Editor’s note — Your humble blogger got a little behind the last few weeks, and so it’s been a bit since I posted one of these looks back. I don’t expect many of you missed it, but just in case you did, apologies.
Much of the anxiety that fuels current fears about terrorism and propels US counterterrorism national security policy today has its origins in policy decisions and failures that stretch back almost 40 years now.
I have been reminded of that thanks to two different things I’m spending time with, Steve Coll’s book Ghost Wars, on US foreign policy in Afghanistan from the Soviet invasion in 1980 to 9/11, and the Hulu adaptation of Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower on the origins of the 9/11 attack and the mistakes and policy failures that allowed it to succeed.
Both offer a sobering reminder that when it comes to terrorism much of our current difficulties are of our own making. Coll reminds us that the training camps, stockpiles of weapons, ammunition, and explosives, and safe havens that were created as a flood of CIA money swelled the coffers of Afghan mujaheddin waging jihad against the Russians would later constitute the “terrorist infrastructure” facilitating attacks on the United States and its interests.
Coll’s book and the Hulu miniseries remind us that the institutional jealousies, rivalries, and dysfunctions that prevented the CIA and FBI from working together to prevent the 9/11 attack were present from the outset as the US government stumbled its way to developing a coherent response to international terrorism.
Both Coll’s book and the Hulu series are highly recommended. Now for this week’s look back.
- March 4, 1999 — Batman, Turkey: Three people are killed in a suicide bombing. The Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) is suspected.
- March 5, 1998 — Sri Lanka: The Tamil Tigers (LTTE) are blamed for a bus bomb that kills 37 and wounds more than 250.
- March 6, 1999 — Venezuela: The bodies of three American peace activists are found. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are blamed for their deaths.
- March 7, 1973 — New York City: Vehicle bombs are discovered and defused at the El Al terminal at Kennedy International Airport, the First Israel Bank and Trust Co., and the Israel Discount Bank. Nearly 20 years later, in 1991, a member of the Palestinian group Black September is arrested and convicted in connection with the thwarted bombings.
- March 8, 1978 — Portadown, Northern Ireland: Members of the Red Hand Commando, a loyalist paramilitary group with links to the Ulster Volunteer Force, kill two Catholics, one a civilian and the other a member of the Irish National Liberation Army.
- March 9, 2000 — Houston: Federal agents arrest Mark Wayne McCool, the one-time leader of the Texas Militia and Combined Action Program on charges of conspiring to attack the federal building there.
- March 10, 2011 — Alaska: Six members of the antigovernment Alaska Peacemakers Militia, including its leader, are arrested and charged with plotting to kill or kidnap state troopers and a Fairbanks judge. The group’s cache of weapons included a .50-caliber machine gun, grenades, and a grenade launcher.