Acceptance of the official narrative of what happened on September 11, 2001 has become widespread, not merely on the right, but also on the left. In this paper, I take issue with the writings of several commentators who attempt to forcefully argue firstly that acceptance of the official narrative is justified, and secondly that certain kinds of inquiry into anomalies and inconsistencies in that narrative are illegitimate and unnecessary. The main bulk of this writing is available online at a new section at the well-known progressive website ZNet, and is somewhat representative of the mainstream approach to 9/11.
In reviewing the work of these commentators on 9/11, I analyse in detail the failure of the U.S. intelligence community in preventing the Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks; the casual repression and/or misrepresentation of facts related to 9/11; the failure of U.S. defence measures on 9/11; the historic and institutional basis for skepticism about the official narrative; and some salient facts which illustrate the need for proper research into the linkages between U.S. government, military, intelligence, and corporate policy, and the ease with which the September 11 terrorist attacks went ahead.
Numerous respected commentators on both the left and right of the political spectrum have ardently criticised widespread speculation that the Bush administration had advanced warning of the September 11th terrorist attacks, sufficient to prevent them from occurring. When Democrat Party U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney called for a full investigation into the events surrounding September 11 é and particularly into the warnings received by the U.S. intelligence community suggesting that the administration may have known more than it is letting on é she was publicly derided. “We deserve to know what went wrong on September 11 and why”, stated McKinney.
“After all, we hold thorough public inquiries into rail disasters, plane crashes, and even natural disasters in order to understand what happened and to prevent them from happening again or minimizing the tragic effects when they do. Why then does the Administration remain steadfast in its opposition to an investigation into the biggest terrorism attack upon our nation?
“é Sadly, the United States government is being sued today by survivors of the Embassy bombings because, from court reports, it appears clear that the U.S. had received prior warnings, but did little to secure and protect the staff at our embassies. Did the same thing happen to us again?”
Cynthia McKinney’s comments here echoed her earlier statements in a Pacifica radio interview: “We know there were numerous warnings of the events to come on September 11… What did this Administration know, and when did it know it about the events of September 11? Who else knew and why did they not warn the innocent people of New York who were needlessly murdered?”
In response, on the right, Bush spokesman Scott McLellan declared: “The American people know the facts, and they dismiss such ludicrous, baseless views.” Bush’s press secretary, Ari Fleischer, is quoted: “All I can tell you is the congresswoman must be running for the hall of fame of the Grassy Knoll Society.” Nationally syndicated right-wing U.S. columnist Kathleen Parker joined the escalating chorus of condemnation:
“She’s black, which means people give her a pass lest they be perceived racisté None of which is to suggest that Cynthia McKinney is a terrorist, or a terrorist sympathizer, or even a socialist rabble-rouser who despises her own country. On the other hand, using McKinney’s own talent for inferential dot-connecting, she just might be.”
And on and on. The right-wing chorus of automatic denunciation appears to be based on the implicit assumption that the Bush administration is entirely guilt-free of any sort of role in implementing policies that may have facilitated the September 11 attacks, knowingly or unknowingly (McKinney specifies neither). Unfortunately, leading commentators on the left-end of the political spectrum appear to have joined in the obligatory chorus of derision. They are supported in this by the mainstream assumption that the reason the U.S. intelligence community failed to prevent the attacks is simply because of bureaucratic incompetence.
That assumption has been adopted even by the private U.S. intelligence firm Stratfor, which produces independent intelligence on worldwide affairs. On September 16th 2002, Stratfor commented:
“We have no doubt that, after the databases have been searched, it will be found that U.S. intelligence had plenty of information in some highly secure computer. The newspapers will trumpet, ‘CIA knew identity of attackers.’ That will be only technically true. Buried in the huge mounds of information perhaps once having passed across an overworked analyst’s desk, some bit of information might have made its circuit of the agencies. But saying that U.S. intelligence actually ‘knew’ about the attackers’ plots would be overstating it. Owning a book and knowing what’s in it are two vastly different things.”
On 20th May, commenting on the outbreak of controversy in Washington DC over “what Bush knew and when”, Stratfor elaborated on this perspective in some detail, arguing that the colossal 9/11 intelligence failure was a consequence of the structural fragmentation of the U.S. intelligence community:
“The Central Intelligence Agency, as the name suggests, was founded to centralize the intelligence function of the United States. It was a good idea then and it is a good idea now. Unfortunately, it is an idea that has never been truly implemented and from which, over time, the government has moved intractably away. A centralized intelligence capability is essential if the United States is to have a single, integrated, coherent picture of what is happening in the world. A bureaucratically fragmented intelligence community will generate a fragmented picture of the world. That is currently what we have.”
While it is clear that a generally “fragmented picture of the world” is a likely consequence of a “bureaucratically fragmented intelligence community”, in itself this does not demonstrate that the capabilities of that community in developing specific intelligence on various aspects of the world is completely dysfunctional. Rather it suggests that the U.S. intelligence community will find it hard to develop an integrated, coherent understanding of world affairs and their interrelationships.
What is likely to be developed instead, are somewhat uncorrelated and/or disconnected pockets of intelligence on various aspects of world affairs. This, however, obviously does not entail in itself that the intelligence produced will be inaccurate with respect to those aspects. On the contrary, it simply indicates that while the U.S. intelligence community is capable of developing accurate intelligence on specific disparate aspects of world affairs, due to the structural fragmentation among the various agencies that constitute the intelligence community, a coherent overall intelligence picture of the world based on comprehension of the complex influences and interconnections between these disparate aspects will be extremely hard to form. Indeed, Stratfor itself grasps this implication:
“It is unclear whether any of these agencies completely understand their own internal vision, let alone that they are able to transmit a comprehensive picture to the CIA (which is supposed to integrate all this into a coherent world view and serve it up to the president and other senior officials for action).”
Clearly, the problem here does not necessarily relate to the task of focusing and gathering intelligence on a particular threat to U.S. national security é rather it relates to the integration of disparate intelligence into “a coherent worldview”. Structural stumbling blocks thus principally affect the coordination of the U.S. intelligence community in this respect. Attempting to account for a U.S. intelligence failure with respect to the specific issue of developing intelligence on a particular aspect of world affairs – such as a particular threat to U.S. national security é on the basis of such structural stumbling blocks, is therefore theoretically unwarranted.
In other words, while it is certainly possible that such structural stumbling blocks may have had some sort of role in any such intelligence failure, to suppose that they wholly account for the failure without an in-depth factual analysis of the failure itself (based on inspecting the collection and analysis of the related data) is nothing but gratuitous speculation. Indeed, given that such structural fragmentation principally affects the integration of intelligence into a “coherent worldview” (“a single, integrated, coherent picture of what is happening in the world”) it is highly unlikely that this fragmentation alone would be sufficient to result in a wholesale intelligence failure on any isolated specific aspect of world affairs, i.e. a specific threat to U.S. national security.
Stratfor, however, makes the mistake of extending the scope of the implications of the structural fragmentation of the U.S. intelligence community to the community’s failure to act with respect to the terrorist attacks of September 11th é which of course was a specific threat to U.S. national security. Yet clearly this is unfounded based on Stratfor’s own assessment. Stratfor does go on to provide a useful examination of the specific ways in which the relative fragmentation of the U.S. intelligence community can, and has, affected the integration of analysis of information, thus preventing the development of a coherent intelligence product on world affairs.
“é [T]he U.S. intelligence system is overwhelmingly geared toward the collection, rather than the analysis, of information. The result is inevitable: a huge amount of information is gathered, but it is never turned into intelligenceé The collection capacity of the United States, both technical and human, is vast. But it is deliberately and institutionally compartmentalized in such a way that prevents a coherent perspective from emerging.”
Without, however, factually assessing the information on the September 11 terrorist attacks collected and analysed by the U.S. intelligence community, it is impossible to know whether this problem of emphasising collection over and above analysis, was the principal reason for the intelligence failure. It is further unlikely that the institutional compartmentalisation of the U.S. intelligence community contributed to its failure to develop a coherent perspective on the specific threat to U.S. national security of Al-Qaeda, because that compartmentalisation primarily affects the development of “a coherent worldview” é not a specific aspect thereof. It is the connection and coordination of intelligence on different aspects of world affairs into an integrated whole that is institutionally problematic as a consequence of the intelligence community’s compartmentalisation. Intelligence on specific issues is not implicated here.
It is, therefore, both theoretically and empirically incorrect for Stratfor to claim that: “Given this incredible tangle of capabilities, jurisdictions and competencies, it is a marvel that a finished intelligence product is ever delivered to decision makers.” This extreme conclusion is contradicted by the fact that the U.S. intelligence community has a demonstrable record of success. U.S. military intelligence expert Richard K. Betts, Director of the Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University, and former member of the National Commission on Terrorism, observes in Foreign Affairs: “Paradoxically, the news is worse than the angriest critics think, because the intelligence community has worked much better than they assumeé
“Contrary to the image left by the destruction of September 11, U.S. intelligence and associated services have generally done very well at protecting the country. In the aftermath of a catastrophe, great successes in thwarting previous terrorist attacks are too easily forgotten – successes such as the foiling of plots to bomb New York City’s Lincoln and Holland tunnels in 1993, to bring down 11 American airliners in Asia in 1995, to mount attacks around the millennium on the West Coast and in Jordan, and to strike U.S. forces in the Middle East in the summer of 2001.”
A particularly pertinent Yale University study by U.S. intelligence expert Loch K. Johnson é former Assistant to Defense Secretary Les Aspin and Regents Professor of Political Science at the University of Georgia é examines how, and how well, intelligence efforts have guarded and advanced perceived U.S. interests. Analysing in detail a series of intelligence successes and failures, Johnson refutes common charges of ineptitude that have followed embarrassments such as the Aldrich Ames case. He argues convincingly that the successes of the CIA and the intelligence community far outweigh such setbacks. Most crucially, he discusses how even the failures are often laid at the wrong door: good intelligence has often been ignored by the upper political echelons of the Washington bureaucracy.
In this context, to prematurely presume in the absence of facts that an intelligence failure on a specific national security threat is because of incompetence induced by the institutional compartmentalisation of the intelligence community, is unwarranted. On the contrary, as documented by Johnson, most often such failures are not related to the quality of the intelligence product itself, but rather because the political bureaucracy does not act on accurate intelligence received.
Stratfor, at least, admits that: “We remain certain that if we searched all of the databases and memos we would find that the U.S. government had collected much of the information that would have been necessary to prevent Sept. 11. It was there.” Yet the organisation then makes a logical leap in assuming, without having actually examined the data itself and what was done with it, that this information “wasn’t collated, integrated, or analyzed and therefore could not be disseminated.” But in light of the above analysis, there is simply no good reason at all to assume that this is the case, particularly when we understand that the institutional compartmentalisation of the intelligence community only makes it unlikely that the CIA will be capable of developing “a single, integrated, coherent picture of what is happening in the world”, rather than any coherent specific threat assessment. Indeed, this position is supported by the fact that there has been a string of U.S. intelligence successes in the last decade, in comparison to which there have been relatively few é though of course tragic – failures.
Cruder renditions of the “incompetence theory” of the surprising lack of action on the part of U.S. intelligence in relation to September 11 have come from partisans of the left. These renditions are articulated in a much less sophisticated, and even more badly argued, manner than the position of groups such as Stratfor.
Washington Editor of The Nation, David Corn, for example, argues that: “é anyone with the most basic understanding of how government functions (or, does not function) realizes that the various bureaucracies of Washington – particularly those of the national security ‘community’ – do not work well together.” Corn fails entirely, however, to specify exactly in what respect(s) this is the case. Unlike Stratfor, he does not clarify the nature of particular structural discontinuities between different bureaucratic and intelligence agencies and in what way they have problems integrating. As a consequence, his blanket statement about the national security community “not working well together” fails to actually communicate anything significant at all. Because the assertion is devoid of even a minimal attempt at factual specification of what this implies, it is effectively vacuous. But as we have seen above, while it is undoubtedly obvious that the intelligence community suffers from institutional compartmentalisation, this does not mean that the community is completely incompetent and dysfunctional. Rather, as Stratfor admits, it impairs the functioning of the community in the preparation of integrated intelligence to develop “a coherent worldview.” Corn’s attempt to apply the specific problems that these agencies have working together due to institutional compartmentalisation in an extended and general manner is without any foundation.
