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Editor’s Note: This article was first published on Meridian September 18, 2001, just a week after 9/11 when the Twin Towers were struck in New York. Except for a few characters, it describes the half-lit world in which we still dwell. Jack was canny, insightful and prescient.
Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist and Meridian senior editor, Jack Anderson, has spent part of his career delving below the radar screen into the world of the terrorist. Ten years ago he created a television documentary on the vulnerability of the White House to a terrorist attack. His reasoning? Reagan National Airport may be convenient for travelers to Washington D.C., but is even a greater convenience for a terrorists who would like to attack the White House, the Capitol, or the Pentagon. A plane can appear to onlookers to be landing at Reagan, take a turn, on dive at the most critical seats of government. The documentary attracted a large national audience then, but he had not idea just how prophetic it would be.
In my job as an investigative journalist, I have been keeping a wary watch on terrorism ever since it become a serious threat. Discussion is brewing in Washington on whether terrorists constitute an enemy force, but in my opinion there is no question that they do. They may seem like a vague enemy, but in reality terrorists dwell together in a subterranean world of half-light. You may not see their association or read about it in the news on your front porch, but they are a diabolical, secret network spreading their arms of destruction around the world.
They associate with one another. They attend one another’s schools in terrorist training. There is traffic between them. They sometimes belong to each other’s organizations. We are not looking after a single criminal and his cohorts, but an underground web on which we can declare war.
If we wage this war, however, there are only two ways to win. First, terrorists play a deadly game of hide-and-kill. To vanquish them we have to squeeze them from their hiding places, force them out of their mountain and desert retreats. That is not as easy to achieve as it is for me to strategize, but it can be done. Second, they cannot operate without money. Where do they get their money? Certainly some, like Osama bin Laden with his millions tucked away in secret bank accounts, are wealthy. Some money comes from their followers, but this is not enough to sustain them. Make no mistake, these terrorists could not exist and thrive without state financing. States have to provide the two things terrorists need to survive-a place from which to launch their operations and money in their jeans.
Which are the rogue states which house and feed terrorists? We know very well which ones. The worst-and it has been since the late Ayatollah Khomeini grabbed the reins– is Iran. The Khomeini had the look of revolution, the brooding angry appearance that made him the personification of doom and gloom. He exercised a certain amount of dramatic showmanship, mixed with his own prejudice, which built a climate that persuaded people to put his cause before their lives. Young children were indoctrinated in Khomeini’s particular language to die. He magnified his hatred into a holy war, and his goal was to achieve great victories and “conquer the world” for religion’s sake. From the Japanese, he borrowed the idea of the kamikaze pilot, and to those he recruited, he promised the rewards of heaven.
There had been terrorist groups operating in loose affiliation before the late Ayatollah Khomeini, but he injected a certain wild-eyed fanaticism into the operation. It was an ugly, remorseless hate that fomented the terrorists. Before him, terrorists had not been able to carry out more than a few local attacks but the Ayatollah laid the groundwork for an Assume bin Laden who believed he could expand a holy war to decimate the United States.
What we see now is the classic confrontation between good and evil. On the one hand you have the American dream which has inspired us and has had a tolerable effect for good upon humanity. The torch that the Statue of Liberty upholds has lit the fires of freedom around the world. Every generation needs a dream to inspire it, and the American dream of freedom, good will, justice, and rule by law has inspired us. A crisis like the bombing of New York and Washington only tends to stir our inner fire. Sometimes, in fact, we need a crisis to ennoble us.
On the other side of the dream is exactly the opposite. It is a nightmare that motivates the terrorist. They are promised they’ll go marching right through the Pearly Gates into Allah’s own heaven. That is not where they are going to end up. The closer they will get, the more they will catch the whiffs of fire and brimstone, for these are the devil’s disciples. The Allah they preach is not the God of the Koran, as worshiped by Moslems everywhere. The Allah embraced by the fanatic fringe is really the devil in disguise. He is masquerading as God. When you start describing the two, the differences could not be more epic.
Khomeini used this religious fanaticism to stir the rabid fringe of the Arab world, able to succeed because of the psychology of this group. Of all the people of the world, they have the worst inferiority complex, and at the same time are the most boastful. I’ve had access to the secret conversations between some of the heads of states who affiliate with the fringe. Their talk is macho, tough, but they are really weak. They can’t back up their tough talk, and that’s the frustration. They implode with frustration. The Arabs even have their own word for this feeling that runs through the sunlit curve of the crescent along a dozen capitals of Islam that stretch from the Middle East to Asia. That word in English is nahda. It’s this closing of horizons, this dark cloud that blocks their dreams of gain and glory, this cooling of their macho aggressive blood with the chill of caution. This is an important factor. This makes them the biggest boasters and the smallest achievers when it comes to warfare.
This explains why kids dance in the streets when they heard about the attack on New York. The idea of kicking the United States in the gut is truly exciting to their suppressed dreams.
Of all the terrorist groups, probably the most dangerous is not bin Laden’s group, but that of the Iranian terrorist groups. These gangs are Shiites who hang out in Mecca. They are the ones who work with Iran’s revolutionary guard, and they specialize in airplane hijacking, kidnapping and all the terrorist operations.
From these beginnings, Bin Laden made a quantum leap in strategy. He declared war upon the United States; he’s attacked our embassies, he almost sank one of our warships, he bombed our Marine barracks, and he is supported by the other terrorist groups who let him carry out their dreams of gain and glory. They dream and he carries it out.
According to my sources, among those who bin Laden has embraced is Saddam Hussein, not because they are friends, but because bin Laden is willing to accept help from wherever it comes. The old Arab saying, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” probably applies here. Saddam Hussein has a great enemy that towers in his mind-George Bush Sr., who handily blocked him from conquering the Middle East. Hussein would like revenge and he’s fanatical. He began his career as an assassin and he has little regard for human life. He seems a likely candidate to be a major sponsor for bin Laden.
I have pieces of a jigsaw puzzle which form only part of a picture. We have no proof of it, but a great deal of contributing evidence, that Saddam Hussein made a diabolical deal to furnish bin Laden with his terrorist tools not only to get back at America in general, but also George Bush in particular. That is why the White House was one of the critical targets. The specific attack on the White House was urged and yearned for with a burning fervor by Hussein.
I don’t believe the terrorist organizations that bin Laden heads are capable of pulling off this sophisticated attack on America without Hussein. They just don’t have the moxy.
Our problem, now, is not going to be only if we can find bin Laden. Our intelligence operation is better than it is being credited for right now. We have known where bin Laden is almost day-by-day. Part of our problem is that the military has prided itself on having low casualties, and the only way they can maintain that is by fighting in low-risk battles. The Gulf War only produced a handful of casualties, which is good. An attack in this war will be much more costly.
Yet do we have much of choice? The die is cast. We’re at war. The war is real. The war could get worse. We know that the rogue nations that support these terrorists are busily trying to produce biological and nuclear weapons, and we know they are very close to achieving that. This includes Iraq and Iran. We have do be on guard against suitcase terrorism. Our long borders and shorelines are very difficult to stop a suitcase filled with deadly bacteria, nerve gases or nuclear parts from getting into the United States.
Now is our chance to show that those who live in the light of day can protect themselves from those who would attack by stealth.