Saturday, July 06, 2002

Instapundit and Photodude elucidate what I think is becoming pretty clear at this point: the reason we haven't seen an further terrorist attacks of significance from Al Qaeda is because the organisation simply lacks the resources to carry them out. Thus the most we are seeing from them is one or two feeble little attacks. The fact is, the attacks before September 11 (the USS Cole attack, the bombings of the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania) didn't really demonstrate tremendous resources either. September 11 itself demonstrated planning, but no physical resources at all, just the ability to find and exploit a weakness in the way in which our infrastructure works. I am not especially scared of Al Qaeda at this point, but I am scared.

For more than five years before September 11, I had been saying that I found the 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo underground by the Aum Shinrikyo cult to be one of the scariest news stories I had ever heard. Here we had a deeply strange independent organisation that had managed to put together an impressive scientific infrastructure and had developed large scale military weapons capable of killing thousands of people, and who had only failed to do so through inadequate delivery of the weapon. I felt sure that where they had failed, some organisation would eventually succeed, be it with a chemical weapon like sarin, be it with something biological, be it with a nuclear device of some kind, and a terrorist attack on a major city killing thousands of people would occur.

The came September 11. A terrorist attack on a major city killing thousands of people did occur. Yet it didn't occur through an independent organisation developing a scientific infrastructure but by an independent organisation hijacking planes and crashing them into buildings. This type of attack could have occurred at any time since 1955, but it occurred just at the moment when chemical or nuclear terrorist attacks were becoming feasible. Therefore, we made the mistake of thinking that such attacks would follow from Al Qaeda, when in fact the nature of the September 11 attack probably indicated that Al Qaeda was not the organisation with the capabilities to make such attacks, for if they were that is what they would have used on September 11.

However, the possibility that someone else is out there collecting nuclear isotopes or producing weird nerve gases remains. This possibility continues to terrify me.

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