Small Planes and Lone Terrorist Nutcases

A Washington Post article concludes that small planes are not the next terror threat:

Pilots of private planes fly about 200,000 small and medium-size aircraft in the United States, using 19,000 airports, most of them small. The planes' owners say the aircraft have little in common with airliners.

"I don't see a gaping security hole here," said Tom Walsh, an aviation security consultant. "In terms of aviation security, there are much bigger fish to fry than worrying [about] small aircraft."

He said most would-be terrorists would draw the same conclusion -- that tiny aircraft don't pack a big enough punch. Planes like the one Stack flew weigh just a few thousands pounds and carry no more than 100 gallons of fuel. A Boeing 767 weighs 400,000 pounds and carries up to 25,000 gallons.

Richard L. Skinner, inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, reviewed security at several general-aviation airports last year and concluded that general aviation "presents only limited and mostly hypothetical threats to security."

What this analysis misses is our ability to terrorize ourselves. After all, who thought that a failed terrorist incident -- nobody hurt, no plane crash, terrorist in custody -- could cause so much terror?

On the face of it, Joseph Stack flying a private plane into the Austin, TX IRS office is no different than Nidal Hasan shooting up Ft. Hood: a lone extremist nutcase. If one is a terrorist and the other is a criminal, the difference is more political or religious than anything else.

Personally, I wouldn't call either a terrorist. Nor would I call Amy Bishop, who opened fire on her department after she was denied tenure, a terrorist.

I consider both Theodore Kaczynski (the Unabomber) and Bruce Ivins (the anthrax mailer) to be terrorists, but John Muhammad and Lee Malvo (the DC snipers) to be criminals. Clearly there is grey area.

I note that the primary counterterrorist measures I advocate -- investigation and intelligence -- can't possibly make a difference against any of these people. Lone nuts are pretty much impossible to detect in advance, and thus pretty much impossible to defend against: a point Cato's Jim Harper made in a smart series of posts. And once they attack, conventional police work is how we capture those that simply don't care if they're caught or killed.

Posted on February 25, 2010 at 5:46 AM • 76 Comments

Comments

MattFebruary 25, 2010 5:59 AM

In a strange way this post reminds me of the two types of serial killer, forgotten the technical terms, but something like the organised and the chaotic. The organised ones leave behind fewer clues after each successive murder but create patterns as they refine their methods. The chaotic serial killers can almost leave behind as many clues as they like, because there’s no way to predict their behaviour as they can’t predict it themselves.

LiamFebruary 25, 2010 6:28 AM

Bruce, I'm not quite following your definition of terrorism, so to help clarify: Where would you classify Timothy McVeigh?

uk visaFebruary 25, 2010 6:47 AM

People predisposed to being terrorised will always find something to be terrorised of.
I suspect people with a tendency to fear terrorists have a tendency to also fear criminals and vice versa.

cakmplsFebruary 25, 2010 6:55 AM

Well said, as usual--but you already know we agree on this.

"Lone nuts are pretty much impossible to detect in advance, and thus pretty much impossible to defend against:" And that there are things we CANNOT defend ourselves against is something that a lot of people seem unable to deal with. Thus they will accept any assurance of safety, no matter what the cost.

Eric TF BatFebruary 25, 2010 7:00 AM

Apparently the PATRIOT ACT (are those capitals required? Apparently. How puerile) disagrees with you. Stack's attack was intended to influence public policy by causing death, destruction and fear. That makes it a terrorist act, and makes Stack a (dead) terrorist.

BF SkinnerFebruary 25, 2010 7:08 AM

After the Regan shooting I read a psychohistorian who pointed out that there was a large number of "Shoot Regan" messages in the media, up on Window placards and graffiti. He observed that maybe Hinkley was just responding to suggestions.

There has been a lot in the media about the left / right view. Left - Why isn't Stark a terrorist had the same act by someone in brown skin with a foreign name done it there would be demands from Dick Cheney that he be sent to Guantanamo and waterboarded.

By the right - he's just a lone gunman. I don't agree with his actions -- but I understand them.

(ever notice how america doesn't have political violence it's always a lone gunman or a nut with a grudge? Stories are wonderful things)

By the media - statements phrased as questions...Could right wing anger as seen in the teabaggers caused this?

From the fringe (Alex Jones & Co) it's a false flag operation by NorthCom using a predeceased victim in a remote piioted plane to gain control over the countries general avaiation movements, blame and discredit the tea partys.

The problem I see is that we define terrorism by the act, by it's result--an attempted or sucessful attempt to make the general population fear and distrust it's government.

Well by that criteria yes anything anyone does from road rage to congressional failure to perform in times of crises causes, to nuclear brinkmanship increased anxiety and decrease faith in the government. That's been noted here before.

So let's go back to intent. I think it's intent that makes Hinckly's shooting of a world leader different the shooting of Rabin. Hinckly was making love to an actress while Yigal Amir was attempting to stop any further give aways by Rabin as a violation of some religious covenant.

Finding intent is necessary otherwise a lot of criminals are going into the Guantanamo gulag to be sweated for intelligence that they won't have. Oh wait.

Targeting is another criteria. The deliberate selection of civilian targets. Innocents. But this of course makes bombing of cities (esp fire bombing Dresden and Japanense cities let alone Hiroshima) terrorist acts...
(oh and if bin Laden and co are now exclusively targeting military forces are they still terrorists?)

Scope of act - If I shoot 10 different people in 10 different states and people freak out, or 10 people in the same city with the same result... Am I a terrorist or a nut?

I think this is why everyone is calling everything terrorism. It's not a simple phenomena. I think we're seeing the same conflation as we've disscused on the definition of weapons of mass destruction.

We, and people who don't bother about details, politicians, talk show hosts and pundits especially, don't deal well with complexity.

