Catastrophic Terrorism/1993 WTC attack
In the section entitled "Imagining the Transforming Event", the authors speculate on the consequences if the 1993 bombing of the WTC had succeeded or been more drastic in nature:
If the device that exploded in 1993 under the World Trade Center had been nuclear, or the distribution of a deadly pathogen, the chaos and devastation would have gone far beyond our meager ability to describe it.
Experts combining experience in every quadrant of the national security and law enforcement community all consider this catastrophic threat perfectly plausible today. Technology is more accessible, society is more vulnerable, and much more elaborate international networks have developed among organized criminals, drug traffickers, arms dealers, and money launderers: the necessary infrastructure for catastrophic terrorism. Practically unchallengeable American military superiority on the conventional battlefield pushes this country's enemies toward the unconventional alternatives.
Readers should imagine the possibilities for themselves, because the most serious constraint on current policy is lack of imagination. An act of catastrophic terrorism that killed thousands or tens of thousands of people and/or disrupted the necessities of life for hundreds of thousands, or even millions, would be a watershed event in America's history. It could involve loss of life and property unprecedented for peacetime and undermine Americans' fundamental sense of security within their own borders in a manner akin to the 1949 Soviet atomic bomb test, or perhaps even worse. Constitutional liberties would be challenged as the United States sought to protect itself from further attacks by pressing against allowable limits in surveillance of citizens, detention of suspects, and the use of deadly force. More violence would follow, either as other terrorists seek to imitate this great "success" or as the United States strikes out at those considered responsible. Like Pearl Harbor, such an event would divide our past and future into a "before" and "after." The effort and resources we devote to averting or containing this threat now, in the "before" period, will seem woeful, even pathetic, when compared to what will happen "after." Our leaders will be judged negligent for not addressing catastrophic terrorism more urgently.
This has been widely quoted (e.g. Snowshoe Films), perhaps somewhat misleadingly, as speculation that if the 1993 WTC bombing had succeded,
...the resulting horror and chaos would have exceeded our ability to describe it. [Such an act of catastrophic terrorism] would be a watershed event in American history. It could involve loss of life and property unrecognized in peacetime and undermine America's fundamental sense of security...
Like Pearl Harbor, the event would divide our past and future into a before and an after. The United States might respond with draconian measures scaling back civil liberties, allowing wider surveillance of citizens, detention of suspects and use of deadly force. More violence would follow, either future terrorist attacks or U.S. counterattacks. Belatedly, Americans would judge their leaders negligent for not addressing terrorism more urgently.
Unless there is another version of this paper somewhere, this version is somewhat mangled and not entirely accurate. It shifts the emphasis from trying to warn people of the possibility of a serious terrorist attack to almost gleeful anticipation that such an event came close to succeeding, and could well succeed in the future.
If there is an indictment to be made against this article, it would have to be over the matter of whether the authors were urging taking those "draconian measures" in advance, using potential terrorism as an excuse – and that is not immediately clear without a thorough reading.