The Global War on Stealth Underwear

There is no "war" against terrorism. What
George W. Bush launched and Barack Obama insists on perpetuating does
not qualify. Not if by war one means doing the obvious and
checking a highly suspicious air traveler's underwear to see if
explosives have been sewn in. If Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had put the
stuff in his shoes we would have had him because that was tried before,
but our government was too preoccupied with fighting unnecessary
conventional wars and developing anti-missile defense systems to
anticipate such a primitive delivery system.

The explosives-laden underwear-worn by an
airline passenger who had previously been flagged as a potentially
dangerous fanatic, and who had paid cash for his ticket and had no
checked luggage-was the terrorist's weapon of choice, one that could
have blown a hole in the side of Northwest Airlines' Detroit-bound
Flight 253 on Christmas Day, killing hundreds of innocents. But it is
not a weapon to be effectively countered with the deployment of
hundreds of thousands of American combat troops. Nor can it be stopped
by the hundreds of billions of dollars worth of planes, subs and
missiles in our arsenal of Cold War-era weapons, part of an annual
defense budget that is higher in inflation-adjusted dollars than at any
time in the past half-century.

In response to the 9/11 hijackers, armed
with artillery that cost a couple hundred dollars at most, we threw
money and, more important, attention at conventional military responses
while neglecting the difficult police work and the intelligence
evaluation and civilian-focused technology necessary to thwart homeland
attacks. Yes, there are evildoers out there that mean us harm, as
President Bush declaimed. But they are often the products of the best
of Western education who, as examples ranging from the lead 9/11
hijackers - the Hamburg group-to the elite University College
London-educated engineer in the latest incident demonstrate, move more
easily in urbane Western societies than in Afghan villages.

The technology that could help detect a
sophisticated plane hijacker or suicide bomber has been largely botched
in development and only halfheartedly deployed even when it is
available. On Tuesday, a devastating report in The Washington Post
revealed that the full-body scanning equipment hyped after 9/11, which
might have detected the explosives involved in last week's incident, is
still not in wide use. As the Post stated, "A plan that would have
helped focus the development of better screening technology and
procedures-including a risk-based assessment of aviation threats-is
almost two years overdue, according to a report this fall by the
Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress."

So, screening equipment that can detect
plastic explosives exists, but it was not used in this case and, as the
GAO predicted, "TSA cannot ensure that it is targeting the highest
priority security needs at checkpoints; measure the extent to which
deployed technologies reduce the risk of terrorist attacks; or make
needed adjustments to its PSP [Passenger Screening Program] strategy."
As a result, the GAO concluded: "TSA lacks assurance that its
investments in screening technologies address the highest priority
security needs at airport passenger checkpoints."

The "systematic failure" in the nation's security that President Obama
referred to Tuesday derives from the war metaphor itself and from the
assumption, begun with Bush's irrational invasion of Iraq and extended
with Obama's escalation in Afghanistan, that terrorism is a military
rather than a criminal threat. The terrorists are not rebel fighters
rooted, as are the Taliban and the remnants of the Iraq insurgency, in
their homeland struggles and subject to being defeated on conventional

Rather, they are rootless cosmopolitans of
violence, alienated from any stated homeland and free to move easily
about the world, armed in almost every instance with valid passports,
visas and money to exploit our inability to seriously evaluate our own
intelligence data. They can count on our top government officials
ignoring blinking red warnings, as the Bush White House did before
9/11, or the alarm of a well-connected and properly concerned Nigerian

Preventing terrorist attacks on the U.S.
homeland has nothing to do with occupying vast tracts of land or
winning the hearts and minds of backward villagers whom we falsely
depict as surrogates of an evil empire, as we did in Vietnam and are
now doing in Afghanistan. What is needed is smart police work to catch
these highly mobile fanatics, and that begins with actually reading and
then acting on the readily available intelligence data. It requires
detectives with brains and not generals with firepower.

The ballooning of the defense budget after
9/11 has proved a great boondoggle for the military-industrial complex,
which suddenly found an excuse to build weapons and deploy conventional
forces against a superpower enemy that no longer exists. But our
stealth fighters and bombers designed to defeat Soviet defenses that
were never built are a poor match against a terrorist's stealth

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

© 2023 TruthDig