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Council on Foreign Relations Policy Symposium: “Making New York Safer” Session 1: The Terrorist Threat in New York

Introductory Speaker: Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations
Speakers: Richard K. Betts, Adjunct Senior Fellow for National Security Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, R.P. Eddy, Managing Director, Gerson Lehrman Group; Senior Fellow for Counterterrorism, Executive Director, Center For Policing Terrorism, the Manhattan Institute, and Steven Simon, Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations; Coauthor, The Age Of Sacred Terror and The Next Attack
Presider: Brian Ross, Chief Investigative Correspondent, ABC News
September 8, 2006
Council on Foreign Relations New York, NY

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RICHARD HAASS: Good morning. Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations, and welcome to today’s policy symposium on “Making New York Safer,” which is a goal we all have. And the title was chosen carefully. We didn’t say to make New York “safe,” anymore than one can, in my view, win the war on terrorism or end terrorism. But one can take steps to make New York and other places “safer,” and that is what we are trying to advance, not just today, but more broadly.

Obviously, the timing of this is not coincidental. We’re coming up on the fifth anniversary of 9/11. And as you all know, part of the good news is there’s not been a successful act of terrorism, essentially, in this country of any scale for five years. The absence, though, of attacks hardly means that the threat or the challenge has gone away. We’ve seen it elsewhere around the world— London, Madrid, Bali, Egypt—you name it. One has the regular events of terrorism on a daily basis in places like Iraq. And we had the events of last month and the successful law enforcement operation in the United Kingdom which, fortunately, precluded a massive terrorist event here.

All of this and this relative absence—the dogs that are not barking in the night—raises some interesting questions which we hope to tackle here today: Why there, why in places like London and not here in New York? What are the threats that New York currently faces? How prepared are we to defend against the next attack? If we fail to prevent it, how prepared are we to respond effectively in the aftermath, providing all sorts of aid to populations, dealing with so- called consequence management? And what can not simply the government but, as I look around this room, others do—individuals, the private sector, NGOs, and so forth—to protect themselves and to contribute to the collective security?

This is a complicated question. Everyone in this room, I expect, has been watching the media, hopefully you’ve been on cfr.org, and you’ve seen the regular debate about are we better off than we were five years ago. I’ve been asked that question more times than I can count. And at the risk of copping out, it’s a hard question to answer. And going back to my government days, it almost conjures up questions of net assessment, because one has to look at two things. One has to look at how the threat has evolved—and, clearly, the threat has evolved. It’s morphed, it’s changed. In some cases it’s gotten better, in some cases it’s gotten worse. And one also has to look at our capacities against the threat, which have also evolved, and I think have improved. But the question of, on balance, are we safer, is a complicated one, and it’s one that directly and indirectly we will be addressing today.

“This is a process, it’s not an event. And this is an issue that all of us have, shall we say, more than an intellectual stake in, and we hope this conversation continues. We hope that some of what is said today leads to some actions.”
—Richard N. Haass

We’re fortunate in who we’ve got addressing it. I won’t go through the program; you’ve got it in front of you. What we plan to do are take three separate slices of this problem. And what we thought we’d do is begin with the first slice, which was to deal with the threat. And we’ve got three expert analysts who can help us work our way through it. And they are in the very capable hands of Mr. Ross from ABC, who himself has done so much to enlighten his audience about what the situation is. But let me just say that the talent in this room today, as great as it is on this platform, now and in subsequent hours, is not limited to the platform; the talent is also in the chairs here. And we’ve been able to attract all sorts of experts, all sorts of resource people—to use that awful phrase; I apologize—who come at this from different ways. And I really hope that today is interactive in terms of bringing you all into the conversations.

We don’t claim to have a monopoly of the expertise up here, as you can see from indeed what people are wearing and you can see from faces you recognize. Again, people come at this from all sorts of perspectives with all sorts of expertises.

Let me just also say two last things, and then I’ll stop.

One is this is not the end of it—making New York safer—and suggest that this is a process, it’s not an event. And this is an issue that all of us have, shall we say, more than an intellectual stake in, and that we hope this conversation continues. We hope that some of what is said today leads to some actions, and then we will look to ways that we can continue to engage this—not simply conversation but hopefully actions.

And secondly, we will make a record of today available. It’ll be up on our website, cfr.org. We’ll have the audio and video packages of the whole thing. We’ll do a written summary of it. And then what we’ll also do is try to make it available to people who can’t be with us today. We will essentially get it out there to not simply participants, but to others who we believe could benefit from it, not simply in New York but as part of a much larger project we have here at the council to state and local officials and individuals with responsibilities around the country. Foreign policy is increasingly now the province of those who are not traditionally part of the foreign policy debate, and we are doing our best to bring them in.

So with that, Brian, over to you. And again, thank you all for coming here today. And let me in advance thank the other panelists who we’re going to be hearing from this morning for their efforts.

That last sound reminds me—of those of you who do have cell phones on, beepers, indeed, any such things—BlackBerries—if you could turn them off, that would be great or at least put them on vibrate. We do make exceptions for pacemakers, but not a lot more. (Laughter.) So if you could take care of that. I assume people have forgotten council protocol over the summer.

And one last thing, this is really our first event of the school year, so to our members in particular, let me say I hope you all had a good summer, and welcome back and get ready for what turns out to be our busiest month of the year here at the council.

