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Define “Bigger”

(cross-posted at Haft of the Spear)

I don’t get Insight Magazine so I don’t know the full story that goes along with this teaser:

The U.S. intelligence community has assessed that Osama bin Laden has benefited from a secure haven in Pakistan that allows him to plan a major attack on the U.S.

It took all of about an hour after this to hit the Web before various colleagues started to exchange thoughts on the matter, and like a well indoctrinated, NIC-conditioned drone I threw this wrench into the works:

“Define the term ‘bigger’. We’re assuming “bigger” means more spectacular in approach.”

The numerous weaknesses in airline security are well documented. The “security theater” that surrounds most supposed high-value targets/industries/infrastructure means there is less of a chance of a hijacking, but a bomb in the cargo hold – or a gas-filled tanker into city hall – is all too real an option. Hell, ratchet up the poop-to-lettuce ratio and you can send dozens of infidels to the hospital and probably kill a few too.

Bigger defined as more spectacular is an option, but the goal is terrorism, not something suitable for Broadway. As soon as airlines could fly after 9/11 people got on board; when the DC beltway snipers were loose everyone who had to leave their car was OJ Simpson (the Hertz version). There is no reason why the next grand plan might not originate farther down the amazing scale because simple works and if done close to home it hits close to home.

Consider these figures from data I borrowed from the Bookings Institution (PDF):

  • IEDs have killed an average of 23 GIs/month since the start of the war.
  • October of last year saw a peak of 52 troop deaths via IEDs.

The tactic varies, but generally speaking we’re talking about taking out 3-4 guys at a time in a HMMWV or on a dismounted patrol.

Now, add a little crude homeland-based math:

  • A city bus in a major metro area at rush hour might hold 80 people.
  • A light rail car might hold more than 100
  • A vehicle-borne IED stopped in the middle of a traffic jam might take out a dozen or more people depending on the size of the vehicle and charge.

Coordinated to take place on the same day at the same time (London calling), cells in just the top ten US cities (let’s say a dozen-per – somewhere between the Miami 7 and Toronto 18) it is not inconceivable that a coordinated IED attack could kill significantly more innocents in the US than GIs in Iraq, and three times as many as those killed on 9/11 (80 bus passengers x 12 bombers x 10 cities = 9,600)

Is that “bigger” enough for UBL?

“Tanji, you’re just trying to justify this post.

Possibly, but if the methodology of our adversary is violence-driven political/religious change, I can’t think of a better way to ride the recent domestic political wave than to focus my attention on the electorate.


Posted by Mike Tanji

OODA Analyst

OODA Analyst

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