Jim A.February 25, 2010 7:15 AM

Of course MeVeigh proved that box truck are a greater threat than general aviation. But people are more familiar with them so they don't advocate a greater restrictions.

georgeFebruary 25, 2010 7:17 AM

After protecting us from terrorists that'll just leave criminals, accidents and 'Acts of God'. Once they do that we no longer have to live in fear!

EricFebruary 25, 2010 7:29 AM

I thought I had a point and then I convinced myself that I was wrong.

I was thinking "Hey, wait a minute, doesn't the Secret Service protect a handful of people from 'lone nutcases' every day? They seem to do a relatively good job, all things considered."

But then I realized, they are defending a very defined target. They don't have to guess who the lone nutcases will strike against. So it seems that it's either possible to defend against a defined enemy, or defend a specific target from anyone.

HarryFebruary 25, 2010 7:37 AM

Bruce, do you mean to imply that Nidal Hasan was impossible to predict?

If so, then I disagree. It's rare for me to advocate second-guessing the enforcement officials but this time there's grounds to do so. There were many specific and individualized suspicions about Hasan, as well as attempts to get him out of the military. These were stymied by bureaucratic inertia and the formidable worker protections in place.

(Despite how this reads I'm not opining about worker protections. In this case they had a perverse effect. That does not necessarily mean they're a bad idea.)

Matthew CarrickFebruary 25, 2010 7:41 AM

If used as a "smart weapon" could someone piloting a Cessna nail a specific car in a motorcade with enough force to kill its occupants?

AJFebruary 25, 2010 7:53 AM

Hasan is now widely considered to have been a jihadist, it want to bring down, at the very least, every NATO or non-theocratic state in the world. That motivation and ultimate goal, despite the size of his actions, makes him an (Islamic) terrorist.

A (presumably Christian? or at least non-Muslim) guy who merely has such a beef with the IRS that he does this is a "bomber" of sorts, but not a terrorist. Having a beef with the IRS makes him a harried small businessman or tax protestor, or merely a Republican. He didn't want to overthrow governments worldwide or even in the US, or kill infidels, just bureaucrats.

TechnocratFebruary 25, 2010 7:54 AM

http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/20100224_general_aviation_reminder_vulnerability

"But general aviation doesn’t just encompass small, single-engine airplanes like the ones owned by Stack and rented by Atta. Anyone with the money can charter a private passenger aircraft from a company such as NetJets or Flexjet, or even a private cargo aircraft. The size of these aircraft can vary from small Learjets to large Boeing Business Jets (a modified 737) and 747 cargo aircraft. In many places it is even possible for passengers to board a charter flight with no security checks of themselves or their baggage. In such a scenario, it would not be difficult for individuals such as Atta and his colleagues to take control of an aircraft from the crew — especially if the crew is unarmed. "

[...]

"The bottom line, however, is that it would be prohibitively expensive to totally lock down all airports and aircraft nationwide in an effort to prevent them from being used in attacks like the one conducted by Stack. In the face of this reality, the best that can be hoped for is to keep the largest (and therefore most destructive) aircraft safe from this sort of misuse.

There is currently no one authority, like the Transportation Safety Commission, that controls security at all the small airports and FBOs. In the absence of any policy or regulations tightening the security at these facilities and requiring the screening of charter aircraft passengers, the best defense against the threat posed by this vulnerability will be to educate those in the FBO and charter aircraft business and encourage them to exercise a heightened state of situational awareness."

reinkefjFebruary 25, 2010 8:44 AM

*** begin quote ***
I note that the primary counterterrorist measures I advocate -- investigation and intelligence -- can't possibly make a difference against any of these people. Lone nuts are pretty much impossible to detect in advance, and thus pretty much impossible to defend against:
*** end quote ***

I have to slightly disagree with the guru of "security theater". If'n I was "king", I'd order the FBIs to review every tax case for the presence of a lone wolf. The cases that were going to get nasty. Not everyone. Just the ones where there was obviously stuff "swirling". Seizures, freezes, and frauds. Any hint of violence (i.e., dog or spouse beating)? Any sensitive jobs (i.e., nuke plant operator)? Any unusual qualifications (i.e., machine gun operator for the Army; chemist in a biolab)? Any weapons (i.e., large collection of explosives, or things that can go bang)? At least, they'd be doing "something". And, that wouldn't be "theater". We might not even hear about it.

OK?

GreenSquirrelFebruary 25, 2010 8:47 AM

@Harry

I sort of disagree with you here. I know people who have raised suspicions, been considered unsuitable for their employment and held strongly anti-Government opinions who have not gone on to murder. Its very easy to look back on the one that has and say "why didnt you see the signs?"

Yes, in his case more controls might have been appropriate but it is obvious that his behaviour did not deviate *that* far from the norm that people felt the need.

As to the OP:

To me they are all criminals. Terrorism is a tactic used by some criminal groups to achieve their ends. Some groups may be well organised, state sponsored even, but when all is said and done, they are just criminals.

Why do we need to find a different term for them?

Alan PorterFebruary 25, 2010 8:48 AM

I am glad that I fulfilled my lifelong dream of learning to fly before all of this nonsense started.

ChasmosaurFebruary 25, 2010 8:56 AM

Bruce -

As someone who lived in Northern Virginia during the Muhammad/Malvo sniper attacks, I'm gonna have to disagree with you on their status as criminals vs. terrorists. I think they were both, quite honestly.

I shopped and parked at the Home Depot about 2 hours before they killed Linda Franklin - that was my alternate Home Depot, and I hit it because I was running errands in the same shopping center on the way home from work. When I heard that that Home Depot had been the site of the killing, I was overwhelmed with a sense of irrational, "what if" fear. That took me a day or two to shake off.