With that, Brian, over to you.

BRIAN ROSS: Thank you very much.

Brian Ross, Richard Betts, R.P. Eddy, and Steven Simon

We are—(applause)—we are allowing liquids and gels for this meeting. (Laughs, laughter.)

Welcome to the opening session of today’s Council on Foreign Relations symposium. Our session will deal with the terrorist threat in New York. I want to remind everybody here that this meeting is on the record, and participants around the nation and the world are viewing the meeting on a live webcast, which is available on the council’s website, cfr.org.

My name is Brian Ross. I’m a correspondent with ABC News. And today the distinguished panelists—Richard Betts, adjunct senior fellow for National Security Studies, the Council on Foreign Relations, professor of political science and director of the Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University; R.P. Eddy, senior fellow for Counterterrorism, executive director of the Center for Policing Terrorism, The Manhattan Institute; and Steve Simon, senior fellow for Middle East Studies, the Council on Foreign Relations.

New York is hardly the only target of al Qaeda and other terror groups, but again and again in my reporting, it seems to be a prime target. We are the big bull’s-eye. We are the one that they seem to want most. And let me start by asking you, Professor Betts, why New York? Are we still a target? We’ve been hit once. Are they moving on somewhere else?

RICHARD BETTS: Well, the odds are that the answer is yes. New York, Washington, maybe a little further down the line, Los Angeles, and there are a few places that seem to be symbolically significant as symbols of American power and culture and all. So I don’t think there’s any reason to assume that it’s any lower on the list of targets that terrorists would seem to get a big bang out of. So I don’t think there’s been any change in that.

The change has been that it’s a lot harder for them to get at New York, and how much so, I guess, is what we’re here to try to figure out.

MR. ROSS: Mr. Simon, from the point of view of a terrorist in Afghanistan, Pakistan, somewhere, why New York? What is the target? What’s the message they want to send by hitting New York?

STEVEN SIMON: You know, there’s an old line about bank robbing. I think Willie Sullivan (sic/Sutton) was the bank robber. He made a great career out of this. And he was asked in—as he was looking back at the glow of his achievements why he turned to robbing banks, and he said, “Well, that’s where the money was.” And cities are where the adversary is for these people. And more than that, the cities are the—the cities are the replacement for the caves of Afghanistan. And this transition from caves to condos suites them very well.

So large cities in the United States, particularly like New York, would be ideal locations for these people, I would think. It’s the equivalent of “That’s where the money is.”

MR. ROSS: Mr. Eddy, any place in New York’s a good target or does it have to be city bank headquarters, the subway?

R.P EDDY: Well, one point that we—you’d probably want to differentiate before we get too far along in this discussion is, who’s the “they,” who are we talking about?

So if you think of—there’s a simple spectrum. And on one end, we have al Qaeda central, Osama bin Laden, those who brought us 9/11, and as that spectrum changes—and it has more towards today—we’re moving towards, yes, that’s still a threat, but we now have a more localized threat, homegrown threats. And we’ve seen that, of course, around the world and we’ve seen that in this country numerous times, although they haven’t been successful.

Each of those terrorist organizations or groups—and the fact that the homegrown threat in the self-radicalized Jose Padilla or Charles Bishop—there’s a whole list of them—are not going to have the same targets as al Qaeda central. They’re going to have different opportunities and different means.

So with that as a prelude, if you think about al Qaeda central, one of the structures that we came up with the New York Police Department was there’s three things they want to target generally. They want to have targets that have a massive economic influence, that have a massive press sort of coverage, and that have a large Jewishness to them, large Jewish population or something related. And so you get to the obvious targets: Wall Street; the World Trade Center, obviously, was perfect.

MR. ROSS: And those are the targets then of al Qaeda—(word inaudible)—and al Qaeda central?

MR. EDDY: Right. But then, when we talk about this new emerging and critically dangerous threat—the localized threat, the same people who blew up the subways in London, you know, will we have the same phenomenon here, and we’ve seen a lot of it—they have very—they have different target methodologies, not very different, but they’re different.

MR. ROSS: So Professor Betts, are some threats in a way more threatening to us? Can this city take one or two backpacks blowing up in the subway and go on, as opposed to the destruction of New York Stock Exchange?

MR. BETTS: There’s an important difference between the actual material effects of different kinds of attacks and how significant they seem to us psychologically. And for that reason, I think anything that concentrates a lot of destruction at one point, rather than sort of dispersing it through a lot of different smaller events over time, is likely to have more impact and be more appealing to them, and for that reason, as well as the fact that the thing that would make a terrorist attack really materially damaging in a significant way more than most terrorist attacks have actually been or be anything with any sort of weapon of mass destruction. People worry about nuclear weapons. I think that’s actually fairly far down the list, given the difficulties that terrorist groups would have in acquiring them in usable form. But biological or radiological sorts of attacks are a lot easier to contemplate, and those are the ones, I think, that should be the highest priority for doing anything possible to prevent this plot.

MR. ROSS: Even that more than five people at one time detonating backpacks on five different subways?

