On Point: "Thinking Red"


by Austin Bay

Sometimes there's an uneasy connection between the thrillingimagination and the dangerous possibility.

A few days ago, I listened to a radio interview with anIranian-born novelist whose plots explore the world of terrorist cells andterrorist operations. All too frequently, his imaginative projections(conceived to entertain) have borne an exacting resemblance to subsequentterrorist crime and real-world tragedy.

U.S. military and intelligence agencies engage in the similarkind of role-playing and imaginative speculation. They call it "thinkingRed." In war games, the United States and its allies are usually designated"the Blue team." The opposition -- the bad guys -- wear Red. Thus "thinkingRed" means getting into the mind of the enemy in order to act like theenemy.

These war games and exercises are fictions with a specificpurpose, not predictions, but a means for analytically identifying:

  • potential "enemy courses of action" (what an opponent mightdo with a given set of material and human resources in a given situation or"scenario");
  • possible weaknesses in Blue (U.S.) strategy, offensive ordefensive military preparations, deployment of spies and intelligenceassets, etc.;
  • potential Blue responses to correct these weaknesses.

The "wargaming" and "Red think" add to other types of riskanalysis conducted by defense agencies.

Of course, reality metes out astonishing and terrible surprises.No one quite foresaw Sept. 11, with hijacked civilian airliners turned into"strategic kamikazes" directed at symbols of American economic and politicalpower. However, one Hollywood movie had terrorists hijacking a Goodyearblimp to deliver a nuclear strike on the Super Bowl. A dozen years ago, Iparticipated in a war-gaming project with an interesting wrinkle, a "nuclearCessna." The plane was rigged with a tiny nuke and flown by a suicide pilot.Two decades ago, a young German flew a similar small plane into the SovietUnion, evaded detection and landed in Red Square. The war-game "think"behind the suicide Cessna wasn't outlandish.

"The German Conquest of England in 1875, and Battle of Dorking,"written by Sir George Tomkyns Chesney in 1871, was for the British aterrifying "future fiction." Chesney wrote the short pamphlet right afterFrance's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. In Chesney's odd tale, thePrussians slipped by the Royal Navy and demolished an inept British Army.Chesney's "made-up little story" led to several genuine British militaryreforms.

If a thriller novelist or war-gamer thinks of a particularterrorist operation, I fear there's a decent chance (unfortunately) that adedicated terrorist has already tried or is attempting to execute it. U.S.defense analysts have always mined fiction, Hollywood and militaryliterature for provocative capers. The next step in the process is to thentry to assess how U.S. intelligence and defense plans might handle such athreat.

Of course, "real world" intelligence on impending terroroperations is the first line of defense. Afghanistan has been anintelligence trove on Al Qaeda activities and methods, from trainingprocedures, to communications capabilities, to financial support. Severalreports indicate terror attacks in Malaysia and Pakistan have been thwartedby the intelligence harvest.

Current, accurate intelligence is absolutely essentialinformation -- but putting it to good use requires imagination, and puttingit to best use requires political commitment.

Certainly, leaders can't support every farfetched theory andfear. Circumstances, however, do change. For years, defense officials havewrestled with the possibility of terror strikes on "critical civilianinfrastructure" in the United States. Commercial nuclear power reactors areclearly terror targets, particularly those near airports. In a study issuedthis week, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., pointed out that several other countrieshave placed anti-aircraft defenses around similarly sited reactors. I knowfor a fact U.S. military analysts considered this option decades ago. No,deploying Stinger anti-aircraft missile teams around reactors doesn'tguarantee their defense. It does make a potential terrorist "course ofaction" more difficult.

Power transmission facilities are also vulnerable. One civildefense official said truck bombs detonated on major bridges was anotherdangerous possibility. These are considered "targets of psychologicalinfluence," like the World Trade Center.

And plotting their destruction -- in war games -- is one steptoward ensuring their protection.

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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