September 11, 2000

Decentralism against terrorism -- first lessons from the 9/11 attack

Author: JT Smith

- By Eric S. Raymond -
(Editor's note: The following is a message sent by Eric S. Raymond to several news organizations.)

Some friends have asked me to step outside my normal role as a technology
evangelist today, to point out in public that a political panic reaction
to the 9/11 terrorist attack could do a great deal more damage than the
attack itself.Today will not have been a victory for terrorism unless we make it
one. If we reward in any way the Palestinians who are now celebrating
this hideous crime in the streets of the West Bank, that wil have been
a victory for terrorism. If we accept "anti-terrorism" measures that do
further damage to our Constitutional freedoms, that will have been a victory
for terrorism. But if we learn the right lessons, if we make policies that
preserve freedom and offer terrorists no result but a rapid and futile
death, that will have been a victory for the rest of us.

We have learned today that airport security is not the answer. At
least four separate terror teams were able to sail right past all the
elaborate obstacles -- the demand for IDs, the metal detectors, the
video cameras, the X-ray machines, the gunpowder sniffers, the gate
agents and security people trained to spot terrorists by profile.
There have been no reports that any other terror units were
successfully prevented from achieving their objectives by these
measures. In fact, the early evidence is that all these
police-state-like impositions on freedom were exactly useless -- and
in the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center lies the proof of
their failure.

We have learned today that increased surveillance is not the answer.
The FBI's "Carnivore" tap on the U.S.'s Internet service providers
didn't spot or prevent this disaster; nor did the NSA's illegal
Echelon wiretaps on international telecommunications. Video
monitoring of public areas could have accomplished exactly nothing
against terrorists taking even elementary concealment measures. If we
could somehow extend airport-level security to the entire U.S., it
would be just as useless against any determined and even marginally
competent enemy.

We have learned today that trying to keep civilian weapons out of
airplanes and other areas vulnerable to terrorist attack is not the
answer either -- indeed, it is arguable that the lawmakers who
disarmed all the non-terrorists on those four airplanes,
leaving them no chance to stop the hijackers, bear part of the moral
responsibility for this catastrophe.

I expect that in the next few months, far too many politicians and
pundits will press for draconian "anti-terrorist" laws and
regulations. Those who do so will be, whether intentionally or not,
cooperating with the terrorists in their attempt to destroy our way of
life -- and we should all remember that fact come election time.

As an Internet technologist, I have learned that distributed problems
require distributed solutions -- that centralization of power, the
first resort of politicians who feed on crisis, is actually worse than
useless, because centralizers regard the more effective coping
strategies as threats and act to thwart them.

Perhaps it is too much to hope that we will respond to this shattering
tragedy as well as the Israelis, who have a long history of preventing
similar atrocities by encouraging their civilians to carry concealed
weapons and to shoot back at criminals and terrorists. But it is in
that policy of a distributed response to a distributed threat, with
every single citizen taking personal responsibility for the defense of
life and freedom, that our best hope for preventing recurrences of
today's mass murders almost certainly lies.

If we learn that lesson, perhaps today's deaths will not have been in vain.
Eric S. Raymond

"The power to tax involves the power to destroy;...the power to
destroy may defeat and render useless the power to create...."
-- Chief Justice John Marshall, 1819.

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