MR. BETTS: Well, that sort of thing happening in the subways or anything like it would be a tremendous shock, and people would care about it a great deal. But the actual effect, and also I think the psychological impact would be less. So it’s a matter of degree. Any of these attacks are going to be alarming and, you know, are a good reason for very strenuous efforts. But the ones we really haven’t seen that are still hypothetical are the ones, I think, that would still have an even greater and radically greater impact on people’s concern about terrorists.

MR. ROSS: Mr. Eddy, what can be defended against? Can you defend the subway?

MR. EDDY: You can, and there’s actually a whole defense sort of strategy that cities and the country need to begin employing. It has a lot to do with randomness. Our enemy is extraordinarily adaptable and smart, and we should never underestimate them and we do at our own peril. So when we—you know, the history is very obvious. You know, when the shoe bombs don’t work, they go to liquid bombs. Who would have imagined that box-cutters and aggression would take down airplanes on September 10 th?

So we have to realize that however high we make the walls of the castle, they will continue to build a catapult stronger. However deep we make the moat, they’ll be able to ford it more quickly. And that means we have to inject randomness into what we do. So for subways, for example, the random bag search that the New York Police Department put in place is a very good idea. If you’re a terrorist, you have a limited amount of resources, particularly suicide-bombers, and you don’t want to deploy them if you have an increased chance of it not being successful. So we need to place the correct defenses around the critical infrastructures in the city that matter. So if you think of the city as an organism, as a body—there’s a circulating system, there’s a nervous system—there’s other key points we need to protect, and frankly, there are other places that, if they are attacked, it would be a tragedy, but it may not be as lethal to the city or as much a body shot as other things.

MR. ROSS: Mr. Simon, let me ask you. How important for al Qaeda and other groups in line with it are anniversaries? In other words, September 11 th, five years later. Is that likely a time that an attack would be planned? Does it matter?

MR. SIMON: Well, you know, this group does mark anniversaries, but it does so really in a way that correlates to our own habits. Anniversaries are times for reflection, measuring one’s achievements, looking to the future, taking credit for things that have happened that are good, and mourning or rethinking things that have not worked out so well. So anniversaries are good for that purpose.

But more importantly, since we’re going to be on a higher alert, generally, on anniversaries—I think we take that for granted—is to return for a moment to the subject of chemical, biological and radiological weapons. And I’d like to do so because, as crucial as it is to focus on mass transit, for example, as a target that obviously exerts huge appeal for these attackers, there is in their discourse, in what they say to one another, a lot about the use of these weapons of mass destruction against their enemy.

And the way in which they discuss these tools varies. It’s not kind of a unitary story they tell. Some say that these weapons are the ultimate argument settlers, that these weapons are the key to a reversal of fortune that must come at this time. But you have others who look at these weapons in much more instrumental terms, much more practical terms, as simply instruments of asymmetric warfare. You know, “the other guy has got all these tools he can use against us, all these weapons he can deploy against us. Well, we’ve got something too that will really make a difference.”

Now, I agree with Professor Betts, actually, that should such an attack take place—and I would anticipate such an attack within the next five years—if—

MR. ROSS: An attack by nuclear weapons?

MR. SIMON: Well, I agree with Professor Betts in that it’s likely to be a small-scale attack in terms of its immediate human impact.

Can everybody hear me?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. ROSS: Yeah.

MR. SIMON: Good.

It’s likely to be a minor attack. It’ll be a radiological device that will have a contaminating effect on some area of the city, but its influence, its impact will go far beyond its immediate human cost in economic terms and in psychological and emotional terms. And that, in turn, has implications for social contract issues and the way in which our society evolves from that point onward, especially with respect to the large and growing Muslim community in the United States, assuming that the perpetrators came from that community.

So although I think the concern for customary targets is warranted, and R.P. Eddy has discussed some interesting and, I think, potentially effective ways of defending those targets, the CBRN thing is very troubling.

And I would add one more thing to the list of targets, since we were on that, and that’s schools. And I say this because of the prominence in jihadist discourse of child deaths. This is something that our adversary holds our feet to the fire about. They believe that we have deliberately targeted thousands of children, millions even, whether it was during sanctions in Iraq or in Palestine or what have you. And they have discussed the need to extract a penalty in terms of children’s lives from their enemy.

So this is something we also ought to think about, perhaps even in terms of weapons of mass destruction, given the likely psychological and emotional impact such an attack might have.

MR. ROSS: It’s interesting you mention that. Just one footnote in the tape released yesterday by al Qaeda: the opening scene, although it wasn’t broadcast by Al-Jazeera, was in fact a scene of that young Palestinian boy who was killed under Israeli gunfire. And that seems to be a continued motif.

And I was told recently by a CIA officer that in the questioning of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, they—before they gave him waterboarding and other alternative sets of procedures, as President Bush calls it, they threatened to take his children, who they had in custody, and do harm to them.

And his response was, “Well, that would be fine because then they’ll be with Allah.” He was not deterred by that. And it was only when they gave him the waterboarding.

So your question—your point there on the schools is quite chilling.

Do you agree with that, though, schools would be a likely target?

MR. BETTS: I think we probably don’t know what the next target will be. It may well be something that wasn’t even on our laundry list. Our capacity to be surprised by terrorists shouldn’t surprise us because they’re thoughtful, conniving people who try to out- strategize us.

