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[P]
Where is the Evil Mastermind?

By Paul Johnson in Op-Ed
Fri Sep 14, 2001 at 10:02:35 PM EST
Tags: News (all tags)
News

I've heard and read lots of pundits talking about the "sophistication" of the terrorist attacks. But it does not seem to me that much sophistication is required. This puts the whole "evil mastermind" theory in doubt.


In every James Bond movie there is a Chief Baddie masterminding the whole operation. The mindset of much of the analysis of the terrorist attacks I have read seems to be bent on identifying this person, who is presumably envisaged sitting in a bunker muttering "My agents have succeeded! Allah u akbar!", and maybe stroking a white persian cat at the same time.

The evidence for the existence of this person (Osama bin Laden seems to be the primary candidate in most minds) is the sophisticated planning required to execute the attacks. 4 airliners were hijacked, and three were flown into their targets. The fourth appears to have crashed after a counter-attack by passengers.

It seems to me that you need 3 things to execute this attack, none of which are difficult to manage:

  • Find 12-16 people willing to engage in a suicide mission against the US. I don't know exactly how hard this would be, but the Palestinian terrorist groups seem to have a steady supply of these people for attacks on Israel. This may have been the limiting factor in the attacks: if the terrorists had more people then they would have hijacked more aircraft. The other possible limiting factor was money: see below.
  • Get the agents on board the aircraft armed with knives. The use of knives is interesting: a knife is more concealable than a gun, and using a knife does not risk damaging the aircraft. According to this story on the BBC airport security on internal flights was very weak. I've never flown on a US internal flight. Could someone enlighten us as to the kind of security that was in place?
  • Finally you have to fly the aircraft to the intended targets and crash them. You could recruit pilots, but the intersection of the sets of large jet pilots and suicidal fanatics is hopefully very small. A better solution would be to train the hijackers on off-the-shelf flight simulators. In fact the entire operation could be rehearsed on such a simulator, including the identification of landmarks and trying a range of approach paths to the target.
The only part of this operation requiring any special knowledge or ability is the recruitment, and I suspect that within parts of the Palestinian community (and possibly others I don't know about) there are people who know enough other people to put this kind of operation together. Once you have the people, the only other obstacle is money. The largest budget item is going to be the tickets to America, and then the tickets on the internal flights that were hijacked. To people willing to give their lives, raising this amount of money is unlikely to be all that hard.

If the resources required are so small then the need for an Evil Mastermind to plan and resource the operation disappears. It seems more likely that the person who conceived and planned this operation died while executing it.

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Display: Sort:
Where is the Evil Mastermind? | 39 comments (32 topical, 7 editorial, 0 hidden)
The fuel tanks would still have been nearly full (4.00 / 4) (#2)
by AndrewH on Wed Sep 12, 2001 at 08:32:43 AM EST

The terrorists presumably chose flights heading towards California for the amount of aviation fuel that they were carrying.
John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr — where are you now that we need you?
Fuel Calculator (3.50 / 2) (#17)
by float1111 on Thu Sep 13, 2001 at 06:23:28 AM EST

As I hear it, the FBI has found evidence of a fuel calculator of some sort; So you draw your own conclusions.

[ Parent ]
Flight security (3.66 / 3) (#3)
by slaytanic killer on Wed Sep 12, 2001 at 08:34:23 AM EST

I've never flown on a US internal flight. Could someone enlighten us as to the kind of security that was in place?
Not great, just a routine metal detector. The runway workers are easily bribable.
It seems more likely that the person who conceived and planned this operation died while executing it.
If he worked for himself and didn't care about a cleanup plan, then maybe I agree. But most people are loath to lose their competent ones.

The more disturbing thing is that this guy is running around somewhere in the US, listening to reports. Hope he or she sees the people lining up to donate blood.

Not really true. (4.00 / 2) (#15)
by physicsgod on Thu Sep 13, 2001 at 02:15:44 AM EST

I've passed through the security checkpoints at DIA in Denver with my pocket knife, just put it in the basket. I was just dropping a friend off, but there's only one checkpoint between the parking lot and the plane. I imagine I'll never be able to do that again. Incidentally I was also able to tour the White House with the self-same knife in my pocket, though I think that was more a factor of fortuitous pocket loading.