Indeed, Corn’s extreme portrayal is contradicted by a report in the Washington Post in May 2001 which observed that the two specialised U.S. intelligence agencies the FBI and the CIA have “in recent years” developed a very close “working relationship”. Former FBI Director Louis Freeh has been “credited with greatly improving the FBI’s ability to counter terrorist threats”, as well as “for altering the FBI’s working relationship with the CIA, which long had been strained.” As noted by CIA Director George J. Tenet: “Director Freeh’s vision, leadership and commitment have been directly responsible for the unprecedented strategic partnership between the FBI and the CIA”, a partnership that in the past few years has borne fruit in a verifiable record of frequent intelligence successes, outweighing failures. Tenet commented for instance that: “Very significant successes in the counterterrorism and counterintelligence areasé are evidence of the remarkable cooperation that has existed between our two agencies in recent years.”
That assessment put forth by the Post and by Tenet is corroborated by the following conveniently ignored fact, demonstrating that federal agencies have been working together very well indeed on the issue of counter-terrorism: A body of experts known as the Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) exists, which was effectively chaired by White House Counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke. The CSG constitutes a connecting point for “all federal agencies”, whose members are “drawn mainly from the C.I.A., the National Security Council, and the upper tiers of the Defense Department, the Justice Department, and the State Department,” and who meet “every week in the White House Situation Room.” The CSG assesses “all reliable intelligence” related to counterterrorism received by these agencies and departments. The CSG was meeting almost every week in the period prior to the September 11 attacks, working incessantly on the specific threat of the impending Al-Qaeda plot.
Nevertheless, Corn continues: “If there truly had been intelligence reports predicting the 9/11 attacks, these reports would have circulated through intelligence and policy-making circles before the folks at the top decided to smother them for geopolitical gain. That would make for a unwieldy conspiracy of silence.” There is an elementary contradiction between this and Corn’s previous assertion. Here, Corn assumes that there could never have been any intelligence reports predicting the September 11 attacks, because if there had been, certainly “these reports would have circulated through intelligence and policy-making circles”. In other words, the reports would circulate around the intelligence community on the way to reaching the higher political echelons. That, of course, would require that at least in some significant respect, the agencies of the intelligence community are capable of coordinating and analysing information. Yet in his previous assertion, Corn assumes in a vague manner that the agencies of the “national security ‘community'” simply do “not work well together”. But these two generalised stances are mutually inconsistent.
The main problem here is that Corn keeps his commentary within the realm of theory, without actually assessing in a meaningful manner the available data on warnings of the 9/11 attacks received by the U.S. intelligence community. And as we have shown above, the “incompetence theory” of the 9/11 intelligence failure is devoid of substantial factual basis.
This style of “analysis” of the 9/11 intelligence failure has been adopted by other writers on the left. U.S. political commentator Michael Albert of ZNet, for example, states bluntly that: “Supposing we had the means to answer the question about Bush’s foreknowledge of 9/11, it would at most reveal that U.S. intelligence services lack competence.”
Albert does not supply any evidence for why this is the case. Instead, having acknowledged the existence of a question “about Bush’s foreknowledge of 9/11”, he supplies a vague and ready-made answer that “at most”, the U.S. intelligence community “lacks competence.” But clearly Albert has no meaningful grasp of the structural discontinuities between various agencies in the U.S. intelligence community and what specific problems they create é instead he assumes the existence of a blanket wholesale “incompetence”, and decides without any factual basis that this is the only plausible explanation of why the U.S. government failed to foil the September 11 attack. For instance, he also flies in the face of the fact noted above, that on the specific issue of counter-terrorism U.S. intelligence agencies were very closely coordinating their operations and information, on a regular basis, in the months leading up to 9/11.
In other words, Albert gives the impression that he already has the answer to the question, and thus since the answer “at most” will be “incompetence”, then there is no need to pursue further inquiry. Unfortunately however, it appears that Albert arrives at this conclusion without any factual analysis or inquiry at all: “Of course these agencies lack competence. Moreover, what good does demonstrating the incompetence of U.S. intelligence agencies do peace and justice? Should bolstering surveillance budget allotments be a new progressive program plank?” Having decided from the outset that U.S. intelligence agencies “lack competence” é although like Corn, Albert fails to provide any specific factual insight into what exactly is implied by this blanket description é Albert assumes that this undefined “incompetence” undoubtedly explains the Bush administration’s failure to prevent the September 11 attacks. The way in which this undefined theory of “incompetence” magically explains all and every anomaly in the official mainstream 9/11 narrative is disconcerting.
But as discussed above, a proper understanding of the specific implications of the U.S. intelligence community’s institutional compartmentalisation does not lead one to the undefined blanket conclusion that the community suffers from a general “incompetence”, but rather that this compartmentalisation has very precise connotations for the integration of intelligence information into “a coherent worldview”. In other words, as already discussed, on both a theoretical level based on analysis of the structure of the intelligence community as well as on an empirical level based in part on comparative analysis of the record of U.S. intelligence successes and failures, the conclusion that the Bush administration’s failure to prevent the September 11 attacks was simply due to “incompetence” is premature.
Given that most intelligence failures appear to have resulted not from the inaccuracy of the intelligence product, but rather from good intelligence being ignored by the higher political echelon, there is no justification to simply assume that an “incompetence theory” of the U.S. failure to foil the 9/11 plot provides a sufficient explanation of that failure. Albert’s underlying assumption of “incompetence” is thus baseless. Ultimately, we have to investigate the facts surrounding 9/11 before making a judgment on 9/11 é otherwise our judgment is will be devoid of any substantial and relevant factual basis.
Albert’s essential argument for why “the left” should stop asking “what Bush knew and when” is circular, and thus self-defeating. He assumes from the outset that the intelligence community failed to prevent the 9/11 attacks simply because of some vague and undefined “incompetence”. He then argues that since that it is the case, anybody calling for more understanding of “what Bush knew and when” is falling into the right-wing agenda of saying that since U.S. intelligence is incompetent, more U.S. dollars should be thrown at the CIA. He then argues that “the left” should not become party to a programme to mindlessly increase the U.S. intelligence and defense budget which will then be used for more wars and acts of terror worldwide.
But Albert’s entire argument rests on the assumption that he already knows (somehow) the generalities of “what Bush knew and when” é i.e. that he knows that Bush did not know. In other words, Albert begins his argument by assuming that he already knows that Bush failed to foil the attacks due to intelligence “incompetence”, and that since this is the case, there is no need to ask “what Bush knew and when”. This boils down to an elementary contradiction: We do not need to ask the question “what Bush knew and when” because we already know the answer, even though in fact we do not know the answer at all as evidenced by Albert’s total failure to prove his “incompetence” assumption. As such, Albert’s attempt to convince “the left” that they should not even bother asking the question “what Bush knew and when” is based on baldly (and falsely) assuming that he knows the fundamental essence of the answer, and that since the answer is “incompetence”, it is not worth pursuing. This, of course, is incoherent.
Ironically, the only piece of “evidence” offered by Albert to support his thesis of the overarching “incompetence” of the U.S. intelligence community is that: “é these are the U.S. same [sic] intelligence agencies that can’t find the perpetrator of the recent anthrax attacks, even though the anthrax came from Fort Detrick, Maryland, and even though, given the skills required, the number of possible culprits is a handful.” Unfortunately, this particularly factoid is of Albert’s own construction. Anybody who has been following the anthrax case would be aware of credible evidence that U.S. intelligence does, in fact, know pretty much who the perpetrator of the attacks is, but has been prevented from arresting the individual under high-level government pressure.
This information comes from a leading U.S. expert on biological warfare, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, Director of the Chemical and Biological Weapons Program for the Federation of American Scientists, and a Research Professor of Environmental Science at the State University of New York. Rosenberg, who according to BBC correspondent Susan Watts has high-level government connections, states that the FBI had already identified the perpetrator of the Winter 2001 anthrax attacks, but was “dragging its feet” in making an arrest and pressing charges, for fear that secret government activities would be exposed. The Trenton Times reported that according to Rosenberg, “the Federal Bureau of Investigation has a strong hunch about who mailed the deadly letters. But the FBI might be ‘dragging its feet’ in pressing charges because the suspect is a former government scientist familiar with ‘secret activities that the government would not like to see disclosed’.”
The charge was made in a February 18th address at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. Citing sources she described as “government insiders” with whom she has been in contact, she testified that the FBI had known since last October the identity of the person who mailed lethal quantities of anthrax in letters to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Senator Patrick Leahy, and several media outlets. Her sources further informed her that although the individual in question had been interrogated several times, he had not been arrested. “We know that the FBI is looking at this person, and it’s likely that he participated in the past in secret activities that the government would not like to see disclosed,” Rosenberg said.
“And this raises the question of whether the FBI may be dragging its feet somewhat and may not be so anxious to bring to public light the person who did this.
“I know that there are insiders, working for the government, who know this person and who are worried that it could happen that some kind of quiet deal is made so that he just disappears from view.
“I hope that doesn’t happen, and that is my motivation to continue to follow this and to try to encourage press coverage and pressure on the FBI to follow up and publicly prosecute the perpetrator.”
In light of Rosenberg’s revelations, other experts concur. Steven Block of Stanford University, for example – an expert on biological warfare – told the Dallas Morning News that: “It’s possible, as has been suggested, that they may be standing back because the person that’s involved with it may have secret information that the United States government would not like to have divulged.”
U.S. investigative journalist and former National Security Agency official Wayne Madsen, who has also testified in hearings before U.S. Congress as an expert on U.S. covert foreign policies, has written a particularly insightful and comprehensive analysis of the available data on the anthrax attacks for Counterpunch, described as “America’s best political newsletter” by Out of Bounds Magazine. Madsen’s conclusions are worth noting:
“é the FBI has never been keen to identify the perpetrator because that perpetrator may, in fact, be the U.S. Government itself. Evidence is mounting that the source of the anthrax was a top secret U.S. Army laboratory in Maryland and that the perpetrators involve high-level officials in the U.S. military and intelligence infrastructureé Forget unfounded conspiracy theories. The evidence is overwhelming that the FBI has consistently shied away from pursuing the anthrax investigation [under government pressure].”
It should be noted that in this case, again, the evidence suggests that the failure of U.S. intelligence lies not with the accuracy of the intelligence product, but with the refusal of the higher political echelon to act upon it. This is not the place to undertake a detailed analysis of the anthrax issue, but it suffices to conclude that Albert clearly has no basic grasp of this subject. Nevertheless, he comments on it in support of his argument. Unfortunately, this is representative of Albert’s entire approach to 9/11. He appears to have no understanding, nor any interest in evaluating the actual data around 9/11 and related issues such as anthrax, but still feels ready to comment on them anyway. The simple problem that this creates is that ultimately, Albert’s commentary on 9/11 ceases to retain credibility.
Given that a proper analysis of the structure, capabilities, recent coordination and record of success of the U.S. intelligence community provides little é if any – support for the “incompetence theory” of a counterterrorist intelligence failure, it is likely that the 9/11 intelligence failure was a consequence of the higher political bureaucracy refraining from acting on intelligence. In this context, it is perfectly legitimate to investigate the 9/11 intelligence failure with due consideration given to both the admittedly unlikely “incompetence theory”, as well as what might be termed “the political inaction” theory, of which the “foreknowledge hypothesis” is one variation.
Either way, the likelihood of political inaction being behind the administration’s failure to foil the Al-Qaeda plot, in itself implicates the existence of a web of strategic and economic influences acting upon the political establishment, which resulted in such political inaction. And given that this is a far more tenable and probable possibility than mere “incompetence”, then it is essential to investigate the matter more thoroughly – including specifically an evaluation of the information (and what was done with it) about the 9/11 attacks available to the U.S. intelligence community.
