Tuesday, February 22, 2005


WMD - Delivered to a Port Near You

Terrorists are apparently targeting big freighters these days. In addition to the more mundane threats like blocking a major seaport or sea lane by sinking a big oil tanker at just the right (wrong) place, think about how easy it would be to, say, fill up half the tanker with bleach and the other half with ammonia, waiting until upwind from a big seaport, and then blowing out the interior dividers to generate chlorine gas. (It is also much easier to make an atomic bomb that can fit on a large ship than one light enough to fit on an airplane of missile.)

Real piracy isn't limited to the history books and movies any more, either:
Piracy did not disappear with the killing of Blackbeard. (John Burnett) found this out the hard way in 1992 when pirates boarded (his) sloop as (he) was crossing the South China Sea. After suffering a beating, (he) was able to escape. But many others have not been so lucky. Last year, according to the maritime bureau, some 400 crew members and passengers were killed, injured, held hostage or remain missing as a result of attacks. Every year the pirates are better organized, ambushing ships with military precision and firepower.

Merchant vessels are the lowest-hanging fruit of global commerce, slow and vulnerable to attack. Hauling 90 percent of world trade, these lumbering beasts file through the world's choke points - the Suez and Panama Canals, the Bab el Mandeb (the entrance to the Red Sea), the Straits of Gibraltar and the Malacca Strait between Indonesia and Malaysia.
In 2002, the Free Aceh Movement announced that vessels moving through the strait were to seek its "permission for safe passage," a classic protection scam. It has also admitted to attacking Exxon-Mobil natural-gas plants in Aceh. In March 2003, the chemical tanker Dewi Madrim was attacked by heavily armed pirates in speedboats in the Malacca Strait. According to the crew, the pirates, speaking Indonesian, seemed less interested in robbery than in taking turns steering the ship down the congested waterway. They took two officers hostage and a satchel full of technical documents. Singapore's defense minister, Tony Tan, said that he was concerned that this incident and others like it were practice runs for a terrorist attack.
Source: John S. Burnett, New York Times The Next 9/11 Could Happen at Sea Feb 22, 2005.

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration is distributing Homeland Security funding based on politics rather than the national interest:

...An audit of the Homeland Security Department's (greatly inadequate) program to protect ports found that much of the money went to unlikely locations, including six sites in landlocked Arkansas, where the department's recently resigned chief of border and transportation security is reported to be considering a run for governor.
Source: Paul Krugman, New York Times, Wag-the-Dog Protection Feb. 22, 2005.

Meanwhile, we can expect news of Syria and Iran to mask Mr. Bush's "Charles Keating Memorial Social Security Reformation" plan's lack of public acceptance. And Mr. Bush's "friend" seems to have released those tapes just when Mr. Bush really wanted to distract everyone from the mounting public rejection of his domestic policies...


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