What does it all mean?

Horowitz: "America is soft." Vincent: "Proud to be a New Yorker." Military expert: Signs point to "the Afghan group." And more reactions.

By Salon Staff

Published September 11, 2001 6:38PM (EDT)

Michael Klare, professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., and the author of the recently published "Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict"

You would have to look for groups that are capable of highly skilled and professional operations like this. Your first thought would have to be what is called "the Afghans" -- not necessarily the Afghan government, but that group of people who volunteered to fight with the mujahedin against the Soviet army and received very sophisticated training as well as financing from the CIA. This group would include bin Laden, but there are others as well.

The actions today clearly involved dozens but not hundreds of people. A small enough group to keep their activities secret as they were plotting.

We will desperately look for targets to strike; the pressure for retaliation will be enormous. But it will be hard for us to pinpoint the responsible parties. Groups like the Afghans are stateless. You could strike the Taliban central command, but it's unlikely their top leadership authorized it. These terrorist networks are purposely not highly structured. They're like the right-wing militia types in this country. They may all show up from time to time at the same gun shows, but there is no mailing list or centralized command.

We failed to kill those responsible for the Nairobi embassy bombing when we attacked Afghanistan and the Sudan. I think our chances this time of targeting the right people will also be very slim.

These actions took a tremendous level of precision and sophistication. My guess is this group put all of its resources into this; they've shot their wad. It might inspire other groups that view the U.S. to be the Great Satan to strike, but the numbers who are capable of pulling off something like this are few.

The Palestinians are unlikely to have been involved in something like this. Their rage is directed at Israel, the enemy within their sight. And their military and political apparatus is under immense stress right now; they have their hands full at home.

People are saying this attack was unprecedented, but there have been similar attacks against U.S. targets overseas, of course, like the embassy in Nairobi, the U.S.S. Cole and the military barracks in Saudi Arabia.

This action points less to Palestine than it does to the Saudi Arabia peninsula, where there is a major U.S. military presence and where the U.S. is a powerful backer of the Saudi royal family. Among those like bin Laden who view the U.S. as the Great Satan, in their minds the U.S. military is an occupying force in a sacred land and the Saudi family is corrupt and complicit.

I'm very worried about anti-Arab and anti-Islamic hysteria. And I'm very worried it will radically alter the lives of average Americans. It will be a long time before Americans ever take a plane trip the same way or visit public spaces. The fear will lead to stepped-up security measures and an erosion of our civil liberties.

Americans will struggle with the question "Why us. I thought we were the good guys?" But for many people in the world, we are a symbol of evil and oppression. Our vast wealth and power are bound to create resentment in some quarters. We should ask ourselves what actions our government has taken over the years that have built up this resentment. Such as our close relationship with the Saudi royal family, which many in that country view as hopelessly corrupt and tyrannical. Since there is no ability to oppose the family's rule in a democratic fashion, opposition to their rule is bound to take a terroristic route.

David Horowitz is a columnist for Salon.

The destruction of the World Trade Center, the attack on the Pentagon, the revelation to all the world that even the White House is vulnerable, should be a wake-up call to Americans.

This country is at war, and we are far behind in securing our citizens' safety and preparing for our defense.

How was it possible to hijack four commercial airliners from major airports, one of them Dulles International, and to do so within a set time frame?

How could obvious targets like the Pentagon and the World Trade Center towers be so undefended?

We know the answer. America is soft. America is in denial. America is embarrassed at the idea that it has enemies and must protect itself.

America has been so eager to cash in on "peace dividends" that it has stripped itself of even prudent defenses.

America is in denial that much of the world hates us, and will continue to hate us. Because we are prosperous, and democratic and free.

Today's tragedies must be a wake-up call.

It's time to remember that the first duty of government is to provide for the common defense.

That means it's time to spend the surplus on national security now. Beginning with a missile defense system that will prevent even bigger terrorist disasters in the future.

It is time to dramatically increase our domestic counterterrorist and intelligence efforts, and to step up the monitoring of all groups who have declared war on the United States.

It's time to tighten our security systems, beginning with airport checks. It's time to let the profiling of potential terrorists -- and that does mean Islamic and Palestinian terrorists -- outweigh the objections of the ACLU and other leftist groups.

It's time for those on the political left to rethink their alliances with anti-American radicals at home and abroad.

It's time for the president to identify the monsters who planned the day of infamy, and then to carry out a massive military strike against them and any government who sponsored these acts.

