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Combating terrorism: One physicists approach Talk at the University of New Mexico Richard Wilson Mallinckrodt Research Professor of Physics Harvard University February 6 th 2003. First task: Define the problem. Next task: break it into manageable component parts factorizable as much as possible.

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First task: Define the problem. Next task: break it into manageable component parts factorizable as much as possible


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  1. Combating terrorism:One physicists approachTalk at theUniversity of New MexicoRichard WilsonMallinckrodt Research Professor of PhysicsHarvard UniversityFebruary 6th 2003

  2. First task:Define the problem.Next task:break it into manageable component partsfactorizable as much as possible

  3. September 2001 Prescriptionto stop terrorism“Get the guy who did this”In this the US had world wide support But in a suicide attack he is dead

  4. COMPLICATIONSHow do you find the planner? Who is a terrorist?  When is a man a terrorist and when is he a freedom fighter?  Is a terrorist a coward?

  5. First I will discuss my personal reactions to 9/11

  6. Did September 11th 2001 (3500 people killed)change the world?Not mine by much.The Rape of Nanking killed 300,000 (1938)The UK air raid on Dresden 300,000 (1944)(but it was the first in America)

  7. Globalization and its ConsequencesGlobalization seems inevitable.Consequence of scientific breakthroughs(1) Communication technology (2) Biology (genome)(3) in physics.We cannot say:Stop the world I want to get off !

  8. I have few conclusionsbut many questions to answer.We must address disagreements

  9. Bush Called Osame Bin Laden EVILDoes he compare with:Adolf Hitler?Emperor Hirohito?Saddam Hussein?

  10. How do we get rid of leaders who we do not like?A man with an Iraqi diplomatic passport asked me in 1990:There are a lot of bright people in the worldCan’t one of them find a way of getting rid of that man?What would your answer be?

  11. Physicists are careful at defining their units and quantitiesWords can be used and misused.We must use them in the same way.

  12. Definition of a Terrorist (OED)The terrorists, as they were justly denominated, from the cruel and impolitic maxim of keeping the people in implicit subjugation by a merciless severity (1795)Several notables are believed to be more or less implicated in the acts of the Terrorists (1905)Miss G...., daughter of a Wexford terrorist, directed many of the tortures which were so extensively practiced (1866)some book of the religious terrorists which tended to infuse the alarm of foul perdition(1805)

  13. Was Hitler and his Nazis a gang of terrorists?even though they were the legitimate government of Germany, originally elected by the people?  Were opponents of Hitler terrorists?Esp. Colonel Von Stauffenburg who tried to assassinate Hitler with a bomb in a brief case?

  14. Were the Hutus in Ruanda terrorists when they killed Tutsis although they were the legitimate government?Were the Young Turks terrorists when they victimized the Armenians in 1916?Or were the Armenians terrorists because they were not model citizens?Were (and are) the opponents of British rule in Ireland terrorists?Has the situation changed since partition in 1922?

  15. Is the government of Russia guilty of terrorism against the people of Chechnya (who have as much voting power as other residents of Russia) or are the radical Chechens guilty of terrorism against Russia?Or both?Is the government of Sri Lanka acting like the Jacobins against the Tamils of the north, or are the Tamils a bunch of terrorists to be tamed?

  16. Is the government of Sri Lanka acting like the Jacobins against the Tamils of the north, or are the Tamils a bunch of terrorists to be tamed?

  17. Was the US terrorising people in WACO Texas, or fighting terrorists?Timothy McVeigh thought the former  Was General Custer fighting a band of Indian terrorists, orwere the Indians fighting an oppression worse than the French had experienced in 1795?

  18. Was Castro a terrorist or a freedom fighter when he opposed the government of Batista? What about those branded by Castro as terrorists to whom the USA has given citizenship?  

  19. We must not duck the difficult questions but face them head on.

  20. Is the government of Israel a terrorist government because they follow " the cruel and impolitic maxim of keeping the (Palestinian) people in implicit subjugation by a merciless severity"?Or are the Palestinians all terrorists because they belong to an organization opposing the present government of Israel and its policies and in its early days, aim to drive them into the sea?

  21. Probably both sides are now wrong.

  22. Possible criteria for choosing sidesA terrorist is a man with a bomb and no airplane to drop it from (EM Purcell, 1983).The Azeris were bad first (Elena Bonner, 1994) "Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of the day; but a series of oppressions, begun in a distinguished period and pursued unilaterally thro' every change of ministers, too plainly prove a deliberate, systematical plan of reducing us to slavery". Gerry Adams?

  23. Possible criteria for choosing sidesA terrorist is a man with a bomb and no airplane to drop it from (EM Purcell, 1983).The Azeris were bad first (Elena Bonner, 1994) "Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of the day; but a series of oppressions, begun in a distinguished period and pursued unilaterally thro' every change of ministers, too plainly prove a deliberate, systematical plan of reducing us to slavery". Kashmiri Leader?

  24. Possible criteria for choosing sidesA terrorist is a man with a bomb and no airplane to drop it from (EM Purcell, 1983).The Azeris were bad first (Elena Bonner, 1994) "Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of the day; but a series of oppressions, begun in a distinguished period and pursued unilaterally thro' every change of ministers, too plainly prove a deliberate, systematical plan of reducing us to slavery". Yasser Arafat?

  25. Possible criteria for choosing sidesA terrorist is a man with a bomb and no airplane to drop it from (EM Purcell, 1983).The Azeris were bad first (Elena Bonner, 1994) "Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of the day; but a series of oppressions, begun in a distinguished period and pursued unilaterally thro' every change of ministers, too plainly prove a deliberate, systematical plan of reducing us to slavery". NO!

