Author’s program note. We Americans are at our best when we have identified a pressing problem, then set about the task of solving it, no matter how difficult. Right now, the problem is terrorism… what it is, how it works, the people who perpetrate the outrages… and what we as a nation and as individuals and potential victims must do to ensure that they are stopped dead… and never be allowed to practice their malicious craft ever again, against anyone, anywhere.
You might think such a high and strenuous goal is just too difficult, indeed that it is beyond the capacities of mere mortals. But you’d be wrong. Terrorism is manmade and as such it can be minimized, curtailed, and through assiduous, unflagging effort wiped out by man. A man like Joe Friday.
“Just the facts, ma’am.”
Joe Friday is arguably the nation’s best known cop. He was created and played by American actor, television producer, and writer Jack Webb (1920-1982) on “Dragnet”. The series first ran on radio (1949-1956) and television (1951-1959) and again in 1967-1970. There was also a theatrical film (1954) and a TV-movie (1969).
Why was this show with its unmistakable opening of blunt words and blunter music so popular? Because it dealt with real people (“the names have been changed to protect the innocent”) and solved real crimes. Jack Webb was so perfect in his role that when he died in 1982 he was buried with full police honors, a rarity for someone who was not a policeman.
Friday was all about getting down to business, identifying problems, brainstorming solutions and using the incomparable Yankee brain power to defeat the wicked. He was thorough, indefatigable, high minded, and honest. In other words, he had what was required for success, including the absolutely necessary skill of being willing to grow, listen to others, and work together for the common good. He was never a show-off with a “hey, look at me” mentality.
This is the kind of person we need at the front lines of our great war against terrorism, for this unadulterated cruelty knows no barriers, no limits, and absolutely no humanity at all. It is the very definition of evil and must be treated as such. Its perpetrators are pernicious vermin, and deserve neither charity nor forgiveness, for they give none to anyone. Sadly, we are not yet fully equipped to deal with this mobile menace of ingenuity and increasing expertise and sophistication. And the extent to which we are disorganized, inefficient and disarranged is the very measure of our danger and risk.
“Russia alerted US repeatedly about suspect….”
The headline in The Boston Globe of Wednesday April 24, 2013 was sickening, alarming, enraging. Here’s why:
“Russian authorities contacted the US government with concerns about Tamerlan Tsarnaev not once but ‘multiple times,’ including an alert it sent after he was first investigated by FBI agents in Boston, raising new questions about whether the FBI should have paid more attention to the suspected Boston Marathon bomber…”
What’s worse, this is just the tip of the ice-berg on intelligence and overall communications break-downs. The agencies on which we spend billions and billions of dollars are, day by day, shown to resemble the Keystone Cops, to the extent that with the Boston Marathon case we may be seeing the development of the greatest intelligence failure and scandal in the entire history of the Great Republic. And remember this; when intelligence agencies fail, people die… regular ordinary people, including a disproportionate number of children and young people. Indeed the word “scandal” is not remotely satisfactory to label this botched mess showcasing one problem after another that makes them anything other than intelligent. This is a crisis of the first magnitude.
You can bet your bottom dollar that the Solons of the capital are and will be tripping over each other to identify and solve such problems; that is until something easier and less demanding arises. Thus, Solon or not, I have something to say on these matters. And Joe-Friday-like I intend to make my comments and recommendations, terse, pointed, and do-able.
“C’est la guerre.”
In 1953 a brilliant historian named Cecil Woodham-Smith wrote a brilliant book which ought to be required reading for anyone connected with the war business, which is a veritable army of people as General and President Dwight David Eisenhower once memorably reminded us. Its title is “The Reason Why” on the famous charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War (1853-1856) when the best cavalry on Earth rode directly into the unremitting and pitiless cannons of the Tsar. “C’est magnifique” said the French commander Pierre Bosquet, “mais c’est pas la guerre.”
It was one of the greatest blunders ever and it was the result of one communications and strategic error after another, as the bleeding remnants of this foul-up confirmed. When you run your “intelligence” departments this way, I remind you: people die.
War must be treated accordingly and never regarded as merely a job. That ensures error.