It seems that the fundamental problem here is that the 9/11 intelligence failure is not seriously investigated, nor understood at all in any meaningful manner by Corn, Albert, and other similar commentators both on the left and right. Yet despite having no meaningful understanding of this failure, these commentators are happy to articulate their opinions on the matter anyway, by putting forth a variety of circular, inconsistent and/or effectively vacuous conclusions and statements about the very same failure. Those very vague conclusions are then taken as good reason to avoid investigating the 9/11 intelligence failure from certain angles, such as for instance the distinct possibility that the political bureaucracy did not act on good intelligence received. Ultimately then, pure speculation as a result of lack of understanding of the 9/11 intelligence failure, is used to justify that very lack of understanding.
But there are, in fact, very pertinent reasons not to blindly accept the official “incompetence theory” adopted by so many in the mainstream, tolerated barely by elements of the right-wing to save face, and uncritically parroted by naéve commentators on the left. In a reply to Michael Albert’s ZNet commentary, Canadian social philosopher Professor John McMurtry at the University of Guelph refers to these reasons in detail:
“Shocking attacks on symbols of American power as a pretext for aggressive war is, in fact, an old and familiar pattern of the American corporate state. Even the sacrifice of thousands of ordinary Americans is not new, although so many people have never died so very fast… The basic point is that the U.S. ‘secret government’ (Bill Moyers’ phrase) has a very long record of contriving attacks on its symbols of power as a pretext for the declaration of wars, with an attendant corporate media frenzy focussing all public attention on the Enemy to justify the next transnational mass murder. This pattern is as old as the U.S. corporate state – from the sinking of the battleship Maine to start the Spanish-American War in 1898, through the fabricated attack on the U.S. battleship Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin in August 1964 along with the fabricated attack by Egypt on the client-state Israel in 1967, to a reiteration of the same general pattern in setting up the War Against Iraq from 1991 on – a war that has murdered by bombing and embargo intent an average of 5000 Iraqui children every month since. This executive branch war is still in motion. It started and it continues by the same overall pattern as 9-11. In the case of Iraq, the war was precipitated by the green light given by the U.S. Ambassador, April Glaspie, who said that the U.S. was ‘neutral’ regarding the climaxing dispute over oilfields between Iraq and Kuwait just before Saddam ordered troops into Kuwait. ‘Saddam fell into the trap’ were the insider words of Jordan’s foreign minister after the event.
“Throughout there is one constant to this long record of hoodwinking the American public into bankrolling ever rising military expenditures and periodic wars for corporate treasure. This decision structure ruled before and through 9-11, and has escalated after it – to fabricate or construct shocking attacks on U.S. symbols of power to provide the pretext and the public rage to launch wars of aggression against convenient and weaker enemies by which very major and many-levelled gains are achieved for the U.S. corporate-military complex.
“é Consider this earlier Republican version of 9-11. ‘Operation Northlands’ was a unanimous Joint Chiefs of Staff plan to ‘contrive’ the occurrence of an atrocity against U.S. citizens by Castro’s Cuba to justify a full-out U.S. invasion. Its scenarios included planting bombs and shooting down a U.S. passenger plane. There are many variations on this structure of geostrategic thinking. I analyse this regulating pattern in my new book, Value Wars, from Pluto Press.”
Here, the essential implications of McMurtry’s point is the following: The possibility that the Bush administration had ample warning of the September 11 attacks but deliberately refused to act in order to generate a pretext for the consolidation of the U.S. corporate-military complex should not be discounted, in light of the well-documented historical record, which illustrates that such a policy is nothing new. On the contrary, McMurtry rightly notes that it is rather systematic. Given that the same essential decision-making structure responsible for that history continues to exist today, it is hardly reasonable to dismiss the need to discern whether the latest terrorist atrocity against the U.S. was not merely another element of the same underlying pattern. But that is exactly what Albert does, by refusing to even seriously consider whether that is the case é instead he only assumes the opposite without substantial basis.
U.S. political scientist Professor Steven R. Shalom of William Paterson University in New Jersey, co-writing with Michael Albert, extends the same vacuous style of analysis in a lengthy ‘ZNet Instructional’ on conspiracy theories. Their paper begins with a detailed discussion comparing what they consider to be the fundamental elements of “conspiracy theory” with those of “institutional theory”. Their main concern appears to be to demonstrate that any consideration of whether the Bush administration played a deliberate role in facilitating the September 11 terrorist attacks amounts to indulging in “conspiracy theory”, which most of the time represents “a departure from rational analysis”, which is thus, most of the time, a priori incorrect é and thus not worth serious consideration:
“Conspiracy theorists begin their quest for understanding events by looking for groups acting secretly, either outside usual institutional norms in a rogue fashion, or, at the very least to manipulate public impressions, to cast guilt on other parties, and so on. Conspiracy theorists focus on conspirators’ methods, motives, and effects. Personalities, personal timetables, secret meetings, and conspirators’ joint actions claim priority attention. Institutional relations largely drop from view.
“… An institutional theory emphasizes roles, incentives, and other institutional dynamics that promote or compel important events and, most important, have similar effects over and over. Institutional theorists of course notice individual actions, but don’t elevate them to prime causes. The point of an institutional explanation is to move beyond proximate personal factors to more basic institutional factors. The aim is to learn something about society or history, as compared to learning about particular culpable actors. If the particular people hadn’t been there to do the events, most likely someone else would have.
“To the institutional theorist, the behavior of rogue elements is far less important than the ways in which the defining political, social, and economic forms lead to particular behaviors. An institutional theory of the U.S. missile attacks on Sudan or the Iran-Contra affair focuses on how and why these activities arose due to the basic institutions of U.S. society, not on the personal quirks of a womanizing Clinton or a loose-cannon Ollie North.”
While Shalom and Albert acknowledge that there are “of course, complicating borderline cases”, they fail to grasp the point articulated by McMurtry, that so-called conspiratorial behaviour is very often a direct consequence of a wider framework of institutional dynamics. Historically, political, social and economic forms in the United States have frequently led to such behaviour. By citing several well-known examples from the historical record, McMurtry highlights the fact that U.S. military intelligence “has a very long record of contriving attacks on its symbols of power as a pretext for the declaration of wars, with an attendant corporate media frenzy focussing all public attention on the Enemy to justify the next transnational mass murder. This pattern is as old as the U.S. corporate state.” The existence of such a systematic historical pattern is evidence of a deeply-entrenched web of institutionalised decision-making structures at the helm of the U.S. military intelligence community. This institutional dynamic is what produces the pattern of manufacturing provocations for war, often by permitting or pushing forward attacks on symbols of American power. It is thus perfectly reasonable and legitimate to ask whether the September 11 terrorist attacks were also a late product of the same institutional dynamic.
Shalom and Albert, however, take issue with the citation of ‘Operation Northwoods’ as an example of this institutional dynamic:
“Conspiracy theorists have pointed to the Operation Northwoods document as proving that U.S. leaders were capable of 9-11. The document is a recently released top secret 1962 memorandum from the Joint Chiefs of Staff proposing the staging of attacks on U.S. targets that would appear to be coming from Cuba, as a way to justify a U.S. attack on the island.”
Whether or not Northwoods is taken as an example of this institutional dynamic, previous instances of contriving attacks on U.S. symbols of power as a pretext for the declaration of wars are systematic enough to demonstrate that this is a method employed by U.S. decision-making structures when elite military, political, strategic and economic considerations converge on making such a method appear favourable, in terms of meeting elite institutional interests. Nevertheless, Shalom and Albert argue that Northwoods is not a relevant example here:
“Buté the Joint Chiefs didn’t call for killing U.S. citizens. They did propose sinking a boatload of Cuban refugees (though we don’t know whether the Joint Chiefs would have arranged for a U.S. vessel to fortuitously be on hand to pick up the refugees in the water), but with regard to the shoot down of a plane filled with U.S. college students, the plan was to switch an actual planeload of students with an ‘unmanned’ drone that would be shot down, supposedly by Cuba. Elsewhere, Operation Northwoods proposes blowing up a U.S. ship in Guantanamo Bay in a ‘Remember the Maine’ replay, but explicitly refers to a ‘non-existent crew’. The document also suggests attacks on Cuban refugees in the United States ‘even to the extent of wounding.’ So if this document is supposed to show us what U.S. officials are morally capable of, it seems to suggest that they are capable of lying, deceit, conspiring to wage a war of aggression – but not killing U.S. citizens. Moreover, as far as we can tell, the plan proposed by the Joint Chiefs was rejected by the U.S. civilian leadership.”
Unfortunately, from the outset Shalom and Albert mistake the primary value of an analysis of the Operations Northwoods document to be that the U.S. decision-making structure is capable of arranging the killing of its own citizens. One does not need Northwoods to know, however, that the U.S. decision-making structure views U.S. citizens as expendable. The willingness of the government to send ever larger numbers of young soldiers to their death in the Vietnam War is a single obvious illustration of that expendability. Other examples are numerous, such as how the U.S. government has many times knowingly subjected its citizenry to a dangerous é and potentially lethal – test of biological weapons. The primary value of analysing the plan hatched by the Joint Chiefs outlined in the Northwoods document is in providing proof of the U.S. military intelligence infrastructure’s willingness to resort to the long-standing method of, in McMurtry’s words, fabricating or constructing “shocking attacks on U.S. symbols of power to provide the pretext and the public rage to launch wars of aggression against convenient and weaker enemies by which very major and many-levelled gains are achieved for the U.S. corporate-military complex.”
As George Washington University’s National Security Archive records, Operation Northwoods “describes U.S. plans to covertly engineer various pretexts that would justify a U.S. invasion of Cubaé
“These proposals – part of a secret anti-Castro program known as Operation Mongoose – included staging the assassinations of Cubans living in the United States, developing a fake ‘Communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington,’ including ‘sink[ing] a boatload of Cuban refugees (real or simulated),’ faking a Cuban airforce attack on a civilian jetliner, and concocting a ‘Remember the Maine’ incident by blowing up a U.S. ship in Cuban waters and then blaming the incident on Cuban sabotage.”
Indeed, there are enough other examples from the historical record such as Pearl Harbour (discussed below), some mentioned by McMurtry, proving decisively that the U.S. decision-making structure at the helm of the U.S. military intelligence community is morally capable of allowing U.S. citizens to be killed to serve geostrategic interests.
Furthermore, simply because something did not happen in the past, certainly does not prove the lack of propensity for such an event to occur in the future, given the necessary conditions. As Shalom and Albert themselves admit, “it makes sense to develop institutional theories because they uncover lasting features with ubiquitous recurring implications. On the other hand, if an event arises from a unique conjuncture of particular people who seize extra-systemic opportunities, then even though institutions undoubtedly play some role, that role may not be generalizable and an institutional theory may be impossible to construct.”
Taking this admission a step further, it is certainly plausible that as a consequence of a very institutional dynamic, the system itself develops in a manner that is not necessarily the same as before, but institutionalises novel and perhaps unpredictable features. On a merely theoretical basis, therefore, one cannot fully predict the future (otherwise we would all be political astrologists), or assume that events will remain stuck within a particular institutional trajectory. Indeed, there is good reason to believe that the very institutional trajectory of the U.S. decision-making structure has operated in such a manner as to develop and consolidate its power in progressively new, and even worse, features, than before. A close analysis of the Cabinet members of the current Bush administration, for instance, discloses therein the unprecedented conjuncture of officials representing the most powerful elements of the U.S. military, intelligence and corporate complex. Never before has an administration been so directly wired into the ruthless U.S. military-industrial complex.
In that context, it is perfectly reasonable to consider the possibility that the September 11 terrorist attacks were the outcome of the same sort of considerations é rooted in long-standing political, social and economic forms – that gave rise to the Operation Northwoods plan, and other previous U.S. operations along similar lines.