--- "Those not wearing body armor are hereby advised to keep their arguments on-topic" Schlock Mercenary
[ Parent ]
Well, as far as the White House goes (none / 0) (#36)
by ZanThrax on Sat Sep 15, 2001 at 08:23:00 PM EST

one needs to keep in mind that there are a very large number of highly dangerous SS and Marines in and near the building.

Reasons are not excuses and retaliation is not justice.


[ Parent ]
Never again. (4.71 / 7) (#5)
by johnjtrammell on Wed Sep 12, 2001 at 08:51:12 AM EST

Yesterday's scenarios are far less likely to happen again.

Until yesterday, a hijacking meant that you got a free trip to Cuba. Now that the consequences are known to be a lot worse, there's less chance the passengers will sit meekly by.

Second (3.00 / 1) (#24)
by Anonymous 7324 on Fri Sep 14, 2001 at 01:14:12 AM EST

Yep, try that again any time this decade at least, and enjoy having all the passengers cut you up, with your own knife, no less, into one centimeter cubed chunks. :)

[ Parent ]
re: Second (2.00 / 1) (#31)
by more fool you on Sat Sep 15, 2001 at 09:55:23 AM EST

take the knife away and cut them into pieces with something blunt, like a spoon

[ Parent ]
weapons... (3.25 / 4) (#6)
by Danse on Wed Sep 12, 2001 at 11:48:04 AM EST

From the reports I've heard, it wasn't even knives in all cases, but box cutters. These use a simple straight razor, much like what you could find in a shaving kit. Seems like the sort of thing that would be a no-brainer to carry on with you. They don't look the slightest bit menacing.




An honest debate between Bush and Kerry
The cardinal problems are freedom and trust (4.83 / 6) (#7)
by Anonymous 242 on Wed Sep 12, 2001 at 12:38:34 PM EST

There is a singular aspect of life in the US that allowed the tragic events of yesterday to unfold: US society is built on a foundation that assumes that most people are good and can trust each other. The result of building on this foundation is a country where freedom exists to an almost unparalleled extent. (Please do not construe this statement to mean that the US is not without its own faults in the area of denying freedoms to individuals or groups, only that the extent of theses faults is an order of magnitude below most other societies.)

To secure against the type of attack against the civillian citizens of the US that occurred yesterday, one would have to deprive those same citizens of many freedoms. This freedom, as any network administrator will tell you, comes with a price: lack of security. If I leave the doors to my house unlocked, I have greater freedom. So do I also have less security. There is a tradeoff at work here.

Further, the type of attack that occurred yesterday is not likely to have been thwarted by most means of increased security short of a police state. The terrorists were reportedly armed with small knives and box cutters, hardly lethal weapons in most circumstances. It is conceivable that the same events could have unfolded with the perpetrators armed only with metal bars torn from carry-on luggage or even with their bare hands. Short of arming most of the plane crew and/or having heavily armed soldiers guarding access to the cabin and patrolling the aisles, this type of attack will remain highly unpreventable.

Lastly, as much as I dislike some aspects of being a US citizen and as much as I deplore some of the actions taken by my government that I see as being markedly similar to what these terrorists have done, I think the trade-off that the US makes is a good one. People have a tendency to live up to what others expect of them. In a society that only functions because we implicitly assume that people will do the right thing, people are more likely to continue to do the right thing. The alternative is to start down the path toward a morose police state. (Do note that I do not believe that traveling down that path is a slippery slope.) I think US society currently is very close to being at the best possilbe intersection of security and freedom (in terms of terrorist attacks and the like) and I will be saddened to see our freedoms diminished for the sake of security.

Regards,

Lee Irenæus Malatesta

Good Point (3.16 / 6) (#9)
by Arkady on Wed Sep 12, 2001 at 12:39:42 PM EST

I was thinking similar thoughts last night, and the obviousness of this certainly don't seem to have occured to folks in the "normal" media.

