Jesse Kornbluth: Good morning.
I'm Jesse Kornbluth of AOL New York. Joining us now is Edward
Jay Epstein. Ed is a brilliant historian of terrorism and
conspiracies, starting with the Kennedy assassination. Ed,
what was your initial reaction to the World Trade Center
Ed Epstein: I was amazed that
an airplane could cause a building to collapse, then I found
out the jet fuel basically caused an explosion. What you
have here is a new weapon; it is a piloted missile. What
you have is hundreds of tons of highly combustible fuel.
It can be aimed with great precision, and it is very difficult
to defend against.
Jesse Kornbluth: You have a vast
network of international sources -- you're one of the best-connected
writers I know. When you thought,Who did this? what did
you come up with?
Ed Epstein: First of all, I don't
think "Who" is that important a question. It requires very
little resources to commandeer an airliner -- a plastic
credit card, a knife and a few people who are suicidal.
What this means is, no matter who we kill, other people
are going to be copycats. Copycats will understand that
it takes very little to commandeer a plane, perhaps less
than it takes to organize a car bombing. It doesn't have
to be four coordinated planes to attack. Just one. At the
present time, we have no defenses to boarding an airliner
or chartering one. You don't need a certified pilot. You
simply need to train a suicide pilot. He doesn't need to
know how to take off or land. He just knows how to punch
in a few coordinates and fly.
Jesse Kornbluth: So a massive
military response won't solve the problem?
Ed Epstein: It might solve many
other problems, and I am all for it. But the real problem
is, suddenly, that there are literally thousands of missiles
that can be commandeered with relative ease. And unless
we have a defense, we can expect, no matter what ringleader
or organizer we arrest and kill, we will not stop other
people from replacing them. Its like killing a high-level
drug lord and not expecting someone to take his place.
Jesse Kornbluth: Okay, Ed, so
where is a real solution?
Ed Epstein: The real solution
is to deprive terrorists of this new weapon they have found,
which will require radical reorganization of air travel.
Jesse Kornbluth: Can you be specific?
Ed Epstein: Well, for one thing,
you can have sky marshals, two, four of them, sitting up
between the pilot and the passengers. For a more radical
solution, you can take the controls away from the pilots,
like on the space shuttle, and have the air controller on
land take over the control of the plane and bypass the pilot.
Jesse Kornbluth: That sounds
expensive -- in a way that airlines have historically resisted.
Far more emotionally satisfying, I'm sure, is footage of
a terrorist camp blowing up. Do you think we have the will
to take the steps you outline?
Ed Epstein: I think it is really
a question of necessity. As soon as another plane is hijacked
and used as a piloted-missile in this same situation, we
will realize that we have to take these steps. Now terrorists
don't need camps. All that is required is someone crazy
enough to die.
Jesse Kornbluth: So you think
this is not the last of this kind of attack?
Ed Epstein: I hope that it is
the last we ever see of this, but I fear, since it has been
proven to be successful, that they will attempt to try this
Jesse Kornbluth: Compare this
threat to the threat the Bush administration says we face
from missiles. Which threat do you see as the greater one?
Ed Epstein: commaneered Airplanes,
Think of it -- a plane doesn't have to be commandeered near
its target. It can be commandeered from Canada, UK, anywhere
-- North Korea. The Pariah don't have a single missile.
So, clearly, this is the great threat. I don't think it
is that expensive, since airplanes already have electronic
controls, they are now controlled by [signals]. So I don't
think it would be expensive.
Jesse Kornbluth: Let's talk about
the social consequences of yesterday's attack. You've written
about American intelligence agencies. Do you see a revamping?
Do you see a curtailing of our freedoms? What's ahead?
Ed Epstein: When we look at intelligence,
services involved in an intelligence-gathering operation,
such as the CIA or NSA, they are basically looking at a
conventional enemy, such as a country. There is what is
called traffic, such as radio frequency -- they look for
a change. And when the traffic goes silent, they can warn
that something is likely to happen, as they did in Pearl
Harbor. When you're dealing with an unconventional source
of an individual or a group of individuals, there might
be no traffic. They might write letters to each other. They
might use code words that they do not repeat with enough
frequency so they are decipherable. In other words, basic
tools we have do not work against a small group of individuals.
There are some tools that do work, such as penetration or
recruiting one of their group to be our agent. This can
be very difficult.
Jesse Kornbluth: So let me ask:
Can we ever get good intelligence about these small, independent
Ed Epstein: It is not as likely
as getting it from an organized country, as in a bureaucracy.
It is much easier working against the KGB.
Jesse Kornbluth: Given that,
Ed, it seems that a strong defense such as you outlined
above is our best course. Yes?
Ed Epstein: What you have to do
is take potential weapons out of their grasp. And the airliner,
including chartered airliners and private, now all have
to be considered weapons, and highly effective weapons,
within their grasps.
Jesse Kornbluth: Ed, you are a
smart, careful guy. Will this event change the way you live?
Ed Epstein: Not by my volition.
But if airlines become twice as expensive, or if the delays
become two or three hours, I will change my schedule.
Jesse Kornbluth: Edward Jay Epstein,
thank you so much.
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