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Distributed Systems vs Terror

September 11, 2001 shows us that distributed systems can be strong and robust and centralized systems are weak and vulnerable when under attack.

This is an analysis of the terrorist attacks in which I try to show the huge differences between what happened at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are because of the differences in the way the military and the national financial systems are organized.

Centralized Systems are Vulnerable

Some of our infrastructure and systems make us vulnerable. Large centralized sky scrapers, energy, communications bottlenecks and financial systems are easy targets of low tech "distributed denial of service" (DDoS) type attacks, and these systems will fail catastrophically. Unfortunately, DDoS attacks are difficult to prevent.

Attacks on one building shut down the financial markets of the USA and killed almost 3,000 people. The building failed catastrophically killing hundreds of rescue workers, other buildings were then destroyed in a "domino effect." The combination of centralized location and a centralized finance system shut down the stock market. The other attack killed a couple hundred people but has no real effect on the military system. Why?

Distributed Systems Seem Robust

If the terrorists flew 10 planes into the Pentagon they would have still killed just a few hundred military plus a lot of passengers. The low building was quickly evacuated. Killing some defense contractors and military accountants is not going to stop the military system. The US armed forces have a deep distributed structure. For example, National Guard units are distributed to 50 separate state commands. Coast Guard, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Army, Reserves all have command structures, bases and people distributed world wide. A large industrial base serves them and is also widely distributed.

Questions to Ask of Systems

So, which system was the most centralized and vulnerable to catastrophic failure? Which system will have the same problems even after spending forty billion dollars to rebuild?

To protect our nation some questions should be asked: Why can an attack on one building in New York City shut down the national financial markets? Is power and money so concentrated that we can be totally controlled not just by terrorists but by others whose motives do not have our interests at heart? The free market is supposed to be central to our freedom.

It is too bad our leaders (Bush-Cheney) advocate centralized and vulnerable systems that can be skimmed for short term profits and used as choke points on our own people. Bush-Cheney want more nuke plants, higher concentration of money, power, centralized infrastructure, fewer rights, less personal privacy, more state secrecy, more spies, etc. This is tragically the opposite of what should be done.

Other Vulnerable Centralized Systems

How long until the terrorists that we created and trained (Hussien, Bin Lauden, Taleban, Colombians, whoever) figure out that they can easily stop this country by switching targets to other centralized vulnerable systems? Systems such as nuclear plants or other systems that can fail in catastrophic ways. For example, send trucks or small planes filled with fertilizer/oil bombs into nuke plant control offices. Twenty terrorists the same day and how many will succeed? One, five, maybe all twenty. The World Trade Center would look like a toy roman candle compared to Hiroshima. Forty mile "Glow Zones" near or in the 20 largest cities. Millions of people sick or killed, trillions of dollars of infrastructure polluted and lost. Even if the 20 nuke plants all "contained" any radiation problems the hit to the power grid would be serious. Do the same to Japan and Europe and the new super powers of the world will be Brazil and China.

The Distributed Solution Ignored

There is an infrastructure and systems solution to avert national disasters. It is hard to stop a society that has buildings that are only 10 stories high, gets power from many distributed non-catastrophic systems and has flexible dense distributed multi-mode systems of communications, transportation, power and other systems.

We can start to make changes in our infrastructure without waiting for the next terrorist attack. But the policies of distributing infrastructure, means distributing wealth and power, these are not the policies of the system centralists that took over after the 2000 national election.

Remember Vietnam? Extensive carpet bombing, massive chemical warfare, assassinations, state terror, propaganda, political manipulation of a puppet government. Our mighty distributed military system was ever victorious in the field of battle. Yet we were beaten by an even more distributed infrastructure, political will, and some smart guys that looked at the long term view. And the policies of that time created and trained most of the "enemies" we now face.

Do our leaders and our own systems create the terrorists and at the same time make us totally vulnerable to the terrorism? What can be done to make the world safer? Will an anti-missile system do it? How about locking up or killing all that disagree with Rush Limbaugh? Or is it time to consider real solutions.