The only thing I find objectionable in your treatment here is the focus on Palestine. The majority of the people on this planet have legitimate reason to hate the U.S., or at least its government and financial rulers. For an enumeration of those reasons, AlterNet.org had quite a good piece going down the past 20 years and listing the atrocities the U.S. has committed around the world, though primarily focused on the military and CIA.

It makes sense, though, that when peaceful marches in the street demonstrably don't change the U.S.' behavior some people will move on to more direct means, and Palestinians are only one (quite small) group of folks with reason to do this sort of thing.

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


US airport security (4.57 / 7) (#10)
by Anonymous 242 on Wed Sep 12, 2001 at 12:57:43 PM EST

Up until yesterday, security for US internal flights consists of walking through a metal detector and putting any carry-on luggage through an x-ray machine via a conveyor belt.

A few notable items:

  • The metal detector is not calibrated to pick up certain metals (such as titanium) that are commonly used for medical implants. I've a fried who has both knees replaced with metal. Once upon a time she used to set off airport metal detectors, not anymore.

  • Staff is seldomly overly concerned about people that do set off the metal detectors. I almost always wear steel-toed boots. After setting off the alarm, I'm waived over with the "magic wand" that chirps at the eyelets on my pants and screams at the toes of my boots. I've never been asked to take off my boots and I've often wondered just what I could get away with hiding in a pair of boots that are 2 to 3 sizes too large.

  • Certain classes of people (such as people in wheelchairs) are searched lackadaisically and haphazardly. My wife uses a 200+ lb motorized wheel chair. To date, when going into an airport, she has yet to have any airport staff ask to look inside the battery compartment. (For a point of reference, her wheelchair is powered by two batteries the size of heavy duty automobile batteries. It seems to me that it would not be all that difficult to modify the chair to run off of one battery and have space to hide no small amount of contraband.) Sometimes her day bag on the back of the chair is not even searched. The "magic wand" is next to useless because the frame of her wheelchair is constantly setting it off. Nor is she frisked or hand searched to any notable extent.

  • Knives with blades of under 4 inches are allowed to be carried onto planes per the FAA. Individual airlines might have further restrictions, but carrying pocket knives onto a plane is not seen as any big deal.

And this doesn't even touch what happens behind the scenes. . .

Regards,

Lee Irenæus Malatesta

Metal Detectors (4.33 / 3) (#12)
by Karmakaze on Wed Sep 12, 2001 at 01:58:26 PM EST

  • The metal detector is not calibrated to pick up certain metals (such as titanium) that are commonly used for medical implants. I've a fried who has both knees replaced with metal. Once upon a time she used to set off airport metal detectors, not anymore.
Actually, that's not quite true to my experience. I have titanium implants (dental, silly!). Since the surgery, I've set off every airport metal detector I've walked through.

Admittedly, all I need to say is "I have metal implants" and I get a cursory pass with the hand-thingy and waved through. Newark is the only airport that actually asked *where* the implant was and seemed actually vigilant about checking that. (I deliberately don't mention unless I'm asked, because I like to see if they're careful enough to ask.)


--
Karmakaze
[ Parent ]

In addition... (4.00 / 3) (#16)
by Greyshade on Thu Sep 13, 2001 at 06:13:06 AM EST

Box cutters are not that thick and can easily be stored in a standard billfold, which security has you place in a basket when you empty your pockets (of metal like keys and change) and the wallet itself is never investigated. A sufficently thin knife could be concealed in a similar manner; or, as indicated before, concealed in a boot and caim that the boot had steel toes or soles.

[ Parent ]
I expect (4.00 / 3) (#19)
by Anonymous 242 on Thu Sep 13, 2001 at 08:29:04 AM EST

A sufficently thin knife could be concealed in a similar manner; or, as indicated before, concealed in a boot and caim that the boot had steel toes or soles.
I expect that next time I go to the airport I'll have to take off my boots and feed them down the conveyor to be x-rayed. This will be inconvenient, but I don't consider such unreasonable by any measure.

