How Not to Stop a Terrorist

As Glenn Greenwald predicted, terrorists have attacked the next most logical target.

A suicide bomber has caused the death of nearly three dozen people in Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport by attacking a crowded area not subject to rigorous security measures.

Mr. Greenwald expected the next terrorist bombing to take place in the crowded lines just before the security checkpoint. Instead, they went for a soft target just outside of the hard target, but it wasn’t quite the soft target Mr. Greenwald expected…

The suicide bomber went to the back door instead of the front. The other unguarded end of the airport was attacked: the part just beyond the security line where passengers crowd together to pick up their bags and find ground transportation or meet relatives and friends.

“Medvedev Orders Bomb Probe, Threatens Sackings,” reads an Associated Press headline this morning. The article continues…

“Medvedev lashed out at law enforcement and airport authorities over the attack at Domodedovo, an international hub and major gateway to Russia, which killed at least eight foreigners…

“‘It is clear that there is a systemic failure to provide security for people’ at Domodedovo, said Medvedev.

“He ordered the Interior Ministry to recommend transport security officials for dismissal and said authorities found culpable would be held responsible, suggesting they could face prosecution.”

Exactly what were security officials supposed to do?:

“Domodedovo Airport said it was not responsible for the blast. ‘We fully met all the requirements in the sphere of air transport security for which we are responsible,’ spokeswoman Yelena Galanova said in televised comments.”

Domodedovo Airport is like just about every other airport in the world. That is to say, there is no protocol to stop random people from wandering into the baggage claim area. Now I suppose there may be. But I’m not sure it will help.

You can “harden” one target all you want; there will still be an unprotect zone just beyond your securest point. Medvedev doesn’t want to accept that…

“He urged officials to develop a system that would provide for ‘total checks’ on people and bags at airports.”

I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean. Wherever these “total checks” start, there will be people congregating somewhere prior to being totally checked. These people will be vulnerable to terrorist bombings. We will be back to square one.

From a follow-up article from AP…

“Most airports in the West don’t restrict access to the terminals, which are considered public areas. Security screening only takes place once the passengers enter the departure areas.

“But in some countries, like Israel, Jordan, or Pakistan, police roadblocks situated several kilometers from the airport parking lots prescreen arriving passengers and others, before allowing them to proceed.

“Analysts said the Domodedovo attack appeared to be the first time terrorists have tried to exploit unrestricted public access to the terminals since the failed bombing of the airport in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2007. Attackers there tried to crash a Jeep loaded with explosives through the entrance doors, but the bomb did not go off.

“Philip Baum, editor of Aviation Security International, a London-based publication dedicated to security issues, said expanding the airport’s security perimeter as in Tel Aviv was desirable but would be difficult to replicate in Europe or America.”

The West would have a hard time adopting those kind of extreme security measures. Airports are commercial centers, open to the public and concerned with maximizing profits.

But even if we turned our airports into terrorist-proof lockdown zones a la Israel, that leaves several million more acres of crowded commercial areas that will ever be easy pickings for suicide bombers.

You don’t really stop terrorists by screening or with security. You just displace them. They just find something else to attack where security isn’t as big a problem.

You can’t secure everywhere, only a few concentrated spots — like airports or special buildings. That leaves everything in between wide open. And there is a lot of in between.

A terrorist doesn’t have to actually enter an airport or a building to do harm. Anywhere on the street in a crowd will do.

In fact, suicide bombers in Israel have indeed blown themselves up just outside of mall entrances where security might have proven too troublesome. They wind up killing at least as many innocents in the street as they would have inside the mall, often more.

We can’t stop terrorists. But could we stop terrorism?

How you answer that will depend on where you think terrorism comes from. After all, you treat a disease differently depending on whether you think it comes from microbes or from a witch’s curse.

Senior fellow at the Cato Institute Doug Bandow reminds us…

“Terrorism is not new. It was used against Russian tsars, the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, and British colonial officials. Algerians employed terrorism against the French and later Algerian governments. Basque and Irish separatists freely relied on terrorism. Until Iraq, the most promiscuous suicide bombers were Tamils in Sri Lanka. In none of these cases did the killing occur in response to freedom, whether in America or elsewhere.