  26. Possible criteria for choosing sidesA terrorist is a man with a bomb and no airplane to drop it from (EM Purcell, 1983).The Azeris were bad first (Elena Bonner, 1994) "Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of the day; but a series of oppressions, begun in a distinguished period and pursued unilaterally thro' every change of ministers, too plainly prove a deliberate, systematical plan of reducing us to slavery".   Thomas Jefferson (1774)

  27. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.Monachem Begin; terrorist in 1945 PM of Israel 1978, Nobel Peace Prize winnerBourgiba, jailed in Cairo, first President of TunisiaA rebellion is a Revolution that does not succeed (Victor Weisskopf)May 1940,  I learned unarmed combat.Was I becoming a terrorist or a freedom fighter?

  28. 30 years ago a friend of mine became a terrorist.Then he became a freedom fighterWithin 6 months he was a statesmanNow he works with the poor.He did not change. He lives in Bangladesh

  29. On July 4th each yearAmericans Celebratethe day thatTerrorists became PatriotsRebels became Statesmen

  30. Who areThe Planners and Financiers of Terrorism    President Bush says he opposed the planners, and financiers, of terrorism. How about those in NY and Boston who financed the IRA?

  31. Civilian or Military Targets?Are they different?Must a civilian be unarmed?What about throwing stones?Even at worshippers?Does a military target justify Collateral damage?What about the terror of Mutually Assured Destruction?

  32. Cowardly actsAre "suicide bombers" "cowardly"?Japanese Kamikaze pilots?Colonel Claus von Stauffenburg in 1944?Pilots dropping bombs on a UN refugee camp?Suicide bomber in Tel Aviv?

  33. Let us set up an Event TreePhysicists and Engineers like to stop problems early in the chain of events.It is easier to understand, andprobably more effective.

  34. Step 1Stop Terrorists being createdThus what are:The root causes of Terrorism?Despair? Basic Evil thinking?

  35. Step 1 (CONTD)The root causes of Terrorism We ...... a diverse community of many races, religions, cultures and nations, commit ourselves to work for peace and justice everywhere in the world.  We invite others to join in this commitment.   We must and will fight ignorance, poverty, hunger, intolerance and injustice wherever and whenever they show their ugly faces.  We must succeed  so  that  no one state, no one group or even one individual will ever again have the desperation  to perform such an abominable act as the attack on September 11th 2001 or shelter a perpetrator.

  36. Step 2.Keeping Terrorists at Arm’s length   Resolve major trouble spotsbefore they festerAny Domestic Dispute lasting 50 Years must be addressedKashmirIsrael – PalestineIreland

  37. Whey do I suggest 50 years?Physicists think million yearsAfter 50 years terrorism gets exported.Think where we want to be in 100 yearsIgnore who did what to whom and when

  38. Capitalize on 2001 unanimityMikhail Gorbachev, Vladimir PutinPaul Chiracurge use of UNThe UN was set up in 1945 by US and USSRfor such purposesbut often bypassed by USA and USSR

  39. Event Tree Analysis: step 3Imagine what a terrorist might do to societyand make it hard for him to do it Technically easy but a myriad of places to intervene A terrorist can switch targets .

  40. I will “fight the last war” and make my comments on the World Trade Center In 1991 Herbert Levine (founder of Asbestospray) said that “If a fire breaks out above the 50th floor (where asbestos stopped) the building will fall down.”

  41. Pilots would now resist a hijackingBar cockpit doorsHidden switch to take control of plane to ground or automatic pilot(already suggested)

  42. Few plans for a major fire at WTC?(FEMA report)Insulation not tested for durabilityFire and initial impact destroyed all safety mechanisms (Common mode failure should have been foreseen!)Helicopter fire fighters?Protect buildings by cables from towers or balloons?

  43. Inspect the insulation of all buildings over 50 stories high.(expensive but possible;e.g. apply a heat source to steel in one location and compare the temperature - time profile with calculation)

  44. Designers of buildings and large facilities must IN FUTUREalways perform a risk analysis with especial attention to possible events:with high consequence yet low probabilitySaboteurs and terrorists will increase the probability

  45. Safer Energy facilitiesDo not store a lot of fuel in one placenear a lot of people in one place.Oil tanks and LNG facilities should be in remote areas.(In 1848 London decided to keep Petroleum products 30 miles from London bridge in Canvey Island)Terrorism and Sabotage already considered for nuclear power.

  46. Cities have been built on EstuariesHydroelectric dams are upstream.A dam failure (low probability) can have high consequence.If Littleton dam on the Connecticut failed in time of flood it would take out all dams downstream

  47. In 1944 Wing Commander Gibson destroyed a dam in Germany with a 6000 pond bomb in unfavorable circumstances.In 1975 Littleton dam was unguarded and I could drive onto it to unload a bomb

  48. Electricity Distribution Systemsare easy to sabotage. A major storm in Francecut the system at a few places, and caused major havoc.In 1944 bored US officersshot at insulators on transmission towersand shut off power to the Dartmouth naval base.20 well places saboteurs with shot guns could do as much.

  49. Avoiding anthrax scare easyIrradiate all mail at sorting offices (Co60 or Cs137)poisoning water supplies? Emergency purification?Mobile water purifiers are simple

  50. Umatilla Chemical Weapons Storage6000 tons still here