If I start to get patted down and/or strip searched on a regular basis, I will object. I'm a married man. I don't like getting felt up by anyone other than my wife.

Regards,

Lee Irenæus Malatesta

[ Parent ]

Missing one important factor... (3.77 / 9) (#11)
by chipuni on Wed Sep 12, 2001 at 01:20:09 PM EST

It took someone who knew how the Twin Towers were built to destroy them. From what I understand, the airplanes strike did not destroy the towers; it was the flames inside that destroyed them.

In the previous terrorist attempt to destroy the Twin Towers, terrorists used explosives in the basement of the building. They have since learned better. The real evil mastermind behind the operation was a structural engineer.
--
Perfection is not reached when nothing more can be added, but only when nothing more can be taken away.
Wisdom for short attention spans.
We have nothing to indicate (4.25 / 4) (#13)
by ZanThrax on Wed Sep 12, 2001 at 02:22:03 PM EST

that the terrorists had any intention to destroy the buildings in such a non-direct manner; I personally will assume that the destruction-through-massive fire was simply a horrible side-effect of the actual attack.


No witty sig today. Even I have respect for the dead.


[ Parent ]
to the contrary (3.20 / 5) (#20)
by Boldra on Thu Sep 13, 2001 at 10:51:05 AM EST

IMHO the lack of any credible source claiming responsibility for the events is a strong indicator that the terrorists did not expect the collapse and consequent enormous loss of life.

Quite possibly the surviving terrorists were sitting in their sleazy Hamburg apartments watching CNN, their fists in their mouths and their eyes popping out, muttering, "oh shit, oh shit..."


- Boldra
[ Parent ]
Impact.. (3.25 / 4) (#27)
by DeadBaby on Fri Sep 14, 2001 at 03:29:19 AM EST

I think that's a good theory. I mean, this Bin Laden guy doesn't sound stupid. You can't expect to level the WTC towers and possibly kill 50,000 people under ideal strike conditions and have the US not track you down and kill you.

In fact, I can't see how if this had happened to ANY country the world wouldn't unite and track the people down.

It's either a trap to get US troops on the ground or a fluke the attack was so successful.
"Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us." - Carl Sagan
[ Parent ]
Well, if someone wanted to get the US (5.00 / 1) (#35)
by ZanThrax on Sat Sep 15, 2001 at 08:20:30 PM EST

to commit to a ground war, this may be enough to do it. Most of us have some concept of the incredible cost of a ground war in Afghanistan (assuming that bin Laden is behind it, and the Taliban doesn't hand him over when they see that the US is willing to obliterate them if they don't). I wonder if the average american citizen understands how many soldiers would be coming home draped in a flag if the US tries to fight a war in Afghanistan?

Reasons are not excuses and retaliation is not justice.


[ Parent ]
Ground War Unlikely (3.00 / 1) (#39)
by MemeTransport on Mon Sep 17, 2001 at 04:07:47 AM EST

Well, if someone wanted to get the US to commit to a ground war, this may be enough to do it. Most of us have some concept of the incredible cost of a ground war in Afghanistan.[...] I wonder if the average american citizen understands how many soldiers would be coming home draped in a flag if the US tries to fight a war in Afghanistan?

I think a ground war in Afganistan is very unlikely. The American DoD has the 10 year lesson of why, courtesy of the Soviets. If that isn't good enough they can go get slapped around by a British historian.

What is much more likely in Afganistan and elsewhare is rapid commando/hit-and-run attacks that don't waste soldier's lives holding on to land the USA doesn't want. The catch is they will need forward bases to do this. They will have to protect/hold that land. That's where the battalions come in...

[ Parent ]

on the contrary (2.83 / 6) (#21)
by cicero on Thu Sep 13, 2001 at 06:17:27 PM EST

I would actually be very inclined to believe that the fact that the planes were all cross country flights (and would therefore be full of fuel) is great indication that whoever perpetrated these attacks had every intention of seeing these buildings collapse. it was the burning fuel that melted the supports, fuel that was burning for almost an hour in each wtc building. had smaller, commuter planes been hijacked, say boston to dc, they wouldn't have had nearly as much fuel and consequently probably wouldn't have burned hot enough or long enough to melt the supports.


