Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Expect The Unexpected

It's a huge game for the two Big 12 opponents and the near-capacity crowd of 83,000 rowdy fans are rocking Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas on this beautiful, crisp Autumn evening.

It's late in the 4th quarter and Texas has just returned the kickoff for a touchdown bringing the crowd to its feet. The point-after kick is good and Texas has tied the game. Texas 28 Missouri 28. The ESPN crew informs the national audience that they have just witnessed a new school record for Texas. No Texas team has ever . . .

The explosion cuts them off in midsentence. The broadcasters, stunned and confused, report that a bomb has evidently gone off in the stadium and that it appeared to . . .

Before they can say another word . . .

The television audience sees and hears another explosion in another part of the stadium, followed by yet another explosion on the football field. This explosion is followed by two more explosions elsewhere in the stadium.

There is death and destruction in Texas Memorial.

Stunned and numbed, we spend the rest of our evening in front of the television listening to the live news reports.

As he sat in the bed of his pickup truck and set the correct elevation for the mortar tube, Ahmad kept one eye on the I-35 traffic zipping past. He had pulled his truck onto the shoulder and popped the hood. No one is supicious of someone having a little car trouble. He would wave on anyone who slowed or stopped. Of course, that might not work for a highway patrolman. He reflexively checked the shotgun at his feet. Ahmad was optimistic. He needed only 3 minutes to execute his mission. Khalid, his cell leader, had trained him well, but still . . .

He had started his reconnaissance months ago on the internet when he downloaded high-resolution imagery of Austin and Texas Memorial Stadium and various other targets. In the past two weeks, since he had arrived in Austin, he had used a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) receiver to input the coordinates of the stadium and various firing positions. He had plenty of firing positions to choose from -- his small, lightweight, 60mm mortar had an effective range of over 2 kilometers and a high-angle trajectory. Khalid had been right afterall. The riskiest part of this operation had been smuggling the mortar and its ammunition across the Mexican border, but even that was easier than they had imagined.

As he dropped the first mortar round down the tube, he shouted, "Allah Akbar!". There was a satisfying pfluuunk! as the mortar round exited the tube. Seconds later he saw, then heard the spectacular explosion in the stadium and he shouted, "Allah Akbar!" even louder. He continued dropping rounds down the tube, each time praising Allah for his blessings.

He saw the lights of a car -- or was it another truck like his; it was hard to tell -- veer toward him as he dropped the fifth round down the tube. He might have time to fire one more if he was quick enough.

Robert had not been able to get off work to go to the game, but he was listening to it on the radio as he headed home. Even now he could see the bright lights of the stadium -- and something else up ahead on the shoulder. Shit! What the hell is that guy doing?! And then he saw the flash of an explosion in the stadium and instantly answered his own question. Without another thought he plowed into the back of the small pickup truck with all the speed he could gun from the Dodge Ram V-8.

Now that I have your attention . . .

What we experienced 3 years ago was one method of attack. We've seen other methods of attack in Bali, Madrid, and just a few days ago, Beslan. The vignette above is yet another -- there are many more. Most don't require any special equipment or resources -- only a will to kill.

How hard would it be for a terrorist(s) to hotwire an 18-wheeler sitting outside a truckstop. Now imagine the rig is a fuel tanker and the truckstop is only 2 minutes from, say, the Mobile Bay tunnel.

Or imagine a service station near a busy cloverleaf -- pick the city. How hard would it be to kill the attendant and ignite the underground tanks.

Maybe you work at a place with a multi-storied, guarded parking garage. How hard would it be for someone to follow an employee home and later that night, pop the trunk and place a C-4 satchel in it -- then when morning comes, as the employee pulls into a parking space, the device is remotely detonated, bringing down the garage. (Substitute any building or structure for garage).

How hard would it be for a team of terrorists to shoot their way into a chemical processing plant or oil refinery, say, in Baton Rouge; then throw their satchel charges at the huge storage tanks -- targets that they had studied for months on the internet and had surveyed from nearby roadways.

Now imagine many instances of the above scenarios happening nearly simultaneously. Imagine that happening over the course of days or weeks across the country.

Attack methods need not be as exotic as something you might read about in a Tom Clancy novel. It's not cloak & dagger stuff .. it's studying targets, considering the desired effects, and planning courses of action to get at those targets.

Now that's not to say that it can't be something on the level of a Clancy novel. Does anyone seriously doubt that al-Qaeda will not hesitate to use nuclear, radiological, biological or chemical weapons if they can aqcuire the capability. Do any of us doubt that Osama would rejoice at the death of tens of thousands of Americans?

The enemy are among us. Have no doubt about that. They operate in independent cells and are loosely controlled by Osama. The cells might come up with any number of plans to execute, waiting for the day that Osama (or if not him, another al-Qaeda leader) gives them the greenlight.

Our federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies have worked non-stop since 9/11. I don't doubt they have foiled a number of attacks since that day. But I realize that they, along with local law enforcement, can only do so much.

We can all help in some way. For one, we can practice being more aware of our surroundings and not be shy about reporting persons and/or activities that seem out of place. That uneasy feeling you get about a person might just be the final piece of a puzzle that a bunch of intelligence analysts have been laboring over for days or weeks.

It might mean the difference between just another school day and a Beslan of our own.

There's a lot of speculation about possible attacks between now and election day. Truth is it could happen on any day for the forseeable future. I'm among those who believe we are in the early stages of World War IV (the Cold War being WW III). I respect the opinion of those who disagree with that, but what is beyond question is that we are currently fighting a war for our very survival.

One of the most important things we can do is be strong. No matter what happens, hang tough.

The words of Sir Winston Churchill still ring true today:

"One ought never to turn one's back on a threatened danger and try to run away from it. If you do that, you will double the danger. But if you meet it promptly and without flinching, you will reduce the danger by half."

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