Ten Years Later

"Then the second wave of al-Qaeda attacks hit America." A leading expert on counterterrorism imagines the future history of the war on terror. A frightening picture of a country still at war in 2011

The SID uses the same technology that has also been put in place on all shipping containers, which now incorporate tags that can provide location data when swept by a radar beam. Radar beams from towers, UAVs, and even satellites cause a sid to emit a signal that rides back to the transceiver on the return beam. That signal provides the card's number, and the processor computes its location. The signal is no stronger than that used for years at airports and in police speed traps. It is almost certainly safe, according to studies by the National Institutes of Health.28

There were those who thought that the radar signals would be used to track Americans carrying the SID. The homeland-security secretary declared, "Our computers do not have the processing capability to track that many signals. We are focused on maintaining the integrity of our immigration system by keeping illegals out and expelling those individuals staying beyond their visas. We use the US-VISIT cards to do that." Still, some Americans refused to sign up for a SID. They are the people you now see waiting in lines at airports for the special interrogation and search procedures.

The suspension of rail transport for parts of 2006, along with the collapse of the national rail service and some of the airlines, exacerbated the economic problems that had emerged in 2005 and caused national unemployment to reach double digits by December. The GDP declined again, as both the manufacturing and retail sectors suffered. The federal deficit as a percentage of GDP reached a new high, because the government needed to pay for additional security measures but, with the economy in such poor shape, didn't dare to raise taxes.

2007: Iran and Saudi Arabia

At the beginning of the year three decisions demon- strated the differences between America and Europe yet again.

First, Chuck Hagel, a Republican senator from Nebraska, sponsored a resolution calling on the administration to reach out to the Islamic world with a number of specific proposals and to join the proposed EU Tolerance and Reconciliation Initiative. For several years Hagel had been articulating a foreign-policy strategy based on the "humble" approach promised by President Bush before 9/11.29 Early in 2007 the administration rejected the Hagel resolution as "buckling under to terrorists." The plan went down to defeat in the Senate.

Second, the European Union reached a compromise on the issue of admitting Turkey. The EU president claimed that Turkey's membership would destabilize the "Christian EU" and flood Europe with Muslim immigrants.30 Turkey agreed to a limit on immigration and was admitted. The EU passed the Tolerance and Reconciliation Initiative and opened talks with the nations of the Islamic Conference.

Third, the United States and Europe parted ways over what to do about "definitive intelligence" showing that Iran had six nuclear devices ready to be mounted on mobile long-range missiles. The war on terror had, admittedly, distracted U.S. national-security officials from dealing with Iran and nuclear proliferation generally.31

We had suspected that Iran had assembled some nuclear weapons, but only owing to the good work of the British Secret Intelligence Service did we learn that all the weapons would be in one place at one time. The president decided to launch a pre-emptive attack; given the circumstances, he could hardly have done otherwise. The B-2 strike in May did indisputably destroy all the mobile missiles and their launchers. (Regrettably, it also killed some Chinese defense contractors.) To the president's dismay, the attack apparently did not destroy any of the nuclear warheads, because they had not yet arrived at the base. Intelligence is still not good enough to provide precision. The good news was that without their missiles, the Iranians had very few ways of using their nuclear warheads. The bad news was that this revived fears that the warheads would fall into terrorist hands.

The Iranians responded to the attack by launching their older SCUD missiles, armed with conventional warheads, at the Saudi oil facilities at Ras Tanura. Iranian navy units attacked Saudi tankers. The result of all this was quite unsettling, both to regional stability and to the U.S. economy. World oil prices spiked to $81 a barrel, before falling back to $72 a month later.

Then, on the day before Thanksgiving, Hizbollah, the Iraqi Shia militia, and special operatives of Iran's elite Qods ("Jerusalem") Force acted.32 (They no doubt chose that day because it was then still a relatively heavy travel day in America.) "Stinger Day," as it came to be known, did not actually involve Stinger missiles, as originally thought. Rather, the missiles were SA-14s and SA-16s stolen from Iraqi army stockpiles way back in 2003, after the U.S. invasion. The United States had failed to secure the Iraqi weapons depots, giving terrorists an opportunity to help themselves to Saddam Hussein's guns, explosives, and missiles. The missiles were later smuggled across the Canadian border into Minnesota, Washington, and Montana.33

SA-14s and SA-16s are much like Stingers, heat-seeking and easily portable. The four missile strikes that succeeded that day (in Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles) were all aimed at 767s. The death toll was nearly 1,200, including those who died on the ground where the aircraft crashed. There is some dispute about whether three or four additional attempts failed in other cities. The most widely reported incident involved the killing by New Jersey state police officers of two Lebanese Hizbollah members who had been discovered sitting in a car with an SA-14 on a police ramp over I-95 next to Newark International.

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