--
I am sorry Cisco, for Microsoft has found a new RPC flaw - tonight your e0 shall be stretched wide like goatse.
[ Parent ]
I think maybe I should clarify (4.00 / 4) (#23)
by ZanThrax on Fri Sep 14, 2001 at 01:00:06 AM EST

I don't think that the terrorists intended to destroy the buildings by melting the supports; I think they were simply hoping to knock them down, or at least break off the tops. My suspicion is that the choice of fuel-laden planes was made in hopes of creating maximum initial damage (i.e. they expected a really big blast).

Before flying off the handle over the suggestion that your a cocksucker, be sure that you do not, in fact, have a cock in your mouth.
[ Parent ]

Agree (3.66 / 3) (#34)
by pistols on Sat Sep 15, 2001 at 12:38:30 PM EST

Possibly. It seems to me that with the strikes near the top of the buildings, the intention had been for everyone within view to see the top of the wtc destroyed. The US would then have the choice of A) Repairing the building, but no one would want to go there anymore, or B) Demolish it. As it turned out, the building demolished itself :P Whether this was intentional or not, I think we'd have to ask the planner.

[ Parent ]
A structural engineer (3.85 / 7) (#14)
by Laurel on Wed Sep 12, 2001 at 07:28:03 PM EST

The fact that Osama bin Laden has a degree in engineering and that his $30 million dollar fortune comes from a construction empire in Saudia Arabia should not be discounted or overlooked.

[ Parent ]
Osama Bin Laden ... (4.50 / 4) (#28)
by dvNull on Fri Sep 14, 2001 at 04:15:36 PM EST

...
(1) is a civil engineer
(2) had $250 million dollar fortune when he left Saudi Arabian ..

So yes, the knowledge and funding can come from him.

Plus the planes were hijacked after they had taken off. Modern airplanes are pretty easy to fly, so as long as the hijackers had rudimentary knowledge on calculating and planning a flight path they didnt need a pilot with 20 years experience to pull this off. Afghanistan's national airline has 3 Boeing aircraft so they could have even had their initial training there and the remainder from the flight school in Fla.



If you can see this, then the .sig fell off.
[ Parent ]
Hit them in the middle.. (3.40 / 5) (#26)
by DeadBaby on Fri Sep 14, 2001 at 03:26:23 AM EST

I mean what are your choices?

The top: Lots of damage but 95% of the people in building can escape. It sounds to me that a massive fire near the top of the building wouldn't have caused a colapse and common sense would back that up.

The bottom: it would be almost impossible to have managed to get the plane into a nose dive while moving around various buildings. Lots of damage but very hard to pull off. Probably even impossible.

What's left? The middle.

"Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us." - Carl Sagan
[ Parent ]
Hits were in the top (4.50 / 2) (#32)
by paulT on Sat Sep 15, 2001 at 12:19:51 PM EST

The top: Lots of damage but 95% of the people in building can escape. It sounds to me that a massive fire near the top of the building wouldn't have caused a colapse and common sense would back that up.

Except that first hit was in the top fifth of the building and the second in the top third of the other building.

According to experts I've heard talking about the attack, the massive fires in the top of the building did cause the collapse and without the collapse most people not in the impact areas would have survived.

Steel loses its structural integrity at extreme heat and the weight of even 20 floors collapsing onto the rest of the structure caused the whole thing to drop straight down.

It is worth noting the above expert said if the hit had been lower even more damage could have been caused because the buildings would have fallen over rather than down.



--
"Outside of a dog, a book is probably man's best friend; inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." - Groucho Marx
[ Parent ]
On the right path (3.00 / 4) (#25)
by egeland on Fri Sep 14, 2001 at 01:52:01 AM EST

I think you are on the right path with your 'no mastermind' theory, but I don't believe it enough to be convinced.
I doubt that anyone conceiving this idea would be willing to die before seeing the mayhem it has caused, and for this reason your theory fails to move me.
As with a LOT of comments and stories, bin Laden is assigned blame without supporting evidence. Isn't it the 'american way' to assume innocence until proven guilty?

