I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Al Qaeda has a good friend in the White House

The great big mystery of the day is what caused the White House to decide yesterday to disclose the classified details of George Bush's heroic salvation of the City of Los Angeles four years ago? People everywhere are scratching their heads in bewilderment -- why yesterday? What could possibly have caused the President to pick yesterday as the time to suddenly reveal the specifics of the diabolic plot by the terrorists to hijack an airplane into the Liberty Tower by putting bombs into their shoes?

Whatever his reasons were for disclosing this information, there is no need for us to know what it is. It goes without saying that the Commander-in-Chief decided to disclose this at this time because doing so was necessary for our protection, and by questioning his motives, all we do is embolden the enemy and make terrorists attacks more likely, something to which I, for one, have no desire to contribute. So I'll just celebrate the Great Rescue along with my fellow grateful citizens.

Amidst the celebrations, though, one can't help but marvel at just how ridiculous and inane these scary terrorist plots appear to be even when they are deliberately depicted so as to achieve the maximum possible scare value. Here is how the President described the plot:

We now know that in October 2001, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad -- the mastermind of the September the 11th attacks -- had already set in motion a plan to have terrorist operatives hijack an airplane using shoe bombs to breach the cockpit door, and fly the plane into the tallest building on the West Coast. We believe the intended target was Liberty [sic] Tower in Los Angeles, California.

The very notion that someone was going to breach the cockpit door of an airplane by detonating a shoe bomb is so absurd that even the journalists who cover The White House noticed it and objected:

Q Scott, I wanted to just ask a follow-up about the LA plot. Is there something missing from this story, a practical application, a few facts? Because if you want to commandeer a plane and fly it into a tower, if you used shoe bombs, wouldn't you blow off the cockpit? Or is there something missing from this story?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what you're referring to about missing. I mean, I think we provided you a detailed briefing earlier today about the plot. And Fran Townsend, our Homeland Security Advisor, talked about it. So I'm not sure what you're suggesting it.

Q Think about it, if you're wearing shoe bombs, you either blow off your feet or you blow off the front of the airplane.

MR. McCLELLAN: There was a briefing for you earlier today. I think that's one way to look at it. There are a lot of ways to look at it, and she explained it earlier today, Alexis, so I would refer you very much back to what she said, what she said earlier today.

And then there were the geniuses who planned to "blow up" the Brooklyn Bridge using blow torches (only to be miraculously thwarted by our warrantless eavesdropping program), a plot which Bob Barr described thusly: " this so-called plot to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge was bogus because it had to do with a group of idiots who were planning to dismantle it with blow torches." The more we hear about these scary terrorist plots, the more Al Qaeda resembles The Three Stooges rather than, say, Lex Luthor.

The reality is that the White House doesn't care how transparent their manipulation of terrorist threats is, because this manipulation is not aimed at our rational faculties. What they want is for there to be scary pictures constantly flashed on the television screen of Muslims wearing ski masks with ground-to-air missiles on their shoulders and prolonged shots of our tall buildings and hastily arranged news conferences by city officials talking about security measures and faux terrorism experts parading around on TV talk shows with gravely concerned expressions as they warn us, yet again, of all the different ways that we are at risk.

Unleashing all of those images over and over triggers, as intended, fresh waves of fear that we are all about to be blown up or zapped with radiation. How absurd the underlying facts are is irrelevant; anything that serves as a pretext for new waves of frightening images does the trick just fine.

This is really the aim and the work of the terrorists -- to keep the targeted population in the grip of fear. Here is how the Department of Defense describes the defining goal of terrorism:

"the calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological."

Terrorists don't expect to achieve their goals through the physical destruction of a society using violence, the way a nation at war attempts with its military. The violence inflicted by terrorists is simply a tool for ratcheting up the fear level, and the fear of the violence, rather than the violence itself, is the primary tool of the terrorist. The greater the fear of the targeted population, the closer the terrorists are to achieving their goals.

When it comes to Al Qaeda's targeting of the U.S. in this manner, nobody helps the terrorists achieve those objectives more than the Bush Administration, which (like Al Qaeda) really does have as its principal goal -- particularly in an election year, and particularly when it faces all sorts of political difficulties on an array of fronts -- keeping the fear level as high as possible. The more frightened people are, they believe, the more likely they are to support the President and his party. And so fear-mongering becomes the first and really only political weapon they have.

The orange alerts aren't really that effective any more. Orange is so un-scary. But tales of thwarted terrorist attacks on our cities always give rise to the same set of images and warnings which keeps the fear level nice and fresh and edgy. It's only February -- I have no doubt we will be treated to many, many more episodes like this. The question is, with 9/11 now more than 4 years away, is there some limit to the water in this well?

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