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February 19, 2010

Anti-Government Terrorism? - Austin Tx Suicide Plane Crash

There is a long litany of names, some more well known than others, that are connected to our recent history of domestic or international terrorism. Since yesterday morning's shock of seeing a single engine Piper Cherokee crash into the side of Echelon I building in Austin Texas there have ensued debates of whether or not Joe Stack was a terrorist because he flew his plane into a building where the IRS had offices and that he clearly had anti-government sentiments.

I spent a good portion of the morning transfixed watching a live feed from the scene as the black smoke rose and the commentary soon built a story of a man who had earlier torched his home (with his wife and daughter still inside), to his "manifesto" railing on his personal problems with the IRS and bad CPAs, to his final act of flying his plane into the side of the building. Clearly, this was no accident. Stack's suicide act was purposeful and premeditated. One point noted during the day was that the Echelon complex, and Building One that was hit is not actually a federal building, although it does house federal employees of the IRS and the FBI (in a different building).

The general consensus now was that he acted against the government and that by the literal definition of terrorism (from the FBI), Stack acted as a domestic terrorist.

"Domestic terrorism is the unlawful use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual based and operating entirely within the United States or Puerto Rico without foreign direction committed against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives."

Yes, Stack used his plane as a weapon. I'm not so certain that he had an agenda other than his personal gripe with the IRS. I also doubt if he acted as part of a group, even though it was reported that a white supremacist group did refer to him as a "White American Patriot." Does that make him a "lone wolf" terrorist? There have also been parallels drawn between the suicide by plane yesterday in Austin with the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001 (NOTE that the prompt actions of Emergency Responders, police and fire in Austin, and local citizens, clearly minimized what could have been a major loss of lives. One person, an IRS employee died in the crash and two people were injured. Had Stack struck the actual IRS facility at a different location, the numbers could have been frightening.).

This piece would not be being written or posted here were it not for a comment that I saw this morning that his "manifesto" somehow justified his actions (while the reasons are unclear, it has been removed from his web site).

One highly opinionated local radio commentator ranted on and on that Stack and bin Laden were no different. My personal opinion is that that "equivalency characterization" of Joe Stack blurs the line and makes it harder for the general population to understand just what it is that we are fighting when we talk about the Global War on Terrorism (or is it the Global War on Violent Extremists, or the Overseas Contingency Operation).

In a series of postings on Twitter yesterday, many people wondered about the distinction. This brief exchange occurred between myself ("JF") and noted terrorism expert Daveed Gartenstein-Ross ("DGR" and who among his many other distinctions, is a member of the Board of Advisors of the Center for Threats Awareness).

JF to DRG: RT @DaveedGR Headline on white separatist hub http://podblanc.com/: "Joseph A.Stack - White American Patriot" ~~~ Opportunistic anti-govt

JF to DRG: Literally Stack was a lone terrorist who used his plane as a weapon vs the IRS - But its more like OKCity than Ft. Hood.

DGR to JF: Maybe OKCity is an analogue in motivations, but not operationally. There, best analogue is Charles Bishop http://bit.ly/bOvi1z

JF to DRG: I'd forgotten about Bishop. Now remember when it happened many thought it another Sept. 11th attack (Bishop supported bin Laden).

JF to DRG: I was referring to motives. But you are of course correct. I'm still not sure I'd agree his was an act of terrorism vs desperation

DGR to JF: It can be both terrorism and desperation. Often terrorism is. His suicide note makes clear this was a political act.

Over the last few decades, the United States has experienced multiple terrorist incidents (some will be inadvertently missed). There was Unabomber Ted Kaczinski's manifesto. Kaczinski clearly had a longstanding anti-government and anti-business agenda. Stack was a pissed off, disenchanted software engineer who lived in a nice home in a nice neighborhood. Then, of course, you have the series of anti-government, anti-abortionist, Christian identity terrorists like Eric Rudolph. Joe Stack was no Eric Rudolph in actions or motives. There was the 1995 attack by Terry Nichols and Tim McVeigh on the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, and today, some people are drawing parallels to Stack's flight into the Echelon Building because of the connection to the IRS. Maybe, luckily for us all, Stack wasn't anywhere near as successful at his deadly attack as McVeigh and Nichols. Another parallel is Charles Bishop the fifteen year old admirer of Osama bin Laden who flew a plane into an office building in Tampa in January of 2002. And most recently, there was the murderous rampage of Nidal Malik Hasan who killed 13 and wounded more than 30 others at Ft. Hood in November.

All of these are considered acts of terrorism. Yes, there are parallels between what Joe Stark did yesterday in his attack on the IRS Audit Center in Austin and with Oklahoma City and even, if the comparison relies on an airplane flying into a building, September 11th.

Personally, and recognizing that people more wise than I may disagree, I think that calling Joe Stark a terrorist glorifies what he did. Was yesterday a justified act by a desperate man? To that, I say a definitive no! Was it an act of terrorism? By the literal definition, yes it was. But in reality, I believe that Stark was an angry man who had a tax problem and who owned a private airplane.