--
Some interesting quotes
Cells (4.66 / 3) (#33)
by paulT on Sat Sep 15, 2001 at 12:29:53 PM EST

I doubt there is any one person who masterminded this simply because it is not the way terrorism operates. Like all successful resistance movements terrorists work in small groups.

What bin Laden's role has been is to provide a breeding facility to forge the elements of terrorist cells and send them out into the world equipped to do the job. He provides training, money, and inspiration, but it is highly unlikely he is involved in actual planning except to suggest targets and methods.



--
"Outside of a dog, a book is probably man's best friend; inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." - Groucho Marx
Absolutely on the money! (3.00 / 2) (#37)
by Rainy on Sun Sep 16, 2001 at 07:15:26 AM EST

This has been on my mind lately, too. Media keeps telling us there had to be an amazing amount of planning and sophistication involved in this. But let's look at the facts:

They need 18 people - there's hundreds of militant organizations in the world who could put up that many, easily. Bin Laden alone is rumored to have at least a few hundred, up to 3 thousand.

Pilot training - 4 people had to know how to fly a plane into the building - not land it, not take off, just crash it. Four of them could easily have been to flight schools, and to learn the landscape, they could have taken helicopter tour in manhattan, for instance and used flight sims to learn the area near Washington. Could any of the hundreds of militant groups have much trouble with this? Nah.

Money - tickets to US for 18 people, flight school fees (that are fairly cheap here in US), and tickets to target planes. This is the only requirement that narrows down possible perpetrators a bit. But not much - you're talking about a hundred thousands or so - these same 18 people could have made that money working at a department stores as clerks for god's sakes!

Weapons - apparently, terrorists simply concealed knife-like objects during airport security check. They could have been made of hard types of wood, or ceramics. There's nothing particularly sophisticated about this.

Takeover - reports indicate terrorists threatened torture of flight attendants to gain access to the cabins.

And finally - this was specifically noted on tv that attacks were extremely well synchronized. Ummm.. come again? If that was so, planes would be hijacked within 5 minutes of flight from targets all 4 at the same time, and they'd all crash into them after these 5 minutes of flight. That would be synchronisity. You know, make it 10 minutes, even. As we all know, the 3rd plane crashed into pentagon about an hour after the first plane, and the 4th didn't make it to its target at all because passengers had the time to find out about attacks via cell phones and mount a counter-attack. If government knew what it was doing, 3rd plane wouldn't even reach the target, as it's beacon was turned off at about the time of the first attack (correct me if I'm wrong) and even though jet fighters were shadowing the 3rd plane as reports say, they didn't get there in time.

This is perhaps the most shocking thing about this catastrophe - it was quite easy to do and it never occured to anti-terrorist US forces to plan for this. The reason this doesn't get mentioned right now is simply because the country is shaken up too badly as it is, they can't just say, "whoops.. you pay us billions in taxes and we can't even stop 18 arabs with knives from blowing up pentagon and two biggest skyscrapers in NY - sorry". Unless I'm missing something here - I wish I was - but am I? No - FBI is too busy tracking down weed shipments.
--
Rainy "Collect all zero" Day

Re: maximum fuel (none / 0) (#38)
by Rainy on Sun Sep 16, 2001 at 07:28:57 AM EST

One thing I forgot to account for is that there was a lot of fuel on board which could have been an intended ploy to get WTC towers collapsed. I must say that there is no reason whatsoever to think so: pretend for a second that you are planning an attack of this sort, what do you want? You want it to be as big, as spectacular, as loud and as destructive as possible. You have a choice of picking a plane with little fuel or with a lot of fuel. How much trouble do you have to go through to determine which one's which? Check the destination. If it's California, it has to have a lot of fuel. This is a no brainer, a 5 year old could solve this one.
--
Rainy "Collect all zero" Day
[ Parent ]
Where is the Evil Mastermind? | 39 comments (32 topical, 7 editorial, 0 hidden)
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