It is time for a new sobriety in America about what is at stake in the political battles with those who condemn America as an "oppressor" nation.

It is time for Americans who love this country to stand up in her defense.

Norah Vincent is a columnist for Salon.

Today, New York City is a war zone. Endless lines of refugees have been streaming through the streets in shock just trying to find their way home. Periodically you'll see a truck or a person among the crowds covered in white dust, and you know immediately that they were at the epicenter and survived. A lot of people migrating uptown are wearing masks, or have towels tied around their necks. They say breathing was practically impossible south of Canal St., and now we're all waiting for the ominous cloud of debris to make its way, in more and more dangerously particulate form, into our airspace. I live in the East Village and can see the cloud hanging over the southern skyline, a famous skyline that is now forever changed. I have a chemical mask that looks like something out of a Pink Floyd movie sitting on my desk.

The one good thing that can be said about this terrible day is that New Yorkers have responded admirably -- no, beyond admirably -- to the needs of their fellow citizens. The lines to donate blood snake around entire blocks outside local hospitals, and people are passing out water to cops and emergency medical technicians. We are a city of tough people united in a massive gesture of compassion and self-sacrifice. I am proud today to be a New Yorker.

Robert C. Gray is the North American editor of the scholarly journal Defense Analysis, and a professor of government at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania.

If you assume that the source of the attack was Middle East terrorist groups, their goal would be to show America the cost of supporting the Israelis, but that's to the extent that they have a rational goal. Of course that's not going to happen, and this is a real blow to any effort to establish a peace process in the Middle East.

The horrifying thought is that these people knew this, and that they are content just to kill thousands of Americans without any real expectation that this action would change policy. Even if we could apprehend the terrorists who did this, we still couldn't get into their minds.

A decade ago, you would have seen many groups rushing forward to take credit for this, even if they had nothing to do with it. Now, that's not so. That changed after the 1998 attacks on two U.S. embassies in Africa when Clinton ordered strikes in Afghanistan against Osama bin Laden's bases. These groups understand that if they take credit, and if they have an address, the U.S. will attack them.

If we could get enough evidence against Osama bin Laden, then, given the magnitude of the attack, we would ask the Afghans to turn him over. The other option is to send an elite military strike force in to apprehend him, but that's very unlikely. Whoever the culprit is, you don't lower yourself to their level by bombing a city with innocent civilians. You try to find some specific targets related to the group.

While we don't know for sure who did this, there's really no one on the list other than the Middle East groups, particularly bin Laden. These coordinated, multiple attacks are part of his pattern. Remember, he reportedly planned similar attacks for New Year's, and U.S. intelligence foiled another plan to blow up 12 jumbo jets simultaneously. I've racked my brain for who else could be responsible, but there's just no reason to believe that some obscure group in the corner of the world or someone like Timothy McVeigh could have done this.

The biggest problem with our intelligence efforts is penetrating these groups. We're talking about finding out what a very small group of people is going to do, and we're not so great anymore at having agents on the ground. What's also greatly disturbing is that four aircraft could be hijacked within an hour of each other. We thought that we had taken measures that would make that nearly impossible. We can certainly expect airport security to get tighter.

Sam Skinner, former transportation secretary under George Bush Sr., directed a "security enhancement task force" after Pan Am flight 103 was shot down in 1988 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people.

I'm looking back on my experience after Pan Am flight 103. We created offices for security in several departments and we enhanced the methods at every airport, so I'm very, very surprised that they were able to accomplish this. The fact that they could get through three airports on four flights without anyone picking it up, shows that this was a very well-organized attack -- probably with some inside help.

We've concentrated most of our time and energy on international aircraft. We focused on that threat because they may have been coming in from international airports where security was lax, or going to international locations, in which it would be easier to hide people who would profile as terrorists.

So the fact that four domestic flights were hijacked is entirely shocking. I don't know of any scenario that allowed for this. This is not an amateur performance. It must have had support from strong organizations or governments.

You would have had to have at least four inside people, at airports with access to planes with full fuel loads. You'd have to have them plant weapons at the same moment without being detected. And I find it hard to believe that any American pilot would deliberately fly into the building, so I also have to assume that they managed to get an experienced pilot on board.

The timing of it is also amazing. All the planes were close to their targets, but the crashes occurred at around the same time.

