Holiday season under different circumstances

Posted: Jan 03, 2002 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON -- What relief, the season of festive Washington parties is over! Now, I can smile again. In Washington this holiday season, such parties were not so festive. Even under the mistletoe there were always several fellows wearing long faces and murmuring grim tidings -- mostly inaccurate. The news from these killjoys this season was always about the war against terrorism and how fecklessly the government is handling it on the home front. They are thunderously wrong, but I have come to the opinion that being wrong does not bother Washingtonians so long as it allows them to appear solemn and portentous. My sources in law enforcement and in the Justice Department tell me that we are actually being quite successful on the home front. I see no reason to doubt them. They say that through surveillance and the abrupt arrests of terrorists or would-be terrorists, acts of sabotage have been prevented as have murderous acts of a magnitude similar to those committed on Sept. 11. As I reported here two months ago, Islamic terrorists were, by late September, on the run -- at least those who lived outside territories controlled by radical regimes. Their plans for further terror were being disrupted. Intelligence operatives here and in Europe were gathering information from the arrest of terrorists, eavesdropping on their communications, confiscation of their computers and other documents that were helpful in smashing terrorist cells or preventing their planned treachery. Real headway has been made against their grisly plots and perhaps even their continued existence -- though terrorists are going to be a fixture on the world scene for years. The modern world first saw their like in the last days of the 19th century. Then enrages termed "anarchists" and "nihilists" began attacking unsuspecting targets for political purposes. Within five years, presidents of France and the United States were assassinated, as was the Empress of Austria, the King of Italy and -- a few years later -- Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife. That last bit of terrorism ignited World War I. Terrorism has been made possible by the miniaturization of lethal weaponry beginning with hanguns and dynamite, and continuing for over a century with the development of plastic explosives, and chemical and biological weaponry. Dynamite bombs used by anarchists and nihilists at the end of the 19th century so distressed the inventor of dynamite, Alfred Nobel, that out of remorse he established his Nobel prizes. Terrorism against masses of citizens is also made possible by the free-flowing organization of society. One vehicle going against the flow can claim vast carnage. Still, scientific advances are assisting us in the war against terror. On the ground in Afghanistan, our forces are gaining valuable intelligence from simply laying hands on the fleeing terrorists' computers, whose hard drives have yielded vast information on the lives and evil practices of these savages. We do not know precisely what our intelligence forces have gotten from the terrorists' computers. We can thank a resourceful reporter from The Wall Street Journal for letting us in on the exquisite information that exists on such computers. In Kabul some weeks ago, a looter stole a computer from an Al Qaeda office as its owners fled the city. The Journal's reporter bought it for $1,100 and with it got hundreds of files that reveal huge amounts about the Al Qaeda network's crimes. One file reveals how Al Qaeda plotted the assassination of the formidable anti-Taliban general Ahmed Shah Massoud. Other files reveal Al Qaeda's efforts to create chemical and biological weapons. There is a video of Osama bin Laden discoursing on American evils and mentioning Sept. 11 -- he neglects to mention how frequently our forces defended Muslims in the Balkans. Other files explained the theological reasons for ambushing Americans and Jews. There is a legal memo noting that "the killing of civilians" is "a sensitive issue" but apparently OK if you can get yourself a good Islamic lawyer. The Journal's "second-hand" computer abounds with information from the petty to the damning. Assuming that our military has collected even more of this incriminating evidence, the war trials ahead will make the Nazis' war trials look labored and complicated. They might also leave the Nazis looking comparatively humane when placed next to members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, who I fear are not the last terrorists in need of our attention.