerability of U.S. Facilities." It was a survey of 450 government buildings. It was presumed to be a starting point, a place to begin the process of improving security. Instead, it has become a design document, the standard for new construction. I am told that government buildings are security classified by levels one through five, depending upon the degree of security to be employed. The problem is that these levels apparently are unilaterally allocated. For example, the court house in lower Manhattan, where John Gotti, the Mafia "Teflon Don," was tried and which has had bomb attempts, is assigned a Level 4. But that is the same level as a court house in, say, rural South Dakota.
The costs to secure U.S. government facilities are going to be staggering and experts agree that no system will ever be 100% foolproof. Strauchs and others estimate these costs could range into the tens of billions of dollars. Compare these estimates with the $1.2 billion presently budgeted for all government facilities.
The tragedy at Oklahoma City indeed got the government's attention and some say it will be seen as the new starting point in federal government security planning. The State Department already was instituting security beef-ups overseas with enhancements costing some $450 per square foot of facility space. Now, U.S. domestic buildings will be getting similar attention.
It is said that a part of this new security enhancement will be the process of determining a "measured response" to potential terror attacks. But what is a measured response? Experts say closing Pennsylvania Avenue made no sense. Counterterrorism officers tell me they are worried about trucks, not cars. Senator Glenn recently questioned the wisdom of security planning at the Senate Office Building, which is protected on only two sides. "That doesn't equal a 50% reduction in security costs," Glenn was reported to have said. Determining a measured response is a matter of estimating risk. And the risk from terror attacks is dynamic, constantly changing, depending upon circumstances. In Atlanta, Centennial Park was not an Olympic venue. But it was renamed Olympic Centennial Park. In the minds of terrorist planners, that probably upgraded it to Olympic status. It increased the risk of a terror attack on the park, as a World Olympics target.
Planners say there are four elements associated with assessing the risk of a terrorist attack: 1) Threat-what sort of attack could take place…when… and why? 2) Vulnerability-the ease or difficulty in hitting the target. 3) Consequences-what will the terrorist gain… what response can he expect? 4) Probability-what are the odds it will happen?
Current counter-terrorism efforts are primarily centered on the second consideration. The attempt, today, is to manipulate vulnerability. Closing Pennsylvania Avenue and the reemergence of huge, concrete flower pots are examples, yet counter-terrorism experts say the most important element in risk assessment is determining probability. This is a role for the intelligence community to play, one that some say is not being supported. In any event, experts agree that a more balanced approach, one that takes into account all four considerations, needs to be taken. Attempts to reduce the vulnerability of U.S. government buildings seem bound to continue as our primary course of defense in the near future. New construction will probably be fortified to prevent "progressive collapse." This was said to be the situation in Oklahoma City, where support columns fell into the explosion crater and brought the building down. We will see more exterior surveillance, especially television cameras, since an ATM camera in an adjoining Oklahoma City bank caught the alleged perpetrators on film. Barricading, useless as some experts believe it to be in the U.S., seems here to stay. We will also see more restricted parking, more classified parking and open parking may disappear.
X-ray machines and metal detectors will be more widely used. There will be strong moves to employ Chemical / Biological Warfare mitigators, modified air intake manifolds and check valves on water mains. Survivability will be a key requirement, with more life support features and redundant operating systems.
Current Planning Assessment
Experts see the shift at government facilities to private security personnel as a huge potential chink in our counter-terrorist armor. It is a trend that seems destined to grow ever larger. The Hallcrest Report estimates private security employment expenditures will increase to $103 billion by the year 2000, up from just $20 billion in 1980! Private security employment will then be three times the number of public security personnel. One example is the Federal Marshal Program. Their CSO program – Contract Security Officers – has replaced experienced officers with what is described as non-sworn, low-paid private employees.
Critics of current counter-terrorism planning also cite our seeming obsession with fertilizer as another example. They also decry the use of "specialized security experts"-with only ten weeks of training-sent out to assess risk. Site location for government facilities does not seem to be very high on our agenda. Experts cite a court house in the Bronx, which is difficult for all with business there to access. There is no possibility of a 200 foot setback and no plan to move the facility to a more secure site elsewhere. Finally, they characterize the coordination of security planning as "extremely poor." They say that in government buildings each jurisdiction handles its own security in its own way.
Experienced consultants say there are some low budget things we could do right now to enhance security. We can institute easy to use risk rating systems. "Scoring" is such a practice. Even a person inexperienced in security can answer a hundred or so basic questions about a facility. This leads to a quick determination of how well the building stacks up, or "scores." Experts think this is far preferable to the recent determination by one agency that every life in a certain facility had a "value" of exactly $2,870.