Shalom and Albert, however, appear intent on labeling any such inquiry as a plunge into irrationalism. Discussing the irrational element of “conspiracy theory”, they attempt to show that in general most “conspiracy theories” are unscientific:
“é it is a basic requirement of scientific beliefs that they be in principle falsifiable, that there be the possibility of disconfirming evidence. If a scientific hypothesis predicts X, and instead not-X occurs (and recurs repeatedly with no off-setting explanations for the discrepancy), then the hypothesis ought to be doubted. If the hypothesis flouts prior knowledge as well as current evidence, and is accepted nonetheless, then the behavior is often no longer scientific, nor even rationalé
“Where God’s mysterious ways salvage the religious believers’ failed predictions, added layers of conspiracy salvage disconfirmed conspiracy theories. To the conspiratorial mind, if evidence emerges contradicting a claimed conspiracy, it was planted. If further evidence shows that the first evidence was authentic, then that further evidence too was planted.”
This description of such irrational, unscientific “conspiracy theory” is then applied to September 11. All those who argue the legitimacy of investigating whether the Bush administration may have deliberately facilitated the 9/11 attacks are lumped into one contrived category of “conspiracy theorists”, and subsequently dismissed for proposing absurd uninteresting ideas without foundation. This is achieved essentially by listing a large number of “conspiracy theories” – many of which are arguably untenable, a few of which are plausible – and then simply discarding them all as intrinsically absurd without even attempting to address the matter with a factual analysis:
“Here are some of the leading 9-11 conspiracy theories:
1. The World Trade Center was destroyed not by planes but by explosives.
2. The planes were not hijacked at all, but commandeered by remote control by NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command).
3. The planes were hijacked, but the hijackers were double-crossed and the planes were taken over by remote control by NORAD.
4. The hijackers were actually working for the U.S. government.
5. U.S. intelligence knew about the plot, but intentionally did nothing so as to cause massive deaths that would mobilize public support for a war on terrorism that would benefit the government.
6. The plot was actually organized by the Mossad.
7. The Mossad knew about the plot, but did nothing, hoping that the massive deaths would mobilize public support for Israel’s war on the Palestinians.
8. Tower 2 of the World Trade Center was hit by a missile.
9. There was a joint plot by rogue elements in the CIA, the Mossad, other U.S. government agencies, Mobil (being investigated in a criminal case, all of the evidence against whom was in FBI offices in the World Trade Center), and Russian organized crime (which profited especially from Afghan heroin with which the Taliban was interfering).
We should be forthright here. None of the above strike us as remotely interesting much less plausible.”
The entire approach here, however, is misleading. ZNet began its crusade against 9/11 “conspiracy theories” by criticising the idea of Bush foreknowledge of the attacks. Shalom and Albert, however, extend this criticism without warrant by lumping virtually all angles of analysis of the U.S. role which contradict the official narrative of 9/11 together, dismissing them all. In doing so, they also dismiss the distinctly plausible possibility already noted above that the Bush administration did receive sufficient warning of the attacks to prevent them, but failed to act. Crucially, at no point in their analysis do Shalom and Albert undertake a meaningful analysis of the relevant facts, which are widely available on the public record. They give no argument as to why this possibility is inherently implausible é nor for that matter do they give any good reason as to why any of the above theories are inherently implausible, other than asserting “forthrightly” that this is the case, and qualifying the assertion by noting that none of these theories happen to fit in with their personal understanding of “how the world works”. It is only because of this sleight-of-hand that their discussion appears to take the form of rationality. In fact, they are merely doing what they themselves criticise to be unscientific: theorising about 9/11 based on shoddy long-held but untenable assumptions, without any proper analysis of the available data.
Let us take, for example, their “conspiracy theory” number 4:
4. The hijackers were actually working for the U.S. government.
At face value, without bothering to look at relevant credible reports on this subject, it is easy to dismiss this as “implausible.” But a cursory analysis of relevant facts certainly strongly suggests that the hijackers had some sort of high-level U.S. military connection. According to reports in Newsweek, the Washington Post and the New York Times, after September 11, U.S. military officials gave the FBI information “suggesting that five of the alleged hijackers received training in the 1990s at secure U.S. military installations.” Newsweek has further elaborated that U.S. military training of foreign students occurs as a matter of routine, with the authorisation – and payment – of respective governments, clarifying in particular that with respect to training of Saudi pilots, “Training is paid for by Saudi Arabia.” The hijackers, we should note, were almost exclusively Saudi; 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, mostly from wealthy families:
“U.S. military sources have given the FBI information that suggests five of the alleged hijackers of the planes that were used in Tuesday’s terror attacks received training at secure U.S. military installations in the 1990s. Another of the alleged hijackers may have been trained in strategy and tactics at the Air War College in Montgomery, Ala., said another high-ranking Pentagon official. The fifth man may have received language instruction at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Tex. Both were former Saudi Air Force pilots who had come to the United States, according to the Pentagon sourceé NEWSWEEK visited the base early Saturday morning, where military police confirmed that the address housed foreign military flight traineesé It is not unusual for foreign nationals to train at U.S. military facilities. A former Navy pilot told NEWSWEEK that during his years on the base, ‘we always, always, always trained other countries’ pilots. When I was there two decades ago, it was Iranians. The shah was in power. Whoever the country du jour is, that’s whose pilots we train.’ Candidates begin with ‘an officer’s equivalent of boot camp,’ he said. ‘Then they would put them through flight training.’ The U.S. has a long-standing agreement with Saudi Arabia – a key ally in the 1990-91 gulf war – to train pilots for its National Guard. Candidates are trained in air combat on several Army and Navy bases. Training is paid for by Saudi Arabia.”
The U.S. government has attempted to deny the charges despite the name matches, alleging the existence of biographical discrepancies: “Officials stressed that the name matches may not necessarily mean the students were the hijackers because of discrepancies in ages and other personal data.” But measures appear to have been taken to block public scrutiny of these alleged discrepancies. On 16th September, news reports asserted that: “Officials would not release ages, country of origin or any other specific details of the three individuals.” This situation seems to have continued up to the time of writing. Even Senate inquiries into the matter have been studiously ignored by government law enforcement officials, who when pressed, have been unable to deny that the hijackers were training at secure U.S. military installations. When Senator Bill Nelson, for instance, in outrage asked the FBI whether the hijackers were being trained by the U.S. military, they refused to give a definitive answer, instead admitting that “they are trying to sort through something complicated and difficult.”
Which leads us to wonder: What on earth has the U.S. military been up to in relation to Al-Qaeda? Is it not reasonable to consider whether these hijackers were working for the U.S. government in some way in light of these reports (especially given that it has happened before in relation to the U.S. embassy bombings in 1998, the perpetrator of which was a former U.S. Army Sergeant)? And given the non-response of the FBI to specific questions on the matter, does this not suggest that they are hiding something? There is not yet a clear-cut answer to these questions, but that is exactly why this issues need to be researched in greater depth. Clearly, this anomaly in the official narrative, which has broad implications in terms of the ramifications of U.S. military intelligence policy toward its Middle East allies, is worth exploring further. In their arbitrary wholesale rejection of so-called “conspiracy theories”, Shalom and Albert are clearly also debunking legitimate lines of inquiry that have basis in fact.
There are other examples of this. Let us take, for instance, their two Mossad-related “conspiracy theories”:
6. The plot was actually organized by the Mossad.
7. The Mossad knew about the plot, but did nothing, hoping that the massive deaths would mobilize public support for Israel’s war on the Palestinians.
It is certainly well-documented, for example, that Israel has quite regularly perpetrated terrorist attacks against its U.S. and British benefactors. This is nothing new, as documented by U.S. political commentator John Leonard in the Afterword to my 9/11 study, The War on Freedom. Leonard shows that there is in fact a rich history here, analysis of which discloses a consistent pattern of provocation. Menachim Begin led the 1946 Zionist truck bombing of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, timed to spur British troop withdrawals and give Zionist militias a free hand against the poorly armed Palestinians, taking the lives of just under 100 British guests. Such covert Israeli intelligence operations have evolved into a sophisticated pillar of state strategy, from amateur beginnings in the 1950’s, when the exploits of some provocateurs became public. In the Lavon affair, Israeli “private citizens” blew up American and British property in Egypt, blaming it on the Muslim Brotherhood, but were caught by the police. The bombing of synagogues in Iraq by Zionists inciting their brethren to flee to Palestine also became public knowledge. The New Zealand Herald cites the testimony of an ex-Mossad agent on the Achille Lauro hijacking, who exposed the atrocity as an Israeli “black propaganda operation.”
Does this, in itself, prove that the Israeli military intelligence infrastructure was in some way involved in 9/11? Of course not. But it proves propensity, since this infrastructure has a long record of conducting terrorist attacks é not only against U.S. and British targets but also against Jews (not to mention Palestinians). What brings this propensity into the limelight of a proper contemporary analysis of 9/11 are a number of facts, documented by Leonard in The War on Freedom, proving beyond doubt the reality of some sort of dubious Israeli involvement. Among the pertinent facts he plucks from the public record, are the following.
In the first of a four-part investigative documentary TV series on the Israeli connection to 9/11, FOX News correspondent Carl Cameron reported on how U.S. authorities had detained active members of an Israeli spy ring operating in the U.S., believed by authorities to be linked to the 9/11 attacks:
“A handful of active Israeli military were among those detained, according to investigators, who say some of the detainees also failed polygraph questions when asked about alleged surveillance activities against and in the United States [emphasis added]é investigators suspect that they [sic] Israelis may have gathered intelligence about the attacks in advance, and not shared it. A highly placed investigator said there are é quote é ‘tie-ins’. But when asked for details, he flatly refused to describe them, saying, é quote é ‘evidence linking these Israelis to 9-11 is classified. I cannot tell you about evidence that has been gathered. It’s classified information.’ Fox News has learned that one group of Israelis, spotted in North Carolina recently, is suspected of keeping an apartment in California to spy on a group of Arabs who the United States is also investigating for links to terrorism.”
The Weekly Planet reports that “addresses of many” of the “Arabs under scrutiny by the U.S. government” systematically “correspond to the specific areas where the Israelis set up operations.” One extremely pertinent example is “an address for the Sept. 11 hijacking leader, Mohammad Atta,” which is “3389 Sheridan St. in Hollywood, Fla., only a few blocks and a few hundred feet from the address of some of the Israelis, at 4220 Sheridan.” The strange coordination between Atta and Israeli intelligence operatives is not an isolated case. About a “dozen Israelis, including the alleged surveillance leader, had been based in Hollywood, Fla., between January and June  é quite possibly watching Arabs living nearby who are suspected of providing logistical support to Osama bin Laden’s network.” Indeed, ten of the 19 Al-Qaeda hijackers lived in Florida, bolstering conclusions reported by a FOX News reporter that “the students-cum-spies might have gained advance knowledge of aspects of the Sept. 11 terrorists” é or even worse, may have been directly involved in some way. The respected French journal Le Monde further reports that there were “more than one-hundred Israeli agents, some presenting themselves as fine arts students, others tied to Israeli high-tech companies. All were challenged by the authorities, were questioned, and a dozen of them are still imprisoned. One of their tasks was to track the Al-Qaida terrorists on American territory é without informing the federal authorities.”
The detained Israelis, in other words, had been part of an intelligence operation that had very possibly been tracking the hijackers, and had both the means and the opportunity to discover the terrorist plot. Indeed, somewhat ominously, the U.S. government has refused to disclose already existing “evidence linking these Israelis to 9-11,” ensuring instead that it remains “classified” (unlike direct evidence of an Al-Qaeda involvement). Most crucially, if U.S. authorities recognise the existence of an Israeli connection to 9/11, including the distinct possibility of foreknowledge (not to mention as yet undisclosed “tie-ins”), why are Shalom and Albert arbitrarily dismissing the same? There is no need to comment on this further é it is clear that the facts speak for themselves in warranting a further inquiry into an Israeli linkage to the September 11 attacks. Such an inquiry is clearly legitimate based on the facts. We do not need to delve into specific “conspiracy theories”, or a discussion of them, to understand the legitimacy é and necessity é of such an inquiry, which obviously has broad implications for the nature of the relationship between the United States and Israel, as well as the current direction of Israeli intelligence policy.
