Monday, October 19, 2009

What Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri Do All Day, or Why I Cannot Talk About Politics With My Father

I have finally come to understand why I cannot talk about politics, terrorism or international relations with my father, not that it matters much, except as a glimpse of a much larger phenomenon.

It's not just my father. I can't talk about politics or terrorism or world affairs with anyone who has lived his or her entire life under the great umbrella of American propaganda.

They have insulated themselves under an enormous web of lies, and hidden themselves away from actual knowledge of their nation and its role in the world, both of which they see dimly, if at all: the world as a dark, dangerous, mysterious place, and their nation as the best of all nations -- nay, the best of all possible nations.

They have been content to collect the scraps tossed their way by the American War Machine, although they would never call it that. Nor would they ever consider themselves in any way complicit in America's endless war on the rest of the world, a war they never even acknowledge.

It's a war waged on multiple planes, of which the military, being the bloodiest, is easily the most visible. And it didn't start last week, or last year, or even eight years ago.

It's been going on all their lives -- or since they were little kids. For an ever-increasing percentage of America's population, it's always been there.

Like the land, the sea and the sky, it's the backdrop against which their lives take place.

Only a fool would question the sea and sky.

... or the notion that the American War Machine should be what it is, and is what it should be.

Except that it's not true. None of it is true. And even worse -- they know it's not true.

As long as every little lie stays in place, the umbrella stands, so to speak: the big lies remain sacred, so to speak. But once you start to pull and tug, and separate one lie from another, and expose them to the light of knowledge and reason ... well, that's where it gets intolerable.

And I guess I just love to pull and tug.

I came to this moderately interesting conclusion in the hospital room where I've been spending most of my weekends lately, sitting there with my father and reading the newspaper he read before I arrived.

He's so far from where I grew up that I have no connection with any of the local stories: I read them as if they were field reports from places I may never hear of again, much less visit.

One week there was a story about a guy who took some construction equipment and started blazing a trail through a state park. One week there was a story about a new McDonald's opening in one of the suburbs. This weekend there was a story about a schoolteacher who was sitting alone in her classroom doing paperwork when a buck burst through the window.

You just never know what you'll find in the local news, but all the stories share a common feature: they're verifiable. I could go see the damage to the park. I could eat at the new fast food restaurant. And I could visit the school, admire the new window, and meet the teacher who hid under her desk.

I haven't actually done any of these things, and it's not likely that I ever would. But I could. You could. Anyone could. And the same is true of virtually all the local news: you can't predict what you'll find, but you can certainly check it out.

On the other hand, with world news, and often with national politics, it's just the opposite. What there is to read -- what my father reads every day, what he's been reading for his entire adult life -- is utterly predictable, and completely unverifiable. And therefore, he doesn't have any reason not to believe it -- unless I start talking.

I've just had dental surgery and I wasn't doing much talking this weekend. But that's another story -- and one I'll spare you.

I've read a lot of predictable, unverifiable, manure over the years, but I have never seen it more concentrated and hilarious than in Sebastian Rotella's most recent piece in the Los Angeles Times.

Entitled "Setbacks weaken Al Qaeda's ability to mount attacks, terrorism officials say", it had me laughing so hard that I've preserved it for posterity at my "other blog".

I happened to read Sebastian Rotella's newest masterpiece, not because it was in the paper in my dad's room, but because it set off my Google News Alert with its mention of Rashid Rauf. As long-time readers will remember, I wrote extensively about Rashid Rauf and the so-called Liquid Bombers, beginning in August of 2006 when they were arrested, and continuing until I became unable to blog much (or at all). But even when I haven't been writing, I've still been reading, and collecting.

Over the past three years I have preserved more than 330 articles mentioning Rashid Rauf, and it has been fascinating (in an entirely predictable way) to watch his legend develop. (And you can read the word "legend" in either of two ways: it can mean either "a fable" or "an intelligence agent's cover story".)

In 2006, Rashid Rauf was merely a "key figure" in the so-called Liquid Bombing plot -- possibly a messenger of some kind. Then he was the al Qaeda connection. Then he was the bomb-making expert. Then he was the mastermind. Then he was an al Qaeda commander.