This was very well-executed, and as a result, security measures as we know them today will be enhanced substantially. What that will be is too early to tell. But there will be a lot of money spent on devices; I also think there will be a higher scrutiny of employees and of cargo. You can get pretty draconian, and I think we'll see that whole new level of scrutiny. This is different from what we've ever seen in the past. This isn't just blowing up airplanes; this is using airplanes as a tool of death.

Tony Grasha, grief expert and psychology professor, University of Cincinnati

There are a couple of things that will be happening: First people will feel shock and confusion. They'll feel afraid because of the uncertainties. What's going to happen next? Is this the only attack? Can I step on a plane and be safe?

Then they're going to get angry because of the way it affects their lives, their country. These are understandable and normal reactions and healthy. It would be more of a problem if they had no feelings.

But at the same time, people should try to continue with their lives. What terrorists actively do is disrupt people, and part of their strategy is to affect not just victims but also people generally. People shouldn't let that happen. They shouldn't become secondary victims or tertiary victims.

Also, everyone has to ask about what can be done in the future. We need to find out how to make sure this doesn't happen again, and I don't mean just in terms of the military. I also mean in a sociological sense. The real tough issue is going to be how do we deal with poverty, displaced people, people feeling as if they have no control over their lives, that they are under the thumbs of big powerful nations.

This is no small order, but we need to ask these questions. We've learned a lesson throughout the 20th century that the ethnic and nationalistic problems -- the feelings of being betrayed by neighbors, different religions, countries -- can lay underground for a while, but not forever. They will surface and because they do, we need to do more than just offer military might and social band-aids.

James Zogby, president of the Arab-American Institute

The fact that we're getting so many media calls is a symptom of the problem. [Arab-Americans] don't get time to mourn, we keep looking over our backs to see if people are pointing fingers. The fact is, we have no idea who did this. And we ourselves are more gripped on mourning families and friends we have who work in the World Trade Center and we still don't know where they are, or who work in the Pentagon. We obviously, like everyone, are horrified by and gripped by how unimaginable this is.

Robert Litan, director of economic studies, Brookings Institute

Nobody knows if the markets will be open tomorrow; the consensus is that nothing good will happen. The market will go down, the dollar will probably fall. The only question is how much. The Fed has already anticipated this and said that they will provide money to banks.

The World Trade Center is the home of American Express and Merrill Lynch. Morgan Stanley had a huge presence there, and Lehman Brothers is there. You have a bunch of other financial institutions there, including a number of foreign banks.

The only reason that I raise all this -- apart from the terrible tragedy to the people at those companies -- is that these are huge firms; they all have counterparts that they owe money to. When the markets open people are going to be calling and e-mailing to get their money. They're on the other sides of trades, whether it's derivatives or stock orders. They engage in billion and billions of dollars of financial transactions where they are supposed to ship money to people and people are supposed to ship money to them. The people that they owe money to are going to be worried about how they're going to get paid.

One assumes that they've got computer backup facilities. But if you're a counterpart to someone at American Express or Merrill Lynch or wherever, you may need a loan and you know whether or not you're going to get paid.

Frankly, there's a tremendous amount of uncertainty now.

I'm confident we will get through it, but the closest parallels that we had to this was the stock market crash in 1987 and in 1998 with the Asian International Crisis. In both of those cases the Fed came to the rescue and basically said, "Our discount window is open," and they printed money.

They will do the same thing again this time. The Fed is probably going to have to print a lot more money. But the big difference between this time and the last two times is our economy is in a more fragile condition.

In a macabre kind of way, this is the worst time this could have happened; we were already in weakened financial state.

Michele Flournoy, senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies

I think what's happening now is the president and his national security team are trying to establish what happened. That includes intelligence information, what kinds of warnings and indications we had about this and who fits the profile of being able to conduct an operation of this complexity, as well as forensic evidence if any. The first task is figuring out who is responsible for this. Then once we have, if we have credible evidence that suggests who did this, then the military will prepare options for the president for retaliation. That may include strike operations, attacks on cyber operations against a group's financial networks. It will depend on who it is, how credible the evidence is and so forth

And there may be a chance we won't ever know who did this.

My sense is that it will be at least days if not weeks [before this all plays out]. It's going to take time unless we apprehend someone who was supporting the operation. One of the things these fellows have proven capable of is committing suicide in the process of these attacks, so I'm doubtful anyone will be apprehended alive who was directly involved. It's going to take some time to figure out who did this and why. That said, I think there will be every effort made to do that. And when we do, a response is all but certain.

