Friday, July 20, 2012

Is Terrorism an Olympic Event?

This is the haystack.  The needle is considerably
more dangerous, however
To be perfectly honest, I have never even remotely understood the target selection criteria used by major terrorist organizations.  The obsessive focus on air travel, for example, going back more than forty years is, frankly, inexplicable.  I was amazed in the weeks after 9/11 when al-Quaeda failed to follow up the WTC and Pentagon attacks - even a few garden variety truck bombs would have, in the atmosphere of the time, been incredibly effective.  And attacks on military targets, while often understandable on a tactical level, are not technically terror attacks and do not result in the kind of widespread "shock and awe" that a large scale attack on civilians can.  It often seems that these terrorist "masterminds" have a few specific targets in mind, and it is more important to attempt to attack them, even if the attack fails, than it is to operate a truly effective terror campaign.  I have long thought that if there was ever a terrorist organization that was committed to an ongoing campaign against soft targets and targets of opportunity, we'd be in real trouble.  One of the things that have prevented the effective use of terrorist tactics over the years is the "degree of difficulty" they seem to arbitrarily set for themselves.

So with the Olympics kicking off in London in a couple weeks, there is a lot of low-level concern over the potential for attacks and the difficulty of securing such a large venue for so long.  But for the life of me, I can't understand what it is about the Olympics that would make it an attractive target.  If terrorism is the use of violence against non-combatants for political purposes, it seems counterproductive to attack such a 'cuddly' target - you and your cause end up being hated, instead of your enemies.  Plus, even if it may not be possible to completely secure the entire undertaking, the levels of security will be massive, and the likelihood of any successful attack is low.  Sure, there is the history of Munich Olympics in 1972, but that was another time altogether.  The Palestinians were committed to armed resistance and terrorism, and the Israelis had yet to completely internalize the need for unusual levels of security.  Today, there is little in the way of Palestinian terrorism, and targeting athletes or specific individuals or nationalities is virtually impossible.  And the other major Olympic attack, the bombing in Atlanta in 1996, was carried out by a Christianist anti-abortion activist with a strictly domestic grievance.

So I look at this years events in London with two conflicting thoughts.  First, there is ultimately no way to prevent political violence at the Olympics if an organization is determined to accomplish it.  But second, there is no reason to do it, no value to be accrued, no benefit to the organization or their cause.  But if attacks do come, my biggest concern would be drones.  Certainly, if there are no drone attacks this year, it will quite possibly be the last Olympiad where they are not a major threat.  The fact that they can be launched from outside the venue makes all the perimeter defenses pointless, and the can be guided autonomously to a pinpoint location, which makes them all but unstoppable.  I have already reached the conclusion that we have set ourselves irreversibly on a course to a world dominated by airborne killer robots, and every time one looks into the future one has to take into consideration the existence of surveillance and attack drones of all sizes and shapes.

In the end, it's impossible to predict what might happen in London.  Most organizations will have decided it's too difficult, too costly and the payoff too meager to undertake.  But a small cell of fanatics, such as can be found in fundamentalist religious orders, can accomplish a lot, and if they have a little bit of luck they could do an awful lot of harm.  As I say, however, the basis on which the major trans-national terrorist organizations have traditionally selected their targets is bizarre and self-defeating, so there may be something just outright irresistible about such a large, multi-national event that will draw attackers like honey draws flies.  In which case some very bad things might happen.


  1. from what I've been able to determine, targeting is pretty much entirely about opportunity.

    it is an opportunity to sponge of the public teat for terrorism theater, though, so any imaginary threat will be blown completely out of proportion.

    Meanwhile, in Americuh, any random whackaloon can murder a dozen people at any random event.

    "... the terrorists would simply start bombing other places that are crowded. Porn shops, crack houses, titty bars, and gangbangs. You know, entertainment venues."

  2. But the laser focus on air travel as the primary terror target proves that opportunity is not even considered in the process...

