Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Crazed Walrus; "Canada's Best Magazine" gone mad...

"Are We Safe Yet?"

"Eight years after 9/11, Canada is still far from secure"
by Daniel Stoffman

Walrus, May 19, 2009

"Imagine, if you will, the following scenario: Terrorists on a small ship approach the Atlantic coast of North America. They’ve got one medium-range missile to carry one small nuclear weapon. As it detonates at high altitude, the bomb triggers a surge of electromagnetic radiation. Voltage spikes fry electrical and electronic equipment. Lights, phones, TV, radio — nothing works. The food in the fridge is rotting. Water stops flowing from taps, because the electrical systems that govern the local reservoir are dead. Dead, too, is the ignition in your car. In the worst-case scenario, we are effectively thrown back to pre-modern times. We have to relearn the survival skills of our ancestors. The hardiest make it, but many don’t."

You know, I think we can do better than that. Imagine if you will, the following scenario: A container ship parks at the Red Hook Docks in Manhattan. The container started life returning from NATO in Afghanistan, on a truck through the Khyber Pass, and loaded in Karachi. Somewhere along the way it was substituted for an identical container loaded with a nuclear weapon, or alternatively was unloaded and reloaded with a nuclear weapon. Or, the container might be returning to Halifax from Karachi.

"An electromagnetic pulse attack is the sort of thing that keeps counterterrorism experts up at night. Depending on the blast’s size and location, such an attack could leave all of North America in primitive conditions. The emp threat typifies the terrorist threat. The chances of it happening are low at any given time. But it could happen, because there are international terrorists with the motivation, brains, and patience to pull it off. Osama bin Laden has said it is his “religious duty” to acquire nuclear weapons to attack the West. And al Qaeda has repeatedly cited Canada as one of its targets."

This paragraph assumes the existence of "counterterrorism experts" as opposed to, say, the police, Interpol, whoever was dealing with these things during the Air India disaster. Since both Pakistan and India possess nuclear weapons, it's not clear why the risk for Canada would be greater than for somewhere else, almost anywhere else, in south Asia. Like, Osama bin Laden wants to take out the CN Tower?

"In another nuclear nightmare, terrorists detonate a weapon on the ground. On October 11, 2001, a CIA agent code named Dragonfire reported that al Qaeda had stolen a ten-kiloton bomb in Russia and successfully smuggled it into New York City. Exploded at noon in midtown Manhattan, the bomb would have killed 500,000 people immediately, and hundreds of thousands more from collapsing buildings, fire, and fallout."

OK, sorry. I got Dragonfire confused with Curveball.

"Dragonfire turned out to be wrong, and the intervening years have seen no major attacks on North American soil. But does that mean we’re safe? Graham Allison, an expert on the threat of nuclear terrorism and director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, puts the answer this way: 'If the US and other governments just keep doing what they are doing today, a nuclear terrorist attack in a major city is more likely than not by 2014.'”

Which means what,exactly? There's a good case to be made, and is made frequently by Eric Margolis, that the current madness in Afghanistan is likely to be the most proximate cause of any further terrorist attack in North America. Why would Osama bin Laden want to take out the CN Tower? So we'd withdraw from Afghanistan?

"The attacks by al Qaeda on September 11, 2001, killed 2,974 people, including twenty-four Canadians. Since then, authorities in this country have taken several steps to make life harder for terrorists. John Thompson, who heads the Mackenzie Institute, a Toronto-based think tank that studies political instability and organized violence, has a three-part answer to the question of whether or not these measures have made us safer: 'Yes, no, and maybe.'”

And about 100,000 Americans died violent deaths every year during the same period, which is to say, about 800,000 deaths, not far off the estimate of excess deaths in Iraq due to the American invasion, which was based on the evidence of Dragonfire, sorry, Curveball.

Here's the CDC estimate:

2001 - 2006, United States
All Injury Deaths and Rates per 100,000
All Races, Both Sexes, All Ages
ICD-10 Codes: V01-Y36,Y85-Y87,Y89,*U01-*U03

Number of Deaths


"On the face of it, we should be safer. After 9/11, the federal government rushed the Anti-terrorism Act into law, giving police and intelligence agencies broad new powers, including enhanced use of electronic surveillance and the right to arrest people suspected of planning to commit a terrorist act. As well, Ottawa reorganized its security apparatus: It created the new Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, to improve coordination and information sharing among agencies responsible for national security. It gave the Communications Security Establishment new powers to eavesdrop on private communications. It created the Integrated Threat Assessment Centre. And it launched integrated national security enforcement teams in various parts of Canada, with the aim of disrupting and preventing terrorist activities. There have also been other, more modest improvements. Checked baggage is now screened at Canadian airports, reducing the danger of another Air India disaster. Closed-circuit TV and an increased police presence are helping to protect Canadian transit systems."

