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Thursday, January 08, 2004

Some good news in the war on terror

Let me quickly update two stories I've been following in the so-called "war on terror."

First, some good news. As I've blogged before, US airliners are potentially under real threat of shoulder fired missiles. Several news reports, in fact, suggest that some of the recent intelligence (and "chatter") relates to this possibility, which is behind the elevated (orange) threat level in the US.

As the Chicago Tribune reported yesterday, airlines are about to test an anti-missile system. The system will cost about $1 million per plane, and with 6,800 planes potentially at risk, that means a cost of nearly $7 billion. This is consistent with what I wrote 3 months ago.

The story says that Homeland Security will begin funding tests very soon, it will use the data to make a decision, and defense systems could be deployed in two years.

Now, some more good news -- unless you think it would be good news if Iraq actually had weapons of mass destruction. Yesterday's Washington Post had a really long story by Barton Gellman detailing Iraq's lack of WMD.

There's lots of good stuff in the article. Much of the piece just brings together material we've all read before over the past six months -- but with added detail. For example, Gellman explains exactly why the original reports about finding mobile biological weapons facilities were so wrong. Iraq used a chemical process for inflating hydrogen weather balloons. And Iraq did have a military rationale for wanting to know the weather (wind conditions and temperature), as it improved missile targeting. But the trailers were actually for inflating weather balloons.

As I've noted before, one apparently important reason the US believed Iraq had WMD is that Saddam Hussein's scientists were lying to him to save their jobs (and lives). They deceived their boss, but that also had the effect of deceiving the rest of the world. But, in reality, they had almost no means of producing sophisticated biological weapons, and their nuclear program has been virtually inactive since the IAEA dismantled it years ago.

Hans Blix speculates that Iraq might have been using a defense strategy that my wife and I have actually promoted among our friends. When we go to house-warming parties for new homeowners, we typically take a "beware of dog" sign (when they have a pet). It's much cheaper than an electronic home security system and may work just as well as a deterrent. Blix says that Iraq may have been putting up a "beware of dog" sign without actually possessing a dog.

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