February, 2004

As we approach the third anniversary of 9/11, we are still confronted with a series of questions that need to be answered. The one that really confounds me is the HOW of 9/11. How did 9/11 happen? The other big one is WHY. Why did it happen. Let’s not go there; no one wants to. Getting to know how would be a step in the right direction.

Whenever something this awesome occurs, it is only natural that conspiracy theories are floated. In the case of 9/11, these range from the most probable to the truly bizarre. There are those that believe that the Americans masterminded the whole thing themselves. Some would have us believe that the Israelis did it; yet others blame it on the “hidden hands” within and outsideAmerica. There are those that suggest that the Russians are responsible; indeed one school of thought has gone as far as to suggest that it is the real estate mafia that needed the space in downtown NY to build something better and bigger!

Theories that range from the wildly imaginative to the most rational are always interesting. They fascinate us but we need to remind ourselves that reality is almost always very different from perception. Truth is elusive and one must sift through the huge volume of available information, conduct painstaking research and evaluation and temper it with ones’ own experiences in order to arrive at some semblance of truth. Let’s do so for 9/11.

Let us start with the known facts and build on them. The following are some statements that are universally considered facts.

  • Osama Bin Laden, a disgruntled Saudi National, was the mastermind behind terrorist training camps inAfghanistan.
  • He had formed and spearheaded a terrorist organization named Al-Qaeda.
  • The Taliban Government of Afghanistan was actively assisting him in this process.
  • These training camps had graduated large numbers of operatives which included “sleeper cells” placed strategically around the world.
  • Al-Qaeda had forged relationships with other terrorist organizations worldwide.
  • 9/11 was masterminded, planned and executed by Al-Qaeda.
  • 9/11 was the result of over two years or meticulous planning, funding, training, organizing.
  • Twenty young and outwardly normal Arab youths were involved in a complex scheme, orchestrated on a global scale. Only one individual failed to participate; nineteen carried out their assigned tasks.
  • The evil plan, brilliantly conceived, meticulously calculated, accurately executed was largely successful. Four aircraft were launched against four targets. Only one was intercepted; the other three reached their targets and wreaked havoc.

There is nothing patently wrong with this version of events. Indeed, the very large majority of the world believes this to be true. There is enough evidence that explains this sequence of events leading to 9/11 quite convincingly.

There is however, one major problem with this explanation especially when it is viewed almost three years later. And this is the problem that haunts me.

Until 9/11, everything Al-Qaeda did, indeed everything any Muslim freedom fighter/terrorist organization ever did, was mundane and pathetic. It does not take too much imagination to buy an airplane ticket, smuggle some form of weapon on board and then hijack an airplane. Nor does not take much planning or intellect to strap a bomb to ones’ waist and blow oneself up in an Israeli café. It does not take any major strategy or intense training to ram a rubber dinghy into the side of a parked ship. It requires no expertise to drive an explosive laden truck into a compound in Dhahran or into a military barracks inBeirut. It requires no special skills to launch a self-guided, hand carried Surface to Air Missile (and miss!) at an airliner taking off fromNairobi. No ingenuity is required in parking a car filled with explosives in front of the Karachi Sheraton and then blowing it up by remote control. Extremely little effort is required in shooting an American diplomat as he approaches his car in a residential neighborhood ofAmman.

This has been the hallmark of Al-Qaeda since its inception. Isolated, singular attacks, generally carried out by a lone operative acting independently and surreptitiously without any need for complex skills or intellectual ability. This has historically been the pathetic style of Al-Qaeda.

Pre 9/11 is understandable. There has to be a beginning. One has to start with the basics before graduating onto more complex things. 9/11 forces us to acknowledge that Al-Qaeda did succeed in that graduation. The planning, the preparation, the calculations, the coordination, the training, the need for skill, for funds, for teamwork with its attendant demands of dialog, meetings, synchronization, dovetailing, cross checking; all done with utmost secrecy, suggests a quantum leap in ability, a major alteration in philosophy, a gigantic shift in strategy and a qualitative improvement in the organization of Al-Qaeda.

What happened on 9/11 was no simple upgradation of capability. The actions of the nineteen hijackers and the considerable effort that supported those dastardly events are as monumental a jump in capability as gunpowder was to the bow and arrow. The metamorphosis of a terrorist organization capable of undertaking simple attacks of limited effect, into an organization with a highly sophisticated ability of thinking, planning and executing horrific acts indicates an attainment of maturity which should logically be an irreversible process.

