Defensive Measures Against Terrorist Attacks

Jon Roland
Defensive Measures Against Terrorist Attacks
Tue Sep 11 21:44:27 2001

Defensive Measures Against Terrorist Attacks
by Jon Roland

The attacks on September 11, 2001, against the World Trade Center towers and
the Pentagon, present a challenge to national security that requires new
responses. Although as this is written the full story has not come out, we
have enough to begin to discuss defensive measures that all of us can help

It appears that four airliners were hijacked, and three of them directed
into their targets. The key to understanding what might be done may be
indicated by the one that did not reach its target, United Flight 93. We may
never know what happened on board that aircraft before it came down near
Stoystown, Pennsylvania. All we have is a brief cell phone call from a
passenger reporting that the plane had been hijacked. But we can undertake
some informed speculation.

First, the plane would have had enough fuel to reach targets in the
Washington, DC, area, such as the White House or the Capitol, so it didn't
come down for lack of fuel, unless the flight crew managed to dump the fuel
before the hijackers could prevent them from doing so. It also seems
unlikely that the hijackers, who were associated with others who managed to
direct their aircraft into the chosen targets, went down due to their
inability to fly the aircraft. Therefore, it seems most likely that there
was resistance from the passengers and flight crew, and that while the
result was the loss of the aircraft and all on board, they did at least
prevent accomplishment of the hijackers' mission.

Two other cell calls, one from a flight attendant on American Flight 11, and
the other from a passenger of American Flight 77, Barbara Olson, indicated
the hijackers were armed only with knives or box cutters.

Perpetrators armed only with knives can be taken down by determined people,
even though a few might get stabbed. Even if they had been armed with
firearms, a concerted attack by multiple persons can overcome the
perpetrators in a confined space like the cabin of an aircraft.

Perpetrators in such situations as this, and others like the attacks in
public schools and restaurants, depend on people to cower and obey their
commands. Therefore, the way to stop them is for the people present to do
exactly the opposite: swarm the perpetrator.

It is all very well to try to screen out hijackers from every large
aircraft, by metal detectors, x-raying of luggage, or even searches, by
demanding identification, or eventually by photographing every passenger and
perhaps identifying any suspects among them using facial recognition
software, but such measures failed in this incident, and are easy to evade.

It is also not going to work to put low-wage security guards or "air
marshals" on every flight. As we have seen where such guards are used, they
are not very effective.

No, the only thing that might work is to train every passenger and
crewperson on how to take down perpetrators. That means swarming the
offenders in a mass attack requiring no leader. People also need to be
trained how to restrain the culprits, and to avoid killing them, so that
they can be questioned and the plot revealed.

The hijackers of the flight that didn't reach its target are likely to have
been stopped, not by government agents, but by civilians, in their capacity
as defenders of their country, in other words, in their role as militia.
They were probably not adequately trained for such an occasion, and this
lack of training might have made the difference between detaining the
perpetrators and landing safely, and bringing about the loss of the flight.
Had they been better trained, we might now have the perpetrators in custody
and be able to ascertain who instigated these attacks.

The key measure needed is, therefore, to revive the traditional militia
system envisioned by the Founders and the Constitution. By allowing that
system to decline, and turning over our security to government agents, we
have severely weakened our ability to defend our country from attacks of
every kind. It may be appropriate to provide more funding for government
agencies to meet such threats, but realistically, such agencies are not
likely to be able to detect all such attacks before they occur. We must
attend to the first line of defense, which are the people on the scene, who
might be able to detect such attacks before they occur, and respond when
they do.

Defense against terrorism is a threat that can't be left to full-time
professionals. It requires the vigilance and competent defensive responses
of the entire population. It requires everyone to be trained, organized, and
equipped to meet threats of all kinds. In short, it requires an active
militia, similar to or even better than that of Switzerland and Israel.


While we need to resurrect the traditional militia system, there are some
measures that need to be taken against suicidal aircraft hijackers.

First, this kind of attack had been anticipated. Indeed, this kind of
scenario had been played out in movies and television programs for years.
The government seems to have developed various plans to deal with such
threats, and all the elements of such plans may not be public knowledge, but
the events suggest there are holes in such planning.

There is already a system in many airliners to enable the flight crew to
initiate a signal that the aircraft has been hijacked, without letting the
hijackers know it, a kind of silent alarm. There are reports that this
system was initiated on one of the aircraft. The problem is that there was
apparently no response. The aircraft were tracked by Air Traffic Control,
and their deviations from their flight plans, or implausible changes in
flight plans, their paths toward major terrorist target sites, and the loss
of communications with them, should have caused an alarm, and interception
by military aircraft, who could, if there was no other way to stop the
airliner, shoot it down. The failure to intercept Flight 77, which passenger
Olson reported had been circling the Pentagon, especially seems to have been
a lapse of threat response by established authorities. If interceptors were
not able to respond in time, the people in the Pentagon should at least have
been warned of such an aircraft, and evacuation initiated.