They say we can put in better CBW defenses, such as the intake manifolds and check valves previously mentioned. Most important, they say we should organize our intelligence apparatus to give us a better reading on the probability of terrorist attacks.
Corporations and private citizens should also be aware that security costs are a legitimate IRS deduction and most agree that security efforts should reduce insurance premiums as well.
"Us" Versus "Them"
Let us shift gears for a moment and look at the background of modern day terrorists. Dr. Jerrold Post of George Washington University has devoted his life to the field of political psychology. He has vast CIA experience, profiling world terror leaders from the Gulf War to Oklahoma City. Dr. Post reminds us that basic to the terrorist mentality is a profound "Us" versus "Them" belief. He says this can become especially attractive during times of crisis. The end of the Cold War left many dissidents without a common enemy on which to focus. In the U.S. today, this attitude is manifesting itself against the federal government. The ability of radical groups to manipulate the media has helped escalate this hatred and he cites Ruby Ridge, Waco and the Montana Freemen as examples.
Further complicating matters, religious fundamentalism – which can be exhibited in all faiths – has built a moral obligation into the "Us v. Them" precept. This can be seen in the extreme in Poland's modern organized anti-Semitism, a hatred of Jews in a country where there are virtually no Jews. Dr. Post calls this "Platonic Terrorism."
Terrorism usually thrives best where there are the greatest restrictions on those who see themselves as oppressed. This can build generational, in-the-bone hatred. Such feelings are completely rational to those who have grown up with them. This is exemplified by the statement at a West Bank conference by a Palestinian psychologist, "When we have justice, all hatred will vanish." This quick-fix solution was the answer of an educated practitioner at a forum for the exchange of rational ideas. Dr. Post says that to eliminate terrorism is to eliminate democracy, since dissidence is basic to our system. The most effective terrorist leaders are masters at using this psychology.
But, if terrorist leaders are world-class group therapists, skilled at manipulating both their members and the media, then counter-terrorism efforts must also use psychological methods. Dr. Post suggests the following: 1) Prevent individuals from joining the movement in the first place by addressing the grievances of radical groups and providing possible solutions. 2) Create dissidents within the group, as in the FBI's believed penetration of radical elements as far back as the SDS and FALN, right up to undercover agents inside Islamic Fundamentalism and American Militias. 3) Facilitate exit from the group, as plea bargaining for cooperation and witness protection programs have helped break the backs of terror groups in Italy and Spain. 4) Reduce the force, which can result from natural attrition, or taking members out of circulation and putting them in jail.
Full Court Press
Counter-terrorism experts are calling for a full court press in the United States, an effort to assess the risk of terror attacks against U.S. targets and to aggressively prevent them from occurring. Less vigorous Japanese law enforcement methods certainly did not stop the infamous Aum Shinri Kyo Cult (AUM), and the cult provides a chilling example of the vulnerability of a modern democratic state.
AUM cult leader Shoko Asahara was born in Kyushu, Japan in 1955 in a dirt-poor environment. Blind in one eye, possessed of a violent temper and above average in intelligence, he bullied and manipulated his way through school. He failed as a law school candidate. But he did succeed in subsequently building an extremely successful acupuncture scam. By 1989, he had enough money, followers and power to found the AUM cult. He became so powerful that his henchmen could abduct straying members right off the street. He intimidated Japanese officials to the point where the police left him virtually on his own to murder, produce drugs and extort operating capital.
By 1991, the AUM cult had penetrated Japan's top universities, the police and the Self Defense Forces. His overseas operation recruited over 55,000 members in Russia alone. This effort was later seen to have been abetted by Russian Intelligence in an attempt to destabilize the Japanese government. The AUM was so powerful it was able to virtually loot giant Mitsubishi of millions of dollars in technology that ultimately ended up in SVR hands. Asahara had also begun to develop biological agents in laboratories run by his scientific conscripts.
In 1993, the nerve gas, Sarin, reportedly was first used in the Gulf War. The formula was available and easy to produce. In 1994, Asahara's cult used it to gas three judges who were trying a lawsuit against the AUM in Matsumoto, Japan, which was going against the cult. It was such a bungled effort that the getaway truck dripped Sarin throughout the streets as it fled. The attempt killed seven people and injured 500 others and it was the first use of poison gas in a terrorist attack. But the cult still did not get the attention of Japanese police or intelligence.
In May 1995, the Asahara AUM cult gassed the Tokyo subway system. The plan worked like a charm: seventy-two hours from inception to execution and eleven deaths and 5,000 injured. The rationale was a brazen attempt to divert police attention from investigation of an AUM cult abduction in an unrelated matter. World media attention followed and terrorism had ratcheted up another level.
