Cassandra Complex

Cassandra Complex

A little ‘what if' can save you a big ‘oh no'

For months before the September 11 terrorist attacks, scenario planning authority Juval Aviv had been quietly warning US law enforcement agencies, the American Bar Association and US business interests that America was in imminent danger of assault.

"Based on information we had developed in Europe and the Middle East, there were warnings of a very big event coming up in America," says the anti-terrorist expert. "It was even discussing the use of airlines, hijacking . . . not specifically targeted at the Twin Towers, but based on experience in the 60s, 70s and 80s, we always knew that the terrorist networks' dream was to hit monuments and buildings that represent the power of America."

But like Cassandra of Greek mythology whose fate was to foresee the future but whose predictions were always ignored, Aviv's warnings went largely unheeded despite his intelligence links and years of experience.

A special consultant to the FBI on issues of Middle Eastern terrorism for more than a decade, Aviv formerly served in an elite Commando/Intelligence Unit of the Israel Defence Force. He hunted down and brought to justice the terrorists responsible for the Munich Olympic Games murders in 1972 on behalf of the Israel Secret Service (Mossad) and was Pan Am Airways' lead investigator into the Pan Am 103-Lockerbie bombing. His company, Interfor Incorporated, provides corporate intelligence to Fortune 500 companies, US and foreign law firms, major banks, insurers and governmental agencies, including information on terrorism. But wherever he tried to warn about an imminent terrorist threat in the months before September 11, he was accused of seeing terrorists under every tree.

Even those experts who weren't surprised to see the terrorists resort to that kind of attack were amazed at the ease with which the attacks of September 11 were committed and their ultimate horrifying success. Aviv thinks in their wildest dreams neither the terrorists nor law enforcement officers believed any foreseeable attack would result in such devastation. But that belief merely reinforces the need "to always prepare for the worst" in the mind of the man with more than 20 years' experience conducting vulnerability studies and scenario planning.

Forewarned is forearmed, as the saying goes, and there's no doubt those organisations that were prepared for the worst fared best in the aftermath of the attacks. Aviv says at least the attacks have - if somewhat belatedly - aroused a tremendous amount of interest in scenario planning and disaster preparedness amongst US business interests.

"I think corporate America woke up to realise that America and Canada were not immune against terrorism; that they had had the luxury of years really not investing enough in prevention and security and safety. They really got away with, I would say, murder to not invest, to not prepare, and we're paying for it now," Aviv says.

Similarly, the tragic events of September 11 have convinced many Australian organisations to consider more directly how to cope with the uncertainty of the future. Proponents say scenario planning is gaining new currency as organisations contemplate how they would react in the face of attack.

It is a response that gets Aviv's total endorsement. He possesses no information that would suggest Australia is currently a terrorist target. But he warns that such situations are disconcertingly fluid, and that since disaster preparedness takes time, the time to institute protection is now. "I'm not suggesting that you are as exposed by any means as Europe or North America right now; however, you never know how things shift," he says. "People didn't believe that it would ever come to America and it did arrive. Since the world has changed, become more violent, the world is much more exposed to terrorism of any kind.

"I think it's more cost-effective to start slowly to get into the 21st century and acquire the minimum logical security for your facility. When you do it slowly and in stages you have plenty of time to choose the right system, plenty of time to bring in cost-effective equipment, enough time to train people, there's no rush in it. Once it is done and you just need to upgrade, it is like buying a computer that has features that could be upgraded in the future at minimal cost. If you have to do it all under an emergency crisis: a) most of it won't be available, b) it's costly, and c) you have already lost time, business and maybe life."

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