Stunned counterterrorism experts said the terrorist air attacks were worse than anything they ever could have imagined.
They also blamed a “massive failure” in U.S. intelligence gathering and lax American airport security for the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history.
And they called for the U.S. to launch a unified, international effort against terrorism.
“We’re sitting ducks,” declared Harvey Kushner, author of several books on the rise of international terrorism. “Not in my wildest imagination would I believe something could happen like this. This is the Pearl Harbor of terrorism.”
Kushner said his years of pleas to government, military and airline officials that airport security is totally insufficient “fell on deaf ears.”
“We’re asleep at the switch,” said another counterterrorism expert.
The terrorists hijacked several planes from Boston and Newark on Tuesday.
The terrorist plot combined a primitive attack with sophisticated planning, explained Boaz Ganor, executive director of the International Policy Institute for Counterterrorism in Israel.
“They didn’t have to smuggle explosives into the U.S. or even to the airplanes themselves,” he noted.
But, he continued, “it was very sophisticated from the planning point of view. You have to arrange a long time before executing an attack with several units active simultaneously in a two-stage attack, kidnapping and then a suicide attack.
Like others, he agreed that “on the face of it, this a was big intelligence and security measure failure.”
Like others, he also pointed to the world’s No. 1 terrorist, Osama Bin Laden, as the prime suspect.
Yehudit Barsky, the terrorism expert for the American Jewish Committee, said the plot was designed to cause maximum damage.
“They did it at 9 a.m. because most people are arriving in the office at that time, which has the most possibility of creating the largest number of casualties.
“These are all buildings that represent the political and economic power of the United States,” she said. “That’s why the World Trade center was targeted before. If it was against Jews it would be against the Israeli mission and Jewish buildings.”
Retired Navy Chaplain Arnold Resnicoff said nothing could have prepared him for Tuesday’s devastation, not serving during the Vietnam War nor being in the U.S. Marine complex in Beirut in 1983, when a suicide truck bomber killed 241 marines.
“Twenty-eight years in the military active duty did not prepare me for this day,” said Resnicoff, a Conservative rabbi who this week was hired as the new national director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee.
Rabbi Resnicoff was also in Kosovo in 1998, where he witnessed the horrible bloodshed close up while working as chief chaplain for NATO Supreme Allied Commander General Wesley Clark. A student of terrorism theory at the Naval War College, he was reminded that the same questions are being asked today that were asked in Beirut 18 years ago: How could this happen to the United States?
“In Beirut we had already been prepared for a truck with a bomb, but we had not prepared for suicide bombers. Now this is a similar thing. To say we should have been prepared for several planes to be hijacked and flown directly into a building never happened before, I don’t think anyone considered it.”
Ganor said the U.S. should restrain “the revenge feelings that all of us have now, and wait until they have concrete intelligence about who is responsible, and determine the best way to attack and launch an international massive operation. We should not react impulsively.”
Rabbi David Rosen, the AJCommittee’s international interreligious director, called the attack “ a great tragedy for Islam,” because the increasing identification of Islam with violent, hostile bloodthirsty, intransigent characteristics is going to be more and more inseparable. The miserable people in their own hostility are undermining any possible support from the enlightened world to give them a better future.”
“There are lovely peaceful Muslims leaders in the world but their presence and voices are silenced by demented extremists and we will have to work even harder to strengthen the more moderate voices.”