In an interview with The American Conservative, Robert Pape, a University of Chicago political science professor of terrorism says:

“Islamic fundamentalism is not as closely associated with suicide terrorism as many people think. The world leader in suicide terrorism is a group that you may not be familiar with: the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.

“This is a Marxist group, a completely secular group that draws from the Hindu families of the Tamil regions of the country. They invented the famous suicide vest for their suicide assassination of Rajiv Ghandi in May 1991. The Palestinians got the idea of the suicide vest from the Tamil Tigers.”

But it’s the Muslims who are monopolizing the terrorist biz these days. It’s awfully conspicuous. The U.S. is used to hearing about how brown Islamists in the Middle East regularly blow people up. But it’s happening with yellowish people in the Philippines with Muslim terrorists too. In Russia, it’s white Muslim separatists from the Northern Caucasus. All over the world, Muslims are blowing themselves up in order to blow up as many non-Muslims as possible.

There are those who like to ignore history while believing fervently what their politicians tell them. I often get emails from these people whenever the subject of terrorism comes up.

“It’s Islam itself,” they helpfully inform me. “The very religion is one of subjugation and eradication. They want to destroy all those who won’t subject themselves to the rule of Islam. In fact, Islam is a political ideology, not a religion in any true sense.”

Funny. Indigenous pundits from all over the Americas might have written the same thing of Christians from the late 15th century on.

“But look at the Quran…it’s full of exhortations to do awful things to nonbelievers.”

But so is the Old Testament. God’s Chosen People subjected any number of non-Hebrew cities to horrible violence at God’s command. No one calls Judaism or Christianity out on that.

And well they shouldn’t. (Granted Christianity has a hall pass in the form of the New Testament.) In less-troubled times, we tend not to hold people to the fire about the glorification of religious violence and ethnic cleansing that forms a good chunk of their holy books.

But after Chinese troops start putting boots on U.S. soil, some radicalized Christian movement may start taking that “eye for an eye” stuff very seriously again when it comes to repelling the Huns. And become martyred heroes in the process.

Then the Chinese civilian population would likely be aghast to hear about the gweilo suicide bombings that kill Chinese national settlers in the Far Western Colonial Province (formerly the United States).

Violently themed fundamentalism may serve as the tie that binds when it comes time to expel invaders from the homeland, but it’s not really about religion then, is it?

But maybe you’re still convinced it is…

Either you honestly believe that Muslims want all infidels dead, that they hate us for being free Christians, Jews, and other assorted non-Muslim types…that that is the simple reason behind all the bombs…

Or you believe that Islamists are merely reacting to the bombs the U.S. has dropped, to the children who have died because of U.S. sanctions, and especially to the big ones: U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan along with Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

Terrorism is either the means to expand a maniacal empire…or it’s the reaction to imperial expansion. Take your pick.

Again, Robert Pape:

“The central fact is that overwhelmingly, suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland. From Lebanon to Sri Lanka to Chechnya to Kashmir to the West Bank, every major suicide-terrorist campaign — over 95% of all the incidents — has had as its central objective to compel a democratic state to withdraw.”

No matter how much data support that view, and no matter how often the painfully obvious point is made, much of the popular imagination still clings to the notion that “they hate us because of who we are,” and not because of what “we” (our government) is doing in our name.

Our government gives comfort to Islam’s enemies…starves their children and occasionally blows those children up by accident…pregnant women, wives, daughters, sons, etc., are all collaterally damaged regularly too.

And then there’s the very presence of foreign troops on their soil. How would you react to that situation? What might you do?

But it’s not you or anyone you know. It’s the foreign enemy, and your trusty political leaders tell you that this enemy is shooting first.

Except the evidence strongly suggests that they’re not shooting first, just shooting back. History also tells us that the violence won’t stop till the interloper packs up and goes home.

Gary Gibson
Managing Editor, Whiskey & Gunpowder and Laissez Faire Books

January 26, 2011