Ironically then, the “incompetence theory” of the 9/11 intelligence failure and other issues related to September 11 adopted by Shalom and Albert, fits nicely into their own description of an irrational and unscientific hypothesis: “If the hypothesis flouts prior knowledge as well as current evidence, and is accepted nonetheless, then the behavior is often no longer scientific, nor even rational.” It is noteworthy that their hypothesis not only flouts “prior knowledge” on the historic pattern of provocation for wars noted by McMurtry, Leonard, and others, but also completely ignores “current evidence” available on the 9/11 attacks. As such, their hypothesis is not only unscientific, it is irrational.
A particularly stark example of this is their answer to their self-posed question “Do all the ignored warnings about 9-11 prove conspiracy or just incompetence?”:
“Actually, ignored warnings prove neither. It is possible, for example, that there were many warnings but that these warnings were not readily distinguishable from the thousands of other intelligence reports being received at the same time. Despite the conspiracy theories claiming FDR knew in advance about Pearl Harbor, it remains the case that the most compelling explanation for the missed warnings in 1941 was the inability to detect the significant information from the noise. (This is the argument of Roberta Wohlstetter, Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision, 1962.)”
Many things are possible. What we are interested in, however, is not what was or was not “possible” in relation to September 11th, but what actually happened. Speculation on what could or could not have been the case is not always helpful in decisively discerning the reality of the matter. It is, of course, very easy for both “conspiracy theorists” and “institutional theorists” to continue sitting in their respective bubbles of irrelevant “theory” with respect to 9/11, Pearl Harbour, and any other event. None of them, however, will in reality have the slightest clue what they are talking about unless they leave the bubble of “theory” and enter into the domain of factual analysis. Shalom and Albert, however, like the extreme “conspiracy theorists” they criticise, completely fail to do this in a meaningful way. Their dismissal of the “conspiracy theories claiming FDR knew in advance about Pearl Harbor” is a particularly illustrative example of this. Instead of discussing the matter by referral to the documented facts, they cite the stale hypothetical argument of Roberta Wohlstetter put forth in 1962.
But that sort of blanket dismissal of the case for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s advanced knowledge of Pearl Harbour is no longer tenable. The History Channel (U.S.A.) recently aired a BBC-produced documentary, Betrayal at Pearl Harbor, which demonstrated using, among other historical records declassified U.S. documents, that then U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and his chief military advisers knew full well that Japan was about to spring a “surprise attack” on the U.S. under the latter’s provocation, but allowed the attack to occur to justify U.S. entry into war. Detailed documentation of this fact has been provided by historian Robert Stinnett in his recent study, Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor. Stinnett served in the U.S. Navy from 1942-46 where he earned ten battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation. Examining recently declassified American documents, he concludes that far more than merely knowing of the Japanese plan to bomb Pearl Harbour, Roosevelt deliberately steered Japan into war with America.
“Lieutenant Commander Arthur McCollum, a U.S. Naval officer in the Office of Naval Intelligence, saw an opportunity to counter the U.S. anti-war movement by provoking Japan into a state of war with the U.S., and triggering the mutual assistance provisions of the Tripartite Pact. Memorialized in a secret memo dated October 7, 1940, McCollum’s proposal called for eight provocations aimed at Japan. President Roosevelt acted swiftly, and throughout 1941, implemented the remaining seven provocations. The island nation’s militarists used the provocations to seize control of Japan and organize their military forces for war against the U.S., Great Britain, and the Netherlands. During the next 11 months, the White House followed the Japanese war plans through the intercepted and decoded diplomatic and military communications intelligence. At least 1,000 Japanese radio messages per day were intercepted by monitoring stations operated by the U.S. and her Allies, and the message contents were summarized for the White House. The intercept summaries from Station CAST on Corregidor Island were current-contrary to the assertions of some who claim that the messages were not decoded and translated until years later-and they were clear: Pearl Harbor would be attacked on December 7, 1941, by Japanese forces advancing through the Central and North Pacific Oceans.”
Other elements of the case have also been put well by Daryl S. Borgquist, a U.S. Naval Reserve Public Affairs Officer and a Media Affairs Officer for the Community Relations Service Headquarters at the U.S. Department of Justice: “President Franklin D. Roosevelt requested the national office of the American Red Cross to send medical supplies secretly to Pearl Harbor in advance of the 7 December 1941 Japanese attacké
“Don C. Smith, who directed the War Service for the Red Cross before World War II and was deputy administrator of services to the armed forces from 1942 to 1946, when he became administrator, apparently knew about the timing of the Pearl Harbor attack in advance. Unfortunately, Smith died in 1990 at age 98. But when his daughter, Helen E. Hamman, saw news coverage of efforts by the families of Husband Kimmel and Walter Short to restore the two Pearl Harbor commanders posthumously to what the families contend to be their deserved ranks, she wrote a letter to President Bill Clinton on 5 September 1995. Recalling a conversation with her father, Hamman wrote:
‘é Shortly before the attack in 1941 President Roosevelt called him [Smith] to the White House for a meeting concerning a Top Secret matter. At this meeting the President advised my father that his intelligence staff had informed him of a pending attack on Pearl Harbor, by the Japanese. He anticipated many casualties and much loss, he instructed my father to send workers and supplies to a holding area at a P.O.E. [port of entry] on the West Coast where they would await further orders to ship out, no destination was to be revealed. He left no doubt in my father’s mind that none of the Naval and Military officials in Hawaii were to be informed and he was not to advise the Red Cross officers who were already stationed in the area. When he protested to the President, President Roosevelt told him that the American people would never agree to enter the war in Europe unless they were attack [sic] within their own bordersé
‘He [Smith] was privy to Top Secret operations and worked directly with all of our outstanding leaders. He followed the orders of his President and spent many later years contemplating this action which he considered ethically and morally wrong. I do not know the Kimmel family, therefore would gain nothing by fabricating this situation, however, I do feel the time has come for this conspiracy to be exposed and Admiral Kimmel be vindicated of all charges. In this manner perhaps both he and my father may rest in peace.'”
In a detailed historical account published by the respected journal Naval History, affiliated to the U.S. Naval Institute, Borgquist documents the U.S. government’s foreknowledge and provocation of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, through analysis of many other aspects of the relationship between the government and the Red Cross.
Thus, we see how compelling evidence of the U.S. government’s role in both provoking and permitting the attack on Pearl Harbour is simply ignored by Shalom and Albert. As a result, their commentary on these matters fails to retain any credibility. Thus, they ignore a key example of how the U.S. government and military intelligence infrastructure has in the past deliberately provoked acts of terrorism against U.S. targets, anticipating U.S. casualties, in order to justify military action.
Unsurprisingly then, their attempt to support the case for an “incompetence theory” of the 9/11 intelligence failure follows the same method of ignoring the most compelling facts:
“One of the main arguments for foreknowledge of 9-11 is that any rational person looking at the warnings and evidence accumulated by U.S. officials before 9-11 would have concluded that an attack was going to occur. To not have put in motion measures to stop it therefore proves complicity.
“Consider two clues:
“The FAA has a “Red Team” whose job it is to try to smuggle explosives and weapons past airport checkpoints to test airport security. According to Bogdan Dzakovic, a member of the team, airport security failed 90 percent of the tests, but the FAA did nothing about it, essentially blocking further tests.
“A report by the Library of Congress to the National Intelligence Council stated: ‘Suicide bomber belonging to Al Qaeda’s Martyrdom Battalion could crash land an aircraft packed with high explosives into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the C.I.A. or the White House.’
“These clues would lead some to conclude that the president ‘must have known’: But the ‘president’ who must have known in these cases was Bill Clinton. Dzakovic had his tests squelched in 1998 (Blake Morrison, USA Today, 25 Feb. 2002, pp. A1, A4) and the Library of Congress study was written during the Clinton administration (quoted in William Safire, ‘The Williams Memo,’ New York Times, 20 May 2002, p. A19). So either Clinton too was in on the plot (and his top aides, Gore, Cohen, Albright?) or else it’s possible to have received such reports and still not done anything even though one wasn’t a conspirator.”
It is worth noting that this presentation of the “evidence” is nothing but a laughable straw man. Shalom and Albert thus achieve their objective of construing any consideration of “what Bush knew and when” to be absurd, by presenting as extremely weak a case as possible, and then observing that, of course, the case is extremely weak. But this is simply another vacuous circular argument.
We will here cite just a few documented facts from my more extensive study, The War on Freedom, which demonstrate that the U.S. intelligence community had developed very precise information on the September 11 terrorist attacks prior to those attacks, information which was widely known among U.S. agencies.
The New Yorker reports that according to Richard A. Clarke, U.S. National Coordinator for Counterterrorism in the White House, about ten weeks before 11th September, the U.S. intelligence community was convinced that a terrorist attack by Al-Qaeda on U.S. soil was imminent. Seven to eight weeks prior to the 11th September attacks, all internal U.S. security agencies were warned of an impending Al-Qaeda attack against the Untied States that would likely occur in several weeks time: “Meanwhile, intelligence had been streaming in concerning a likely Al Qaeda attack. ‘It all came together in the third week in June,’ Clarke said. ‘The C.I.A.’s view was that a major terrorist attack was coming in the next several weeks’.” On July 5th, Clarke “summoned all the domestic security agencies-the Federal Aviation Administration, the Coast Guard, Customs, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the F.B.I.” and informed them “of an impending attack.”
Approximately 4 weeks prior to 11th September, the CIA took seriously specific information of an impending Al-Qaeda attack on U.S. soil. The Associated Press reports that: “Officials also said the CIA had developed general information a month before the attacks that heightened concerns that bin Laden and his followers were increasingly determined to strike on U.S. soil.” A CIA official affirmed that: “There was something specific in early August that said to us that he was determined in striking on U.S. soil.” AP elaborates that: “The information prompted the CIA to issue a warning to federal agencies.”
So it is clear that the U.S. intelligence community was anxiously anticipating an imminent Al-Qaeda attack in the next few weeks. But that is not all. The specific method of the attacks é using planes as missiles or bombs é was also known by U.S. intelligence. The U.S. intelligence community received warnings six months before 11th September, warnings which were repeated again three months before that date, that “Middle Eastern terrorists” planned to hijack planes to use as missiles against prominent American buildings. These warnings were not ignored or dismissed. On the contrary, they were taken very seriously by the U.S. intelligence community. Newsbytes, an online division of the Washington Post, reported in mid-September that:
“U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies received warning signals at least three months ago that Middle Eastern terrorists were planning to hijack commercial aircraft to use as weapons to attack important symbols of American and Israeli culture, according to a story in Germany’s daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ).
“The FAZ, quoting unnamed German intelligence sources, said that the Echelon spy network was being used to collect information about the terrorist threats, and that U.K. intelligence services apparently also had advance warning. The FAZ, one of Germany’s most respected dailies, said that even as far back as six months ago western and near-east press services were receiving information that such attacks were being planned. Within the American intelligence community, the warnings were taken seriously and surveillance intensified, the FAZ said.”
The last comment – “Within the American intelligence community, the warnings were taken seriously and surveillance intensified” – is crucial. It clearly indicates that in response to the ECHELON warnings, the entire U.S. intelligence community – all U.S. intelligence agencies – were on alert for a hijacking attempt that would attempt to hurl planes into “symbols of American” culture. So the U.S. intelligence community knew both that an Al-Qaeda attack was imminent, and also that the attack would attempt to use civilian planes as bombs to hit prominent U.S. targets.
John McMurtry cites another revealing piece of evidence indicating specifically that U.S. intelligence had been aware that these targets were located in lower Manhattan é the World Trade Center is of course the most prominent terrorist target in that district, particularly since it had already been targeted in the past by terrorists linked to bin Laden in 1993:
“Perhaps most remarkably, there had been direct warnings from the Republican Party’s own past Chief Investigative Council for the House Judiciary Committee to the closed decision circuits of Congress and the Bush administration. Representing F.B.I. special agents suing the U.S. Justice Department (along with Washington-DC Judicial Watch), David Philip Schippers reported in Houston on October 10 on the ‘Alex Jones Talk Show’ that these agents knew of a plan of bin Laden’s network to attack Lower Manhattan with ‘commercial airlines as bombs’ long before 9-11, but were blocked from investigative and preventative action by F.B.I. and U.S. Justice Department command, and threatened with prosecution under the National Security Act if they published this information. Attorney-General Ashcroft himself, reports Schippers, refused to return calls on this matter to his fellow senior Republican for four weeks before 9-11.”