Not to mention, when you got off the Metro, you saw people zigzagging through the parking lots to get to their cars. The rows nearest the outside rims that were across the street from wooded lots? Those took longer to fill, when previously any spot was good. And gas stations were packed in the hours after a shooting, since you theorized that they weren't going to be sitting still waiting to pick someone off then. It was also one of the only times you saw people staying outside of their car to gas up, instead of ducking back inside.

I don't know if you were living in DC during that span, but anxiety was higher then than during the immediate post 9/11 days when we had military with weaponry on most street corners. Perhaps Muhammad's ultimate intent was killing his ex-wife, but the ancillary atmosphere of regional fear was palpable enough.

HJohnFebruary 25, 2010 8:56 AM

Who of the bunch gets defined as a terrorist is a topic that can have reasonable people debating for a long time.

Bottom line is twofold:
1. they are almost impossible to detect, so anything beyond a reasonable attempt to do so is counterproductive (because it wastes resources best used elsewhere).
2. the chances of being a victim of one is probably similar to the chances of winning a lottery.

The only thing about their motives that I care about is if their motivation is their own misguided convictions (or lunacy) or if they are sent by someone else. If they are a lone nutjob, it is finished (save for copycats, which are similarly impossible to detect). If they were sent by someone else, then we have a source we may wish to deal with. Then again, if they are sent by someone else, they wouldn't be a lone nutjob, which is the topic of the thread.

2 cents.

jgrecoFebruary 25, 2010 9:02 AM

"(oh and if bin Laden and co are now exclusively targeting military forces are they still terrorists?)"

Well, I'd say they are still terrorists in the same way that a man who kills once is still a murderer. Probably needless pedantry though, I don't think their current actions make them terrorists, only their past actions.

Clive RobinsonFebruary 25, 2010 9:15 AM

Anyone remember the pilot who landed in Red Square in Moscow?

So we know that a pilot of a light aircraft without a flight plan can fly several hours over the "cold war" buffer nations and land in the heart of Moscow just a short distance from where the Russian politicos met.

We know from WWII that a small pilotless aircraft can carry 1000Kg of warhead several hundred miles and not get shot down.

Oh and the world's largest cargo carrying plane (a Russian Antanov) which is available for private charter can carry 1/4 of a kiloton load and get halfway around the world.

Then the US has had issues with pilots drugs running in several ton cargoes of drugs under the radar etc.

So yes we definatly have a problem with aircraft.

Thus I could if I was a "clean pilot" go and rent a four seater beachcraft or other multipasenger plane for a few thousand dollars.

Yes I could take me and a bunch of friends on a flight to another comercial airport. Where I drop my passengers off load up with an equivalent weight of explosives as them and the fuel I'd used so far, take off again for a short flight and drop it, me and the plane all on some US military or other target that was "soft" like an oil storage depot.

Is it likely to happen, not very (and that's the point).

Why because a fully trained pilot is likley to be a bit smarter than that if they are also capable of stoping others suspecting them in advance.

Could we stop a lone nutcase who had got it all together covertly? Very probably not.

But could a lone nutcase get it all together without getting caught before hand? Probably not.

In comparison to the harm done to the US economy in stoping the possability what is the trade off?

jbmoore61February 25, 2010 9:35 AM

Consider that Theodore Kaczynski's brother turned him in, otherwise, the government would probably not have caught him for some time. Bruce Ivins was never conclusively proven to be the Anthrax mailer. The FBI had accused another scientist, Hatfill, of being the mailer to the point where Hatfill sued them and won. Then there's the sticky point of the silica that was used to weaponize the anthrax spores. Ivins did not have access to the silica or the proper equipment to prepare the spore/silica mixture. There was no evidence of him buying the silica that I know of. He only had the flask that contained a culture that the spores were derived from, but microbiologists serially culture bacteria all the time, so someone could have obtained a sample from that flask and grown a culture for spores. The serial transfer would have the same population of bacteria that the original flask had. That was the only evidence as the FBI could never reproduce the powders that were produced by the mailer.

Kaczynski was so good he got LAX shutdown just with a threat. Whoever mailed the anthrax scared the government more than the public for the most part except for a few incidents where people were scared of some powders. For one thing, the notes included in the initial mailings told people to take ampicillin. The intended victim didn't and died of anthrax. What kind of terrorist tells you how to save yourself? Other victims were due to contamination of regular mail due to the postal sorting machines using vacuum suction to grab the mail and contaminating the equipment. This was something the killer did not know about.

But even if Ivins was the anthrax mailer, he eluded the law for 6-7 years. Kaczynski eluded the law for 18 years. So, both of these cases prove that if you are a smart homicidal nut, your chances of killing people and evading the FBI for some time are actually quite good. Now that fact's scary and says something about the FBI, doesn't it?

Anon1February 25, 2010 9:49 AM

Terrorist, Criminal - whatever. They all do the same thing - they kill, harm, and strike fear into people. They need to be dealt with the same way: eliminate them when you can, prevent if you can, set up emergency response and recovery in such a way as to deal with their affects, don't be scared...it is still more dangerous to keep eating the way you are eating than to be killed by people like these.

BF SkinnerFebruary 25, 2010 9:56 AM

@jgreco "...past actions..."

Or future and I take your point.

So terrorist acts are tactics. (Observed before I know but I forgot it)

We can add this to the criteria. Can the person change their MO. Criminals and the mentally disturbed generally dont.

A terrorist can discard terrorist acts or change to accomodate the situation. This is Hezbollah in Lebanon. From unwanted guest in Baka to member of parliment.

CoreyFebruary 25, 2010 10:17 AM

Terrorist are pushing an agenda or ideaology. Criminals break the law for their own amusement or gain... Simple definitions... Ft. Hood massacre: Terrorist attack... DC Snipers: Terrorist... McVeigh: terrorist, Unibomber: Terrorist..... Pilot crashing into IRS building: Nut Case (Terrorist)... all were pushing an agenda or their ideaology... no personal gain.