It is this horrific truth that has to be the primary cause for terror. If Al-Qaeda and hence by Western definition, Muslim terrorists, have graduated to this sophisticated level, then we are in for a lot of trouble because this is a capability that cannot easily be countered. The world can therefore expect to see a lot more of 9/11s or worse. Because if an organization can create an intricate and multifaceted plan that has a gestation period of two years or more, then it would be horribly naïve to assume that there aren’t other equally, or perhaps more, destructive plans in varying stages of maturity. There should be absolutely no reason for us to believe that such developing plans aren’t as devastating and horrible as was 9/11.

Fortunately, we are forced to acknowledge that reality is otherwise. 9/11 sticks out as the proverbial sore thumb. It stands out as a mind-boggling act of terrorism in a vast sea of operational mediocrity. The events that have taken place in the years that have elapsed since that horrific day only serve to make the actions of 9/11 more prominent, more illogical, more questionable, simply because nothing even approaching that level of complexity and planning has since been demonstrated. Having brought down theTwinTowersin a highly sophisticated manner, Al-Qaeda has merrily reverted to its immature and mediocre self.

This is not understandable. The post 9/11 terrorist attacks are not understood. The Shoe Bomber, the Bali bombing, the Karachi Sheraton, theMadridtrain attack and a host of other acts of terror executed by “Al-Qaeda” post 9/11 are pathetic incidents compared to 9/11. None of these comes even close to the amazing level of complexity of the terrorist attacks of that fateful day.

These post 9/11 actions on part of Al-Qaeda can only mean one of two things; that the planners of 9/11 were brilliant enough to develop that complex plan but were stupid enough to have only one, singular plan to achieve whatever warped aim they had in mind.

There is only one other possibility; that the planners had more than one plan but these were spaced apart by more than two years.

If the former be the case, this is brilliant stupidity. Given this, we can safely relegate the expensive and, as yet, non-productive war on terror to the background. If however, the latter is true then we need to really brace ourselves for something horrible and devastating.

And this is where the conspiracy theory shows its merit. I find it unacceptable that “Al-Qaeda” (whatever that term signifies; Muslim terrorists, Freedom fighters, Mujahideen, Intifada, Hamas, Islamic Brotherhood, Jemiah Islamiah or indeed the latest addition to the group, disgruntled Iraqis) would make that qualitative and quantitative leap in sophistication just for one act and then go back to their earlier, puny ways of making their presence felt!

And, if “Al-Qaeda” is, in reality, only capable of individual, self destructive acts that have limited impact that cannot be termed ingenious in any manner, then 9/11 has to have been the work of some other organization.

There are, in my perception, only two organizations in the world that have the ability to plan and execute something as complex as 9/11. One is in theUnited States, unflinchingly patriotic aggressively American. It has its headquarters on the West Coast.Hollywood,California. Make no mistake about it! The American Motion Picture Industry has the wherewithal to execute something like 9/11 without much effort. But this they can do only within the studios, using intricate sets, amazing special effects and heroic stunt men This they could do (and shall do, once it is politically acceptable) for entertainment and for profit.

The location of the other organization is not known. One is easily tempted to point fingers at the White House, the Pentagon, Langley or a host of other US Government agencies. At the risk of sounding Tony Blairish, it is none of these. Indeed, each of these professional organizations is, more likely than not, an unwitting part of the arsenal for the group which has the vision, the capability and the resources to execute something as big as 9/11, a group that has planned far better and more impressive things in the past. If you wish to know of their other exploits, just revisit your history books. Start anywhere you like. If it is personalities that interest you, choose Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Nasser, Soekarno, Faisal, the Shah of Iran, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto or a host of other individuals whose views have conflicted with those of the group. If it is places you prefer, revisit Pearl Harbor, Auschwitz, Dachau, Berlin, Chernobyl, USS Liberty, East Pakistan, Osirak, USSR, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq. If events is your forte, go for Desert One,Watergate,Iran-Contra, BCCI, Enron, Parmalat. If you wish to peer into the future, keep a close eye on Hugo Chavez,Musharraf,Pakistan,Syria,Iran,Mexico,Saudi Arabia, the Internet, Air Travel, Immigration, Energy, the Food Chain.

Minds that orchestrate these chilling events operate on a different plane. They are spectacularly evil minds. Osama bin Laden, Mullah Umar, Hambali, Abu Bakr, wispy old men and frail clerics are simply not in that league. Al-Qaeda is simply a catchy phrase. An Iraqi defending his home is not a terrorist. An Afghani protecting his female is not a killer.