This shines the spotlight on homeland defense, and pierces the veil of American invulnerability at home. It will lead to a debate about what we need to do and spend on protecting ourselves at home. And that means a lot more than ballistic missile defense. That involves an intelligence component, counterterrorism issues, border control, customs -- a whole range of issues that need to be addressed.

For example, do we want to make some trade-offs to enhance airport security? There are trade-offs about security and civil liberties, and different societies trade off in different ways. In Israel, for example, people are willing to be strip searched to make sure they're not going to be hijacked. We haven't been willing to take some of these steps in the past, but maybe this will change that.

Jeff Madrick, an economist, is the editor of Challenge, an economics journal, and teaches at Cooper Union in New York.

Economically the first impact is like a major hurricane. The irony is that it helps the GDP [Gross Domestic Product] because all this money has to go into rebuilding, like after a storm. This is quite a major storm and it affects New York City and Wall Street and so it has larger ramifications.

The longer-term issues are what is this going to do to the defense budget. The irony is with the economy weak at the moment the silver lining on this really tragic cloud is that this could add some stimulus just when we need it. Wars in the past have actually been stimulative. I don't think there will be war, but increased defense spending. The sad part is that's not what we need for this economy; we need other kinds of spending like education.

If we retaliate, what will happen to the oil supply from Arab countries? Will they retaliate to our retaliation by cutting oil exports? If somehow this results in a real, serious and ongoing international conflagration, then the economy will be interrupted and markets will fall.

Always with the prospect of war there's an initial big drop in markets. That's a very conventional reaction. That might correct itself fairly soon, as long as the Fed assures people that it's willing to pump money into the economy. [The Fed has already issued a statement of support for the banking system]

The big danger is that if this looks like an ongoing conflagration the markets could be hurt badly. There might be some scared money out there for a while until we see whether and what retaliation there is.

Rick Charles, Ph.D., is an associate professor of public administration and urban studies at Georgia State University, and is an expert in aviation policy and airline safety and security.

I think it's a very safe assumption that the flight crews were not in command at the time of these crashes. A typical American pilot -- I don't care if he had a gun to his head -- would not crash into a building.

The expertise necessary to overwhelm a flight crew alone is not that high. But a certain amount of expertise is necessary to keep an airplane flying long enough to steer it into a building. You have to assume that the people who did this had fairly extensive training.

What makes it difficult to guard against this kind of attack is the size of our country. The sheer size of our country is such that having the level of security that would be guarantee this would have a devastating impact on our air transportation system. We've moved into the area now of how we fight back. We have two possibly disturbing options. We can go back to putting air marshals back on every airplane. The other is to arm flight crews. The prospect of firing a weapon in a pressurized aircraft is frightening. Unless we can do something about these problems at the root cause, in the countries where the terrorists come from, there are certain amounts of this kind of activity we just can't prevent.

Charlie LeBlanc, managing director for Air Security International Inc., a security travel consulting and services company

I can't tell you how this happened. We don't know exactly what was done, or in the order it was done to accomplish what they did accomplish. But what we know is that this was a well-planned attack. This took months if not years to figure out. We can also guarantee that at least 30 to 50 people were involved.

The investigation will have to bring other facts to light. Every security plan has weaknesses, no matter how strong it is. But there are multiple ways of accomplishing this. We don't know if they smuggled weapons through security checkpoints; we don't why they chose the morning. It's natural to assume that security awareness early in the morning is less than late in the day -- that's a natural body clock issue -- but if they used airport workers, that may not even be relevant.

In terms of losing the plane, it wasn't really lost. The FAA called for a complete "ground stop" -- ordering all planes on the ground to stay where they are, for all planes in the air to land immediately. This kind of thing usually occurs regionally. If a snowstorm hits New York, for instance, it will affect planes flying in and out of the region. But to my knowledge, this was the first ground stop nationwide. Just imagine: you have -- between commercial, charter and cargo planes -- at least 3,000 planes in U.S. airspace during this time of day, and you're asking them all to land. It's chaos. I know of some Continental planes that were landing at airports they'd never seen or heard of before. And so, in all this confusion, and because some areas of the U.S. don't have radar coverage, it was hard to keep track or find out which planes were off course. The later planes weren't lost, so much as misplaced in the shuffle.

Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------