The great H. L. Mencken once observed, "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." Nowhere is this more evident than in the federal government’s continual attempts to assure us that (a) we are in grave danger of being killed by terrorists and (b) the government — the same government that failed so spectacularly to protect us on 9/11 — is here to keep us safe.
(As with any habitual liar, the government begins to contradict itself after a while. If U.S. troops are fighting the terrorists "over there" in Iraq so that we won’t have to fight them "over here" in America, how come the FBI keeps uncovering more alleged terrorist plots here in the U.S. of A.?)
The latest alleged evil plot "busted" by the FBI was announced to great fanfare this past weekend: Crazed towelheads were going to blow up the jet fuel storage tanks and pipelines at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, destroying not just the airport and the people therein but, depending on which account you read, half of New York and New Jersey as well. Whew! Thank goodness the G-men are looking out for us!
Or are they? The New York Times reports that the suspects were "longer on evil intent than on operational capability." In other words, they wanted to wreak havoc with jet fuel but probably couldn’t even light a gas grill.
Continues the Times:
At [the alleged terrorist plot’s] heart was a 63-year-old retired airport cargo worker, Russell M. Defreitas, who the complaint says talked of his dreams of inflicting massive harm, but who appeared to possess little money, uncertain training and no known background in planning a terror attack. . . .
Some law enforcement officials and engineers also dismissed the notion that the planned attack could have resulted in a catastrophic chain reaction; system safeguards, they said, would have stopped explosions from spreading. [The Los Angeles Times agrees, saying that the plot "would have faced many hurdles," not least of which is that jet fuel is not highly susceptible to exploding.]
On top of that, writes the Times, the court papers "tend to suggest a distance between Mr. Defreitas’s dream and any nightmarish reality." For example, nobody involved had any relevant military training, none had participated in any previous attacks, and they had obtained their top-secret satellite photographs of JFK from Google Earth. Ultimately, the Times concludes, "[m]any of the plot’s larger details are left to the imagination." In short, there were a bunch of guys who may have wanted, at some indefinite point in the future, to carry out a terrorist attack; but they were a long way from plotting it in any great detail, and there was no way they could have executed it.
This brings us to the question of the FBI informant involved. We know that in the recent Fort Dix case and last year’s Miami case, the FBI informant seems to have been the driving force behind the plots, suggesting ways they could be carried out and providing technical and material support. In this latest alleged plot, according to the Newspaper of Record, the "informant is a convicted drug trafficker, and his sentence is part of his cooperation agreement with the federal government." What better way to cooperate than to hatch a terrorist plot and then get credit for helping to bust it? (See Nora Ephron on "How to Foil a Terrorist Plot in Seven Simple Steps.")
Given all of this, and given that, as Scott Horton points out, "there has not been a single case where they have actually busted domestic terrorists since 9/11" (or before 9/11, for that matter), one might think that some skepticism about this latest alleged bust would be in order.
I expressed said skepticism to a coworker who was telling me about having been waiting to board a plane at JFK during the time the feds were holding their press conference to announce their big catch. (She noted that the televisions in the airport had all been switched from news to cartoons and that she didn’t find out about the story until she got on the plane.) I later e-mailed her links to the New York Times and Los Angeles Times articles, plus some of the others I’ve included in this column, to back up my contention that there was probably less to this alleged plot than meets the eye.
However, this coworker having been thoroughly Hannitized, she shot back an angry missive telling me, essentially, that only left-wing nuts believe this stuff and don’t trust the government, at least when it’s run by Republicans, to protect us. She, for one, is extremely grateful that they’re out there busting these terrorist plots early, no matter what illegal or unethical steps they have to take in order to do so, and keeping us all safe every day. (Apparently 9/11 is the exception that proves the rule, but then that can be blamed on the Clinton administration, as all "great Americans" see it.)
Apparently we are not to be in the least bit skeptical when the government holds press conferences to announce with great fanfare that it has foiled terrorist plots that were likely years from ever occurring and probably couldn’t have been pulled off anyway. We are never to question whether the government’s informants had any hand in instigating or egging on the alleged plots. We are not to ask if, perhaps, the FBI is creating terrorist plots so it can "bust" them and blow its own horn on national TV, thus obtaining a bigger budget next year and making certain politicians look good as they crusade for ever more tax dollars and police powers to protect us from these horrific terrorist plots.
Clearly only an inveterate cynic or a left-wing extremist could imagine the federal government’s inventing terrorist threats for its own benefit. I mean, maybe evil Democrats like the New York airport’s namesake would consider that, as in Operation Northwoods; but surely no patriotic, salt-of-the-earth Republican would ever wish harm on Americans for political advantage — right?
What, then, are we to make of these comments from Dennis Milligan, chairman of the Republican Party of Arkansas, in an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:
"At the end of the day, I believe fully the president is doing the right thing, and I think all we need is some attacks on American soil like we had on [Sept. 11, 2001], and the naysayers will come around very quickly to appreciate not only the commitment for President Bush, but the sacrifice that has been made by men and women to protect this country."
If that isn’t hoping for disaster to befall Americans in order to score political points, I don’t know what is.
Furthermore, the illogic of the comments is typical of someone who is, as Milligan said of himself, “u2018150 percent’ behind Bush on the war in Iraq." If one or more terrorist attacks do occur in the U.S., how does that vindicate Bush and his war "to protect this country"? Doesn’t it, instead, suggest that he’s been approaching the fight against terrorism in the wrong way? Alas, Milligan is probably right that attacks would, at the very least, cause the American people to rally around their Dear Leader, which is what makes his comments so heinous.
Is it reasonable, then, to doubt that we were in any real danger from the alleged JFK terrorist plot and, indeed, all the other alleged terrorist plots the feds tell us, via well-staged press conferences, they’ve busted? (Heck, even the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn said, according to the Times, that as far as the supposed JFK plot goes, the "public was never at risk"!) Is it reasonable to ask whether or not the government’s informants are playing a bigger role in these alleged plots than the people the feds are charging? Is it reasonable to suggest that, since the government benefits from the good publicity of having "saved" us from these purported terrorists, the feds might have a hand in dreaming up the plots they’re busting in the first place?
Put another way, is it reasonable to assume that if you see smoke, there’s probably a fire nearby?
Michael Tennant [send him mail] is a software developer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.