Mumbai and us

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We anticipate a world in which countries, nation-states, governments, will have less control over what goes on within their own territory than they do now and have had in the past, and less ability to influence the transnational kinds of interaction, whether it is migration of jobs, relocation of industry, dependence on food supply or energy from some place outside of the jurisdiction.” –Dr. Thomas Fingar, chairman of the National Intelligence Committee and U.S. deputy director of National Intelligence for analysis

Add to that list above a lessened ability to stop terrorism – largely because the terrorism of today is without any goal whatsoever, it seems, except the death of innocents.

What occurred in Mumbai, India last week as Americans sat down to enjoy he Thanksgiving holidays is not only a senseless tragedy – over 170 killed and 239 wounded during a nearly five day rampage at 10 locations throughout India’s equivalent to New York City – it proved yet again that in this day and age, it takes very little to cause widespread chaos and death.

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[Mumbai's Taj hotel, one of many sites the terrorists attacked.]

There are important lessons here for those of us in the trucking industry because, yet again, terrorist attack warnings were sounded early enough, with local fishermen witnessing the killers landing on the beaches near Badhwar Park in rubber boats … yet the massacres occurred anyways. The same grim autopsy surrounds our own experience on September 11, with the CIA, FBI, flight school instructors, local police officers and others all having pieces of the puzzle but unable to put the big picture together in time.

And again, the simplicity of the attacker in relation to the huge physical and psychological devastation they caused is another eerie similarity with jihadists of September 11. The Mumbai terrorists were armed only with AK-47 submachine guns, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, and little else – no anthrax or nuclear bombs. The September 11 hijackers used box cutters and pocket knives to take control of jumbo jets, then slam them into buildings – again, nothing complex involved.

That’s what should worry truckers the most – these simple plans, slipping killers bent on mass slaughter into public areas right in full view of the public. I remember reading one horrific spy novel a ways back where a handful of terrorists kill a tanker truck driver, wire the rig up with explosives, then commit suicide by blowing the thing up on the Golden Gate bridge. Simple, horrific, and deadly – that is the kind of scenario that worries me a lot.

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[Mumbai's train station, also a place targeted in the terrorist attacks last week.]

Stopping these kinds of acts – nothing less than random butchery of defenseless people for no overt reason that I can see – won’t be easy, simply because they are so incomprehensible. Yet it’s possible only if the world’s nations work together – because, just like the global supply chains that support trade and manufacturing, what happens in one spot on this planet severely impacts all the others.

“The simple premise is that the world is so interconnected that developments occurring anywhere could have an impact everywhere else, that solving problems one place often and, arguably increasingly frequently, require collaboration, consideration, cooperation, in ways that transcend individual countries, that transcend divisions between issues, involve multiple countries in a single region, even multiple regions of the globe,” noted Dr. Thomas Fingar, outgoing chairman of the National Intelligence Committee (NIC) and U.S. deputy director of National Intelligence for analysis.

“The problems and the challenges, the opportunities that will arise between now and 2025 will be more or less apparent at different times to leaders in different parts of the world, but that if we tee them up and sensitize people to them, they’re more likely to be confronted early enough to take action,” he stressed during a speech last week at the Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington, D.C. “Take action not just to prevent bad things from happening, but to take actions to keep positive developments on the right track.”

Fingar referred to the NIC’s recent publication of “Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World,” which analyses many trends going on in the world – human population growth, clean water scarcity, food production issues, climate change, and terrorism – and what they may mean to the U.S. and the global community as a whole. The NIC has been publishing these reports since 1996, but now they are taking on even more importance due to a conflux of issues that seem to intersect more and more all the time.

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[Dr. Thomas Fingar.]

“The point here is we’re going to have a mix of factors that will shape events,” said Finagr. “How they shape those events is a subject of political and leadership intervention. We’re describing likely trajectories, possible trajectories. Nothing that I say, nothing that you read should be thought of as either inevitable or immutable. It’s the stuff that happens in life. It’s what any leadership is going to have to deal with.”

He noted that there’s been plenty of terrorism in South Asia, in India, Kashmir, Pakistan, and Afghanistan over the past few years – with attacks such as the train bombings in Madrid, Spain, along with the subway assault in London. However – and this is key – it’s the NIC’s anticipation that terrorism of the al Qaeda variety – the transnational effort that has, over the last decade, managed to recruit people from many, many countries, sponsor fund-raising activity and various terror cells – that type of terrorism is likely to wane by 2025, perhaps quite significantly, in part because there’s no positive program.

“There’s no resonance for what [al Qaeda] claims to seek in the Muslim world, or elsewhere,” Fingar stressed. “Public opinion polling, anecdotal evidence, plus commentary on websites make clear that there’s not a lot of favorable response to the extreme positions that are taken. And the revulsion against killing innocents, women, children, killing other Muslims is beginning to erode the tolerance or willingness to look the other way of this type of terrorism. So I think there’s a chance … of while not eliminating it but [keeping] it at a more manageable level.”

Yet he said such terrorism has always been and always will be the weapon of the weak against the strong. By secessionist groups, local animosities, and the Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian, Islamic jihad groups, Kashmiri separatists, others of that ilk will likely persist.

“How many will be attracted to this will be a function of the success or failure in accommodating population growth, in taking advantage of increased prosperity, in facilitating increased prosperity, that our projection is that though the number of people who can be recruited to terrorism will be smaller, that the narrow segment of any population that is susceptible to recruitment will be a narrow segment in much of the world, of a larger population, but that the number still will be small,” Fingar pointed out.

“But that because of technological diffusion, the potential for greater lethality in attacks, biologically based weapons being of greatest concern, or chemicals, so we could have fewer but more lethal attacks by terrorist groups,” he added.

So the hope is by forging stronger global ties to fight terrorism akin to what’s happened worldwide in terms of freight movements may be a key solution to this terrible problem. That also means more constant vigilance will be necessary at all levels as the potential for fewer yet far deadlier attacks grows. The important thing is, there’s light at the end of this dark tunnel – but it will take a group effort to reach it.

What's Trucks at Work?

Trucks at Work: Sean Kilcarr comments on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry.

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