Airliners should be equipped with multiple silent alarm systems, including
one that can be initiated from the rear of the aircraft, to where passenger
Olson said the passengers and flight crew had been herded. Such a system
should both record and transmit audio and video of the cabin and cockpit so
that people on the ground can know what is going on.

Finally, although it may seem like an extreme measure, we should consider
equipping airliners with self-destruct devices, or at least fuel-dumping,
that could be activated by a control signal from the ground. We do that with
rockets, to prevent damage if they deviate from their missions, and a
similar system may be needed for airliners.


The way the WTC towers came down also points to the problem of the ability
of such buildings to resist not only terrorist attacks, but fires and
earthquakes. Apparently, the fires initiated by the crashed airliners
weakened the supporting members of the building on the upper floors,
resulting in the collapse of those floors, raising the weight on the floors
below beyond their structural strength limits, resulting in a cascade
failure that collapsed the entire building. This suggests that such tall
buildings need to be built to standards that can resist such total collapse.
New York City may not have had an earthquake for a long time, but it is
susceptible to them, and to fires, and sooner or later, one is likely to
hit, and the damage and loss of life could be much greater than the
September 11 attacks if better building practices are not adopted.


At this point it is not possible to identify a state sponsor of the
September 11 attacks. However, the list is suspects includes some that have
troubled us before, and we have not responded to them adequately. If it
turns out that Saddam Hussein played a supporting role, then we must
consider this tragedy a price we pay for failing to go in to Baghdad in 1990
and taking him out. The same is true of failing to go into Afghanistan to
take out Osama bin Laden on the ground. There is an old saying, "If you
would strike a king, kill him." If we had failed to occupy Germany and Japan
after WWII, we might have been the target of such attacks, perhaps using
nuclear devices, decades earlier. One should never fight a war without doing
what it takes to remove the continuing threat. Otherwise, we are just
creating more determined enemies that we will have to face again some day.
This may be such a time.


In our just anger, we must avoid turning to the dark side of hatred and
vengeance, or dehumanize and demonize the perpetrators. We demean ourselves
when we do that, and play into the hands of the terrorists, by becoming like
them. It is not a war between Us and Them, but between Good and Evil. When
those who would fight Evil adopt the ways of Evil, then Evil wins. If we can
identify the perpetrators, then it is just for us to remove them as a
threat, but not as an act of revenge, but of defense, with minimum damage
and loss of life to bystanders who merely happen to live in the same area.

It is also important to adhere to the Constitution in this matter. It is
easy to launch military attacks against ground assets without a declaration
of war or letters of marque and reprisal, or arrest perpetrators abroad and
bring them back to this country for trial as criminals, but neither act is

This was an act of war, although perhaps not committed by or with the
support of a foreign state. The constitutional process for dealing with such
a threat is for Congress to issue letters of marque and reprisal,
authorizing military action against the perpetrators. Actions taken by
persons within U.S. territorial jurisdiction might be prosecuted as crimes,
but we must not attempt to extend U.S. criminal jurisdiction to the entire
planet and the territories of foreign states. That is unconstitutional.
Under letters of marque and reprisal we might conduct military trials of
captured perpetrators, to build a record and bring out the facts, and to
punish them for acts of war, but to apply U.S. criminal laws to acts
committed in foreign states is a violation of constitutional prohibitions
against ex post facto laws.

We need to also avoid the mistakes we made in Vietnam, where our attacks
caused so much "collateral damage" that we made more enemies than we killed.
We have enough enemies, and it is too easy for an enemy to cause us injury.
The best defense is to remove the causes for people to attack us.

We need to get to know our enemies, and if possible, make friends of them.
Most of them feel, rightly or wrongly, that they have legitimate grievances,
and many of them do. Instead of dismissing their complaints, we need to find
ways to pay attention to them, and seek redress for such legitimate
grievances. Nothing does more to provoke terrorism than to ignore complaints.


In resurrecting the traditional militia, we must take care to avoid the
mistake of McCarthyism and the Red Scare, when Americans were urged to watch
out for any signs of "communist" sympathies and inform on their neighbors.
The militia must not become a mere informant network suppressing political
dissenters. The proper role of the militia is to take care of threats
locally, not just make reports to higher authorities. To do that, they need
a high level of training, organization, and equipment, some of which is
beyond the resources of individuals alone.


On Constitution Day, September 17, we should renew our dedication to the
principles the Constitution represents, and show in every way we can that
while terrorists can destroy buildings and lives, they cannot destroy the
Constitution, which lives on. It is a good day to demonstrate in the streets
our resolve to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution for the United

Constitution Society, 7301 RR 620 N #155,276, Austin, TX 78726
512/531-0767 Date: 09/11/01 Time: 21:25:21

<Back to 9-11 Terror in America

Hit Counter