The latter was an interesting step in the growing legend. Not everyone gets to be an al Qaeda commander.

I first read that Rashid Rauf was an al Qaeda commander from Bill Roggio, who writes the aptly named "Long War Journal". Upon reading that Rashid Rauf was an al Qaeda commander, I immediately felt a sense of inadequacy -- having read everything I could find about Rashid Rauf, how could I not have known he was an al Qaeda commander?

Then I got a bit indignant: Why should Bill Roggio know that Rashid Rauf is an al Qaeda commander when I don't know it myself? Later I simmered down a bit and became less emotional and more pragmatic. The question became: How does Bill Roggio know Rashid Rauf is an al Qaeda commander?

Much to my astonishment, Long War Journal takes comments from unknown visitors. So I left Bill Roggio a comment, saying: "How do you know Rashid Rauf is an al Qaeda commander?"

To my further astonishment, my comment appeared immediately. So I bookmarked the page and returned a day later, hoping for an explanation from Bill Roggio as to where and how he had learned that Rashid Rauf was an al Qaeda commander. Instead of such an explanation, I found -- to no astonishment at all -- that my comment had been deleted. "Aha!" I thought, "That's how we know Rashid Rauf is an al Qaeda commander." What a thing to have learned!

We also learned quite a bit about Bill Roggio and his "Long War Journal", none of which could have been news. (Long War Journal? Why do you think it's called that?)

Then Rashid Rauf was also named -- as always, by an unnamed source -- as the al Qaeda contact for the dozen Pakistani students arrested in the UK in April of 2009 under so-called "Operation Pathway". No criminal charges were filed against any of the students, who were released from police custody but nonetheless held pending "deportation hearings" which still haven't started -- and most of the students have now left the UK "voluntarily".

Shortly after the Operation Pathway arrests, Rashid Rauf's legend began to grow again. Soon he was was al Qaeda's Commander for European Operations. Then he was a facilitator for the London bombings of 7/7/2005.

How much more is there? I've been wondering: How long it will take before he was behind 9/11? Or the 1993 WTC bombing? Oklahoma City? Beirut? Who really killed JFK, anyway? Was it Rashid Rauf? Or to put it another way: How do we know it wasn't?

I may have been kidding about that last part but the rest is serious, and Rashid Rauf's legend continues to grow backwards. The most recent additions to the legend have proceeded despite (or because of) the death (or not) of Rashid Rauf in a drone-launched missile attack in Pakistan in November of 2008.

Sebastian Rotella's LAT piece hints -- for the first time of which I am aware -- at a connection between Rashid Rauf and a failed attempt to bomb London in 2004. This is a year earlier than the previous publicly hinted connection: the backward legend-building is only three years short of 9/11 now, and it won't be long ...

It's a sick laugh, and one I can't share with my father, but laughs are scarce in these days of bogus terror everywhere, and unspoken dangers everywhere else. And the people who make me laugh have an impossible job.

The task -- for somebody like Bill Roggio or Sebastian Rotella -- is to make the threat of terrorism appear to be diminishing and increasing at the same time. It has to be serious enough to justify spending hundreds of billions every year, and throwing your civil rights down the drain at the same time, and the results of such an enormous sacrifice must be tangible. And yet, despite the tangible success, the threat must never go away, or even be significantly diminished, because then the hundreds of billions of dollars per year would have to stop -- or at least stop growing. And we can't have that.

You might start clamoring for the return of your civil rights. We can't have that, either.

For all these reasons -- not to mention the oil -- we simply can't have an end to the War on Terror (by whatever name the president wants us to call it these days), and that means no president can ever declare it won and no president can ever declare it un-winnable.

Victory, while always getting closer, has to remain as far away as ever.

Very few writers manage it well, and Sebastian Rotella is a master of the art. But he exceeds even himself in his most recent piece. You have to read the whole thing to get the full sick belly laugh from it, but a few fragments may entice you to read more (at the LAT or at my home away from home).

Rotella leads with this give-and-take combination:
As Al Qaeda is weakened by the loss of leaders, fighters, funds and ideological appeal, the extremist network's ability to attack targets in the United States and Western Europe has diminished, anti-terrorism officials say.