"All told, we’re now spending $25 billion a year on national security — a figure that encompasses defence, the rcmp, intelligence services, and air, border, and coastal security. Not included in that estimate is the value of the time spent by air travellers lining up to empty their pockets and take off their shoes at security checkpoints. Slowdowns because of increased security at the US land border are costing individuals and businesses millions more. Then there is the curtailed privacy that comes with counterterrorism. It’s too late to do anything once the suicide bomber has walked through the turnstile of the subway station; you have to find out about his plans before he puts them into action, which means security operatives must snoop and watch and eavesdrop. Citizens of totalitarian countries take such things for granted. Most Canadians don’t, at least not yet."

Give..me...a...break. We're spending $25 billion/year on this stuff and about $1 billion on science? Come on! What about the $2.5 billion dollars worth of
German tanks airlifted into Afghanistan at unimaginable expense: where are they now, parked with the Russian rusting tank hulls near Kandahar? And then of course, there's always the British option of shooting some guy just to be on the safe side, something the TTC might want to look into.

"Martin Rudner, founding director of the Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies at Carleton University, believes the costs of security are worth it. “There is no question in my mind,” he says, “that the reason Canada has been spared a deadly attack since 9/11 is not because the terrorists haven’t tried, but because counterterrorism has succeeded.” To take one example, the strategy of pre-emptive enforcement saw its first visible results last fall, when Canadian prosecutors won their first convictions under the Anti-terrorism Act."

Neither of the convicted individuals had actually committed an act of terrorism, but both, the courts decided, were helping to prepare for such acts. One of them was only seventeen in 2006, when he was arrested for attending two training camps held by the so-called “Toronto 18” cell. He also stole things for the group, which was allegedly scheming to bomb targets in Ontario and behead Prime Minister Stephen Harper. In another case, an Ottawa software developer was found guilty of conspiring to set off fertilizer bombs in England in 2004."

"In both instances, the threats were from Islamist terrorism, which has become nearly synonymous with terrorism itself. “Islamist,” in this context, means a radical fundamentalist who rejects the concept of a secular, democratic state, and is prepared to use violence to impose a rigid theocratic rule on society. Of course, not all terrorists are Islamic fundamentalists, but non-Islamist terror groups, such as the Tamil Tigers, are obsessed with local struggles. Most pose little threat to Canada, with the major exception thus far being the Sikh separatists who planted bombs on two airplanes departing from Canada on June 22, 1985, killing a total of 331 people."

This is nauseating stuff. What would Orwell say? The last fertilizer bomb I recall doing damage was in Oklahoma, and the perpetrator was not, to say the least, Islamist.

"Al Qaeda has named Western democracies in general, and Canada in particular, as its enemies. In November 2002, Osama bin Laden warned in a statement broadcast on the Arabic television station Al Jazeera that Canada would be attacked because of its participation in the war in Afghanistan. “What do your governments want from their alliance with America in attacking us in Afghanistan?” he asked. “I mention in particular Britain, France, Italy, Canada, Germany, and Australia. Why should fear, killing, destruction, displacement, orphaning, and widowing continue to be our lot, while security, stability, and happiness be your lot? This is unfair. It is time that we get even. You will be killed just as you kill, and will be bombed just as you bomb.”

In 2004, an al Qaeda manual named Canada as the terrorists’ fifth most important “Christian” target. The people making these threats, says Rudner, are “well-educated intellectuals. Many of the mujahedeen of al Qaeda are engineers and doctors and other professionals. They mean what they say.”

One hundred and fifty jihadist plots have been identified in Europe, North America, and Australia since 9/11. Because of counterterrorism, few have been successful, with the notable exceptions of the attacks on the Madrid commuter trains in 2004, and the London transit system in 2005. Some of the failed plots would have had devastating results. In December 2001, a British convert to Islam tried to blow up a transatlantic flight carrying 198 people by igniting explosives in his shoe. In June 2007, terrorists left two car bombs in central London. One of the cars contained sixty litres of gasoline, gas cylinders, and nails. It was parked outside a nightclub, and if detonated would have killed hundreds of people. In February in London, a trial began of eight men charged with conspiring to kill thousands of people in 2006, by blowing up seven transatlantic planes using liquid bombs made from soft drink bottles and batteries. Two of the targets were Air Canada flights destined for Toronto and Montreal."

