Monday, November 28, 2005


I have been studying the 9/11 along with the 3/11 Madrid trains attack terrorist networks. (Great insight from Daniel Benjamin and Steve Simon in their book The Next Attack). The similarities are there but what's more striking are the differences between these two group of terrorists. Those differences are what's worrisome. These are some of the characteristics that the two terrorist groups shared:

Focus. This focus gets more intense as the operation nears its completion. The closer to the attack the more focused the group becomes. All dissent is shed aside for the mission. For the 9/11 attacks a group of 19 young men was even to operate as a cohesive unit even though they were geographically dispersed and split into four separate sub-groups. For the 3/11 attacks in 2004, the terrorists started building the bombs they were going to detonate the day prior to the attack. Once the bomb-making began they really had no rest, did not sleep, until after the attack. Focus and misguided passion are an imperative of all successful terrorist operations.

Coordinated set of actions. Both the 9/11 and the 3/11 attackers took advantage of the synergistic effect created by multiple attacks occurring within a limited amount of time and in geographically dispersed locations. One of the desired effects is to overwhelm the response systems in place. The US has used this technique successfully, particularly during Desert Storm, where the massive air campaign effectively disrupted the formidable Iraqi air defenses, using parallel attacks. The systems in place (NORAD, FAA, NYPD, FDNY) were also clearly overwhelmed during the 9/11 attacks. Among the civilian population this precisely times attacks also create the impression that the terrorists are everywhere, that the threat is not localized. Even though the 9/11 attacks took place in the east coast, the whole United States was paralyzed for at least a 24-hour period. By coordinating their actions the terrorists appear bigger than they really are. The 11 March 2004 attacks consisted of a series of ten explosions that occurred at the height of the Madrid rush hour aboard four commuter (Cercanias in Spain). Thirteen improvised explosive devices were reported to have been used, all but three of which detonated.

Use of the readily available. Both the 9/11 and 3/11 attacks used existingtechnologiess in novel ways. The terrorists did no spend a dime on R&D. This demonstrates that sometimes what matters is not the weapon, but how you use the weapon. Airline jets and commuter trains are not designed as weapons or delivery vehicles for explosives, yet that's precisely how they were used for theseattackss.

A chain of effects. We are still recovering from the damage cause by 9/11. Thousands of lives ended that day, and may more survivors' lives were disrupted and changed forever. Our economy suffered. The echoes of 9/11 stillpermeatet our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Madrid Bombings directly affected the Spanish elections and was the tipping point in Spain's decision to pull out of Iraq. These spectacular terrorist attacks have effects over entire nations, over millions of people across continents and the reverberations of the attacks are still felt years after they occurred.

These are some of the similarities between the 9/11 and 3/11 attacks. The differences are more disturbing.

I'll discuss the differences in my next post.

Sounds like my EBO analysis.


John Robb
Global Guerrillas
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