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Friday, Aug. 22, 2014

Osama ain't Elvis

Wednesday, December 5, 2001

Six months ago U.S. News and World Report reported, "...bin Laden isn't nearly as powerful as once perceived ... his organization, al Qaeda, is neither as well funded nor as well organized as many experts previously thought."Wonder how bad the attacks on New York and Washington would have been if al Qaeda HAD been organized.The article, a report on the trial of four al Qaeda "foot soldiers" convicted for bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, quoted a former State Department official as saying, "What the evidence shows is that bin Laden has an international network of contacts, but that it's more analogous to the Elvis Presley Fan Club than a corporation like General Motors."General Motors? Was he suggesting we might expect an international extremist terrorist organization to be run like a mega-corporation and be comforted it is not? It would not occur to me to picture General Motors as a model for a terrorist organization, unless one is terrified at paying the price of a three bedroom house for a two-seat sportscar.But I suppose Islamic terrorists are sort of like Elvis fans in their irrational loyalty to bin Laden. Except that Elvis fans express themselves not by blowing up innocent victims in suicide bombings but by writing "Come back, Elvis" in lipstick on the stone wall in front of Graceland.The article was published June 11, exactly three months before the 9-11 attacks and presumably while the plots had long since been hatched. It quoted experts boasting about how much information they had gathered. And although the article cited "new sources of concern," namely that various terrorist groups were cooperating with one another, the tone of the experts quoted in the article suggested we had little to fear.The point is, our best terrorism experts were urging calm while the terrorists themselves were plotting death right under their noses. It's no revelation that we were not prepared, but it is fair to ask why we weren't prepared and what we've done to become more prepared.Last week at the Memphis airport we barely made it into the terminal before it was evacuated because of a breach of security; some moron in a hurry had refused to stand still for security to scan him, forcing hundreds of people to stand in the parking lot while police and National Guard soldiers swept the terminal for weapons.We wondered why they didn't just tackle the guy and cart him off to jail. There was a sense among those of us who waited two more hours to get to the concourse that we were no more secure, just more inconvenienced.Airline security is not taken seriously, and tests since Sept. 11 have demonstrated that terrorists can still get through with their weapons, despite all the inconvenience to millions of air travelers. It seems our intelligence agencies' efforts would be better spent rooting out the terrorist cells, which have a history of telegraphing their intentions, before they can ever get to the airport.Does that mean detaining those on guest visas who have connections with Islamic extremist groups? Of course. Military tribunals for those suspected of plotting terror or collaborating with terrorists? Absolutely. This is war. And military tribunals are the appropriate place to try suspected war criminals. Let the Berkley crowd stroke their goatees and bemoan the loss of civil rights in America -- they do that anyway.But let us not again get caught dismissing terrorists as Elvis Presley fans.