At the same time, U.S. intelligence was aware that suspected terrorists linked to Osama bin Laden were training at U.S. flight schools. The Washington Post reported, for instance, that the FBI had in fact known this for several years – yet, absolutely nothing had been done about it:
“Federal authorities have been aware for years that suspected terrorists with ties to Osama bin Laden were receiving flight training at schools in the United States and abroad, according to interviews and court testimonyé A senior government official yesterday acknowledged law enforcement officials were aware that fewer than a dozen people with links to bin Laden had attended U.S. flight schools.”
All this information was widely known in the U.S. intelligence community. U.S. intelligence operatives were fully aware of their dire implications. But they were forced into a state of inaction by the studious passivity of Washington. One active FBI counter-terrorism investigator, for instance, testifies that it was widely known “all over the Bureau, how these [warnings] were ignored by Washington…
“All indications are that this information came from some of [the FBI’s] most experienced guys, people who have devoted their lives to this kind of work. But their warnings were placed in a pile in someone’s office in Washington… In some cases, these field agents predicted, almost precisely, what happened on September 11th. So we were all holding our breathé hoping that the situation would be remedied.”
David Schippers himself told me in an interview that according to his contacts in the intelligence community, who had approached him in May 2001 about an impending Al-Qaeda attack from the air on lower Manhattan, “there are others all over the country who are frustrated, and just waiting to come out.” The frustration of these intelligence officers, Schippers explained, was because of the obstructions of a “bureaucratic elite in Washington short-stopping information,” with the consequence that they have granted “terrorism a free reign in the United States.”
All this data, and much more, is extensively discussed in The War on Freedom. What is clear from this data is that it is wrong to assume that one agency had one bit of information, another agency had another, and due to incompetence either the information was not taken seriously or it was not connected, or both. On the contrary, the entire U.S. intelligence community was alerted to the relevant information, and took it seriously. Given that the White House Counterterrorism Security Group, coordinating the findings of all federal agencies, was working incessantly on the Al-Qaeda plot prior to 9/11, this is not surprising.
A few weeks prior to September 11th 2001, the intelligence community thus anticipated: an imminent Al-Qaeda terrorist attack on U.S. soil; the hijacking of civilian planes to be used as missiles to target iconic structures symbolic of American power; the targeting of buildings in lower Manhattan. But preventive action in response to this precise information é such as apprehending Al-Qaeda operatives at U.S. flight schools – was blocked from Washington.
The above analysis demonstrates that even a cursory inspection of some pertinent facts suffices to discredit the simplistic “incompetence theory”. Instead, the facts clearly indicate that the Washington political echelon simply refused to act on accurate and precise intelligence of the impending attacks. Why that might be is another matter that is also examined in my book. But we may derive some insight into that by noting the acute observations of U.S. military expert Stan Goff é a former U.S. Army Special Forces Master Sergeant and Lecturer in Military Science and Doctrine at West Point Military Academy – who points out that, contrary to the simplistic and misleading claim of Shalom and Albert that prior to 9/11 the Bush administration “already had immense power”, in fact “the U.S.’s ability to dominate the entire planet is unravelingé
“This is just part of a historical evolution that is at some point inevitable and I think it’s about to happen. I think what they’re doing now is not something they’re doing out of a position of strength but out of a position of desperation and panic. These are very panicked kind of m in a sort of broad overall view of things which makes them exceedingly dangerous. I think historically we can go back and see that when big capital gets in trouble and the market’s not working for them anymore they have to find a way, cause right now there is a worldwide production over-capacity that’s created a recession that’s about to go deep and about to go long and one of the ways that they’ve traditionally gotten themselves out of that is to liquidate a bunch of that capital and the best way to liquidate capital real fast is war. That’s the way they correct the problem they use non-market mechanisms to correct for a fallen rate of profit within a market economy. And I think what’s even more dangerous is we are looking at this huge imperial power that’s the United States right now and they’re trying to control everything at once and their empire is beginning to unravel on them and I think what is particularly dangerous for people like me and probably people like y’all and a lot of your listeners is that in the process of doing this they’re going to have to exercise more and more despotic measures at home to step on resistanceé”
Unfortunately, Shalom and Albert are only able to argue their case by refusing to conduct a meaningful analysis of the relevant facts. By keeping their “analysis” within a bubble of theory rooted in false assumptions, they attempt to justify why “the left” should remain within the same bubble and not bother looking at the facts and their implications. Once again, this only shows that as commentators on the September 11 attacks, they retain no credibility, since they have no significant grasp of the related data. While they rightly criticise the automatic “Obviously the World Trade Center attack was a U.S. government hoax”-conspiracy-bandwagon, they fall into the opposite extreme of uncritically buying into the official 9/11 narrative of ‘Obviously the World Trade Center attack was not foiled because of U.S. incompetence.’ The reality is far more complex. Picking and choosing one’s facts according to what conveniently fits into the pre-established framework of one’s pre-determined “conspiracy theory” or “institutional theory”, is simply a recipe for being alienated from the real world.
The rest of Shalom and Albert’s analysis continues to studiously miss the point, as usual by ignoring facts in an effort to justify why “the left” should also not bother to investigate the facts. They attempt to take on, for example, 9/11 “conspiracy theories” about President Bush allowing the attacks to go ahead by ensuring that the U.S. Air Force failed to respond on time. But they do not even attempt to assess the principal anomalies surrounding this whole issue, which have led many commentators to conclude that the official, magical, all-explanatory, undefined, catch-phrase “incompetence” is not sufficient to explain the scale of the breakdown of U.S. defence measures on September 11. The principal anomaly has, once again, been aptly and concisely articulated by Professor McMurtry:
“Although U.S. airforce interceptions of hijacked planes are normally only minutes-long, there was a stand-down of these automatic interception actions for all of the hijacked planes of 9-11, without one airforce plane turning a wheel for over two hours. The terrorists circled jumbo jets known to be hijacked around the military air-command’s front yard airspace until after all three of the buildings had been dive-bombed. Yet no disciplinary process nor formal investigation by the Pentagon, the F.B.I., Congress or the mass media was undertaken despite all the stunning breaches of defence routine, which together provided an open passage for the long-planned attack.”
Veteran journalist George Szamuely é former editorial writer for The Times, The Spectator, and the Times Literary Supplement; as well as an associate at the Manhattan Institute, editor at Freedom House, research consultant at the Hudson Institute, and a contributor to Commentary, American Spectator, National Review, the Wall Street Journal, National Interest, American Scholar among many others é pinpoints the fundamental problem in the official narrative with further elaboration:
“Passenger jet hijackings are not uncommon and the U.S. government has prepared detailed plans to handle them. On Sept. 11 these plans were ignored in their entiretyé Here are the FAA regulations concerning hijackings: ‘The FAA hijack coordinatoréon duty at Washington headquarters will request the military to provide an escort aircraft for a confirmed hijacked aircrafté The escort service will be requested by the FAA hijack coordinator by direct contact with the National Military Command Center (NMCC).’ Here are the instructions issued by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on June 1, 2001: ‘In the event of a hijacking, the NMCC will be notified by the most expeditious means by the FAA. The NMCC willéforward requests for DOD assistance to the Secretary of Defense for approval.’é The U.S. is supposed to scramble military aircraft the moment a hijacking is confirmed.”
In this context, the official “incompetence theory” of this inexplicable lack of adherence to mandatory standard operating procedures on the part of the National Military Command Center begins to fall apart. Award-winning Canadian journalist and media analyst Barry Zwicker – former correspondent for the Toronto Sun and the Globe and Mail, and currently a media critic on CBC-TV, CTV’s News1, and Vision TV – observes:
“Throughout the northeastern United States are many air bases. But that morning no interceptors respond in a timely fashion to the highest alert situation. This includes the Andrews squadrons which have the longest lead time and are 12 miles from the White house.
“Whatever the explanation for the huge failure, there have been no reports, to my knowledge, of reprimands. This further weakens the ‘Incompetence Theory.’ Incompetence usually earns reprimands. This causes me to ask – and other media need to ask – if there were ‘stand down’ orders.”
Again, this is a legitimate line of inquiry deserving of further attention. Within the strict hierarchy of decision-making in the U.S. military establishment, standard operating procedures cannot be systematically violated unless an appropriate command to do so is received from above, and would normally not be violated without severe reprimand and immediate rectification. Military experts such as Stan Goff have asserted that the issue needs to be investigated, noting of the Bush administration’s attempts to pretend procedures were followed that: “There is a story being constructed about these events”. Goff also observes: “[A]t a very bare minimumé we’ve either got a criminal conspiracy or we’ve got criminal negligence on the part of this Administration. But in either case, there are parts of this thing that could have been prevented but nobody did a thing.” Given the nature of the massive collapse of almost all related defence measures on September 11, involving the violation of standard operating procedures, it is reasonable to investigate the matter further to discern whether the cause was likely to be, as is the obvious deduction, stand down orders é an admittedly plausible explanation in context with the convincing evidence for Washington’s deliberate inaction in response to intelligence warnings.
Similar concerns apply to the official version of Osama bin Laden’s relationship to the United States. Instead of taking note of anomalies suggesting that the U.S. relationship to Osama is far more complex than the conventional wisdom would have us believe, Shalom and Albert ridicule simplistic straw man fallacies such as that bin Laden’s “former ties to the U.Sé reveal the secret roots of a conspiracy.”
But they ignore facts indicating that the U.S. government’s attitude to Al-Qaeda is not as hostile as the mainstream may presume. It is well-known, for instance, that Al-Qaeda receives millions of dollars in financial support from members of the Saudi royal family é Saudi Arabia of course being a major client regime of the United States – perhaps including the bin Laden family which is under investigation by the FBI for funding Osama. Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reports in the New Yorker that: “Since 1994 or earlier, the National Security Agency has been collecting electronic intercepts of conversations between members of the Saudi Arabian royal family, which is headed by King Fahdé
“The intercepts depict a regime increasingly corrupt, alienated from the country’s religious rank and file, and so weakened and frightened that it has brokered its future by channelling hundreds of millions of dollars in what amounts to protection money to fundamentalist groups that wish to overthrow it.”
Furthermore, the NSA intercepts “have demonstrated to analysts that by 1996 Saudi money was supporting Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda and other extremist groups in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Yemen, and Central Asia, and throughout the Persian Gulf region.” According to one senior U.S. intelligence official, the Saudi regime had “gone to the dark side.”
President George W. Bush had, for example, blocked intelligence investigations into Saudi terror connections prior to September 11. Here are just two credible press reports on this matter. BBC Newsnight reported high-level blocks on U.S. investigations into bin Laden-related terror connections, based on what appear to be attempts to protect U.S. corporate interests – including the fact that President Bush Jnr.’s fortune was built on doing business with the Saudi bin Laden family:
“The younger Bush made his first million 20 years ago with an oil company partly funded by Salem Bin Laden’s chief U.S. representativeé Young George also received fees as director of a subsidiary of Carlyle Corporation, a little known private company which has, in just a few years of its founding, become one of Americas biggest defence contractors. His father, Bush Senior, is also a paid advisor. And what became embarrassing was the revelation that the Bin Ladens held a stake in Carlyle, sold just after September 11é I received a phone call from a high-placed member of a U.S. intelligence agency. He tells me that while there’s always been constraints on investigating Saudis, under George Bush it’s gotten much worse. After the elections, the agencies were told to ‘back off’ investigating the Bin Ladens and Saudi royals, and that angered agentsé FBI headquarters told us they could not comment on our findings.”
Bush Jr.’s order to “back off” the bin Laden family and Saudi royals followed previous orders dating back to 1996 é the year when Saudi funding of Al-Qaeda was uncovered – frustrating efforts to investigate the latter. The London Guardian has elaborated that: “FBI and military intelligence officials in Washington say they were prevented for political reasons from carrying out full investigations into members of the Bin Laden family in the U.S. before the terrorist attacks of September 11é
“U.S. intelligence agencies have come under criticism for their wholesale failure to predict the catastrophe at the World Trade Centre. But some are complaining that their hands were tiedé High-placed intelligence sources in Washington told the Guardian this week: ‘There were always constraints on investigating the Saudis.’ They said the restrictions became worse after the Bush administration took over this year. The intelligence agencies had been told to ‘back off’ from investigations involving other members of the Bin Laden family, the Saudi royals, and possible Saudi links to the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Pakistan. ‘There were particular investigations that were effectively killed.'”