So yes, schools might very well be a target for the reasons that Steven Simon says. There are probably a half dozen other things that they might think of would have a special significance too, and I think it’s pretty hard to predict what any one of them would be.

MR. ROSS: Let me ask you, are we sort of being too fancy here? We’re giving them credit for devising biological and chemical weapons, and coming up with radiological devices, when in fact, they probably—for the most part, use explosives and backpacks and box cutters that we’ve seen, and those have been very effective.

Are we over-thinking what they might do, Mr. Eddy?

MR. EDDY: I think that’s exactly right. We keep getting back to this question of who’s the “they”? So, if it’s al Qaeda central, Osama bin Laden and the people that are living in caves in Afghanistan, then we can, you know, maybe posit some sort of targeting ideology.

But—I hate to believe this, but I’m here to tell you I think the more likely terrorist in this country, or as likely in the next five, 10 years, is a 17-year-old kid who self-radicalizes on the Internet and decides he’s going to make a suicide bomb, which he reads about on the Internet, and he goes and blows up his Arby’s or his school or whatever it might be. Now, that’s this transition from the sort of “I want to create the caliphate” jihadist to “I’m a lot closer to the Columbine killer.” And it’s a movement towards nihilism, and it’s still terrorism, and it’s still a major threat, and it will still have very disruptive impacts, back to Steve’s great point about the social contract. So, if instead of—remember, Columbine was two kids, and they made bombs. Now, they didn’t call themselves “jihadists,” nor did they mention bin Laden. But Charles Bishop—I think he was 12 or maybe 14 years old—flew an airplane into a building in Tampa not long after 9/11. I think we all remember seeing the report, but remember, we didn’t hear much about it later. We now know that Charles Bishop, 14-year-old boy, took a Cessna and buzzed a Southwest Airlines flight before he put it into the building. He also buzzed the MacDill Air Force Base Command Center one foot off the deck before he put it into the building and killed only himself. Imagine if he had taken down that Southwest flight. If a 14-year-old kid—now, the FBI then said, oh, that wasn’t terrorism. Well, then by our definition of terrorism it wasn’t terrorism. Now we have to redefine what terrorism is. He wrote in his note, his suicide note—it was a very sad note of a 14-year-old boy who had no sense of self and was—as many terrorists do—feel. But he said, “Dad, I am doing this because I know you know Osama bin Laden was right.” His father was Muslim, his mother wasn’t. His parents were divorced. That’s not al Qaeda, but that can kill a lot of people; that’s a threat. And that gets to what al Qaeda is now, which is an idea of mass destruction that has moved all around the world and is a horrible virus.

MR. ROSS: Mr. Simon, is that somehow, though, less threatening, the sort of “Columbinization” of terrorism, if it’s one or two disaffected youth, than something sent to us by bin Laden in Pakistan?

MR. SIMON: Well, you know, there’s sort of a middle ground which one saw in the Madrid and London attacks, and possibly the German train conspiracy that was broken up, where you have the self- radicalized individuals, that R.P. Eddy described, establishing links with more organized and capable radical circles in places like Pakistan, which was an important link in some of these conspiracies. Now, when that happens, the relatively limited ambitions and skills of these self-radicalized youths can be up-gunned by their contacts back in Pakistan or wherever. This isn’t necessarily always the case, nor will it always be the case.

MR. ROSS: “Up-gunned” meaning?

MR. SIMON: Improve their skills, enhance their—both their ambitions and their capabilities. And, you know, that’s something to worry about, especially when you’re dealing, as, say, the British are, with large diaspora populations that have what some political scientists call “thick ties” to countries of origin, even after multiple generations of resident status in their adopted country.

So, you know, the self-radicalized individuals can be—can often be feckless and ineffective, as the July 21 st bombers were in Britain, or they can be relatively effective, as the predecessors on July 7 th were.

I’m particularly intrigued on this question by why there have not been car bombs in New York, because that’s such a weapon of choice of the urban warrior. And I think we have to accept the fact that the jihad as it’s evolved over the past number of years has turned into urban warfare. It’s evolved to urban warfare. It’s a war of the cities. And car bombs are the weapon par excellence of this kind of urban warfare. So that would be something I would be actually waiting for, which would not take a whole lot of competence, but a few of them going off every once in a while would have a significant effect, I would think.

MR. ROSS: So Professor Betts, why haven’t we seen that? We’ve seen it in Iraq. There was a huge one today in—

MR. BETTS: They probably can’t find a parking space. (Laughter.)

(Cross-talk and laughter.)

MR. ROSS: The sanitation service has saved us again.

MR. BETTS: I think one reason may be—and this is really impossible to judge, one can only guess at it, but one reason may be that we’ve been fairly successful at making it very hard for dedicated terrorists to get into New York and cause mischief. And we’ve been lucky that there are, so far, at least, fewer self-radicalized, domestically generated ones.

That part of the reason may be that, for all our fears, at the moment we may have relatively few individuals in the neighborhood who are motivated and capable to do this. But that may be temporary and just a matter of time. But in the roundups after September 11 th and the enhanced intelligence and police operations since then, we’ve probably done a fair amount to deter or to constrain people or to keep the ones who are here so busy looking over their shoulders that it’s hard for them to get something off the ground.

MR. ROSS: In dealing with the New York police, is there a sense, though, that there are groups that, if they had the ability to, would attack?