The police finally acted against the AUM cult. For the first time they raided their Mt. Fuji headquarters and Asahara was arrested, along with some of his followers. The biological labs are still sealed; consequently, we don't know what they contained. Five key leaders are still at large, contrary to Western media reports.
In the aftermath, the local police chief was shot, the province governor letter bombed, and a top AUM official murdered by the Yakuza in an apparent drug-related consequence. Officials says it may be ten years before a murder verdict is handed down on Asahara. The AUM, which had $1 billion in assets, was recently declared bankrupt.
Intelligence sources say that among AUM correspondence was a negotiation for deadly Ebola virus from Zaire. There also was a letter seeking to acquire an atomic bomb for $15 million and a copy of Asahara's pronouncement that "they," the United States, would use nuclear weapons to destroy "us," the Japanese AUM faithful, by the year 1998. Who knows what the AUM cult might have done to prevent that imagined prospect?
Next Stop on Terrorism's World Tour
Terrorism is arguably the most frightening specter on the crisis management radar screen. Foreign groups, such as Sinn Fein, the Turkish Dead Soul extremists, and others including the currently prominent Peruvian Tupac Amarus, operate their own Internet web sites to coordinate activities world-wide.
The leading generators of terrorism from 1968 to the present were in the Middle East, followed by Western Europe and Latin America. In the 21st Century, analysts say the leaders of foment will come from the former Soviet Union, South Asia and the Balkans, as well as the Middle East. We might well ask, is the United States next on their world tour?
In the former Soviet Union's southern Republics, terrorism is running rampant. During 1994, on just one stretch of railway between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, there were 805 reported armed attacks. Since 1995, murders have doubled in the former Soviet Union and 22,000 people have disappeared without a trace! There have been few claims of responsibility for any of these events.
In 1939, England's Winston Churchill described the Soviet Union as "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." Modern day State Department analysts describe "Faceless Terrorists" with no identity, no description, no connection, no claims.
The good news, for now, is that most of the world's terror attacks are within a nation state's own border, usually against their own people. There has been only one attack against the United States in Russia in the past two years, a rocket attack on the U.S. embassy in Moscow. This was seen as ultra-nationalists sending a message to the U.S. on Bosnia. Consequently the U.S. security threat there is rated as "low," but the threat from foreign terror groups has been upped to "medium." This is as a result of organized crime sponsorship of terrorist training in Russia. The risk, of course, is exportation of their activities to the United States.
Here at home, where should the militias be factored in to our terrorism risk analysis? There are an estimated 800 militia groups across the United States. FBI counter-intelligence officers say there could be 1,800 tomorrow and 1,200 the following day. There is no solidity and little interaction takes place between the groups. There are virtually no privates, or corporals: everybody is an officer. Ninety-five percent of these militia groups are said to be completely harmless, "rod and gun club types," one agent calls them. These include working men and weekend target shooters who are non-violent to the point where many have become FBI informants, anxious to see extremists out of circulation. The other 5% are, in the words of a high counter-intelligence officer, "psychopaths and extremely dangerous."
Militias make extensive use of the Internet for communications. Their messages include the tactical disposition of the FBI and other agencies during critical incident operations. Federal agents have found the militia staked out at scenes where other militia are said to be involved. They watch every move. They usually disperse as soon as it is evident that fellow members are not involved.
Among the militia, there is a common, outspoken aversion to taxes. Extreme elements support no government, except at the county level. They establish their own common law courts. According to them, the practice comes directly from the Magna Carta and their authority from God. These common law courts call their own grand juries which issue warrants, conduct trials and declare judgments. Under this system, their members declare sovereignty and file claims with the county court that they are not citizens of the United States. In their view, this allows them to refuse to pay taxes, acquire a driver's license, serve in the armed forces and accept other obligations of U.S. citizens. According to their claims, they are strict constitutionalists, which means no changes in the original document and no amendments, especially the Sixth. Disturbingly, officers tell us these far-right extremists are finding common ground with the more publicized skinheads, KKK and FALN, as well as increasingly active environmentalists, animal rights activists and anti-abortionists.
There also are Secessionist groups that are being closely monitored. They include Hawaiians, who have already conducted plebiscites calling for separation from the United States and return to their ancient kingdom and customs. The Republic of Texas (ROT) activists are making attempts to establish embassies overseas. They are trying to persuade militias to join them and provide a military capability. Anyone who thinks these anti-government movements are not serious should read the 1984 Declaration of War by the Aryan Nations, which sets forth arguments for anti-government advocates in these extreme categories.
The FBI has established a vigorous anti-terrorist initiative, under experienced and dedicated executives. The Bureau's Domestic Terrorism Operations unit has stepped up operations in a big way. In the words of one officer, "The far right groups seem to be converging in their philosophy." Skinheads, the KKK, the CSA and American Militias coming together is a frightening prospect for federal agents, as well as local law enforcement agencies, who face the brunt of the challenge.