FlinstoneFebruary 25, 2010 10:22 AM

Perhaps jettisoning the word "terrorist" altogether might help in the analysis of these situations. All too often the issue is whether a series of acts can be shoehorned into a definition of the word "terrorist" as if the yielding of a positive or negative result would help to prevent such acts in the future.

There is an overlap between criminal behavior and asymmetric warfare. The difficulty is in determining an appropriate response, since the two require much different responses. Rather than analyzing the motivations of the actor, we prefer to simply cry "terrorism" because then no analysis is required and there is no need to question our own behaviors.

As said above, "terrorist acts are tactics". Terrorism is not a political creed, though we pretend that it is--listening to the discourse is eerily reminiscent of the communist witch hunts of the 1950's. The only criminals who arguably commit terrorist acts for entertainment are arsonists. Most others have some political goals. If we ignore the politics involved, we invite repetition.

geekyoneFebruary 25, 2010 10:22 AM

Bruce,

I agree there is a lot of gray area surrounding the classification of terrorists vs criminals. I believe this is mostly due to terrorism being a matter of intent. Every example you named are easily identified as criminals because that is what they are. Some of them were also terrorists because their intent was to cause widespread fear and panic in people not directly affected by their criminal actions. The media actually makes their goals easier to achieve by attempting to profit on the sensationalism related to most terrorist activities. I think one of the best ways to combat terrorism is to decrease its effectiveness. First establishing an open information flow concerning "terrorist" attacks would be very beneficial. A lot of the fear induced into the public is that if it has been done once it can (and will) be done again. From what I have witnessed this actually seems to be the opposite of the truth. Rarely are the exact same methods used in multiple terrorist actions. I will admit I am not a number crunching person but I am willing to bet that your odds of being hit by a bus on the way home from work are greater than being killed or even wounded in a terrorist attack. Also the media, government officials, and the public in general need to stop attempting to profit from the fear generated by terrorist actions (whether they are successful or not). When that fear becomes profitable to others besides the terrorist inevitably the perceived threat of further terrorist actions becomes artificially inflated in order to increase that profit.

As a side note I wouldn't classify most lone nuts like Joseph Stack as terrorists. His intent specifically seemed to be 1) vengeance, 2) education of the public, and 3) correction of a perceived government flaw.

Clive RobinsonFebruary 25, 2010 10:26 AM

@ Chasmosaur,

"As someone who lived in Northern Virginia during the Muhammad/Malvo sniper attacks... ...I shopped and parked at the Home Depot about 2 hours before they killed Linda Franklin... When I heard... ...I was overwhelmed with a sense of irrational, "what if" fear. That took me a day or two to shake off."

It is known in the army as "long gun fear" and it spreads like a contagion as evidenced by,

"... you saw people zigzagging through the parking lots to get to their cars. The rows nearest the outside rims that were across the street from wooded lots? Those took longer to fill, when previously any spot was good. And gas stations were packed in the hours after a shooting, since you theorized that they weren't going to be sitting still waiting to pick someone off then."

And it's effects are often counter productive,

"It was also one of the only times you saw people staying outside of their car to gas up, instead of ducking back inside."

This ducking in and out of a car has caused something like 100 quite serious gas station fires in recent times. More than can be attributed to any other direct cause.

However,

"Perhaps Muhammad's ultimate intent was killing his ex-wife, but the ancillary atmosphere of regional fear was palpable enough."

That is the distinction he was not a terrorist by the accepted definition (ie he was not trying to seek a change in social or other policy by his actions.

Whilst all terrorists are criminals, few criminals are terrorists even though they might use the same techniques. And at the end of the day it is the intent not the actions that make the distinction.

However I fully apreciate and can understand why you think the way you do.

HarryFebruary 25, 2010 10:31 AM

@GreenSquirrel:

In most cases I would agree with you wholeheartedly. Expecting investigators to get it right, immediately, from very little information, is unrealistic. And it bugs the hell out of me because it's impossible.

This case is the exception. The volume and nature of the suspicions, and the lengths to which Hasan's co-workers and supervisors went to try to get him moved aside, are unusual. One might even say extraordinary. I read a lot about who thought what, and at what time, and what they wanted to do about it, before reaching this conclusion.

My general thought about terrorism vs. crime: I look for the existence of a political motive.

BF SkinnerFebruary 25, 2010 10:39 AM

fm@Clive "Whilst all terrorists are criminals, few criminals are terrorists..."

How's this for a definition

Terrorism is attempted or actual political and social change by criminal means?

jgrecoFebruary 25, 2010 10:39 AM

@Harry

I also like the political motive qualification, but of course there will always be exceptions. It's a very hard thing to pin down. Because far to much of my outlook on life is influence by hollywood, I'll bring up Die Hard here. The bad guys pretended to be politically motivated so that they could steal large amounts of money. Are they only common theives, or is pretending to be a terrorist enough of a qualification? I can't say that I know for sure how I feel.

A few years ago a teacher asked my class to define what a terrorist is (this was a 'world issues' type class). The definition that we eventually all were able to agree on was "one who commits acts of terror." :)

BF SkinnerFebruary 25, 2010 10:41 AM

add the word "violent" to criminal means or we'll be up to our eyebrows in activists.

Though many non-violent activists (cf MLK jr) have been called terrorists.

BF SkinnerFebruary 25, 2010 10:43 AM

@jgreco "The bad guys pretended to be politically ..."

Artists are odd bunches. What if one were to begin doing terrorism as a performance art act or installation (deinstallation?).

jgrecoFebruary 25, 2010 10:48 AM

@BF Skinner

Oh wow, very good point. Many artists are motivated by their desire to make a point, often political. If they do this in a criminal manner, are they terroristic artists? Clearly not always since I don't think that graffiti artists are generally considered terrorists. Some sort of violence should also be involved I suppose.