The scale of the threat is yet another reason to take it seriously. In 1993, al Qaeda started trying to buy highly enriched uranium in Sudan. And al Qaeda documents seized in Afghanistan gave details of the terror network’s attempts to obtain nuclear materials over several years, until they were expelled from the country after 9/11. “Nothing we know about al Qaeda’s ideology suggests they would have any inhibitions about using such weapons if they could acquire them,” says Wesley Wark, a terrorism expert at the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto. “A group with that capacity may simply be undeterrable, both in terms of measures the state would take and any phenomenon of self-deterrence — so, an intent to acquire them and use them, and no restraints. That is why the nightmare is a nightmare.”

"According to Matthew Bunn, co-principal investigator of the Project on Managing the Atom at Harvard’s Belfer Center, the ingredients for nuclear weapons exist in hundreds of buildings in forty countries. Some sites are secure, he says, but others “have little more than a night watchman and a chain-link fence.” Once terrorists obtained nuclear material, it would be easy for them to import it into Canada; only 4 percent of containers arriving at our ports are inspected to determine their contents."

...which is precisely why the International Atomic Energy Agency exists wo worry about these things in an informed way, as opposed to some loose cannon at Harvard.

"Another weapon of mass destruction is biological. To grasp the potential of such an attack, consider a war game called Dark Winter that was conducted by the United States just prior to 9/11 to simulate the effects of a smallpox strike. In the exercise, six days after the first identified case, in Oklahoma City, 2,000 people had the disease and 300 were dead. The worst case predicted by the simulation saw three million Americans infected and one million killed. Should this actually happen, hundreds of thousands of Canadians could die, too."

"How capable are Islamist organizations, though, of actually bringing off an attack? “Al Qaeda remains a threat, but it is not quite the threat that people feared it might be after 9/11,” suggests Wark. Since 9/11, al Qaeda has lost its base in Afghanistan, and many of its top leaders have been killed. The American military surge in Iraq succeeded in eliminating the base al Qaeda had built up there after the US invasion."

"In 2007, one of the most influential figures in the Islamist movement, Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, also known as Dr. Fadl, renounced violence, to the dismay of the terror network’s leadership. This was especially significant because Fadl wrote two of the books al Qaeda uses to justify its terrorist ideology. In an interview last year with Al Hayat, a major Arabic language newspaper, he said he had been wrong and called 9/11 “a catastrophe for Muslims.” Islam, he argued, forbids killing civilians, including non-Muslims. Fadl’s change of heart might make it more difficult for al Qaeda to replenish its ranks."

"Most of the world’s one-billion-plus Muslims already dislike the Islamists. Polls by the Pew Global Attitudes Project in 2006 found strong opposition to terrorism among Muslim populations in seven out of ten countries. As for Osama bin Laden, majorities in eight out of ten countries had no confidence in him. A poll in Pakistan, taken before the 2008 elections, found that if al Qaeda were on the ballot as a political party, only 1 percent of Pakistanis would vote for it. Only 3 percent would have cast a ballot for the Taliban. A Gallup poll in ten countries in 2005 found that a vast majority of Muslims supports such so-called “Western” values as freedom of speech, religion, and assembly, as well as women’s right to vote and work outside the home. Even in Afghanistan, one of the most socially conservative Muslim countries, a large majority supports women’s rights."

It just gets wilder and wilder.

I'm glad, really glad, that I live in a country that still has the rule of law, that values free speech, and understands that habeas corpus is not a town in Texas.

But don't take my word for it, here's Winston Churchill for what that's worth:

"I expect you will be questioned about the release of the Mosleys. No doubt the pith of your case is health and humanity. You might however consider whether you should not unfold as a background the great principle of habeas corpus and trial by jury, which are the supreme protection invented by the British people for ordinary individuals against the state. The power of the executive to cast a man into prison without judgment by his peers for an indefinite period, is in the highest degree odious, and is the foundation of all totalitarian governments, whether Nazi or Communist. … Nothing can be more abhorrent to democracy than to imprison a person or keep in prison because he is unpopular. This is really the test of civilization." (From The Second World War, Closing the Ring)