MR. EDDY: Oh, I think they believe that a hundred percent.

MR. ROSS: As we sit here today.

MR. EDDY: Absolutely. The thing that always strikes me is if you go back and look at the list of all the successes law enforcement and national security apparatus has had to protect this country, it’s a pretty extraordinary laundry list. And imagine, if that list had—if half of those attacks or 10 percent of those plots had been successful, how different the world would be today.

And half of the things on the list are things that are not even public discourse. They’re not classified, they’re just not discussed. There was a group in Lodi, California, arrested not long ago who planned to bomb synagogues and—machine gun synagogues and bomb recruiting centers. A very legitimate, real group. They would have done it. They were only stopped because a cop at a convenience store holdup kind of traced the dots back.

And there’s five stories like that. There are stories in Washington State, there are stories in upstate New York, there are stories in Detroit. There’s obviously this plot in Miami.

So we’ve been very good. We’ve been very lucky and we’ve been very good. And are there people out there who want to do this to us? Absolutely.

I want to just mention one point that Steve Simon was saying. Car bombs or truck bombs. And there is a middle ground, right? So there is the over-the-transom al Qaeda—who were perhaps behind this plane plot, perhaps not, certainly 9/11—who want grand, simultaneous, massive attacks. There’s your Columbine killers. But in between, you have people perhaps as capable as Tim McVeigh, who proved to be quite lethally capable, and they’re self-radicalized. And they don’t have to be 17, they can be 32.

MR. ROSS: We are doing a story Monday on ABC that I’m involved in in which we went out and bought, easily, a thousand pounds of ammonium nitrate, which is the fertilizer used as bomb material. There is no federal law, despite Oklahoma City, requiring registration, valid ID or anything of the sort.

It’s sitting right now in the storage shed in Washington, D.C., where we’ve had it. And if you go online, there are all sorts of very helpful videos that describe precisely how to make a bomb like that with materials you could buy at Amway (sp), Agway (sp).

MR. EDDY: That’s a critical point. Steve was referring to having some connection, the terrorists, to Afghanistan or Pakistan. I don’t know that that’s necessary anymore. You know, it’s all on the Internet. And not only can you go to websites and sort of see the dot-by-dot description, you can go to jihadist chat rooms and get radicalized and turned on and excited about being this suicidal killer.

MR. ROSS: Well, in addition to the car bombs, the truck bombs, the subways, New York is a huge port, and a giant airport, as well. The Port of New York, would that be considered, in your view, a prime target?

MR. EDDY: I’d say this at the great risk of Steve Flynn leaping across the dais and choking me, but I think that ports are a very real target in that they are a massive pump of our economic engine, and if they get shut down, there’s extraordinary impact.

But I kind of—I’m still not convinced that every container needs to be checked or that there’s this huge risk of all these unchecked containers coming in back to exactly your point—what would you bring in in a container you can’t buy here that you need to be a terrorist? I don’t know that—you know, that’s much of an issue.

MR. ROSS: A battlefield nuclear weapon stolen from a Russian brigade?

MR. EDDY: No. You don’t—hopefully, that—hopefully—those who (studied that?) in 1996 by the intelligence community that said that that rumor, that story—which most of us had accepted to be true—isn’t true, that there is not a large number of tactical nuclear weapons floating around, or that perhaps this study, I think, said there are none. So hopefully not.

And by the way, it’s—you don’t need a container for that. You can probably just—it’s not that big.

MR. ROSS: But there’s no doubt among the three of you that New York faces a threat?

MR. EDDY: Massive?

MR. ROSS: Massive threat? Would you say, Mr. Simon, a massive threat? Should we expect to be hit?

MR. SIMON: Yeah. I mean, as I was saying earlier, it’s all here for this particular adversary. You’ve got Jews and you’ve got the prospect for enormous—in the enemy’s view—enormous financial impact. Now, as we were just discussing, you could have a large financial impact by hitting, let’s say, a port installation or something like that. But for this particular adversary, perhaps because they’ve been steeped in the protocols of the elders of Zion or what have you, it’s still Wall Street that, you know, is the ticking heart of the American economy, and if that can be taken out, well, then, you know, you’ve dealt a devastating blow. So, yes, I’d say New York was still the gold standard.

MR. ROSS: Professor Betts, would you expect there’ll be an attack more likely than not?

MR. BETTS: Some sort of attack, maybe within five years or so. I don’t know that it’s highly likely that there will be a big one. And this is an important point—the sorts of attacks that are comparatively easy for terrorists of various types to bring off are the ones that we should worry less about, that is, a car bomb once in a while is an awful tragedy, but there are a lot of societies that have learned to adjust to that, and the actual material damage that they do is not that great compared to other sorts of risks that we normally accept, even though psychologically, it’s significant.

But a much bigger, spectacular attack would be a very different story. And in a perverse way, we may benefit a bit from perhaps the interest of some terrorist groups in mounting a spectacular because that’s a lot harder to bring off, and therefore, the harder it is for them to do it, at least the further out the probability the threat becomes.

So I think it helps to try to steel ourselves against the probability or, you know—dare I say it, putting quotations around it—“the acceptability of minor attacks,” given how hard it is to prevent those, and the much greater significance and the much greater efforts we should put towards trying to hedge against the more spectacular, highly destructive ones.