Clive RobinsonFebruary 25, 2010 10:56 AM

A point that might be of interest,

On another blog I posted the following,

"For some reason I have never understood the US appears to cherish it's Hawks even though it is abundantly clear to most non US people they are incredibly bad for the US in general and often the world as well."

And somebody posted the following,

"Foreign Policy has an interesting article on this: _Why Hawks Win_. The short story is that all of our psychological biases are aligned with the way the hawks act."

And gave a link to the article,

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2006/12/27/why_hawks_win

Having read the article (which is quite relevant to the back ground of this thread) I replied,

"To paraphrase...

The reason is the proto typical Alpha male response to a chalenge...

Basicaly when chalenged defalt to brut mateing behaviour, give the chalenger a smack untill it goes away or you are forced to run away.

The assumption being there is only one prize...

Thus life is always win:lose never draw (equitable solution of share the prize) or win:win (use the prize to float all boats higher).

God is that ever a sad way to conduct life.

And a thoroughly lousey reason to go to war..."

Brandioch ConnerFebruary 25, 2010 11:16 AM

@GreenSquirrel
"To me they are all criminals. Terrorism is a tactic used by some criminal groups to achieve their ends. Some groups may be well organised, state sponsored even, but when all is said and done, they are just criminals."

Exactly. Separate the actor from the action and judge the action.

"Why do we need to find a different term for them?"

The same reason we have first degree murder and manslaughter. After the action is judged, the actor's intent further defines it.

Terrorists are criminals. Not Generals or Lieutenants or Sergeants.

Michael CupitFebruary 25, 2010 11:23 AM

@BF Skinner: "Whilst all terrorists are criminals, few criminals are terrorists..."

How's this for a definition

Terrorism is attempted or actual political and social change by criminal means?"

Isn't that what the founding fathers of the United States did?

BF SkinnerFebruary 25, 2010 11:23 AM

Alpha males are a true pain. There was a great Saturday Night live skit with Steve Martin as a smart caveman. Also Sherri Tepper wrote a great novel 'bout it called The Gate to Women's Country.

I feel sorry for them though...all that testoserone keeps the brain from high level functioning. Just wish the mortality rate was higher.

Still the research isn't all bad. It's not just the alpha's that breed although they think they are. Studies on chimps show lower prestige males getting their freak on in return for grooming and child care.

BF SkinnerFebruary 25, 2010 12:01 PM

@Cupit "Isn't that what the founding fathers of the United States did?"

Well, Satan too if you want to go that far.

A fail test?

The only terrorists are those that fail. Those that succeed are founding fathers.

So we're back to a tactic that any organization state/non-state, military/civilian, insurgent/reactionary uses.

How 'bout

Terrorism noun a name calling in an exchange of harsh language during a disagreement with crowbars that get's settled only when everyone who cared is long dead.

jgrecoFebruary 25, 2010 12:11 PM

"The only terrorists are those that fail. Those that succeed are founding fathers."

Classic example of victor's justice. For better or worse, that does seem to be how the world works.

JayFebruary 25, 2010 12:15 PM

I think that whether or not small aircraft are a terrorist thread will depend a lot on how we react to this recent incident.

If we remain calm and carry on, the terrorists will have no reason to target small aircraft, since obviously we won't be terrorized that way.

If we start pulling our hair out, upending whole chunks of our economy, giving the evil eye to anyone with an FAA certificate, the message we send will be a lot different.

GreenSquirrelFebruary 25, 2010 12:26 PM

@Harry
Thanks for the additional details. I do not know enough about the situation to do the debate any justice. It strikes me as odd though, that such a weight of evidence was ignored.

@ all

Political motive for calling someone a terrorist - fair one, but then we end up with all manner of odd situations (does going to war to overthrow Saddam Hussain count?).

Terrorists, like criminals, move in and out of criminality as they get more important. I see very little, if any, difference between a terrorist group and an organised crime group.

What difference I do see is (distastefully) the long term prospects. Very successful, determined, terrorists are *much* more likely to end up on the world stage as major players (just ask Gerry Adams). This is less likely for a group of "ordinary decent criminals."

That said, I still dont think this is enough to discriminate. Criminal gangs use terrorist methods for non-political reasons (and even for political reasons in some regions) and terrorist groups often have purely financial or personal motives.

Is someone blowing himself up because he expects his time in paradise acting out of less personal motive than a crazed nut case who murders a dozen women because he hates short skirts?

Is a terrorist money launderer any worse than one working for an organised crime gang? Is he indirectly responsible for more or less deaths if his clients are bombers or drug dealers?

CoreyFebruary 25, 2010 12:52 PM

I think, legally, we should just treat them all as common criminals.

To use the example of 9/11 planners: Isn't 3000 counts of conspiracy to commit murder a serious-enough charge?

That way we don't need to create new classes of crimes ("intent to use a WMD") or people ("unlawful enemy combatants") that are ripe for abuse.

Take the underwear bomber. Charge him with 200 counts of attempted murder, plus lying to Federal agents, violating pilots' orders (no smoking), and littering, take testimony from the witnesses, put him away for life.

Dissent Is The Highest Form of PatriotismFebruary 25, 2010 12:57 PM

> BF Skinner at February 25, 2010 7:08 AM
> By the media - statements phrased as questions...
> Could right wing anger as seen in the teabaggers caused this?


Well, you kind of blew your wad by using the derogatory term "tea baggers" to refer to the recent tax protest movement, but you might want to check out

(1) Joseph Stack's final manifesto, available at http://www.businessinsider.com/joseph-andrew-stacks-insane-manifesto-2010-2 . In it, he criticizes "The recent presidential puppet GW Bush and his cronies," big business and capitalism, and organized religion. This is hardly the stuff of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy.