February 14, 2010

Fatwa Issued Against Full Body Scanners

After the Christmas bombing was interrupted, calls for more intrusive airport security, including the use of full body scanners increased. Now, in what could become a controversial issue, the Fiqh Council of North America, a group of Muslim scholars, has issued a fatwa against the use of full body scanners saying that their use violates Islamic rules of modesty. In many ways, this makes sense, especially given all of the previous objections to the full body scanners and the detailed anatomical images that they produce.

Oddly, the alternative being urged by the Fiqh Council is for air travelers of the Muslim faith to be subjected to a "pat down" by a TSA security agent. This begs the question of whether a non-Muslim security agent would also be violating the rules of modesty, especially when "patting down" a female traveler.

Assuming that there is a desire to respect religious beliefs and sensitivities of Muslim air travelers (as rightfully expected), how does it reconcile with air safety?

February 10, 2010

New WTC Photos & Terrorist Trials

After you look at these photos just released by ABC News through a FOIA request, you decide if treating the September 11th terrorists as "persons" deserving of the rights afforded in criminal courts is the "right" thing.

Then consider that the Administration is still "thinking about" holding the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in NY City, despite overwhelming contrary opinion.

In fact, the question remains, although not too widely discussed or debated, of why KSM and his al Qaeda cohorts should be treated any differently than the Nazi U-Boaters who were captured and tried in a military tribunal and denied access to the courts.

Each of the Nazis were born in Germany, had lived in the U.S. but gone back to Germany from 1933-1941 to attend sabotage school and landed off of Long Island on or about June 13, 1942, carrying a supply of explosives. Before being taken into custody by the F.B.I., their mission had been to destroy war industries and war facilities in the United States.

Although there are legal experts who argue its relevancy to the September 11th terrorists, the case is known as EX PARTE QUIRIN, 317 U.S. 1 (1942)

One of the keys is whether we are considered to be at war. Ask whether the War on Terrorism exists. At least one answer to this can be found in this article, Good News About GTMO and Bagram from the Jurist of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law written by Jeffrey Addicott of St. Mary's University School of Law. The issue is complicated and further conflicted by the wavering positions of the Adminstration.

Under the rule of law associated with armed conflict, all al-Qa'eda and Taliban detainees are unlawful enemy combatants or "unprivileged enemy belligerents", as the recently passed 2009 Military Commissions Act labels them. As such, these individuals are not entitled to Miranda rights, nor are they entitled to the special protections associated with prisoners of war.

Look again at those pictures.

San Antonio Emerges as Cyber Security Hub

Over the last few years, there has been a developing trend of cyber security activities in San Antonio Texas. Today there is a growing technology base in the Alamo City with a number of small companies combatting cyber attacks, a major and expanding cyber program at the University of Texas - San Antonio, the recent locating of the Air Force's 24th Wing and a contingent of other government agencies working the issue.

Just yesterday morning the local chapter of Infragard featured a session presented by a major government consulting firm on how an attacker can compromise a user's system by injecting malware onto one work station, take over the operation of the computer or server, and essentially steal everything from a possibly unsuspecting victim. As my colleague Michael Tanji knows better than I, this is a serious problem. Each day there is a new article about another cyber incident and the threat comes from domestic and International sources.

February 8, 2010

Anwar The American: Just One Question

An editorial in Investors' Business Daily sums it up: Enemy No. 1: Anwar The American. They are talking about Anwar al-Awlaki, the American mouthpiece and top English-language recruiter for al-Qaeda who found himself more comfortably in Yemen than America after 9-11. The IBD editorial takes no prisoners with its open.

Upstaging Osama Bin Laden as the most dangerous man in the world may be an American recruiter for al-Qaida: Anwar Awlaki. So why's he talking to Al-Jazeera instead of interrogators? (Emphasis added.)

Any other questions?

You can read the rest if you like. You should actually.

But please, let me know when you can answer the first question.

Because I got nuttin'.

From Russia With Love: "NATO Our Greatest Threat"

A interesting and important update to today's DailyBriefing. The ink's not even dry on the French deal to sell Russia helicopter carrier warships and President Medvedev declares NATO a "threat."

5. As France finalizes deal to sell Russia helicopter carrier warships, President Dmitri Medvedev declares NATO "Russia's greatest threat" and welcomes leaders of the Palestinian terrorist group HAMAS to the Kremlin.

Russian President Medvedev declares NATO to be Russia's 'Greatest Threat' - The News (Poland)
France Agrees to Helo Carrier Warship Sale to Russia - Reuters
OpEd: No reset, no restart -- no deal with Moscow - Washington Times
Hamas' Top Leader Visits Moscow - New York Times

That French deal looks smarter by the day.

And note Russia welcoming Hamas' senior leadership to Moscow today. Just for amusement, the observant might also note that Iran's Supreme Leader welcomed the top leadership of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Tehran today as well.

Iran Supreme Leader Meets Palestinian PIJ Terror Leaders: Praises, Predicts Fall of Israel - Tehran Times (Regime-run)

Surely there is an amply nuanced rationale explaining away the friends of friends and enemies of enemies appearance. Surely.

Nuance is overrated. Believe what you see.

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