Bookworms, pack rats: nation's secret warriors
Add the nation's bookworms and pack rats to the list of heroes in the fight on terrorism. James Billington, the librarian of Congress, reveals that his staff is helping the government's hunt for Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, and even the rebuilding of Afghanistan. One example: On 9/12, Middle East experts on war alert began rummaging through dusty files and later found a book in which bin Laden describes his terror tactics. Also: Billington's Cairo office got a computer disk version of an al Qaeda document, "The Truth About the New Crusade," detailing when it's OK to kill Americans. And he has provided Afghanistan with the world's largest collection of pre-Taliban Afghan law. This is not the first time. In 1990, as the United States readied for the Gulf War, old files solved the Pentagon's question of whether fine Iraqi sand would support or swallow tanks and aircraft. The answer was in a late 1870s German geologist's report on digs in ancient Mesopotamia, now Iraq. Included: core sample data. "Even the Germans threw that away," says Billington. "We didn't, which supports our `pack-ratism.' "