James Edward Johnson

my thoughts from right to left

How to perpetrate pure terrorism … (1 of 2)

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Please note: this is not a true how-to.  It is an exercise in situational awareness intended to highlight risks and provoke discussion.  Part 2 will address potential solutions to the problem posed here.

Risk awareness is a two-sided thing. In order to protect yourself from harm you need to consider how a criminal or terrorist might see you.

Terrorism is not about killing large numbers of people. If it were, terrorists could be more successful by making and selling inexpensive automobiles. Cars kill many more people than do terrorists and yet we hop into cars all the time with little worry that we might die.

Terrorism is about controlling people through fear and forcing people to do greater self harm than the terrorist can do directly. A terrorist who secretly causes the apparent accidental deaths of dozens is a failure. A terrorist who very publicly attempts to murder innocents and fails to kill even one is a success.

Putting myself in the place of a terrorist, I am aware of many gaps in national security that could be readily exploited in many places, and certainly in Iowa City.  Here is one:

Small airports are completely unsecured. Go to any small non-commercial municipal airport and you will readily make such an assessment. You can walk up to the hangars, enter the tarmac, and approach parked planes with little or no questioning or interference. The planes in such airports are small, easy to fly, and less secured than most cars parked on the street. Of course, if you steal a plane, there is a high probability that you will get caught eventually – planes are difficult to conceal or fence. However, if you just need one for a short period of time, there are few barriers to commandeering one.

Chest x-ray taken 4 mo. after the onset of anthrax in a 46 yr. old male (via CDC).

Flour is completely unregulated and probably never could be regulated. It is widely available, widely used, and cheap. Even if it were not, there are a huge number of similar look-alike substances – chalk, talc, plaster, powdered sugar … But, for a terrorist, these substances, when applied in the right context might as well be anthrax. They are, of course, non-toxic, but since the 2001 anthrax attacks the American public has been conditioned to associate unusual dispersion of fine powder with anthrax.

If a person receives an envelope with white powder in it, it will cause that person to panic, trigger a significant police/security response, and make people cautious about receiving and opening their mail.

But, if someone aerially distributed a large volume of powder over a crowd, it would cause immediate and widespread panic. If done over an area where there are few known exits, such as an open air stadium or arena, that panic would cause people to run towards those exits at such a rate and with such force that many people would be crushed to death – either by asphyxiation or blunt force trauma. Many more would be injured and fear of large gatherings would suppress interest in a huge variety of entertainment and other mass public events.

Specifically, in Iowa City, stealing a plane, carrying a dozen bags of flour on board, and dumping them at low altitude over Kinnick Stadium during an Iowa football game would cause such panic. People would presume it was a terror attack, attempt to flee the stadium, and kill many by falling, trampling, and crushing asphyxiation as the exits became overwhelmed.

It would be the ultimate terror attack. The acts of the terrorist alone are not particularly murderous. Only because of the resulting terror would people be killed and injured.

It does not have to be this way. My next post will address what to do about this …

Update: Part 2.


Written by JamesEJ

Monday, July 19, 2010 at 7:00 am

Posted in terrorism

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One Response

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  1. […] a comment » Please note, this is the second of a two-part post. Read the first part here. Kinnick Stadium at The University of Iowa (via […]

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