  3. Heck, mikey, anybody can shoot up a movie theater.

  4. well, exactly mikey (although I larf a bit at the juxtaposition of 'laserlike' and 'TSA').

    The fact that there are not a helluva lot more shootings in titty bars and movie theaters kind of shows one of two things (possibly both): Terrists are remarkably stupid, thinking the only viable target is an airplane, and that there are really very very very very few actual terrorists.

    As another aside, one would think that the fact the TSA is NEVER responsible for actually catching a terrorist (most often it's plain old cops) would indicate that they are a pretty useless agency, but the fever-pitch terror that the Republicans and news corps like to keep us in will not allow that discussion to even begin.

  5. Is Terrorism an Olympic Event?

    judging by the purported terrorist suspects the FBI is trapping lately, I would say SPECIAL Olympics, but that would be denigrating to the Special Olympians.

  6. Ahh. Yes, I agree with both premises - terrorists utilize a bizarre targeting regamine and there are VERY few terrorists. The fact that they either don't realize how effective some garden variety shootings and bombs would be or they cannot find a way to accomplish attacks like that means that, yes, we have massively overstated the threat.

    The point about the TSA is a great one. If I ever went anywhere (except to the bathroom), and thus had any personal experience with 'em, I'd write something about them. But essentially they are the result of the combination of a political need to be seen doing SOMETHING (so-called "Security Theater") and the inherent difficulty of the team on defense. The defense has to defend the entire perimeter 100% of the time and can never make any mistakes. The attacker can study, plan, innovate and choose the time and place of the attack. Defense will always have the appearance of being big, slow and cumbersome, because, well, that's exactly what it is...

  7. Aircraft are both easy to control (No cops/DHS at 30,000 ft. if there's no air marshal aboard) & have plenty of potential victims aboard. And they are flying bombs.

    The Olympics are a good target because the whole world is watching, or at least a shit-pile of journalists & cameras will be there. Also, striking at the decadent developed world & their hoor women running track in shorts, yada.

    I read this piece of paranoia while wage-slaving at the late & unlamented Borders. It outlines plenty of crap that a few hundred people could accomplish that would screw lots of things up.

    Also a lengthy article in, I think, The Atlantic, by some guy from (formerly?) the gov't. in 2002 or 2003 that laid out all sorts of relatively petty stuff (Shooting up shopping malls, blowing up chemical plants, &c.) that would lead to plenty of trouble & over-reaction. Yet none of them seem to have been acted on by the ebil-doers.

    Gawd knows what actually motivates people who would do such things, but I suspect they aren't really willing to do the leg-work for anything less than destroying large symbolic things, or offing thousands in one action. "Sure, I'll die for the cause if a grand symbol is destroyed, or 10,000 die, but I'm not committing suicide by cop just to kill a few Yankee pigs in the mall."

    And the sorts of smaller-scale but often simultaneous attacks described may just require more crazed killers than exist, or at least more than can be gotten into the United Snakes & financed while they prepare themselves.

    I do have a vague memory of people in non-Euro nations we don't really like being shocked & horrified by 11 Sep't. 2001 & expressing sympathy, before Bush screwed it all up. Terrorists may be counting on that reaction even after they do smash up a "cuddly" target & all are outraged.

    And let's be honest: The WTC destruction had an immediate effect on the economy & the airline biz, Bush then threw blood & treasure down the Iraqi/Afghan rabbit-holes, got reëlected & proceeded to let the economy go to hell. Score one for AQ.

  8. Ah, found the Atlantic thing. Pretty grim, but plausible.

  9. I am amused at the idea of something so whacky that Bouffant would label it as "paranoid"

    1. Hey, I don't think anyone's out to get me. I'm just collateral damage in the capitalist free fire zone.

  10. following the lead of E. Costello so many years ago, I am trying to be amused.

    Sometimes I fail, but I feel that is more the fault of modern society.

    I keep trying, because Zombies Always Try.

  11. hey now, when did mikey add the threaded comments?

  12. I don't mess with that stuff. I leave it up to Google's admins. They know better than I...