Experts see domestic terrorism increasing both in "tempo and devastation." This will mean more intimidation for U.S. citizens. Radical groups will increase their stockpiles of weapons. There will be extortion attempts, as they seek to obtain operating capital. There will be personal pressures. Groups will use their increased financial and legal resources to pressure local officials with threats of property liens, law suits and physical assaults.
Terrorists with an eye to the future have already staked their claims on the world's information highways. Imagine the following set of calamitous events. An explosion destroys a huge oil refinery in a Middle Eastern country with strong ties to the United States. Investigators determine there was a strange computer malfunction in its controls. A "logic bomb" causes the misrouting of two American railroad trains and a colossal crash results. England's most prestigious bank finds "sniffer" programs raising havoc with electronic funds transfers. The Pentagon's database on force deployments - classified top secret - begins to corrupt itself due to a "computer worm."
Sounds like a look into a techno-thriller movie script meeting. Actually, it is part of a war game scenario conducted last year at the National Defense University, part of what military and intelligence planners are doing to get ready for "information warfare." Officials are said to believe that unfriendly nations already have the ability to direct high-technology weapons strikes at the United States. Banks, public utilities, telecommunications systems and air traffic control centers are said to be among the principal targets. CIA Director John Deutch has told Congress that such attacks "could not only disrupt our daily lives, but also seriously jeopardize our national and economic security." The CIA is also said to believe that cyber attacks are within the capability of terrorist groups.
Just what are these information warfare "weapons"? They are basically computer software programs. Logic Bombs - programmed to destroy or rewrite the target's data on command. Sniffers - that monitor communications and transactions. Computer Worms - that use up disc space by replicating themselves until the computer's memory is gone. HERF Guns - that shoot high-energy radio signals at an electronic target and knock it out.
This is not a visit to Dave & Buster's virtual reality palace. These are for real. The folks developing such weapons have them aimed directly at the United States. America's infrastructure and businesses are the ones in their sights. Why? Because we have the most to steal. Destabilizing the United States economy leads directly to power in the minds of adversarial nations. Economic power has replaced political power as the goal of most super power contenders.
And, it is not just the big guys we have to fear. Perhaps Barry Horton, who supervises the Pentagon's information warfare operations, put it best. He said, "Even a third-tier country has access to first class programmers, computers and expertise."
The Road Ahead
There seems to be universal acceptance among counterterrorism professionals that the situation for the United States will probably get a lot worse. Up until recent history, terrorists had a "hands off" policy toward the U.S. mainland. This was in no small measure due to the huge amounts of money raised in this country to support various causes. Experts tell us vast amounts of these contributions ended up in the hands of political terror groups. Terrorism now has begun to shift from highly visible state-sponsored factions.
There are new links to organized crime. New sanctuaries are developing in areas outside the Middle East, such as the former Soviet Union. Narco-trafficking has become a major source of financing for terrorists. Dependence on the U.S. as a principal source of funding has diminished. So has the need for terror front groups to maintain this country's good will.
President Clinton's establishment last July of a commission to draft policies for protecting the U.S. information infrastructure is a worthy endeavor. Closer cooperation among the counter-intelligence officers of various federal agencies seems to be working and the National Counterintelligence Center is breaking new ground in this effort. Highly stepped-up efforts under dedicated and experienced executives in the FBI are already paying off in better investigative muscle to counter both terrorism and espionage.
Finally, for the first time, the United States has a law on the books that specifically goes after those who are out to steal U.S. trade secrets and ideas. The Economic Espionage Act of 1996 was signed by President Clinton on October 11. It culminates years of effort by the FBI and industry professionals to deal with the theft of proprietary information. The new law gives prosecutors the means to bring justice to bear, whether there is foreign involvement or not. The penalties are stiff, up to a $500,000 fine and 15 years in jail for individuals convicted of espionage. The fine increases to $10 million for organizations. It sends a strong message to those tempted to conduct economic espionage against U.S. companies or to cooperate in such activities as consultants.
Make no mistake, there is still a great deal of tunnel vision in the way the U.S. views internal security. The rallying call seems to be "make the targets less vulnerable." But who knows what the next target might be? Intelligence professionals would like to see more emphasis on determining if, when and by whom such attacks could occur and then making strong efforts to interdict the attacks.
In the end analysis, it is impossible to fully protect ourselves in a democratic society. However, we can and must use every resource to diminish the threat, be it from terrorist bombs, cyber attacks, or espionage missions. Dedicated professionals stand ready to expand their activities. The greatest challenge is to our political and business leaders and their will to lead. Our safety and fate as the world's remaining super power hang in the balance.