There are avenues of attack available to relatively poor, armyless terrorist groups that are both more lethal — far more lethal — and harder to defend against than the horrifying crashing of passenger-laden airliners into buildings. One such path became real on South Uist Island in the Outer Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland in the summer of 1998. On that blustery day, a group of men huddled around a van, jacketed against the 25-knot wind. The persistent whistling of the gale would cover any sound the aircraft’s engine might make; they would see it–if they saw it at all–before they would hear it. And it was already overdue on a potentially historic flight.
The small, single-engined aircraft was attempting the first solo flight across the Atlantic. Brown and Alcock were the first to fly across the Atlantic, they shared in piloting their Vickers Vimy. Lindbergh earned fame by doing it with one pilot. This plane was flying itself from one side of the ocean to a particular spot on the other side with no pilot at all: “We” had become “It”. Instead of a compass and stars to steer by, it had a microprocessor and a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver. The men who had built the craft were interested in meteorological research, but if they succeeded, they would also unwittingly demonstrate the futility of president Bush’s National Missile Defense program (NMD), as well as any anti-terrorism measures except direct spying within the terrorist organizations. Just as the Germans easily drove around France’s Maginot line, an impenetrable thicket of defensive bunkers, this small plane would barely be noticed, much less brought down, by anything the Defense Department has in its armamentarium.
I think it is critically important to know what you can defend against and what you can’t. We spending billions on airport security that would be far better spent on intelligence operations (including “snatch” and assassination efforts). And so it is with many of our efforts to protect ourselves from our biggest current threat–Islamic extremists. We would be far, far better off spending the money on search and destroy missions and destroying their extremist culture than harrassing the fireworks industry, the mining industry, and feeling up grandmothers at airports.