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Linda R. Monk, J.D. Headshot

Did Al Qaeda Trigger the Wall Street Panic?

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So now Osama Bin Laden is threatening to crash the U.S. economy to prevent global warming. We already knew the man was stuck in the fourteenth century philosophically, but now he enlists the latest science to get the rest of the world to join him there. Like somebody who kills thousands of innocents in the name of jihad really cares about climate change. But apparently he does care about public relations.

Bin Laden's rationale is new, but the threat is not. In 2006, Lawrence Wright wrote "The Master Plan," an article for the New Yorker that set forth a detailed outline of al Qaeda's strategic goals. The article was based on a book by Fouad Hussein, a radical Jordanian journalist, who befriended Abu Musab al Zarqawi in jail, before Zarqawi went on to become the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. Entitled Al-Zarqawi: The Second Generation of Al Qaeda, Hussein's flattering portrait of the butcher of Baghdad, known for his beheadings, also used numerous high-ranking sources in al Qaeda to lay out a strategic plan for the group that would have been the envy of any corporate consultant.

In light of the recently expanded war in Afghanistan and Wall Street's meltdown in 2008, stage four of the six-part plan is especially chilling. According to Wright, "America's power will deteriorate through the constant expansion of the circle of confrontation." Adds Hussein: "By then, Al Qaeda will have completed its electronic capabilities, and it will be time to use them to launch electronic attacks to undermine the U.S. economy." At that point, says Wright, "Islamists will promote the idea of using gold as the international medium of exchange, leading to the collapse of the dollar."

It is entirely possible that al Qaeda exploited the financial bubble in the global economy to trigger the catastrophe on Wall Street and the global economy in 2008. Sophisticated trades involving airline stocks accompanied the 9-11 attacks, and al Qaeda has a financial arm that the U.S. government has been trying to shut down. But these days the mere threat of an attack is enough to create a panic in the markets or another liquidity crisis. The complex system of derivatives at the heart of the previous crisis makes it impossible to build a firewall in the economy to contain the damage.

That gives President Obama a very persuasive rationale -- national security -- for immediately enacting financial reform. If legislation continues to prove difficult, the president could issue a temporary freeze on derivatives by executive order. For those who still believe that unfettered markets can do no wrong, the unregulated intersection between banks and betting might be seen as too soft a target for terrorists. Economic security and national security are inextricably linked.

According to Wright's 2006 article, the leaders of al Qaeda are actually worried about being seen as too savage and wanted to curtail Zarqawi's beheadings. If that is true, then Bin Laden's latest guise of protecting the environment through jihad on the U.S. economy is likely a public relations warning of things to come. Under the current unregulated system, all he has to do is make a threat for the house of cards to tumble.