Clearly, neither Saudi Arabia nor President Bush, are interested in genuinely cracking down on the funding of Al-Qaeda. That is clear from the blocks on Saudi terror connections imposed by Bush and his predecessors, for years. It is clear from the behaviour of Saudi royals, for years. The implications are even more damning when we consider credible reports that the bin Laden family, with whom the Bushes have very close financial ties, also funds Osama bin Laden.
There is little doubt then that the Bush administration is effectively conniving with the Saudi support of Al-Qaeda terrorism, by allowing it to continue and even worse, actively protecting it from investigation by repeatedly obstructing U.S. intelligence inquiries. There are dire implications here that need to be investigated, perhaps in terms of the role international terrorism might play in providing a pretext for foreign and domestic policies, where otherwise a pretext could not be found. Is that why successive U.S. administrations tolerate the financial support of Al-Qaeda by their key clients? To what extent does the web of strategic and economic interests behind the decision-making structure responsible for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East lead successive administrations to form and protect regional alliances which are intrinsically unstable, despite knowing the domestic consequences and dangers in terms of international terrorism? Again, even a cursory inspection of a few relevant facts clarifies the legitimacy and necessity of this line of inquiry, and demonstrates that questioning the official narrative about the relationship between bin Laden and the U.S. is perfectly reasonable.
Shalom and Albert move on from this to tackle the question of “looking at who benefits to see who must be responsible é doesn’t that imply conspiracy?é
“First of all, we know from mystery writers that there is often more than one suspect with a motive. Does the U.S. government gain from 9-11? Yes. Does Israel? Yes. But what about Russia (which now has a freer hand in Chechnya)? Yes also. How about China? Yes, also, with its free hand in Xinjiang, and the far lower likelihood that the United States will try to isolate it. If one goes through history and uncritically and mechanically applies the ‘who benefits?’ principle, one finds it a poor guide to understanding.”
Their attempt here to equate “looking at who benefits to see who must be responsible” with a penchant held by “mystery writers” is disingenuous. As they themselves admit, looking at who benefits is “often useful, but hardly definitive”. But if we are at all mildly interested in understanding 9/11, then we will have to therefore admit the usefulness of asking the question “who benefits?”, and therefore the usefulness of analysing specific evidence for whether the prime beneficiaries contributed to the crime from they benefited. But Shalom and Albert sidestep that implication by equating the “who benefits?” principle with conspiratorial mystery writing. Indeed, no one is claiming that “who benefits?” as an isolated principle is automatically an all-explanatory catchphrase for all historical phenomena! Again, as usual Shalom and Albert fail to deal with the essentials of the argument and hence only refute another pathetic straw man.
In fact, “who benefits?” is a standard forensic question that is used by law enforcement officials when investigating a crime, in the attempt to isolate the main suspects. Of course, this forensic principle is not used to solve the crime, and therefore not definitive! But it is used as at least one basic criterion of gathering a legitimate/likely list of suspects to be investigated. There is nothing irrational, conspiratorial, or mysterious about this entirely normal method of initial forensic inquiry. Based on that method, it is reasonable to investigate the role of the Bush administration and the U.S. military-corporate complex, if any, in the September 11 attacks, with an open and impartial attitude é since they are the most direct, primary beneficiaries.
Shalom and Albert also fail to acknowledge that the issue of who benefits from 9/11 does provide a plausible explanation of why the Bush administration would refuse to act on accurate intelligence of an impending Al-Qaeda attack (an issue which they refuse to analyse in any meaningful manner). It is of course possible that they did not anticipate the extent of the destruction the 9/11 attacks would cause, as McMurtry notes:
“Shocking attacks on symbols of American power as a pretext for aggressive war is, in fact, an old and familiar pattern of the American corporate state. Even the sacrifice of thousands of ordinary Americans is not new, although so many people have never died so very fast. This scale of the 9-11 massacre is what makes most people doubt that even the ilk of Cheney, Rumsfield and Bush Jr. could be complicit in such a crime. There is a point to be made here. It is indeed likely that the deaths were not anticipated because of the unexpected tidal downsweep of igniting jet fuel through the Twin Tower elevator shafts. Even the most experienced New York firefighters were astonished by the building collapses that thus occurred.”
Rather, Shalom and Albert present the forensic principle of “who benefits?” as if it is offered as the only piece of evidence that “implies conspiracy”. In fact, this standard forensic principle gives us a good reason to ask the question of whether the most immediate and direct beneficiaries é the Bush administration and the U.S. military-industrial complex é of the 9/11 attacks were in some way involved in those attacks.
In other words, it gives us good reason to begin an investigation into the subject, rather than fanatically dismiss the issue without any serious consideration, as Shalom and Albert do, and ask “the left” to do. Most crucially, the key point that they ignore is that the “who benefits?” principle, connected to the available data indicating that the Washington political echelon refused to act on accurate intelligence on the impending Al-Qaeda attack, provides a plausible explanation of that studious inaction, both prior to 9/11 and on the very day of the attacks.
That indeed is the assessment of leading U.S. intelligence expert Tyrone Powers, a former FBI Special Agent specialising in counterterrorism – now Professor of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice at Anne Arundel County Community College and Director of the Institute for Criminal Justice, Legal Studies and Public Service. I corresponded with Powers about the 9/11 intelligence failure in the aftermath of the recent controversy on Capitol Hill about “what Bush knew, when”. He told me that in his view, based on the facts that have recently surfaced on the public record, there was “credible information from the FBI, CIA and foreign intelligence services that an attack was imminent”. The information indicated that an Al-Qaeda hijacking attempt was probable. But no measures were enforced by the Bush administration é such as increasing security measures at airports in accordance with long-standing recommendations é to prevent such hijackings.
Powers puts this in context with what he describes as the “consequentialism” inherent to the decision making process of leaders, which he has witnessed firsthand in his intelligence and counter-intelligence background: “… on occasion, [damaging] acts are allowed if in the minds of the decision-makers, they will lead to ‘greater good’,” and as long as the damage is contained within certain limits. Powers further refers to a variety of combined institutional influences and issues: pressure on intelligence agencies to vastly reduce their powers; concern over the “blowback” from the controversies of the Presidential election; the desire on the part of elements of the intelligence community to “reconstitute the CIA” after its perceived “emasculation by the Clinton administration”; the belief among these elements that such a reconstitution required “a need, a demand and a free hand that would be given by a democratic Congress [only] if there was a National outcry”. He then told me that: “My experience tells me that these incidents would have reached the level at which the ‘consequentialism’ thought process would have been made a real option” – in other words, that elements of the intelligence community and the administration may have deliberately failed to act in the belief that the resultant damage would contribute to a “greater good”, providing a pretext for such policies as the reconstitution of the CIA. However, Powers emphasises that this policy would have been the result of a “miscalculation” – a failure to anticipate the extent of this damage: “But the amount of destruction wrought on a civilian population shocked even the advocates of this policy.”
In other words, the U.S. intelligence community had sufficient information of an impending Al-Qaeda hijacking attack, Powers argues reviewing the available evidence, but was probably blocked from undertaking preventive action from above. Elements of the Bush administration, he suggests, may have done so to protect or further their perceived interests – the “greater good” – perhaps in justifying domestic and foreign policies they are now pursuing.
If a U.S. intelligence expert of Powers’ standing believes that this is a more plausible explanation of the available facts than the “incompetence theory”, how can Shalom and Albert dismiss it as not “remotely interesting, much less plausible”? Their stance is simply irrational.
The rest of the comments made by Shalom and Albert in their ‘ZNet Instructional’ are rooted in the body of fallacies, mistaken assumptions, vacuous analysis, and avoidance of facts that they amass in their previous observations. The fundamental problem with their work, and with the work of others who adopt the same frame of ideas, is that they do not appear to have any sort of handle on the facts é nor do they appear to have any “interest” in analysing them, basically due to their fundamental faith in the accuracy of the official 9/11 narrative.
Starting from the effective assumption that they know that Bush did not know, they attempt to convince “the left” that therefore we should not bother investigating the matter. The same circular principle is applied wholesale to every other gaping hole in the official 9/11 narrative. This, of course, does not do ZNet é an otherwise brilliant social justice resource é nor anyone else for that matter, any justice. As we have seen above, even a cursory inspection of the facts suffices to show that investigating the U.S. government role in relation to the September 11 terrorist attacks is a legitimate line of inquiry.
Furthermore, it is clear that the facts pose a considerable challenge to the conventional wisdom about the 9/11 attacks, exposing glaring anomalies that need to be addressed. These anomalies in the mainstream version of events suggest a much wider picture of long-standing institutional corruption, involving the intertwined relationship between the interests of the U.S. military-corporate complex and the operation of international terrorism.
 Statement of Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, in interview with Dennis Bernstein, Flashpoints, News Radio, KPFA, 12 April 2002. Transcript available at Centre for Research on Globalisation, http://globalresearch.ca/articles/MCK204B.html.
 Interview of Cynthia McKinney, Pacifica Radio, 25 March 2002.
 Washington Post, 12 April 2002.
 Atlanta-Journal Constitution, 12 April 2002.
 Parker Kathleen, ‘McKinney’s minions march to different drummer’, Tribune Media Services, 22 April 2002, http://www.townhall.com/columnists/kathleenparker/kp20020422.shtml; Parker, ‘Conspiracy Theories Laughable’, Tribune, 24 April 2002, http://www.townhall.com/columnists/kathleenparker/kp20020424.shtml.
 Stratfor, ‘Sept 11: What Did Bush Know and When Did He Know It?’, Strategic Forecasting LLC, 20 May 2002.
 Betts, Richard K., ‘Fixing Intelligence’, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2002. Excerpt available at http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20020101faessay6556/richard-k-betts/fixing-intelligence.html.
 Johnson, Loch K., Secret Agencies: U.S. Intelligence in a Hostile World, Yale University of Press, 1996.
 Walsh, Edward and Vise, David A., ‘Louis Freeh To Resign As Director Of the FBI’, Washington Post, 2 May 2001, p. A01.
 Wright, Lawrence, ‘The Counter-Terrorist,’ New Yorker, 14 January 2002.
 Corn, David, ‘The Loyal Opposition: The 9/11 X-Files’, op. cit.
 For that sort of in-depth assessment, see Ahmed, Nafeez Mosaddeq, ‘Did Bush Know? Warning Signs of 9-11 and Intelligence Failures’, Media Monitors Network, http://184.108.40.206/mosaddeq36.html. This is Chapter 4 of my new study of the 9/11 attacks, The War on Freedom: How and Why America was Attacked, September 11, 2001, Media Messenger Books, June 2002, http://www.thewaronfreedom.com.
 Albert, Michael, ‘What Did Bush Know, When?’, ZNet, 21 May 2002, http://www.zmag.org/content/TerrorWar/albertbushknow.cfm.
 For such a comparative analysis see Johnson, op. cit.
 A detailed account drawing on several press reports is Martin, Patrick, ‘FBI knows anthrax mailer but won’t make an arrest, U.S. scientist harges’, World Socialist Web Site (WSWS), 25 February 2002, http://www.wsws.org/articles/2002/feb2002/anth-f25.shtml.
 To Corn’s credit, it should be noted, in other articles he has called for an investigation to 9/11, albeit primarily on grounds of uncovering “incompetence”. The only problem here is that if one begins an investigation having already made up one’s mind what the general problem was, the danger arises that the investigation will likely be skewered, limited and conditioned from the start by one’s assumptions, leading to evidence against one’s original assumptions being ignored.
 Shalom, Stephen R. and Albert, Michael, ‘Conspiracies or Institutions: 9-11 and Beyond’, ZNet, 2 June 2002, http://www.zmag.org/content/Instructionals/shalalbcon.cfm.
