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Analysis from a JHU CS Prof
From: Lloyd Taylor <ltaylor () keynote com>
Date: Tue, 11 Sep 2001 12:00:22 -0700 (PDT)


A cogent analysis of this morning's events...

From: "Jonathan S. Shapiro" <shap () eros-os org>
Subject: Thoughts on this morning's events
Date: Tue, 11 Sep 2001 13:07:24 -0400

I hope and trust that all of those concerned for their loved ones will find
them healthy and whole. If you are stuck at work, consider waiting a few
hours to go home. Right now the roads are far more risk than staying put.

As someone who passed through the WTC 45 minutes before the bomb went off
years ago, and watched live as the second WTC tower was penetrated at 9:03,
I wanted to inject some analysis into the current situation.

This act goes well beyond terrorism as we have previously understood it.
It's been repeatedly demonstrated to us that a single plane can be hijacked
by a small, well-prepared group backed up by the right logistics support.
Hijacking *five* planes, on a tight timetable, from multiple locations, to
hit multiple targets within 90 minutes of each other is simply a completely
different scale of organization. This act required logistic support and
coordination involving hundreds of people, with major-league funding.

Also, it's worth remembering that airplanes aren't all that easy to fly, and
it's unlikely that a commercial pilot could be persuaded to fly into a
building -- even at gunpoint. This means that the perpetrators needed to
find five adequate pilots, which in turn means that they needed to know *in
advance* which kinds of planes they would be hijacking. While a lot of the
pilot training could be done using Flight Simulator, you still need to know
what to train for.

Further, this is a very difficult attack to defend against. Suppose you
*did* have a SAM (surface to air missile) handy in New York, and you saw the
plane coming in time to use it. Do you shoot down a plane over a major
metropolitan area, or do you let it crash? Which will cause greater
destruction?  While you figure it out the opportunity passes.

The attackers picked planes that were scheduled for cross-country flights,
and would therefore be loaded with JP (airplane fuel). JP burns very hot,
and is relatively easy to set on fire. Because these planes were loaded with
fuel, they could be relied on to spread the fuel through the buildings on
impact, maximizing damage and hampering rescue efforts.

The planes were hijacked from major U.S. airports. Security at these
airports may not be the tightest in the world, but neither is it sloppy. In
this case, it was systematically beaten in several locations at once. This
required time, money, thought, and preparation.

What we have here is an attacker who has said not just "I can attack
anything I want", but "I can attack lots of things, all at once, and not
only can't you stop me but you can't even detect a very large organization
that is doing the preparations -- even when we tip you off three weeks in
advance!"

On the whole, it seems fair to say that this entire action was carefully
thought out, planned in careful detail, and (at least from the attacker's
perspective) well executed. It required access to significant information
resources.

Obviously, the targets were picked for maximum symbolic value, but the
Pentagon is a military target. That means that this *isn't* an act of
terrorism; it is an act of war. If  indeed it proves that the attacker was
bin-Laden, and if Taliban has been harboring him, it would not surprise me
to see the United States take the view that Taliban has committed an
undeclared act of war, and react accordingly.

Finally, an observation on people's reactions. People here at Hopkins showed
a range of initial reactions from dismay to tears to shock. But this quickly
changed. The second reaction was universally anger. The sense of things --
and we are talking here about basically pacifist academics, mind you -- is
that if we can figure out who launched this thing we should take them out
decisively, and it's just too damned bad if some country decides to get on
the wrong side.

If the goal of this attack was fear it has failed. Possibly, it has altered
the American perception of terrorism in a basic way and convinced us that
decisive action is the only response to terrorism. This lesson comes at too
high a cost, and with personal tragic impact on too many people, and at a
price that we should never have been forced to pay, to be sure. Still, if
this incident teaches America to respond decisively to terrorism then
perhaps those losses will mean something, and *some* small good may yet be
recovered from this.

Meanwhile, let us hope that the death toll is smaller than all our fears,
and do what we can to help the victims and their loved ones come to terms as
they can.


Jonathan S. Shapiro



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