MR. ROSS: So we should prepare ourselves for minor attacks and just learn to live with the occasional car bomb?

MR. BETTS: Well, we do all we can to prevent them, but we shouldn’t be shocked if they happen. Unfortunately, that’s part of modern life in a lot of other countries, and it’s still shocking to us because in a sense we’ve been comparatively lucky.

Now, September 11 th was really a middle ground or more towards the mass destruction end because it was thousands of people all at once. But again, that’s very hard to bring off, whereas the bomb in the subway or the car bomb or even the small plane flying into the building is a lot harder to prevent.

MR. ROSS: And I suppose it’s for another panel to consider the implications of whether the people of New York would accept the monthly car bomb or not and what the response would be by—

MR. BETTS: I shouldn’t have used that verb.

MR. ROSS: But I mean, just—that would be really what you’re talking about, right, is that you’d have to be prepared to—

MR. BETTS: Well, if worst came to worst, I think people could learn to live with it if it’s something that happened once every six months and killed five or six people. It would be awful, but it would not be the same as a radiological weapon going off every couple of years and contaminating high-priced real estate and sending the economy into a tailspin.

MR. ROSS: Well, with that, let’s throw the session open to some questions from the audience.

I’d ask you, please wait for the microphone and speak directly into it. State your name and your affiliation, and try to limit yourself to one question and keep it as concise as possible so we can all get as many questions in as possible.

Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: I’m Kimberly Marten. I’m a professor at Barnard College at Columbia University. If we agree that we can do a lot to try to keep foreign threats out by improving security, homeland security, and if we agree that there’s not much that we can do about individuals who decide to radicalize themselves and do small-scale attacks, what about the middle ground that we’ve been seeing other places in the world where it’s a really pretty well-organized domestic group of radicalized Islam?

There’s an argument out there that says that the United States is less likely to face that than, for example, some European cities are because we have a social system that allows more social mobility and economic opportunity for young Muslim and Arab men, and therefore, we don’t have the kind of underclass that you see in the suburbs around some of the European cities. And I’m wondering what you think about that—if there’s something that’s different about the United States in comparison to Europe and some other countries.

MR. EDDY : One quick point I’d make is I don’t—I agree with your first premise, but I don’t agree with your second premise, which is that there’s not much we can do about the individual self- radicalized young man—however we’re describing the story. And I think there’s actually a very obvious real solution available to us that will have many other positive impacts other than just defeating this very real threat of terrorism coming from that self-radicalized individual, and that’s to use the 700,000 police officers in this country as counterterrorist entities, to use them as first preventers and not just as first responders.

And that’s a discussion that we’ve been having and we had yesterday with 15 police chiefs, and we’re having it with mayors. And we’re trying to work with them, and they’re trying to understand the fact that if—because they’re close to their communities, because they have the situational awareness about their communities, they actually may be able to stop this phenomena but not from a counterterrorism point of view, but more from a kids-who-kill point of view, more from a crime prevention point of view. And at the same time, as we’re building that intelligence capacity and that community policing capacity, we actually can also be driving down crime rates, which are now for the first time in a long time starting to go up.

And then, to your particular question, I don’t know if there’s a big difference between—and if that’s the point—between the Charles Bishop, who’s 12 years old and then Tim McVeigh, who’s 30 years old, and that presumably Tim McVeigh we’d say is a very legitimate lethal terrorist. He killed, I think—I don’t remember—over 80 people in a very spectacular attack if that’s something that—

MR. ROSS : Two hundred, yeah.

MR. EDDY :—yeah, way over 80, excuse me—that’s something that we want to prevent. I don’t know about the road between those two points is so long. I don’t know that a 17-year-old boy can’t do that.

MR. ROSS: But Steve, just to follow up to your point, is there a difference between what’s happening in London and certain European cities in terms of the people being brought into the society more here than in Europe?

MR. SIMON: Well, you know, this regards a whole lot, a whole passel of generalization, but by and large, Muslims and the United States are better integrated into American society than Muslims in Europe are assimilated into their adopted countries. I mean, in part this is due to the fact that Muslims began to arrive in the United States in the largest numbers in the 1850s and spread to a number of locations within the United States. I mean, the patterns of concentration and dispersion of Islamic settlement, Muslim settlement in the United States is significant in that way. And then, there were successive waves of immigration to the United States since then.

Apart from Britain and, of course, the Balkans, the Muslim presence in Europe is much more recent, and of course, the United States is a society predicated on the—not just the legitimacy, but even the desirability of immigration; so that, of course, is a difference between the United States and Europe in terms of its receptivity to individuals who are different. It’s also true that American Muslims are by and large much better off financially than European Muslims, and they’re much more represented in the professions; they’re very heavily represented in the professions.

Now, on the other hand, we can’t take all that much satisfaction in these things. We can’t become complacent because there is a growing body of statistical and anecdotal evidence that suggests that Muslims in the United States have been turned off in significant ways, especially since September 11 th, in part as a function of American foreign policy and in part because of the way in which the Patriot Act and other counterterrorism measures that were instituted in the United States have been implemented.

So as Americans, we need to think very carefully about this because this is a community, ultimately, on whose—on whom we will rely for our security.

MR. ROSS: So if we turn them off, we’re not doing ourselves a favor in that, yeah.