2) To establish in the minds of service personnel and citizens, the significance of their work give it a name, a name like World War III. Right now terrorism is regarded as a tragedy, to be sure, but one which is episodic, occasional and random; something perpetrated by highly efficient but small cells, mostly fighting under the leadership of extreme (and therefore limited) religious leaders and zealots.
Instead, it needs to be recognized that each supra-national cell regards itself as a sovereign power, not just a faction. Thus, as with the Axis powers in World War II, people with quite different points of view and objectives band together for the sake of victory. Pseudo-sovereigns they may be, yet they ally as nations do, future problems to be resolved later. Thus, to find a single terrorist is to find a useful link to still others. Since these alliances are forever shifting due to constantly changing circumstances, when we discover such links and the people who create and profit from them, we must move swiftly to eradicate the menace, for to wait is to hand them an unnecessary advantage… and thus our people die.
3) Share intelligence, fully and promptly. A war, any war, is far more important than any of the hundreds of thousands of agencies, organizations and personnel it takes to gain victory. Sadly, you’d never know it from the unending “turf wars” waged by bureaucrats and officials who are supposed to be on the same side and work together for the common good.
The Boston Marathon case is a perfect example of what happens when information is hoarded, rather than shared. After having stolen two cars, the suspect Tsarnaev brothers seized the driver of one. They unaccountably let him go but kept his cell phone. When the police “pinged” that cell they got the direct bearings of one, and therefore inadvertently, the two get-away cars. Had this godsend not occurred the brothers might well have slipped out of Massachusetts. Authorities now believe that iconic Times Square in midtown Manhattan was their next target.
The consequences of an incident there defy imagination. It is now clear that lack of sharing information gave the brothers their opportunity to outrage… and that this failure might not have occurred had the sharing of pertinent details been the rule, rather than the exception. When that is the case, innocent people, in the wrong place at the wrong time, die.
4) Unified intelligence. Right now, when coherence, centralization and efficiency of intelligence should be the objective, there are at least five “watch” lists, competing, overlapping, duplicating. These five include Terrorism Identification Datamark Environment (TIDE); Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB); Selectee List; No-Fly List and Disposition Matrix. Each has its own criteria for getting on or getting off a given list. Thus the anomaly arises that a suspect may be on one list, but not on another.
This was the case with Tamerlan Tsarmaev… and as a result people died. Experts must find a way to solve this problem, but I can give them a suggestion to start. Don’t allow self-interested bureaucrats to persuade you that their department is necessary and that their list and information should be kept for them. Instead come up with what should be on ONE list and arrange matters accordingly.
5) Test the system. Then re-test. Every human system and enterprise is subject to human error and so is this one. Only here there is this major difference: when errors occur, people die. That is why there must be constant, thorough and thoughtful testing of every aspect of this system. There must be no “sacred cows”, but only people who need cutting-edge tools and intelligence and are willing to do the necessary to get them… for you see when our side offers responses which are sluggish, outmoded and inadequate, people die. Thus, we must test, review test results, and improve. There must be no question about this, and no one’s interests must be allowed to trump the ongoing training and perfecting.
Last Words… for now.
As a citizen of Cambridge, Massachusetts I watched in horror and disbelief as these events took place in my very neighborhood. It is not too much to say that they changed me forever. Thus, I tell you this. In World War II and our other conventional wars, we could mark victories and defeats with pins on a map. “Roumania allies with Axis,” then “Roumania surrenders.” You knew where you were and what was happening.
That is not the case with terrorists.
When the discussion focuses on terrorism, the focus must be on what hasn’t happened. It is not just that such silence is golden but that with each day that goes by we are successfully meeting the unending challenge of terrorism and the villains who use it to humiliate, humble, frighten, and cow us. To keep outrages to the absolute minimum we must understand that this war has no end, no boundaries, no flags flying marching garlanded through the streets of even the smallest hamlet. No indeed. This war demands constant, unflagging effort. Otherwise, good people will die and our great national purposes be obliterated and defeated by a few… to the lasting detriment of the many. That is why defeat in this war of stealth and subterfuge is unthinkable and why we must work together Joe Friday-like, for only therein is victory and the peaceful and harmonious life we all want so very much but can so easily lose in an instant, mayhem we might have stopped… but didn’t.