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The sophistication
of the attackers

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Some questions have arisen as to the sophistication necessary to carry out yesterday’s attacks in New York and Washington.

It is Stratfor’s view that the attackers were extremely sophisticated and well-organized. We’d like to summarize the reasons for our views.

According to emerging reports, each plane had at least two and sometimes three hijackers aboard. That means that there were, at minimum, between eight and 12 individuals involved. We would expect that others were involved as well on the ground – providing safe houses, communications and other necessary elements. Our expectation would be that between 10 and 20 people were privy to the plot in detail, including targets and timing. We would expect the number to tend toward the higher figure.

That is a large number to involve in a conspiracy. Clearly, they maintained excellent operational security through four difficult phases.

First, evidence suggests they were able to organize the operation outside the United States without detection by U.S. intelligence. This included gaining substantial knowledge about flying aircraft – including turning off the transponder, preventing the hijack signal from being transmitted, navigating the aircraft and finally, flying it.

Second, they were able to move undetected into the United States. That means that they either obtained and traveled under false documents – and had access to excellent ones – or were “virgins” engaged in their first operation and not on any suspect list. We suspect the former is true.

Third, they reformed in the United States, coordinating at least strike times, which undoubtedly could not be set too far ahead. After all, what if one of the selected flights was all booked up? Finally, they coordinated time on target superbly, with only one aircraft failing to carry out the mission.

Apart from the expertise needed, it is the ability to maintain security throughout the operation – in spite of the number of people who were doubtless involved – that is most striking. The attackers understood how to avoid detection by the National Security Agency and other technical intelligence agencies while organizing in the base camp. They knew how to avoid suspicion once in the United States. That meant that they had a sophisticated understanding of how U.S. intelligence works as well as the discipline to avoid triggering suspicion.

In an operation of this sort, the probability of detection is always high. There are too many people, too many actions required, too many possibilities for error. These men did not commit any detectable errors. They were very good. Simply consider that they were skilled enough with the use of cutting devices like box knives to intimidate planeloads of people.

Many have said that anyone willing to die could have done what they did. But the willingness to die was only one of their attributes. We would urge anyone doubting this to try to imagine passing through the steps they undoubtedly passed through – from flight training to the final action – to realize the complexity of what this required.

Their support team has doubtless now dispersed, either in preparation for reforming for new actions or withdrawing to fight another day. But the fact that a day after the action, little seems to be known about who the attackers were attests to their sophistication. This is not an enemy to be underestimated.

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