 McMurtry, op. cit.
 See Madsen, op. cit.
 This point is discussed lucidly and concisely by U.S military expert Stan Goff, a former U.S. Special Forces Master Sergeant and Lecturer in Military Science and Doctrine at the West Point Military Academy: “Start with Bush. Start with the de facto president right now. He was the CEO of Harken Energy. That is his own little company, you know. As it turns out, he wasn’t very good at it. You know, his dad, was an oil man. So you’ve got two generations in oil right there. Okay. And his dad was also you know the former President, the former Vice-President, the director of Central Intelligence. George Herbert Walker Bush is on the board of Carlyle Group. Carlyle Group is right now a $12 billion dollar equity company, but it’s heavily invested in all kinds of things, including oil and it’s also I think 11th or 12th whatever, biggest defense contractors in the country right now. It’s getting very incestuous. And in fact, Carlyle put Bush junior on the board of one of its subsidiaries, which is Cater Air. A little shuttle service, a little puddle jumper service. Sort of as a sop to dad. The new ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Robert Jordan, is a Dallas lawyer and an old Bush booster. Jordan works for a Baker Botts. That’s a firm with offices in Riyadh. And Baker Botts represents Carlyle Group over there. And the Baker in Baker Botts is James Baker, who was Secretary of State for George Herbert Walker Bush, but he is also the guy that engineered the whole Florida coup d’etat, in the 2000 election. He was the midwife of that little venture. Some of the other folks in Carlyle, Fidel Ramos, former Chief of the Philippines. Park Tae Joon of South Korea. John Major. Everybody remember John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs? And you can go back with the Bush family. Prescott Bush, Rockefellers, Duponts, Standard Oil, Morgans, Fords, all these other folks were anti-Semites and anti-Communists way back. They also actually financed the rise to power of Adolph Hitler. They financed it. I mean, that’s a historical fact. It’s irrefutable. And Prescott Bush did business with the Nazis all the way up to 1942 until he was censured by the United States under the Trading with the Enemy Act. And after the War, he turned right around and ran for Congress in Connecticut and won. This is an interesting family. Anyway, Dick Cheney, CEO of Halliburton Oil. Got $34 million before he took office in stock options from Halliburton. As the CEO, Cheney, and I’m looking at my notes, oversaw $23.8 billion dollars in oil industry contracts to Iraq alone. Now this is interesting, because Cheney found the loopholes in the embargo on Iraq. Now the attack on Iraq was done when Cheney was the Secretary of Defense. He stepped down as Secretary of Defense and turned right around and became the CEO of Halliburton, took advantage of the loopholes and went back there and made $23.8 billion dollars in Iraq by rebuilding the infrastructure that we bombed out of existence. Halliburton is also involved with the Russian mob. They’ve got sort of two things going on. One is oil and the other is drug trafficking. Halliburton is a story all by itself. Secretary of State, Colin Powell. This man has no diplomatic credentials. He was the former chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff and all of sudden he is in charge of the entire diplomatic corps of the United States. That’s interesting just by itself. He has cash holdings or stock holdings in a number of defense contractors. Tony Prinicipi, Secretary of Foreign Affairs. Lockheed Martin, defense contractor. The biggest defense contractor in the world. Andrew Card, Chief of Staff. . General Motors. Secretary of the Navy, Gordon England. General Dynamics. Secretary of the Airforce, James Roche, Northrup Grummond.. Secretary of the Army, General Thomas White retired. Enron Energy. These folks are (chuckles) all defense contractors or oil people. The whole bunch of them are. Donald Rumsfeld is Secretary of Defense. What people don’t realize is he is also the former CEO of Searle Pharmaceuticals. They get big defense contracts. But he is also with General Signal Corporation, a defense contractor. And interestingly enough, he is also heavily invested in biotech, which is probably gonna make a killing here pretty soon with whatever Anthrax vaccines. Cheney and I’ve got a picture of Cheney and Rumsfeld in May 2000 at the Russian-American Business Leaders Forum together. Arms around each other, and smiling. Dick Armitage. Deputy Secretary of Defense, he’s a guy like me, he’s a former special ops guy, Seal. He had to leave the Reagan Administration because he was up to his neck in Iran contra drug problems. And now he’s working directly with the Russian Mafia. And he is also a board member of Carlyle. Remember that? Chief of Carlyle is Mr. Carlucci, who is also with the Middle East Policy Council, you see how this stuff intersects? Commerce Secretary is Donald Evans who owns Colorado Oil Company. You have to take a very close look at this cabinet, which I think was constructed in a very systematic way to figure out what their foreign policy priorities are.” (Interview with Stan Goff by Mike McCormick, 24 October 2001, http://www.interlog.com/~cjazz/goff.htm)
 Wheeler, Larry, ‘Pensacola NAS link faces more scrutiny,’ Pensacola News Journal, 17 September 2001.
 ‘Alleged Hijackers May Have Trained at U.S. Bases,’ Newsweek, 15 September 2001.
 See my Chapter 4 of The War on Freedom, ‘Did Bush Know?’, op. cit.
 Begin was a leader of the Jewish underground, the Irgun, and of the Likud party. He served as Prime Minister, and shared the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize with Anwar Sadat.
 ‘Mid-East: Palestine Time-Line,’ Index of articles on ‘Recovered History,’ from The Progressive Review, http://prorev.com/recovered.htm. Pittman, James O., ‘Negotiation Strategy in Hostage Situations,’ U.S. Army Medical Department Journal, May-June 1996, : “Menachim Begin, the former head of the state of Israel, who began his political growth as a member of the Irgun Zvai Leumi (IZL), eventually rising to lead the IZL and participated in the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in the name of Zionist liberation from British rule.”
 Hirst, David, ‘The Lavon Affair,’ in The Gun and the Olive Branch, Futura, 1984; relevant excerpts at The scandal brought down the Israeli government, but the plotters got a hero’s welcome home.
 See first-hand testimony from an Iraqi Jew, Naeim Giladi, ‘The Jews of Iraq,’ The Link, published by Americans for Middle East Understanding (AMEU), Vol. 31, No. 2, April-May 1998. “About 125,000 Jews left Iraq for Israel in the late 1940s and into 1952, most because they had been lied to and put into a panic by what I came to learn were Zionist bombs,” recalls Giladi. “The principal interest Israel had in Jews from Islamic countries was as a supply of cheap labor, especially for the farm work that was beneath the urbanized Eastern European Jews. Ben Gurion needed the ‘Oriental’ Jews to farm the thousands of acres of land left by Palestinians who were driven out by Israeli forces in 1948é Documents, including some that I illegally copied from the archives at Yad Vashem, confirm what I saw myself, what I was told by other witnesses, and what reputable historians and others have written concerning the Zionist bombings in Iraq, Arab peace overtures that were rebuffed, and incidents of violence and death inflicted by Jews on Jews in the cause of creating Israel.” See Giladi’s book, Ben Gurion’s Scandals: How the Haganah and Mossad Eliminated Jews, AMEU, 1992. See also Christian Science Monitor, ‘Israel’s Palestinian puppets:’ “the recruitment of collaborators has become a crucial plank of Israel’s security,” http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/0522/p01s04-wome.html .
 According to testimony of ex-Mossad agent Ari Ben-Menashe in New Zealand Herald, October 2000, at http://www.howlingatthemoon.com/pacific_jihad_OCT2000.htm. More on Mossad is found in books like Gideon’s Spies by Gordon Thomas, and By Way of Deception by ex-Mossad agent Victor Ostrovsky.
 Suggs, John F., ‘The Spies Who Came in from the Art Sale,’ Weekly Planet (Tampa Bay), March 20, 2002, http://www.weeklyplanet.com/2002-03-20/news_feature.htm.
 History Channel, ‘Betrayal at Pearl Harbor,’ 7 December 2001.
 Stinnett, Robert B., Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor, Touchstone Books, 2001.
 Stinnett, ‘Pentagon Still Scapegoats Pearl Harbor Fall Guys,’ Providence Journal, The Independent Institute, Oakland, 7 December 2001.
 Borgquist, Daryl S., ‘Advance Warning? The Red Cross Connection,’ Navy History, The Naval Institute, May/June 1999.
 Wright, Lawrence, ‘The Counter-Terrorist,’ op. cit. Under pressure from Congress, the White House has finally officially admitted that the U.S. intelligence community had information that Al-Qaeda was planning an imminent attack through hijacking. However, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice has gone on record denying that U.S. intelligence had any other specific information, such as that the planes might be used as missiles (BBC Newsnight, 16 May 2002). This denial, however, is patently false, as demonstrated by the reports on the public record discussed here. U.S. intelligence not only had the information, but had believed it, and acted upon it in the intensification of related surveillance.
 Solomon, John, ‘CIA Cited Risk Before Attack,’ Associated Press, 3 October 2001.
 Stafford, Ned, ‘Newspaper: Echelon Gave Authorities Warning of Attacks,’ Newsbytes, 13 September 2001, http://www.newsbytes.com/news/01/170072.html. ECHELON is a vast intelligence information collection system capable of monitoring all the electronic communications in the world. It is operated by the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. While no government agency has ever confirmed or denied its existence, an EU committee that investigated ECHELON for more than a year confirmed that the system does exist in early September 2001. The EU committee reported that Echelon sucks up electronic transmissions “like a vacuum cleaner”, using keyword search techniques to sift through enormous amounts of data. The system covers the whole world’s electronic communications with 120 satellites. For more on ECHELON see Bamford, James, Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency, Doubleday, 2001.
 McMurtry, John, ‘Decoding 9-11’, http://www.snowshoefilms.com/mcmurtryDecoding.html. This article is adapted from the Preface of McMurtry’s forthcoming book Value Wars: The Global Market Versus the Life Economy, Pluto Press, London, August 2002.
 Fainaru, Steve and Grimaldi, James V., ‘FBI Knew Terrorists Were Using Flight Schools,’ Washington Post, 23 September 2001.
 Grigg, William Norman, ‘Did We Know What Was Coming?’, The New American, Vol. 18, No. 5, 11 March 2002, http://www.thenewamerican.com/tna/2002/03-11-2002/vo18no05_didweknow.htm.
 See my Chapter 7, ‘The New War: Power and Profit, at Home and Abroad’, in The War on Freedom, op. cit.
 Interview with Stan Goff, op. cit.
 McMurtry, op. cit.
 Szamuely, George, ‘Nothing Urgent,’ New York Press, Vol. 15, No. 2,
 Zwicker, Barry, ‘The Great Deception: What Really Happened on Sept. 11th Part 2,’ MediaFile, Vision TV Insight, 28 January 2002, .
 Interview with Goff, op. cit. Also see my Chapter 5, ‘The Collapse of Standard Operating Procedures on 9-11’, in The War on Freedom, op. cit.
 Extensive documentation on this and related issues is in my Chapter 6, ‘American Ties with the Most Wanted Man on Earth’, in The War on Freedom, op. cit.
 Hersh, Seymour, M., ‘King’s ransom: How vulnerable are Saudi royals?’, New Yorker, 22 October 2001. Also see Indyk, Martin S., ‘Back to the Bazaar,’ Foreign Affairs, January/February 2002.
 Palast, Gregory and Pallister, David, ‘FBI claims Bin Laden inquiry was frustrated,’ The Guardian, 7 November 2001.
 Reports on this subject from respected sources such as ABC News, Judicial Watch, BBC Newsnight, and others are discussed in detail in Chapter 6 of The War on Freedom, op. cit.
 McMurtry, op. cit.
 Interview with Tyrone Powers, Institute for Policy Research & Development, 22 May 2002. Powers articulated the same views in an interview with Bob Slade on 98.7 Kiss FM, this May.
 Those anomalies and their implications are discussed extensively in my book, The War on Freedom, op. cit.
Mr. Nafeez Ahmed is a British political analyst and human rights activist based in London. He is Executive Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and a Researcher at the Islamic Human Rights Commission. This article is based partly on research in Ahmed’s new book on the U.S. role in the 9/11 attacks, The War on Freedom: How and Why America was Attacked, September 11, 2001.
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