MR. SIMON: Not a good idea, really.

MR. ROSS: Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Andrew Huang from the School of Diplomacy at Seton Hall. In the talks, it seems that all the speakers agree that the weapons of potential mass destruction is a serious threat that New York City should face. But by using the term “CBR weapons,” you seem to all assume that these weapons should be treated with the same weight. And—but we all know there are significant variations between these different weapons.

So my question is, what kind of weapons or threats, biological, radioactive, chemical weapons, constitute a more immediate or a realistic threat this nation or New York City faces?

MR. BETTS : Well, there is the difference between the probability and the seriousness of consequences of any of these categories of so-called weapons of mass destruction. I think there’s a real question about whether most chemical weapons should even be considered in the category.

But I worry most about biological weapons because unlike nuclear weapons, which are highly destructive but very hard to get, biological weapons, if properly and efficiently employed—and that’s a very big if, because it’s hard to do so—have about as much potential killing power, but they’re comparatively easier to get.

I would put radiological weapons in between because they are not highly destructive in a material sense immediately, but they could have big economic effects. If they contaminate or are seen to contaminate a big chunk of Manhattan real estate, that’s—it’s going to have a major impact, especially people think about the prospect that it could happen again periodically.

So it’s much easier to get the sorts of nuclear material that would go into a radiological weapon. Much less destructive—it’s easier to get chemical weapons than nuclear weapons. The chemical weapons are much less destructive. By default, that’s why I worry most about the potential biological weapons. And there, I think, the best thing we have going for us is that to make biological weapons meet their maximum potential in killing power is relatively difficult in operational terms, to deploy them effectively.

MR. ROSS: Yes, ma’am?

QUESTION: I’m Tina Bennett from Janklow & Nesbitt Associates. I guess my question is about public education. I’m just always puzzled that given the unanimity of opinion among experts that another major or some kind of attack is likely in the next five years, that there is, as far as I can tell, essentially no public education.

For example, if there is a designated emergency radio station, neither I nor any of my friends know what it is. I think most people would probably tune in to 1010 WINS. But if that wasn’t there, no one would have the slightest of where to go or who to listen to.

Or if a quarantine needed to be effected, no one would have the slightest idea of what the protocol for that would be.

Given that the effects of an attack, I think, could be greatly magnified by a chaotic or panicked public response, why is there no public education?

MR. ROSS: Mr. Eddy?

MR. EDDY: That’s a terrific question. The answer is, there’s been a number of attempts at federal and state and local public education, most of which have been so successful as to—you’ve never heard of them. (Soft laughter.)

And there—but the good news is there are some public education campaigns going on in New York and LA particularly, and in some other cities, that are more targeted. And it’s not exactly what you were talking about, but these are education campaigns where the police departments are going out and they’re talking to people who sell ANFO, and they’re talking to people who sell rental spaces and who sell crop dusters and who sell model toys and who do apartment rentals, et cetera, and they’re saying to them and the security officers, “Here’s what you need to look for. Here’s how you can help us prevent terrorism.”

But as far as the challenge of getting the word out to the public after an attack happens, some smart police departments following the British model are bringing the press in for sort of a counterterrorism day, where they’re showing them, you know, some bells and whistles, and “here’s what we do, and watch us blow something up, and isn’t this cool? And by the way, if you hear us or someone say there’s been a radiological release, that is not a nuclear bomb, and let me tell you the difference and make sure you report that correctly. And by the way, if”—you know, et cetera.

And one last point I’ll make. On quarantine, if we should ever be in a situation where we need quarantine, we will be in such a world of hurt that it won’t matter that we need 1010 WINS. The laws about quarantine, about the state, local, federal responsibilities and the capacities to enforce a quarantine are so Byzantine and so poorly understood, and the capacity to do it is so nonexistent that it’s not even—I mean, that is a mess. MR. ROSS: Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Deroy Murdock with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation.

A question for R.P. To what degree has the NYPD, and also have other police departments around the country, reached out to Islamic communities, to mosques, people who attend mosques, and so on, and essentially asked them if they see something to say something? Has that been effective? And could that be done any better or differently?

MR. EDDY: There’s two—there’s been sort of two approaches at it. And the first was the extraordinarily ill-conceived approach by the FBI post-9/11, which was, you know, “calling all young Muslim men, we’d like to meet with you.” They literally did that, you’ll remember. And what happened was the young Muslim community, the Muslim community, was rightfully shocked and awed and embarrassed.

And that they did in Detroit, for example, is they came forward, a lot of them, and the mosque leaders, imams, said, “Well do this. We’ll meet with the FBI. But we’d like the Detroit police to be with us.” Well why? Because the Detroit police had built those relationships, they trusted each other. And these Muslims felt if the Detroit police are in the room with us, this will be a good thing.

And that gets to the second way this has been handled, which is by police departments, which has been much better. And the way it will work is not to come in and say, “Where are the bad guys? Where are the terrorists?” And “I’m only here to get you to be a snitch.” That’s not going to work because, again, you’re putting them in this position of, you know, we’re the alien other. And getting to Steve’s point, we don’t want to be doing that.

