The Ongoing Failure

of Imagination.

…As we approach the fifth year without a second successful terrorist attack upon U.S. soil, a chorus of skeptics now suggests that 9/11 was a 100-year flood. They conveniently forget the deadly explosions in Bali, Madrid, London, and Mumbai, and dismiss scores of attacks planned against the United States and others that have been disrupted. [1] The idea that terrorists are currently preparing even more deadly assaults seems as far-fetched to them as the possibility of terrorists crashing passenger jets into the World Trade Center did before that fateful Tuesday morning.
As one attempts to assess where we now stand, and what the risks are, the major conclusion of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission deserves repetition: The principal failure to act to prevent the September 11 attack was a “failure of imagination.” [2] A similar failure of imagination leads many today to discount the risk of a nuclear 9/11.
…Lest this seem too hypothetical, recall an actual incident that occurred in New York City one month to the day after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. A CIA agent, code-named Dragonfire, reported that Al Qaeda had acquired a live nuclear weapon produced by the former Soviet Union and had successfully smuggled it into New York City. [3] A top-secret Nuclear Emergency Support Team was dispatched to the city. Under a cloak of secrecy that excluded even Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, these nuclear ninjas searched for the 10-kiloton bomb whose blast could have obliterated a significant portion of Manhattan. Fortunately, Dragonfire’s report turned out to be a false alarm. But the central takeaway from the Dragonfire case is this: The U.S. government had no grounds in science or in logic to dismiss the warning.
A nuclear terrorist attack on the United States would have catastrophic consequences even for other countries. After the nuclear detonation, the immediate reaction would be to block all entry points to prevent another bomb from reaching its target, resulting in the disruption of the global “just-in-time” flow of goods and raw materials. Vital markets for international products would disappear, and closely linked financial markets would crash. Researchers at RAND, a U.S.-government-funded think tank, estimated that a nuclear explosion at the Port of Long Beach in California would cause immediate indirect costs worldwide of more than $3 trillion and that shutting down U.S. ports would cut world trade by 10 percent. [4] The negative economic repercussions would reverberate well beyond the developed world. As U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has warned, “Were a nuclear terrorist attack to occur, it would cause not only widespread death and destruction, but would stagger the world economy and thrust tens of millions of people into dire poverty.” [5] How does one assess the probability of an unprecedented event that could have catastrophic consequences? Since there is no established methodology, the soundest way to proceed is to ask and answer the core questions: who, what, where, when, and how?

7 Responses to “The Ongoing Failure”

  1. Mr. Bingley says:

    Oh, you just had to go and make my freakin’ day, now didn’t you?

  2. Well, I didn’t want to say ‘poof!’ and have you think I was calling you names.

  3. a chorus of skeptics now suggests that 9/11 was a 100-year flood
    And yet, the war in Iraq has made us less safe from terrorism.
    It’s a conundrum.

  4. Mr. Bingley says:

    Dammit, Ken, It’s a quagmire.

  5. Nightfly says:

    Who, what, where, when, how… Hm, I seem to remember those questions from my days at Rutgers. They do talk about them in journalism classes, though most of the graduates forget about asking once they’re out first-drafting history.

  6. Nightfly says:

    Besides, we already know that those 100-year floods are Chimpy’s fault. Global warming, natch.

Image | WordPress Themes