(2) Tim Cavanaugh's "Folk Hero Push For Andrew Joseph Stack" (Reason, February 21, 2010) at http://reason.com/blog/2010/02/21/folk-hero-push-for-andrew-jose

But a strange counterforce has been developing, visible in the comment boards on lefty websites and Facebook. The left's creepy efforts to turn Stack into a club with which to hit advocates of lower taxes and smaller government keep getting met with responses, from other lefties, along these lines: "I read his manifesto, and you know, a lot of his points make sense."


(3) Jesse Walker's "The Paranoid Center: How The Panic Over Right-Wing Violence Is Being Used to Marginalize Peaceful Dissent" (Reason, October 2009) at http://reason.com/archives/2009/09/15/the-paranoid-center

(4) Virginia Postrel's "Fighting Words: Does Reading This Make You A Terrorist?" (Reason, July 1995) at http://reason.com/archives/1995/07/01/fighting-words


DanielFebruary 25, 2010 1:25 PM

@Harry. Don't say things like that. You might distrub Bruce's profound love of psychobabble. And then where would this blog be?

bobFebruary 25, 2010 1:36 PM

I wish every terrorist in the world that wanted to hurt the US would come to the US, buy a brand-new Cessna/ Piper/ Mooney/ Beechcraft or Cirrus single piston engined plane ($250,000 - 700,000) and crash it into their favorite nuclear plant, hydro dam, national monument (mount Rushmore would be my choice, but Washington monument would be just as good - I even volunteer to be in the observation deck at the time as long as I can have a camera), suspension bridge (this has Brooklyn Bridge written all over it - right next to ground zero) or government building.

This would eliminate all terrorists and boost the US economy hugely, while killing no one and hurting nothing except the odd window. Unfortunately they are probably not that stupid and would use SUVs instead with 5x-10x the damage capability at 10% the cost and way less conspicuous - you can even rent one at the airport where you entered the US, skip having to buy one and implement your attack while you're still jet-lagged whereas it would take days or weeks to get a small plane.

jgrecoFebruary 25, 2010 1:38 PM

@Dissent Is The Highest Form of Patriotism

"Well, you kind of blew your wad by using the derogatory term "tea baggers" to refer to the recent tax protest movement, but you might want to check out"

That is what they call themselves...

Brandioch ConnerFebruary 25, 2010 2:05 PM

@Corey
"To use the example of 9/11 planners: Isn't 3000 counts of conspiracy to commit murder a serious-enough charge?"

In my opinion, yes.

@GreenSquirrel
"I see very little, if any, difference between a terrorist group and an organised crime group."

The only difference I see is that organized crime tends to focus on specific individuals (kill this cop who is getting to close to our operations) while terrorists focus on a location (blow yourself up on this bus).

Other than that, they even engage in the same money laundering and drug smuggling and so forth.

They are criminals. They need to be dealt with as criminals.

Jim A.February 25, 2010 2:34 PM

After protecting us from terrorists that'll just leave criminals, accidents and 'Acts of God'. Lets see, the flood, Sodom, tsunamis, earthquakes...Are you sure God ISN'T a terrorist? Ducks, runs away....

prufreederFebruary 25, 2010 3:14 PM

Moderator,

The name "Ivans" is misspelled in Bruce's original post. It should be "Ivins". c.f. the NYT article and commenters here.

utopia27February 25, 2010 3:21 PM

In terms of investigation and intelligence... I've got good information that the Secret Service has a very active investigations division, largely dedicated to the detection and investigation of lone nuts. There's a lot of information around out there, and if there's active intelligence gathering and analysis, investigation and prevention can pay dividends. Perhaps more than in most other areas, however, there's a real dropoff in bang-for-the-buck as you get farther down the curve. More and more resource chasing lower and lower priority threats. For the Secret Service, it's time well spent. For the IRS, it may be time to re-evaluate.

dobFebruary 25, 2010 3:49 PM

@bob: I live not too far from the Shearon Harris nuclear power plant in North Carolina, where nuclear waste is stored in cooling pools which require active water flow to stay contained. The consequences of crashing a small plane there could be quite devastating.

mcbFebruary 25, 2010 4:27 PM

In the halcyon days before the 24 hour news cycle I recall that "terrorism" was regarded as a desperate and dishonorable tactic of asymmetric warfare, not an ideology. Being "terrorized" meant someone, an organization, or your government was scaring you on purpose.

Unless we learn more I expect Stark was a very narcissistic suicide. Muhamed and Malvo were common criminals. Hasan and Bishop perpetrated workplace mass murders. The Unibomber and whoever perpetrated the Anthrax attacks were highly sophisticated lone nut jobs whose motivations made sense only to them. McVeigh was a member of a criminal conspiracy to commit mass murder for political reasons. Terrorist? Close enough for me. Kasi's rampage at the entrance to Langley in '93 may be the only example of a lone wolf terrorist attack in the U.S. so far. $0.02

On a semi-related pet peeve note, I still have no idea what self-described "anarchists" are supposed to be up to.

BF SkinnerFebruary 25, 2010 5:11 PM

@jgreco "...call themselves"

Too be fair they mostly NOW call themselves the tea party. But only once it was pointed out how they appropriated the name of a beautiful act of carnal male on male physical love and made it disgusting and dirty. Tsk.

Probably should have done some research on linguistic history before picking their rallying meme.

I'm not going to respond to DITHFOP here because political discussions get out of hand, Bruce doesn't like them, and unless they are OUR personal political points of view the rest of us find them boring.

If he's truly Peenie Wallie (Linguistics!) I'll engage him there.

jkFebruary 25, 2010 5:39 PM

@ Eric TF Bat:
puerile? Actually, it's the USA PATRIOT act, an acronym and therefore correctly capitalized.
Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.

Especially capitalized by those who think that it's misleading to imply the legislation is fundamentally American or patriotic, and not meant to inflame fear remove civil rights.

