By James Lint, InfraGard National Sector Chief for the Defense Industry Base
We have December 7th every year. It is a great time to reflect on history. It should be a time for national security professionals to reflect on past problems.
Many were alive and working for the U.S. Government when September 11, 2001 occurred.
In each of these events, the professionals were overconfident and knew that no little country like Japan or Korea, or a group smaller than a platoon, could cause this superpower a problem. Often intelligence professionals were focused elsewhere. Russia and Germany were a focus for the intelligence services. Hawaii may not have had the best or the superstars, but they did their part without the help of being a bigger organization focused on other parts of the world.
The “9/11 Commission Report”
As reported by The Telegraph, “The most important failure” leading to the attacks was “one of imagination,” it concluded. “We do not believe leaders understood the gravity of the threat.”
Tom Kean, Chairman of the 9/11 Commission, said: “[They] penetrated the defenses of the most powerful nation in the world. They inflicted unbearable trauma on our people, and at the same time they turned the international order upside down.” He went on to speak of a failure “of policy management, capability and above all imagination; on that September day we were unprepared. We did not grasp the magnitude of a threat that had been gathering over a considerable period of time.”
A complete change happened after the 9/11 Commission Report. The TSA was born, DHS was created, airplane cockpits were hardened and intelligence focused on threats to aircraft was great expanded. During the Cold War, few analysts worried about a threat from a small airport in Africa involving printer cartridges.
Many people have forgotten an incident reported by ABC News Chicago in 2010: “…jihadists in Yemen hid explosives in computer printer cartridges and shipped them on two cargo planes bound for O’Hare. The printer cartridges were addressed to Chicago synagogues. Authorities intercepted the jets in England and the United Arab Emirates after a tip to Saudi Arabian intelligence agents. Nothing blew up, and no one was hurt, but the incident began a frenetic behind-the-scenes campaign by American homeland security agents to ensure bombs couldn’t smuggled via onboard cargo planes.”
Korea and Pearl Harbor Forgotten
Many newspapers seemed to forget history with reporting like this: “The al-Qa’eda attacks on New York and Washington killed 3,000 people when four airliners were hijacked and crashed in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. It was the worst surprise attack against America since Pearl Harbor in 1941.” What was forgotten was the start of the Korea War.
As reported by InHomelandSecurity, June 25 is a day that all military planners and intelligence professionals should remember as a lesson in proper battle preparation. On that date in 1950, North Korea surprised the U.S. military with an attack that swept U.S. and South Korean forces into the Pusan Perimeter and almost off the Korean peninsula. Defeat appeared quick and sudden. It was only nine years after the devastation at Pearl Harbor and no one believed that a surprise attack could happen to U.S. forces ever again. But it did.
For the United States, intelligence focus on a former small Japanese-occupied territory was a low priority. The mistake was missing the buildup of Communist support and the large amount of combat equipment in North Korea compared to South Korea, obvious indicators of battle preparation that we can see in hindsight. Because the U.S. overlooked these signs of impending combat, North Korea’s invasion led to a long, bloody civil war involving the United States.
Could USA Be Surprised Again?
Many inside and out of the government debate if we could be surprised again. Since we saw the many surprises in the past, who would think we would not be surprised again? The 9/11 Commission discussed the failure to imagine. Will those lines get used again?
Could we see a cyber attack on the electronic grid? Could whole cities lose power for a month? Think how impatient people are when their internet connection is cut for a few hours. Help desk personnel are often abused. Now think about the power being off for a month or more. How well disciplined and prepared is the American population? If half the country lost power at the same time, we might recover, but it would take a long time.
Nuclear EMP Surprise
Business Insider observed that a “lesser-known consequence of a nuclear explosion that can drastically expand its damage zone is an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP. EMPs are rapid, invisible bursts of electromagnetic energy. They occur in nature, most frequently during lightning strikes, and can disrupt or destroy nearby electronics. However, nuclear EMPs — if a detonation is large enough and high enough — can cover an entire continent and cripple tiny circuits inside modern electronics on a massive scale.”
Some people also worry about the development of non-nuclear EMPs, it too could be crippling. EMP, like a cyber attack, can cause the lack of power to cities, hospitals and other places without a month worth of supplies (a generator is in many hospitals and hotels but it requires fuel…how much is stored onsite?).
Being Prepared with Smart Intelligence
Our intelligence analysts must think big, and think smart. Their leaders must remember past surprises, such as that on a Sunday in December 1941, a nice morning in Hawaii. On 25 June 1950, the U.S. military was very small in Korea. After all, we would never have another surprise attack like we did December 7, 1941. And September 11, 2001 reminded us we have to keep thinking about surprise attacks.
Intelligence analysts, must never use the words, “that cannot happen.” “No country could surprise America.” These are all statements you do not want with your name in the next Commission Report.
Even the name of the 9/11 report should be changed, in my opinion, to: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. While it may have been the final report on the 9/11 attack, it will not be the final report on terrorism or surprise attacks.
Call to Action
Join organizations that can help with teaching individuals and businesses what to observe pre-incident, and what to report. There are FBI citizen academies, and many police departments also have classes to teach businesses and the public what indicators exist before a troublesome event occurs.
InfraGard is a partnership between the FBI and members of the private sector. The InfraGard program provides a vehicle for seamless public-private collaboration with government that expedites the timely exchange of information and promotes mutual learning opportunities relevant to the protection of Critical Infrastructure. With thousands of vetted members nationally, InfraGard’s membership includes business executives, entrepreneurs, military and government officials, computer professionals, academia and state and local law enforcement; each dedicated to contributing industry specific insight and advancing national security.
Join an organization, and learn the local reporting capabilities and requirements. This can help prevent incidents or get the right responders to an event when needed. There are many ways to do your part to prevent a 9/11 type catastrophe. Go to www.infragard.org to apply for a free membership today!
About the Author
James R. Lint retired as the (GG-15) civilian director for intelligence and security, G2, U.S. Army Communications Electronics Command. James has been involved in cyberespionage events from just after the turn of the century in Korea supporting 1st Signal Brigade to the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis as the first government cyber intelligence analyst. He has 38 years of experience in military intelligence with the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army, government contracting and civil service. Recently, he has been designated as the National Sector Chief for the Defense Industry Base by InfraGard National.
Additionally, James started the Lint Center for National Security Studies, a nonprofit charity that recently awarded its 54th scholarship for national security students and professionals. He has also served in the Department of Energy’s S&S Security Office after his active military career in the Marine Corps for seven years and 14 years in the Army. His military assignments include South Korea, Germany and Cuba, in addition to numerous CONUS locations. James has authored a book published in 2016 “8 Eyes on Korea, A Travel Perspective of Seoul, Korea,” and a new book in 2017“Secrets to Getting a Federal Government Job.”