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What is an appropropriate response?
Political and philosophical considerations after the attack on the Word Trade Center

Excerpts from "Flying Bombs" - Who Saw It Coming?
by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St Clair

Tuesday's onslaughts on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are being 
likened to Pearl Harbor and the comparison is just. From the point of view
of the assailants the attacks were near miracles of logistical calculation,
timing, courage in execution and devastation inflicted upon the targets.


There may be another similarity to Pearl Harbor. The possibility of a 
Japanese attack in early December of 1941 was known to US Naval 
Intelligence and to President Roosevelt. Last Tuesday, derision at the 
failure of US intelligence was widespread. The Washington Post quoted an 
unnamed top official at the National Security Council as saying, "We don't
know anything here. We're watching CNN too." Are we to believe that the $30
billion annual intelligence budget, immense electronic eavesdropping 
capacity, thousands of agents around the world, produced nothing in the 
way of a warning? In fact Osama bin Laden, now prime suspect, said in an 
interview three weeks ago with Abdel-Bari Atwan, the editor of the 
London-based al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper, that he planned " very, very big 
attacks against American interests."

Here is bin-Laden, probably the most notorious Islamic foe of America on 
the planet, originally trained by the CIA, planner of other successful 
attacks on US installations such as the embassies in East Africa, carrying
a $5 million FBI bounty on his head proclaiming the imminence of another 
assault, and US intelligence was impotent, even though the attacks must 
have taken months, if not years to plan, and even though CNN has reported 
that bin-Laden and his coordinating group al-Qa'ida had been using an 
airstrip in Afghanistan to train pilots to fly 767s.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, when hijacking was a preoccupation, the 
possibility of air assaults on buildings such as the Trade Center were a 
major concern of US security and intelligence agencies. But since the 
1980s and particularly during the Clinton-Gore years the focus shifted to 
more modish fears, such as bio-chemical assault and nuclear weapons 
launched by so-called rogue states. This latter threat had the allure of 
justifying the $60 billion investment in Missile Defense aka Star Wars. 
One of the biggest proponents of that approach was Al Gore's security 
advisor, Leon Fuerth, who wailed plaintively amid Tuesday's rubble that
"In effect the country's at war but we don't have the coordinates of the 

But the lust for retaliation traditionally outstrips precision in 
identifying the actual assailant. By early evening on Tuesday America's 
national security establishment were calling for a removal of all 
impediments on the assassination of foreign leaders. Led by President Bush,
they were endorsing the prospect of attacks not just on the perpetrators
but on those who might have harbored them. From the nuclear priesthood is 
coming the demand that mini-nukes be deployed on a preemptive basis 
against the enemies of America.

The targets abroad will be all the usual suspects: rogue states, (most of 
which, like the Taleban or Saddam Hussein, started off as creatures of US 
intelligence). The target at home will of course be the Bill of Rights. 
Less than a week ago the FBI raided Infocom, the Texas-based web host for 
Muslim groups such as the Council on Islamic Relations, the Islamic 
Society of North America, the Islamic Association for Palestine, and the 
Holy Land Foundation. Palestinians have been denied visas, and those in 
this country can, under the terms of the CounterTerrorism Act of the 
Clinton years, be held and expelled without due process. The explosions of
Tuesday were not an hour old before terror pundits like Anthony Cordesman, 
Wesley Clark, Robert Gates and Lawrence Eagleburger were saying that these
attacks had been possible "because America is a democracy" adding that now 
some democratic perquisites might have to be abandoned? What might this 
mean? Increased domestic snooping by US law enforcement and intelligence 
agencies; ethnic profiling; another drive for a national ID card system.


Absent national political leadership, the burden of rallying the nation 
fell as usual upon the TV anchors, all of whom seem to have resolved early
on to lower the emotional temper, though Tom Brokaw did lisp a declaration 
of War against Terror. Tuesday's eyewitness reports of the collapse of the
two Trade Center buildings were not inspired, at least for those who have 
heard the famous eyewitness radio reportage of the crash of the Hindenberg
zeppelin in Lakehurst, New Jersey in 1937 with the anguished cry of the 
reporter, "Oh the humanity, the humanity". Radio and TV reporters these 
days seem incapable of narrating an ongoing event with any sense of vivid 
language or dramatic emotive power.

The commentators were similarly incapable of explaining with any depth the
likely context of the attacks; that these attacks might be the consequence 
of the recent Israeli rampages in the Occupied Territories that have 
included assassinations of Palestinian leaders and the slaughter of 
Palestinian civilians with the use of American aircraft; that these 
attacks might also stem from the sanctions against Iraq that have seen 
upward of a million children die; that these attacks might in part be a 
response to US cruise missile attacks on the Sudanese factories that had 
been loosely fingered by US intelligence as connected to bin-Laden.

In fact September 11 was the anniversary of George W. Bush's speech to 
Congress in 1990, heralding war against Iraq. It was also the anniversary 
of the Camp David accords, which signaled the US buy-out of Egypt as any 
countervailing force for Palestinian rights in the Middle East. One 
certain beneficiary of the attacks is Israel. Polls had been showing 
popular dislike here for Israel's recent tactics, which may have been the 
motivation for Colin Powell's few bleats of reproof to Israel. We will be 
hearing no such bleats in the weeks to come, as Israel's leaders advise 
America on how exactly to deal with Muslims. The attackers probably bet on
that too, as a way of making the US's support for Israeli intransigence 
even more explicit, finishing off Arafat in the process.

"Freedom," said George Bush in Sarasota in the first sentence of his first
reaction, "was attacked this morning by a faceless coward." That properly 
represents the stupidity and blindness of almost all Tuesday's mainstream 
political commentary. By contrast, the commentary on economic consequences
was informative and sophisticated. Worst hit: the insurance industry. 
Likely outfall in the short-term: hiked energy prices, a further drop in 
global stock markets. George Bush will have no trouble in raiding the 
famous lock-box, using Social Security Trust Funds to give more money to 
the Defense Department. That about sums it up. Three planes are 
successfully steered into three of America's most conspicuous buildings 
and America's response will be to put more money in missile defense as a 
way of bolstering the economy.

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