Have Y2K Terrorists Already Won?

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Now this is MOST interesting...

Tuesday December 21 08:16 PM EST

Have Y2K Terrorists Already Won? WASHINGTON (APBnews.com) -- International terrorists may already have won an important battle by putting the United States on edge as the end of the millennium approaches.

Psychologists say that warnings of disruptions at New Year's Eve celebrations and the recent arrest of a suspected terrorist on the border between Canada and Washington state have made many people fearful. The news media may help spread unwarranted fear by speculation.

"This is what terrorism depends on -- it operates on frightening people," said Harvey Schlossberg, a retired New York City policeman and clinical psychologist.

The immediate danger, psychologists warn, is that Americans fearful of terrorism will drastically alter their lives and routines instead of taking sensible precautions.

Since Ahmed Ressam's arrest last week for allegedly attempting to smuggle bomb components into the United States from Canada, media reports have suggested that violent acts are planned for New Year's Eve. Polls show that many people have decided to stay home, avoiding public celebrations like those at Seattle's Space Needle, New York's Times Square and the National Mall in Washington.

"The short-term problem is that it paralyzes people from doing what they normally do and adds to the holiday blues," said Donald Dossey, Ph.D., a disaster stress expert and the author of Keying the Power of Positive Feelings.

Fear can be bad for your health

Dossey said the long-term impact is potentially worse -- the nation's health is at stake. Fear leads to stress, which can shut down the immune system, cause excessive emotional troubles or lead to drinking and drug abuse. Work-related difficulties may also arise.

That may be one of the objectives of a terrorist organization, to cause mental havoc and invoke images of past bombings.

These pictures are pulled up from memory -- and by the media -- and when something like the arrest of Ressam happens, "it makes a terrorist attack a real possibility," Dossey said.

"Soft warfare" -- or psychological warfare -- is meant to give the enemy the jitters.

'Everybody feels they are a target'

Often this is achieved by calling in successive bomb threats that shut down subways or airline flights, but it can also be the result of a well-publicized attempt to stage an actual physical attack, which federal officials presume Ressam intended.

Some experts doubt that Ressam was supposed to be captured as a ploy by his handlers to set Americans on edge. It is unusual for terrorists fighting for a religious or political cause to sacrifice a fellow zealot just to incite anxiety and rattle the perceived enemy.

Nevertheless, Chris Hellman, a senior analyst at the Center for Defense Information in Washington, said soft warfare is incredibly effective as a weapon.

"Loss of life is only one component of terrorist activities. They also want to make people feel unsafe in their homes," Hellman said.

"You don't have to kill a lot of people, and you don't have to explode a lot of bombs," Schlossberg said. "The idea is to generate public fear, so everybody feels they are a target."

Bin Laden has said all Americans are just that: bull's-eyes in red, white and blue.

Ratcheting up security

Life has changed everywhere in the era of domestic terrorism. Holiday travelers this year will experience an even greater sensitivity at airport check-ins as they pass their bags through metal detectors an hour or two before their flights.

The inconvenience of tighter security is part of the terrorist's strategy, Schlossberg said, so that Americans will blame the government for eroding their rights.

"People transfer anger against terrorists to their own government for being oppressive," he said.

Compounding this fear of the unknown is the lack of information about the Seattle case.

Y2K briefing postponed

Today's previously scheduled news briefing on Y2K-related preparations by Assistant Director Dale Watson of the FBI's counterterrorism division was "postponed" indefinitely.

Some in the FBI say there is a reluctance to reassure the public that they are safe when there is a strong possibility that something could happen. The bureau doesn't know enough about Ressam's activities and ties to terrorist groups like Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda organization to make any assurances.

Others say top law enforcement officials are themselves fretting over incomplete intelligence regarding international terrorists' plans for the millennium. At the FBI, sources said, they know enough to take the threat of violence very seriously, but not enough to know how to completely thwart it.

When a group of suspected terrorist operatives were rounded up in Jordan last week, information then came to light that suggested more had escaped than been captured, which caused hand-wringing at the bureau.

The line between paranoia and prudence

Is the government overreacting internally to the perceived threat?

Maybe, said one experienced FBI agent.

"But we think the line between paranoia and prudence has narrowed a bit," he added.

But it's not just the terrorists and tight-lipped lawmen who are to blame for stoking the fires of fear among the public, argued Samuel Karson, who has practiced clinical psychology for over 50 years, including a long stint with the U.S. foreign service specializing in psychological fallout from acts of terrorism.

Publicity spreads fear

Karson said that the news media should shoulder some of the responsibility for causing anxiety about terrorism.

"The publicity is dangerously contagious," he said. "That's what gets people worried."

Karson said those begging off New Year's plans are probably personalities more fearful and anxious than others in the population are; any kind of threat can disrupt their ability to function normally.

People should go ahead and celebrate the New Year, he said, but take precautions to be safe.

Prudent partying

"A little circumspect thinking, planning and caution is realistic in today's culture," said Karson.

He has had experience living with fear and recalls being bombed six times a day on Okinawa at the end of World War II. But he says he "thought no more about it as an irritant than running out of ice for a cold drink."

"As an act of defiance against terrorists, I would advise people to go ahead with their plans. It's the only way to fight back," said Schlossberg, who teaches about terrorism at St. John's University in New York.

To do otherwise could then lead to canceling other normal activities because "terrorism isn't going to go away."

By James Gordon Meek, an APBnews.com staff writer in Washington (james.meek@apbnews.com)

-- Roland (nottelling@nowhere.com), December 22, 1999




-- Roland (nottelling@nohwere.com), December 22, 1999.

Is anybody else puzzled as to why a one in a million chance of being injured by a terrorist bomb is more fear inducing than the real prospect of being in a neighbourhood without power, food or water for days or weeks?

Seems to me that JQP has a pretty short memory, and his "fear" of terrorists will stop about three seconds after the news stops running terrorist stories 24/7.

-- Servant (public_service@yahoo.com), December 22, 1999.

Can't help but wonder if y2k terrorism might not cause the public to react in a way Koskinen was hoping to avoid. I wonder just how many additional hotel cancellations this might cause.

-- Rich (rubeliever@webtv.net), December 22, 1999.

Good question, Servant.

Perhaps it's because with terrorism, people have a frame of reference, visuals, and unfortunately, we know it is real. With Y2K, there is little frame of reference.

-- (resolved@this.point), December 22, 1999.

Resolved, I think you hit the nail on the head on this one. I think the fed govt wants to keep as many people home as possible over the rollover:

terrorism is EASY to understand, Y2K is NOT.


-- preparing (preparing@home.com), December 22, 1999.

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