But what will work is to go into those communities and other communities and say, “We’re here to help you with issues you care about. I understand there was a purse snatching. Did someone break your window? And, How’s your car?” People don’t call the FBI when their cat gets stuck in a tree, but they call the local police. And so if the police can build those relationships, then that dialogue will occur. And that’s what the smarter police departments are trying to do. But it’s too far and—there’s not many doing it. I can think of two right now.

MR. ROSS: NYPD?

MR. EDDY: NYPD is doing it, and LA is doing it. I’m sure there’s a couple of others, as I say.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Al Puchala from Signal Equity Partners. The panel has addressed terrorist organizations like al Qaeda, has discussed self-radicalized individuals. Is there any risk of terrorist attacks from state-sponsored organizations, non-Arab states like Iran, maybe even North Korea? I understand Iran has a network in Iraq, ready to activate, of terror cells, if, you know, negotiations go back. Should we be worried that short of declared war, that states, potentially, either here or U.S. assets abroad, are targeted on terrorist attacks?

MR. BETTS: Yeah, I think there is. But I think that probably the biggest risk of that happening is in response to American provocation of some sort. The idea of an unprovoked attack by North Korea or Iran, while it’s quite possible, I think is not very likely.

That said, I have the sense that we have tended to underrate the capacity of so-called rogue states or (half-pint ?) enemies to target the continental United States. I remember in the run-up to war in Iraq, I personally was quite bemused by the utter lack of discussion of the possibility that the Iraqis might be able to bring us some sort of retaliation in this country. Difficult as it would be, I think there’s no reason to assume it’s beyond the capacity of these governments to do so. But again, their incentive to do so, to take the risk, really becomes most plausible in a situation where they feel under pressure or with less to lose than they would doing it with no immediate impetus.

QUESTION: I’m Irwin Redlener from Columbia University. I just wanted to make the point—I don’t think you are—but getting too sanguine about the issue of nuclear weapons and the possibility of actual detonations of nuclear weapons in the United States is probably quite real, in fact. Even notwithstanding the debate about whether or not loose nukes, there probably are, even though there’s maybe been some controversy about that.

But what there’s no controversy about is the amount of highly enriched uranium and plutonium that exists in at least 55 countries around the world, many of them not exactly our friends. And the ability—or the capacity to assemble a nuclear weapon, a nuclear device, with a very, very small amount of enriched nuclear material is, you know, very, very easily understood, and import it into the United States. And many, many scenarios, including those worked out by Homeland Security, have described exactly how very small amounts of nuclear material can be brought into the country and bombs assembled here. And I think the possibility, though, of deterring those is significant. We have technology that’s just not been implemented. We have the capacity, if we want to invest the money, to really do inspect—really inspect the containers that come in, et cetera.

So, I would just caution us that I think this is, as was implied by some of the panelists, a major problem for the United States, and I do think a lot more effort should be directed towards trying to detect and deter that particular threat in the United States.

MR. ROSS: We have time for just a couple more questions. Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Kevin Sanders, UNDPI. You have pointed out that a part of terrorism generally is to effectively use the infrastructure of the enemy; 9/11 involved only plane tickets and paper cutters. To a terrorist, any nuclear reactor is a nuclear bomb waiting to be detonated. Now, the nuclear industry maintains that all of the nuclear reactors in the United States would not be breached by a plane attack. That may or may no be true.

But more simply, surely, is all of the nuclear materials in the cooling pools around the nuclear reactors, that depend on a constant flow of electricity to keep them cool, and if they are not kept cool, they will explode. What is to stop a would-be terrorist from waiting until a weather forecast predicts a strong wind from Indian Point over New York, and then FedExing to Indian Point some hair gel or something that looks like hair gel, turns out to be a powerful explosive that would disrupt the flow of electricity to the cooling pool, causing an explosion and causing material to blow over New York that would not only cause thousands of deaths immediately and from long-term cancers but would actually damage human DNA for all future generations?

MR. ROSS: Plausible?

MR. BETTS: The problem is—this is plausible. The problem is there are too many threats that are plausible to really give ourselves confidence we can defend maximally against. The problem with nuclear reactors is a serious one, and we’re making big efforts to deal with them. There are critical bridges and other sorts of targets that, with a lot more effort, might be made by some margin less vulnerable, but it’s very hard, in some cases impossible, to make them completely invulnerable.

One of the basic problems in counterterrorism is that, in contrast to conventional warfare, where in most cases, all things being equal, the defense has an advantage over the attacker, in terrorism it’s usually the reverse because as long as the attacker can hide and choose the location and moment in which to invest and focus his resources, it’s a much more difficult game for the defender to cover every potential vulnerability.

So that doesn’t offer any solution. It’s, in a way, I think, a suggestion that at some level the problem becomes irreducible and all we can do is try to make the best judgments about where to target resources. But nuclear reactors, chemical plants, for example, that could disperse not only lethal but mutagenic chemicals of various sorts are another case of that sort. So I think, unfortunately, the last remark is something to worry about, and I hope that the transcript may edit it out if it’s distributed much more widely than this group.

MR. ROSS: Well, thank you very much, all three of you, Steve, R.P., Dick. Some sobering thoughts, I think. That I’d say each one of you expects there could easily be an attack, the threat is very real, it is diverse, it could come from anywhere, and we are somewhat prepared, but perhaps not fully.

Thank you very much.

(Applause.)

 

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