Column No. 29 By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH - September 9, 2004
This column is another in the occasional series of thoughts from my friend A.L. (who wishes to remain anonymous). With apologies to Ring Lardner, Sr., in this space they go under the rubric of "You Know Me, Al." This writing consists of a set of memos that Al wrote to a friend of his, the first five on the day of the WTC bombing, the sixth two days later. In light of what we know now about the major lapses of intelligence and counter‑terrorism policy and programs under the Georgites (and according to some, e.g., Jim Marrs in Inside Job, Jeff Wells' The Coincidence Theorists' Guide to 9/11, their possible passive or active complicity), there is a combination of naiveté and prescience that I find most engaging. I thought that you might, too.
1. Subj: Terrorism hits home, I Date: 9/11/01 1:05:44 PM Eastern Daylight Time
Hi. The CIA, the FBI, the NSA. Not one, apparently, had even a sniff of an incredibly complex, highly sophisticated attack on the US. If someone had made a movie with this plot, no one would have believed it. That we were caught flat‑footed, with more civilians killed in one day than Israelis have been killed in 10 months of the current Intifada, with apparently not the least awareness of the trouble coming, an attack that has to have been many months in the planning, considering the vaunted CIA/FBI/NSA intelligence security apparatus, this is absolutely incredible. Or is it?
I don't think that it is. These agencies have lived in a culture of "fighting communism" at home and abroad for 50 years. They were really good at overthrowing popular left‑wing governments and leaders on the one hand, and tracking Soviet subs with fancy listening devices on the other. They are simply not equipped or funded to deal with this kind of asymmetrical threat. Whoever did this, you can just imagine what kind of sophisticated communications system alone they must have used, not to have had transmissions picked up by the NSA, for example. But we do know where the Russian subs are!
Of course, with our resources we could easily have the most advanced communications control system in the world, but that doesn't really cost big, big bucks, and that won't win elections. So we have this tragedy. Well, perhaps all those people will not have died in vain. Perhaps this will wake up at least some political leaders with the nerve to get our intelligence and military communities finally out of the old "destroy communism or anything that even remotely resembles it wherever you can find it" mentality and into the 21st century.
Final note: And to think that any of those high jacked aircraft could have been carrying a suitcase sized nuclear weapon!
2. Subj: Re: NY‑eerie silence Date: 9/11/012:27:09 PM Eastern Daylight Time
Americans are now experiencing war on our shores for the first time since 1865, and have had foreign "troops" firing in anger on our shores for the first time since 1815 (the Mexican War having been fought on territory that was rightfully Mexico's or had been recently, at the time). What we should be looking at, of course, is both fighting terrorism effectively (like, duh, making the CIA into an intelligence agency instead of a covert‑actions‑to‑overthrow‑governments‑we‑don't‑like outfit) and, especially, how to deal with the root causes of terrorism. We might, just might, do the first. (But there are certainly no guarantees under this Administration; because the military‑industrial complex makes lots more money building Star Wars than it would building an effective anti‑terrorism function.) The second? Not in our lifetimes, under any conceivable American Administration, for sure
3. Subj: Re: Terrorism Date: 9/11/016:45:55 PM Eastern Daylight Time
My friend. What an excellent response to [a Right‑Winger]. He would like the disagreements over the causes of the tragedy and how to respond to it both to be "non‑political." It's fascinating how the Right‑Wingers, who politicize everything from the freedom of belief on when life begins to the supposed non‑sanctity of the system established in the last century to provide some modicum of financial security for the aged, suddenly use the "don't politicize it" argument when public policy on, for example, how best to respond to terrorism, is the subject of debate.
The reason, of course, is because they want everyone to fall behind whatever policy it is that the ultimate political animal called the current occupant of the Presidency of the United States decides that policy should be Oust as long as he is a reactionary of course. I doubt that the Right would have used the "don't politicize it" argument if Kennedy hadn't been killed and had withdrawn US troops from Vietnam after the '64 election.)
Since politics happens to be the means that human beings have devised to settle differences over social and economic policy short of the use of force, it also happens to be the correct tool to use to decide military/foreign‑policy issues like how to respond to terrorism. Yet it should not be used on basic moral/ethical issues like the right to maintain one's own beliefs about what life is, especially since such private decision‑making is protected by the Constitution. But if private belief on, say, the matter of when life begins, is to be a subject for political intervention, then surely the nation's foreign policy and to best conduct it should be. And indeed it is, and indeed your arguments about the scandal that is the state of our "intelligence and security" community are the correct issues to be dealt with through the political process.
