The Discerning Texan

All that is necessary for evil to triumph, is for good men to do nothing.
-- Edmund Burke
Monday, August 13, 2007

The Coming Age of Urban Terror

John Robb has written a sobering article for City Journal, on the vulnerability of our cities to ever-evolving tech-savvy terrorism. And coming one day after over 70,000 aspiring jihadists gathered in Jakarta to discuss how to implement a worldwide caliphate, one can only conclude that our country's "Age of Innocence" is coming to a rapid end--and not of its own choosing.

Do you remember the Star Trek episode where two planets are fighting a war where nothing gets blown up and people just report to a "disintegration station" if the computer randomly selects them as a casualty? Kirk and Spock show up, blow up the computers and tell the warring nations--now you have a real war on your hands--what are you going to do about it? Well, I have news for my fellow citizens: like it or not we are in a real war now. Because of its strategic location and its oil wealth Iraq is an important objective of that war to our enemy (and to us too, whether we like it or not...), and so for the moment we are drawing most of the bad guys to us there, where our forces are doing an exceptional job of sending them to hell. But that won't last forever....

The harsh reality is that our prosecution of the War in Iraq and Afghanistan still seem to be--for most Americans--out of sight, and (mostly) out of mind. And so the knowledge that our civilization is already in a War for its very survival seems not to have registered on the average American--and definitely not on its primary media. We are blissfully unaware of the repercussions of losing: even 9/11 was not seemingly enough to awaken a large majority of our countrymen to the reality of jihad--but we are nearing a fork in the road where we can no longer pretend that our way of life is not in danger. America seems to be asleep at the wheel and to be veering off the road--and to be mostly clueless of the impending danger:

... Even in the very unlikely case that a nuclear weapon did end up in terrorist hands, it would be a single horrible incident, rather than an ongoing threat. The same is true of dirty bombs, which disperse radioactive material through conventional explosives. No, the real long-term danger from small groups is the use of biotechnology to build weapons of mass destruction. In contrast with nuclear technology, biotech’s knowledge and tools are already widely dispersed—and their power is increasing exponentially.

The biotech field is in the middle of a massive improvement in productivity through advances in computing power. In fact, the curves of improvement that we see in biotechnology mirror the rates of improvement in computing dictated by Moore’s Law—the observation, borne out by decades of experience, that the ratio of performance to price of computing power doubles every 24 months. This means that incredible power will soon be in the hands of individuals. University of Washington engineer Robert Carlson observes that if current trends in the rate of improvement in DNA sequencing continue, “within a decade a single person at the lab bench could sequence or synthesize all the DNA describing all the people on the planet many times over in an eight-hour day.” And with ever tinier, cheaper, and more widely available tools, a large and decentralized industrial base that is hiring lab techs at a double-digit growth rate, and the active transfer of knowledge via the Internet (the blueprints of the entire smallpox virus now circulate on the Web), biotech is too widely available for us to contain it.

In less than a decade, then, biotechnology will be ripe for the widespread development of weapons of mass destruction, and it fits the requirements of small-group warfare perfectly. It is small, inexpensive, and easy to manufacture in secret. Also, since dangerous biotechnology is based primarily on the manipulation of information, it will make rapid progress through the same kind of amateur tinkering that currently produces new computer viruses. Terrorists also have a growing advantage in delivering bioweapons. The increasing porousness of national borders, size of global megacities, and volume of air travel all mean that the delivery and percolation of bioweapons will be fast-moving and widespread—potentially on several continents at once.

It is almost certain that we will see repeated, perhaps incessant, attempts to deploy bioweapons with new strains of viruses or bacteria. Picture a Russian biohacker who, a decade from now, designs a new, deadly form of the common flu virus and sells it on the Internet, just as computer viruses and worms get sold today. The terrorist group that buys the design sends it to a recently hired lab tech in Pakistan, who performs the required modifications with widely available tools. The product then ships by mail to London, to the awaiting “suicide vectors”—men who infect themselves and then board airplanes headed to world destinations, infecting passengers on the planes and in crowded terminals. The infection spreads quickly, going global in days—long before anyone detects it.

It’s very possible that many cities will fall in the face of such deadly threats. Megacities in the developing world—which often, because of their rapid growth, widespread corruption, and illegitimate governance, aren’t able to provide security or basic services for their citizens—are particularly vulnerable. However, cities in the developed world that properly appreciate the threats arrayed against them may devise startlingly innovative solutions. ...

There is much more (you should read the whole article). But it will not give you the warm and fuzzies. And it shouldn't, because the truth is, if we do not agree to become Muslims and submit to the will of Allah, there are millions of people out there who believe it is their duty to kill us all. To them it is about their conception of God and our being Infidels--not about something so simplistic as economics. Many of their leaders are wealthy men (e.g. Bin Laden and Zawahiri both...). That is meaningless, because this war isn't about money for them--it is about a Western civilization... or an Islamist one. Period. These people are poisoned by a 12th centrury ideology and bloodlust, which has never been appeased throughout its history. This enemy and its mindset has more in common with the Japanese Kamikaze than with any other enemy we have ever faced: they don't mind dying; in fact they view dying for Allah as the highest honor. Bid Laden has been quoted saying "we love death". This is not an exaggeration, but it is an entirely different mindset than many in the Western world can even grasp. The demographics are not in our favor either: the Muslim world is multiplying exponentially faster than the Western world. And they will eventually get through to hit America again.

We need to not only to be ready for this--and to have fallback plans for our survival in the midst of chaos--we need to also garner our national will to take the fight to the enemy regardless of partisan party afilitation. The Democrats do not seem to understand this, and it may well doom their party to becoming a historical aftherthought. But--as appealing as this may be for Republicans--it is not the ideal. We need for all of our citizens to be united in fighting this War if we are to win it. We can no longer afford to have an anti-war party sabotaging the efforts of the other party to Win this conflict of our lifetimes.

America will unite again, one day. I would prefer that it happen sooner--out of foresight and national unity over what must be done; than later--out of necessity for our very survival. But events seem to be going in the direction of the latter outcome.

It would be wonderful if our citizens who cannot see (or who do not want to look at...) what is coming could still afford the luxury of "partying like its 1999"--but those days are gone. It is time to wake up. It it time to get serious. And it is time to understand that those forces--even amongst our own citizens and politicians--whose actions and activities are hastening America's defeat, are every bit as much of an enemy as are the external jihadists.

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DiscerningTexan, 8/13/2007 10:42:00 AM |