THE BLOG

Threat Threshold

From recently over a week ago, the unthinkable was feared to be possible once more. And as inconvenient that possibility may be, in this new era such a threat had to be taken seriously. For as usual it's not just what's at stake for U.S. foreign policy/geopolitically, but also politically for no matter what political party is in power in the White House.

Then even most recently, it's been revealed that U.S. intelligence from the beginning had intercepted al-Qaeda code words. These code words gave a clue to an imminent attack on a foreign U.S. installation. Thus, it became the reason behind the 19 U.S. embassy and consulate closures among countries in the Middle East, in North Africa, and elsewhere.

Be that as it may, it is likely we may be baffled not just from the number of closures, but also from the location of certain other closures. A good example of this is the very informed article titled, "This map of U.S. embassy and consulate closures raises more questions than it answers," in WorldViews by The Washington Post's Max Fisher. In the article, questions were raised as to such closures in Rwanda, Burundi, Madagascar, and the island of Mauritius -- all that are not major Arab/Muslim countries. Also mentioned are three cities among the Persian Gulf said to be normally safe, all having U.S. diplomatic outposts with Dubai among them.

Yet I offer a counter-question as an example. Why not close the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Dubai? Being the largest city among the United Arab Emirates, it is a well-known tourist and financial center, and where business meetings are conducted amongst a thriving multinational population. Not only that, the city hosts an international film festival. Therefore the act of closing a U.S. outpost in Dubai, would all the more signal an intelligence awareness to any suspected terrorist group, even at presumably among the safest and one o the most popular destinations in the Middle East.

Then not to forget even more elusive is the current whereabouts of a man who after the death of Osama bin Laden, is now considered to be the most dangerous man in the world. For that man is said to be Ibrahim al-Asiri, the master bomb-maker for al-Qaeda. And from what's been reported, the bombs are as elusive as the bomb-maker, made with no metal to avoid detection by electronic devices and bomb-sniffing dogs, using also wet or damp clothing as a liquid explosive.

What it is, this world we now live in. And those memories from 9/11 could not help but come back. I remember the time I left LAX on Sept. 10 at 11:30 at night, leaving an hour late on a Qantas 747 for a fourteen hour non-stop flight to Sydney, Australia. Upon arriving at 6:45 in the morning on 9/12, all of us passengers were totally unaware of the news that would await us.

The female flight attendant politely told us all to sit back down, minutes after she said we could collect our overhead gear before disembark. And soon, we heard the voice of the captain of the 747 who said, "Ladies and gentlemen, sorry for the delay. I was hoping it was a hoax, but to inform you there have been terrorist attacks upon the continental United States, in Washington DC and in New York." After that he said a few more words in consolation, but that was it.

After customs we went to the crowded lobby of Sydney International Airport to await arrival transport. And that's when it really hit us. During the fourteen-hour flight we missed it all, the crash into the Pentagon, the United Airlines flight 93 crash, and the two World Trade Center air attacks.

And that wasn't all that awaited us. For on Sept. 12, 2001 Ansett Airlines of Australia had folded. Meaning, Qantas was then taking up Ansett's booked passengers load. For my ten-day vacation stay I wasn't worried about President Bush's order of airport closures in the U.S., but myself and everyone else was worried about our Qantas flights out because of Ansett. But after three days into my vacation, things cooled down and Qantas said it's all good.

After stays in Sydney, Ayers Rock, and Cairns before my flight back to LAX from Sydney, I still remember the conversation I had with an Asian gentleman, both a citizen of and whose family lived in Australia. Both of us stood patiently in line as all of us were getting the going-over before our flight out. To this day I remember him saying, "We (in Australia) should be fine. We're too far away." And yet one year later, there was the Oct. 12, 2002 bombing in Bali, an Indonesian island in Australia's backyard where 88 Australians were killed in a terrorist attack.

Almost two years after the Bali attack, in March 2004 the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade issued an eight-chapter white paper release on terrorism, which is titled, "Transnational Terrorism: The Threat to Australia" also at www.dfat.gov.au. And within Chapter One the following words are, "For Australia, these are no longer issues of global distance -- or ones that can be left for others to contemplate." Then later into the chapter those words were followed by, "We have to adjust to a threat that is not only alien, but unconventional and unpredictable. Its presence is largely unseen and unknown."

It is those previous statements which also happens to remind me of a scene from one of my favorite films, the James Bond film Skyfall. The head of British Secret Service MI6 known as M, acted by Dame Judi Dench, appears before a parliamentary committee to defend her leadership and the existence of double O agents under her command, just recently after a terrorist bombing at MI6 headquarters and the damaging leak of MI6 covert operatives around the world.

The woman known as M begins to describe to the parliamentary committee the kind of world we now live in that now frightens her. It is a world where the enemy is not that of a nation, but individuals who are opaque and exists in the shadows. At the same time, James Bond agent 007, acted by Daniel Craig, narrowly escapes death from a runaway underground subway train caused by a bomb by Silva, acted by Javier Bardem, the enemy and a former top MI6 double O agent.

M then asks a question to the parliamentary committee that before they decide to declare her department of deep cover agents irrelevant, they must ask themselves a question, how safe do you feel? She next closes by reciting the last five lines of the poem Ulysses by Tennyson. While doing so, agent 007 emerges from the underground subway Westminster Station exit, as the London street is now tumultuous just after the bomb blast. And while M recites the words of the poem, agent 007 is now in a sprint on a chaotic London street to prevent the assassination of M by the cyber terrorist Silva. The words she speaks are as follows: "We are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven. That which we are, we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts, made weak by time and fate, but strong in will, to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

A fantastic film, and obviously I'm not alone in that opinion. For Skyfall became the first James Bond film to earn over $1 billion worldwide. And according to the Feb. 6, 2013 article by Brian Gallagher at Movieweb, "Skyfall Becomes the Seventh Highest Grossing Movie Worldwide," at www.movieweb.com. Meaning that is, the seventh in movie history worldwide.

It is threats that are now asymmetric which frightens M in Skyfall. And if we choose to acknowledge those threats, we all need to come together despite partisan turf wars if we are even able to survive this new era in the 21st Century. What it is, this world we now live in.