4. Subj: Re: September 11 Terrorism Date: 9/11/016:54:37 PM Eastern Daylight Time
My friend, again, an excellent response to [a Right‑Winger]. Cannot a "sober response" be a quick one? Critics from the left of the US "intelligence" community, like me, have been saying for years that the FBI/CIA/NSA nexus was too stuck in the Era of the Anti‑Communist Crusade to be effective in a world where our enemies have changed radically. And there's that anti‑terrorism expert, surely no leftie, on TV nine months ago saying that Bin Laden had an intelligence/security system sophisticated to a level far beyond anything the US has. Does a "sober response" require waiting some time to say these things, perhaps until the attention of the public has gone elsewhere? Was the "sober response" after the Oklahoma City bombing completely to ignore the violent Radical Religious Right in the US, which is exactly what happened? I don't think so. The sooner the drumfire of criticism gets going, the better. That's the way truly to honor the victims: find out what went wrong, why this happened, and then change things to try to make it never happens again.
5. Subj: Two last points Date: 9/11/01 10:15:51 PM Eastern Daylight Time
Hi. Do we now have evidence that there is more than one God? If indeed it was Muslims behind the attacks, we know that with few exceptions they are "religious," and surely at this time are thanking and praising Allah for his help. (The "Marxist" Palestinian terrorist grouping, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, formerly headed by George Habash, whose acting leader, Abu Ali Mustafa, the Israelis assassinated last month, is one of those exceptions. By the way, have I shared with you the fact that the word "assassination" is derived from an Arabic word for "political murder?") Then there is the "God" whose blessing was sought by about 70 Senators when they spontaneously burst into song across the street from the evacuated Capitol today. Surely that God and Allah could not be one and the same (unless He, or She, is highly neurotic or truly schizophrenic, and neither of those psychological states would really do for a God).
So maybe there is more than "one true God." A Christian one, a Jewish one, an Islamic one, actually several for each denomination because they each have their inner schisms. Then there might be a bunch of Hindu Gods, a Buddhist deity (hard to find, the others might spend some of their free time looking for him or her), to say nothing of the Gods of the wide variety of the world's less popular religions. It would be sort of a polytheistic monotheism in which, for at least those religions that are monotheistic, there is one God, but each religion has that God to themselves, so there really are a bunch of Gods up there wherever (the) God(s) live(s). Then one has to ask such questions as, do they fight among themselves as their human devotees do? Is one more powerful than the rest, and if that is the case, what does that do to each human group's view that "God" is all‑powerful, to say nothing of all‑knowing. But if each is all powerful and all‑knowing, then "our" God would/should have known what the people who support that other Gods were up to, and would have done something to stop them. Wouldn't He (or She) acted? Ah, these questions are puzzling. Maybe you can help out with developing some answers ‑ starting tomorrow!
6. Subj: Re: Sidebar to discussion Date: 9/13/01 1:15:08 PM Eastern Daylight Time
We have seen a side of Rudy Giuliani that none of us knew existed. I was saying to myself last night that I have to admit that he is doing a great job. Then I saw Joyce Pumick's column in the NYT this morning (p. 6). It's a shame that he can bring this side of himself out only in response to this kind of crisis. As for Bush, you would think that he would at least have popped into NYC for a short visit by now. The guy is so in apparent, so weak, and his handlers must be so terrified of what he might say, unscripted, if they did let him out onto the scene of the disaster.
By the way, as you have probably already heard on the airwaves yourself, the Right is already mobilizing very quickly to take advantage of this situation, to propose limits on civil liberties here, which limits would apply to a lot of us, without limit. Bill Bennett last night was talking about "fighting political correctness" (whatever that is ‑‑‑ they never define it, and no newsperson ever asks them to) to protect ourselves. At the same time, they are telling us not to criticize the intelligence community and that the breakdowns are all the fault of rules that limit the kinds of person the CIA can deal with in lining up spies and other sources of infori‑nation. Of course, what is needed most is not passive defense at home, but active prevention by routing out the terrorists abroad (and at home too, but no‑one talks about Oklahoma City because that was both homegrown, no Arabs there, and Right‑Wing), And on this topic, that's it for today.