Reflections on Terrorism, Dumb and Smart

Reflections on Terrorism, Dumb and Smart, by Angelo Codevilla.

Peggy Noonan’s observation in the Wall Street Journal that the most recent jihadist mass murderer is “an idiot”—unlike the men who perpetrated 9/11, but like all who have struck us since—provokes more thought than likely went into it.

Noonan correctly notes that 9/11 led us to expect more attacks with comparable planning and execution. Instead, we’ve been hit by random idiots, the most sophisticated of whom (the Bataclan murderers) operate at an elementary infantry level.

So what? Our ruling class concludes that more and better policing has precluded attacks on the scale of 9/11, limiting Islamist terrorism to a level with which we can live. But this lumping of terrorism into a single category misunderstands how very different 9/11 was from what has followed — different kinds of perpetrators, different bases of support, a different relationship with Islamism, and different in the dangers they comport for us. Hence they misunderstand what military and police action can accomplish.

The billions of dollars in barbed wire, badges, intelligence, and policing inflicted upon America since 9/11 have neither prevented nor thwarted any plans to attack the United States with the sophistication and on the scale of 9/11. The primordial fact is, no one has tried. …

9/11 was very different to what has come since:

Far from idiots or zealous amateurs working from Afghan caves, the men who planned and ran the 9/11 attack forged passports, and used the international banking system, sophisticated intelligence, and logistics. With the sole exception of Mohammed Atta, they did not expose themselves to danger. So good was their security that, to this day, we do not know who most of the hijackers were: The names on the passports they used to board did not match the security camera photos and, whereas Atta sent the remainder of the money from the plot to an account linked to Bin Laden — openly — the world’s banking sleuths have been unable to determine from which accounts the money had come.

Wiping out records of money transfers is akin in sophistication to producing and altering passports — the kinds of things done not in Afghan caves, but by sovereign countries’ intelligence services. Though we don’t know who provided the passports with which most of the 9/11 hijackers came to America, we know that Saddam’s Iraq provided the ones with which Ramzi Yousef and Abdul Rahman Yasin came to America for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and that the crew who organized 1993 ran 9/11 as well. We know that, unlike the “idiots” who have hit us since, these people had no history of Muslim devotion. They were professionals, with the resources of sovereign countries’ intelligence services.