By KEVIN HORRIGAN
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
The Atlantic is a monthly magazine with a circulation of 325,000 heavily skewed to policymakers, academics, journalists and other sober-minded -- which is to say, pretty dull -- individuals. It is not given to publishing Tom Clancy-like apocalyptic stories that begin with a couple from Wichita, Kan., being bushwhacked by terrorists who steal their RV so they can blow up a couple of Las Vegas casinos.
And yet the cover story of the January-February issue of The Atlantic does precisely that. "Ten Years Later" is a 13,800-word article, complete with footnotes, by Richard A. Clarke, the former head of counterterrorism in the Clinton and Bush administrations.
Clarke was in charge in the White House war room on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. A year ago, he wrote about that experience in "Against All Enemies," a best-selling book that roundly condemned the nation's efforts against terrorism, before and after the attacks. He repeated that criticism before the 9/11 commission, whose recommendations, he says, aren't being taken seriously enough.
His piece in The Atlantic assumes the guise of a transcript of a lecture delivered at the Kennedy School at Harvard on Sept. 11, 2011, the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. It is Clancy-like fiction, annotated with background facts, that summarizes the "second wave of Al-Qaida attacks" on the United States, and its effect on the nation's economy, security and civil liberties.
"My critics will definitely find all sorts of arguments as to why I shouldn't have written it," Clarke said in an interview in The Atlantic Online (www.theatlantic.com). "One of them will be that I'm giving a recipe book to the terrorists. And we thought about that. But we know the terrorists already have their recipe book, and it's a far more detailed recipe book than what we're providing here."
Clark's imaginary scenario begins on June 29, 2005, with a series of suicide bombings at casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City and theme parks in Florida, California and Texas. Congress retaliates by passing the Patriot Act II, enabling the Justice Department to round up illegal immigrants and anyone suspected of hiding terrorists. More than 42,000 are held at detention camps in the Arizona desert. The number of foreign students at U.S. universities drops by a third, resulting in a major brain drain for U.S. technology companies.
In December 2005, Clark postulates, six men armed with explosives and legally purchased assault weapons hose down a huge mall in Minnesota. Simultaneous attacks are launched on malls in Chicago, Dallas, suburban Washington and Los Angeles. The attacks devastate the retail economy and unemployment starts to climb. Eighteen state governors move to seize control of their National Guard units for security work at home. Congress passes the Patriot Act III, giving the military police powers in the United States and increasing surveillance across the country.
On April 17, 2006, subway and commuter rail lines in Atlanta, Boston, Baltimore and Philadelphia are bombed. Three days later Amtrak trains are hit by "improvised explosive devices" in five states, including Missouri and Illinois. Congress creates the Federal Railway Police and recalls 40,000 troops from Iraq to guard subways. Congress also creates national identification cards, overriding the objections of both the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association.
In May 2007, the president launches bombers from bases in Saudi Arabia on a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. The Iranians retaliate against Saudi tankers, driving oil prices to $81 a barrel. A fundamentalist coup overthrows the Saudi government. Later that year, on the day before Thanksgiving, shoulder-fired missiles bring down four jetliners at U.S. airports. With the economy reeling in 2008, a cyberattack on U.S. computer systems crashes stock markets, financial systems and much of the Internet routing system. The draft is reimposed in 2009 and by 2010, the Canadian border has been closed by "nuke squads" searching for nuclear weapons.
It could all happen, Clarke says -- and worse, if nuclear or biological weapons are employed. Still, he writes, it's not too late to stop it with a battle of ideas in the Muslim world, instead of a military "crusade" of good versus evil. He also calls for "mutually reinforcing" compromises between civil liberties and domestic security.
Clarke's credentials are impressive, but critics say he's an alarmist who overestimates the abilities of the terrorists. Maybe so; you'll have to read the piece and decide for yourself. But don't do what I did. Don't read it at bedtime.
X Kevin Horrigan is a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Distributed by Knight Ridder/TribuneInformation Services.