Nonetheless, Al Qaeda and allied groups based primarily in Pakistan remain a threat, particularly because of an increasing ability to attract recruits from Central Asia and Turkey to offset the decline in the number of militants from the Arab world and the West.
Rotella even uses the words "diminished" and "increasing" in his opening paragraphs. The man is a wizard!

And he follows with another combination:
Al Qaeda's relative strength these days is of crucial importance in the complex debate in Washington over future U.S. troop levels and tactics in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Although factions within the Obama administration differ on how best to deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan, all agree that the paramount priority is defeating Al Qaeda. Unlike the Afghan Taliban, the terrorist network Al Qaeda remains committed to a holy war against the West with a goal of matching or surpassing its devastating attacks in 2001.
Matching or surpassing whose devastating attacks in 2001? There's the rub, isn't it?

All chroniclers of the Terror War, from hacks like Bill Roggio to masters like Sebastian Rotella, must write as if 9/11 had been fully and impartially investigated and that the conclusions of said investigation had been accepted as final by all thinking people. The fact that only non-thinking people believe any of the 9/11 manure is routinely glossed over, by wizard and hack alike.

Rotella is not only a wizard himself but he also has some wizardly sources:
"Some pretty experienced individuals have been taken out of the equation," a senior British anti-terrorism official said in a recent interview.

"There is fear, insecurity and paranoia about individuals arriving from outside, worries about spies and infiltration," said the official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive topic. "There is a sense that it has become a less romantic experience. Which is important because of the impact on Al Qaeda the brand, the myth, the idea of the glorious jihadist."
"Taken out of the equation" is British math-talk for "killed along with hundreds of civilians in a series of drone attacks".

But "Al Qaeda the brand"?? And "the myth"?? This senior British anti-terrorism official has one foot in the grave and the other on the truth, does he not? Outrageous!!

But it gets better! Enter the president:
President Obama cited the debilitated condition of the terrorist network last week during a visit with U.S. counter-terrorism officials.

"Because of our efforts, Al Qaeda and its allies have not only lost operational capacity, they've lost legitimacy and credibility," he said.
I almost stopped laughing long enough to ask myself: How could this fiction lose "legitimacy and credibility"? Is Obama pulling our leg, too?

Next in line for Rotella: an "ex"-CIA man working for the NYPD (whom Rotella calls a "scholar") virtually confirms the long-simmering notion that the entire al Qaeda legend is built on entrapment:
The number of failed plots in the West, whether directed or inspired by Al Qaeda, also shows that the quality of operatives has declined, scholar Marc Sageman testified at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week.

"Counter-terrorism is working," said Sageman, a former CIA officer and New York Police Department expert. "Terrorist organizations can no longer cherry-pick the best candidates as they did in the 1990s. There is no Al Qaeda recruitment program: Al Qaeda and its allies are totally dependent on self-selected volunteers."
Self-selected volunteers, indeed. Knuckleheads of the world unite!

I won't make you wait any longer. Here's the bit you've been waiting for, and once again it's from the unnamed senior British official:
In several recent cases, Western trainees in Pakistan allegedly had contact with Mustafa Abu Yazid, also known as Said Sheik, a longtime Egyptian financial boss. Abu Yazid acts as the day-to-day chief of the network while Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman Zawahiri, spend their time eluding capture, said the British official.
It's a thing of beauty, is it not?
Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman Zawahiri, spend their time eluding capture.
As I was saying, it's a sick laugh. But it's a laugh all the same.

The pity is that my father (who reads three newspapers a day and has done so for the past 40 years) and millions of other mainstream media Americans believe every word of it. It doesn't matter to them if Osama bin Laden is obviously dead, or Ayman al-Zawahri (whose name is always misspelled as "Zawahiri" in the Western press) is obviously an agent of Israeli propaganda -- just the same as it doesn't matter whether Rashid Rauf is alive or dead: if he's dead, his death is a victory for the forces of good (the US military, of course) and if he's alive, then he's a threat that must be eliminated by the forces of good (ditto, ditto).

It's no wonder we can't catch bin Laden or al-Zawarhi.

And only a fool would question the sea and sky.

So I rubbed my jaw and tried to smile. Dental surgery is such a bitch!

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