Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Original 9/11 plot also a study in organizational management

Here's WashPost coverage of the 9/11 Commission findings on the extent of the original attack plans, which included up to 10 planes headed for targets on both coasts. Of particular note, however, is this description of an unfulfilled part of the plan:

"The centerpiece of his original proposal was the tenth plane, which he would have piloted himself," it says. Instead of crashing it in a suicide attack, Mohammed would have killed every adult male passenger on the plane, contacted the media from the air and landed the aircraft at a U.S. airport. Then he would have made a speech denouncing U.S. policies in the Middle East before releasing all the women and children, the report says.

When bin Laden finally approved the operation, he personally scrapped the idea of using one of the hijacked planes to make a public statement, the report says.

All that death and destruction and that part would've been the centerpiece? No wonder OBL nixed the idea. But still, it warrants a good thought or two on what would lead someone to that now-very-old-school-terrorism conclusion about what would make a point. That the idea existed and was ditched lends credibility to the "no, they don't win if we're afraid, they win if we're dead" notion. Think about it - I think there's a lot of fun symbolism and meaning in this abandoned idea.


"Given the catastrophic results of the 9/11 attacks, it is tempting to depict the plot as a set plan executed to near perfection," the report says. "This would be a mistake. The 9/11 conspirators confronted operational difficulties, internal disagreements, and even dissenting opinions within the leadership of al Qaeda. In the end, the plot proved sufficiently flexible to adapt and evolve as challenges arose."

The article goes on to discuss the various personality conflicts and organization problems that prevented the attack from being more successful. As distrubing as the subject matter is - it would make an interesting chapter in a management class text - right between the Bay of Pigs and Challenger chapters - an example of limited success while balancing people, ideas, and influences.

One of the pilots takes on a more human role in the article as he pines for a girlfriend in Germany and almost loses his place in history over her. The article sites him as seemingly more "westernized," but sites only gregarity and missing-girl-ishness as examples. Interesting implications there too.

And on the question of where the PA plane was headed? One communication prefered an early September date because "Congress would be in session." OBL prefered the White House, but it was a smaller target. The article says the matter seems unresolved as late as two days before the attack.

Of course, one of the more talked about aspects of the Commissions findings is the lack of collaberation between Iraq and al Qaeda. Not for lack of trying, it would seem, but Saddam never bit and the two didnt' cooperate. Leading of course to:

The conclusions provide the latest example of how the Sept. 11 commission has become a political irritant for the Bush administration. The 10-member bipartisan commission, initially opposed by the White House, has frequently feuded with the government over access to documents and witnesses and has issued findings sharply critical of the Bush administration's focus on terrorism prior to the Sept. 11 attacks.

I HATE it when independent investigatory commissions ditch the script.

Take this next paragraph and a sleeping pill and see what your head does to you tonight:

As al Qaeda developed, its terrorist training camps in Afghanistan provided fertile ground for its operatives "to think creatively about ways to commit mass murder," it says. Among the ideas that were raised: taking over a nuclear missile launcher in Russia and forcing Russian scientists to fire a nuclear missile at the United States, carrying out mustard gas or cyanide attacks against Jewish areas in Iran, spreading poison gas through the air conditioning system of a targeted building and hijacking an aircraft and crashing it into an airport terminal or nearby city.

But say, how does one fund such things anyway?

"Contrary to popular understanding," the report says, "bin Laden did not fund al Qaeda through a personal fortune and a network of businesses," and he never received a $300 million inheritance. He actually received about $1 million a year over about 24 years as an inheritance, a significant sum but not enough to fund a global terrorist network.

"Instead, al Qaeda relied primarily on a fundraising network developed over time," the report says. It says the CIA estimates that al Qaeda spent $30 million a year, with the largest outlays ($10 million to $20 million annually) going to fund the Taliban.

"Actual terrorist operations were relatively cheap," it says.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks and the defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan, "al Qaeda's funding has decreased significantly," the report says. But the group's expenditures have decreased as well, and "it remains relatively easy for al Qaeda to find the relatively small sums required to fund terrorist operations," the report warns.

Another highlight - the finding that al Q is far more decentralized now, "with operational commanders and cell leaders making the decisions that were previously made by bin Laden." Gee, that's good news, isn't it. Remember what happens when you try to kill a starfish? See regeneration. The way we're fighting this war doesn't work. We're killing starfish, planting dragon's teeth, and whatever other metaphor you'd like to try.

Information is step one. Truth is step two. Step three remains to be determined.

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