AndyFebruary 25, 2010 6:43 PM

As far as I understand the definitions, when the evil act is performed by individuals or groups:

Within a state for private gain, they are “Criminals”.
Outside a state for private gain, they are “Pirates”.
Within a state, sponsored by another state, it is “War”.
Within a state, sponsored by that state, it is “Government”.

Within a state for private gain, from another state, they are “Criminals” if the other state goes after them. However;
If the other state protects them it should be “War” but we don’t want to call it that, so we call it “Terrorism” so that we don’t have to go to war.

bob!!February 25, 2010 10:28 PM

@Eric - Since we generally only hear about the Secret Service's failures, we can't really tell what their success rate is against "lone nutcases" - how many do they stop compared to their failures that we've heard about (Hinckley, Fromme, Moore, etc.)

@Matthew Carrick - If a Cessna pilot could successfully hit the right car in a motorcade (but how would he know which is the right one?), it seems likely that he could kill occupants, especially if he came in low and fast & hit the target head on.

@jbmoore61 - that Kaczynski eluded the FBI for as long as he did is no scarier than the fact that lots of crimes remain unsolved. Even with a large task force on the case like with Kaczynski they can only succeed where they have evidence. Kaczynski was smart (and lucky) enough to avoid providing evidence that made him a suspect for a long time.

CharlesFebruary 26, 2010 3:56 AM

"I don't see a gaping security hole here," said Tom Walsh, an aviation security consultant. "In terms of aviation security, there are much bigger fish to fry than worrying [about] small aircraft."

Though its not the main topic, I am flabbergasted to read this.

Anybody remember what terrorist did in lebanon with a Van and some explosives ?

justcitizenswatchingcitizensFebruary 26, 2010 8:10 AM

Thanks for the common sense Bruce.
Great article.

The Patriot Act is being perverted as an excuse to misuse power in local jurisdictions and feeds local units of government who can target people without evidence as terrorists.
For the DOJ's FBI Domestic Terror Program the term terrorist is becoming like the term communist in the McCarthyism 50s. When you turn peace activists and nuns into terrorists and harass them in the name of national security, you waste time, resources, and alienate good citizens. I wonder about our nation's ability to fight terror when there is so much misuse of the National Incident Management System/FEMA/Sprint cellphone network for political jobs using contractors to watch (harass with bad surveillance) US citizens? If we can't police our own citizens watching each other, how can we possible catch real terrorists?

mcbFebruary 26, 2010 10:05 AM

@ andy

Very concise. Thanks. How shall we categorize "Within a state, sponsored by a non-state organization, not for financial gain."

AndyFebruary 26, 2010 11:11 AM

@mcb

>> Very concise. Thanks. How shall we categorize "Within a state, sponsored by a non-state organization, not for financial gain."

That is the key. The distinction has always been "Private gain" vs "State sponsored". Private gain is not neccessary financial. Non-state organizations have been criminals unless a state protects or sponsored them.

When a state pretends not to sponsor or protect a group, but does (Or just can't stop them) you have to admit its war or let it go. Or use diplomancy to keep talking. (stalling)

kangarooFebruary 26, 2010 12:25 PM

jbmoore: Consider that Theodore Kaczynski's brother turned him in, otherwise, the government would probably not have caught him for some time.

This is an important point. Lone nutcases are impossible to predict and defend against using security methods. Our defense is the recognition of "hinkiness" in the culture at large -- the family members, co-workers and neighbors who recognize the slide into insanity via the language of politics.

The lone nutcases are part and parcel of a culture. They are motivated and protected by communities. They act as terrorists, instead of just giving their family hell, when they work in sync with the zeitgeist.

Just take on this very thread the nut upthread who calls the IRS bomber "not a terrorist -- just a harried small businessman". That kind of attitude gives these guys intellectual space to act. Whether it's jihadis giving Hasan ideas about a Muslim revolution, or teabaggers justifying a right-wing revolution -- it's the same play.

And yes, bombing the IRS as a political statement is a call to revolution. What is more revolutionary than attacking a governments tax collecting scheme? If I recall correctly, it was a primary part of the tenor of pre-1776.

We saw this kind of behavior couched in leftist language back in the 60s & 70s -- but it's gone today. Why? Because there is no left political community today giving these nutcases safe-harbor -- the maoists, stalinists, etc, are gone as large communities with insane rhetoric to rally their supporters. But we have the birthers and the mullahs that may not support the behavior directly today -- but sure make it sound like they'd be glad to see a nutcase take action.

pdf23dsFebruary 26, 2010 1:59 PM

I would not hesitate to label the "founding fathers" (probably the commenter was talking about the leaders of the Revolution, some of which were founding fathers) as terrorists if that's what they were. However, separatists and seditionists are not always terrorists. Inciting a civil war (the Revolutionary war was a civil war) doesn't necessarily make you a terrorist.

I'm sure there was a lot of terrorism involved in the revolution. The Boston Tea Party probably counted, or at least got close. But the leaders of the Revolution themselves were probably not involved in much of that terrorism, if any.

mcbFebruary 26, 2010 5:16 PM

@ andy

"The distinction has always been 'Private gain' vs 'State sponsored'. Private gain is not neccessar[ily] financial. Non-state organizations have been criminals unless a state protects or sponsored them.

When a state pretends not to sponsor or protect a group, but does...you have to admit it's war or let it go."

So SPECTRE, THRUSH, CHAOS, and Al Qaeda are simply transnational criminal gangs regardless their political, financial, or religious motives. In the last case the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Secret Police were (are?) their state sponsors. That's surprisingly tidy. Well, it sounds like almost everyone involved has been dealt with appropriately then...

bobMarch 1, 2010 11:11 AM

@dob: Every documentary I have seen on those radioactive waste storage ponds shows them sited INDOORS - inside the containment housing which is designed to withstand the crash of a Boeing 707 - approximately 108x the mass, capable of carrying 532x the fuel and traveling at 4x the speed; for a total of >500x the kinetic energy and >>>500x the fire damage (it goes up logarithmically with fuel volume).

