Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Henry “Hank” Crumpton, our recently installed head of counter-terrorism, has three important qualifications for his job. First, he accepts the dogma that our present state of legal ambiguity – in which a “unitary executive” acts lawlessly to defend the law - will remain in place for the rest of our lives:

Mr Crumpton, who previously spent 20 years working for the Central Intelligence Agency, warned yesterday that the "war on terror" was likely to last for decades.
He also says that a massive terrorist attack is inevitable. If this is true – and I suspect it is – then we should take steps now to limit the amount of damage such an attack will do. One of the best steps in this direction would be to increase, rather than decrease, legal restrictions on executive power. It makes no sense to destroy the legal foundation of American civil society over fear of an attack that'll happen whether we live up to our ideals or not.

Second, Crumpton is an alarmist about biological terrorism:
"As catastrophic as a nuclear attack would be, it would be self-contained. But if you look at a worst-case scenario for a biological attack, it would be difficult to determine whether or not it was a terrorist attack, and it would be far more difficult to contain."
This is dubious logic. The worst-case scenario for a biological attack would involve a contagious agent like smallpox, which is an extremely unlikely pathogen for terrorists to have or to use; it would probably be ID'd very quickly in the event of an outbreak. An anthrax attack, while more likely, wouldn’t be any less “self-contained” than a nuclear explosion, and it’d be a lot less devastating. In my view, a person who believes that any plausible biological attack would be more catastrophic than a nuclear attack shouldn’t be in charge of counter-terrorism. (I realize that people who stand to cash in on the biodefense boom may disagree with me.)

Last, and most important, Crumpton seems to lack any sense of irony or shame:
"If we look at the threat posed by Iran, they have links with Hizbollah [the Lebanese Shi'ite Muslim militia], which is a terrorist organisation with global reach, and they are actively pursuing WMD. And the leadership has made a conscious decision to defy international treaties. I am deeply troubled by this."

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