A Cherokee 140 wouldn't even leave a meaningful stain on it after the first good rain; and the guys working inside might not be aware it happened til they saw it on the news that night. (Never been in a power plant; I assume the generation of multiple MW is a noisy process).

tauroidMarch 2, 2010 12:10 PM

Personally this talk of terrorism/criminality is a little strange and a bit duplicitous after the first tradecenter bombing there was a civillian trial same was true after the murrah bombing and 9/11 but these events have spawned the term "terrorist" in the public consciousness. If society is to figure out what we are going to do we need clearer definitions. if we take the current definition of terrorist: 'someone who seeks to change laws/regulations by means of fear' I could classify just about anyone who has threatened their superior or any official as a terrorist should we abandon our prisons and send them all to guantanimo? does terrorism include by definition the religious individuals who claim things like 'if you dont do this god will strike you down!' thats seeking change via fear must be terrorism or is it the act of taking arms to support your beliefs in which case this country was founded on terrorism... i hate buzzwords. we need to call this like it is these people are criminals not terrorists the guy that robs a 7/11 with his 9mm is terrorizing the store clerk but hes a robber the definitions are too muddy "terrorism" as its own entity is merely a way to manipulate the population through fear. this would make the highly confusing statement 'terrorism is terrorism' a self-defining statement. churchill said it best when he said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." never before has this been truer . a bully seeks a rise in thier victims right? dont give it to them and you take their power. so i say screw the claptrap about "terrorism" and just treat this like it is heinous criminality

NickMarch 3, 2010 12:01 AM

The definition that I use for terrorist is the following:

"A person that uses violence in order to promote a political or religious ideology"

I think I got it years ago from some book about the SAS. The definition seems spot-on to me.

Of course, now, a terrorist is anyone the government labels as one.

Clive RobinsonMarch 3, 2010 3:43 AM

@ Nick,

"A person that uses violence in order to promote a political or religious ideology"

It leaves out coercion by non legal and extra legal means but it's fairly good.

The real issue is society and what is and is not acceptable conduct due to societies perceptions and this varies greatly from country to country and culture to culture, and this in of itself gives rise to very serious issues.

For instance as most know in some parts of the world it is quite legal to be married at 12 and in other places not untill 21.

Likewise in some parts of the world recreational use of certain plant extracts is not legal in others it is not.

But how about chewing gum?
The list of "gotchers" goes on and on.

But what makes it worse is some nations belive that they should have the right to inflict their views on others by extra judical laws (that is they are imposing their view on a world that does not agree with them).

Thus as a person you could be doing something quite legal where you are doing it but have it rulled illegal in another juresdiction then find yourself subject to extradition proceadings or enforcment in a third place.

In Europe we are seeing this with land and other social issues due to the European Arrest Warrent and the European transboarder enforcment of judgments.

Thus strange things can happen to people by holowed out nations they have no association with and they have no control over it.

I fully expect to see America getting at people in non UK Europe through the UK due to a stupid extradition system in the UK. Thus all the US has to do is find some way of getting a person of interest to the UK and then issue an extradition warrent on them.

The US has been guilty of this sort of behaviour in the past back in the 1980's, where for "business reasons" they decided to go after a UK Business man for supposadly breaking US trade restrictions (which he did not). Unknowingly he went to Rome where he was arrested and to cut a long story short he was forced to sell his business to an American company that then started selling the same product to the same people but out of the US not UK...

averrosMarch 4, 2010 3:52 AM

When they are the friends of the White House Mafia, they are "freedom fighters".

When they are their opponents, they are "terrorists".

The DC gang intends to screw the GA simply because they can, and because they want to grab more power for themselves and expand their little bureaucratic empires (with corresponding increases in their personal pay grades). Stack simply gave them an excuse.

The fact that any security measure at GA airports is totally useless, given that you can land a small plane at practically every rural road, to take anybody or anything aboard without anybody knowing, and that filing flight plans isn't going to stop anybody from deliberately crashing planes, - is not going to be even taken into consideration, because protecting US citizens is not and never was the goal of TSA (except, maybe, in their propaganda). Just like any other government agency it exists solely for the purpose of paying wages to the bureaucrats and for providing opportunities for graft and corrpution.

Nothing to see here, move on.

averrosMarch 4, 2010 3:57 AM

@ Nick,

"A person that uses violence in order to promote a political or religious ideology"

That includes every government bureaucrat or elected politician - because they ultimately use violence (or threats of violence) in order to promote their ideology (which, when stripped from the democratic retoric, amounts to "we own you") and enrich themselves in process. (Some widely-recognized terrorists like Arafat, did quite well for themselves).

Clive RobinsonMarch 4, 2010 4:48 AM

@ averros,

"(Some widely-recognized terrorists like Arafat, did quite well for themselves)."

You need to be carefull when making comments like that for a number of reasons.

I'll highlight one to show why.

In a "disrupted nation state or area" such as Palastine there are no "formal Governmental Organisations" to which aid can be paid to.

Various Western Governments the US being one have been known to pay the aid money directly to the leader of the appropriate political organisation for them to distrubute as appropriate.

Arafat was paid quite considerable sums of money and when he died he still had some of it in his personal accounts (into which it had been paid).

However this is actually a strong indicator he was by and large, actually using the money as intended. That is he did not move the money into hidden accounts and he had not used it all at once.

This sort of arangment is as I said not abnormal in such situations.

Others may and probably will argue that he did not use the money in a way they would have, as none of us have been in his position it would be a pointless argument.

What is sad is that when he died (aged 75) various of those around him tried to get at the money for their own personal enrichment.

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