Qaeda threatens a new round of spectacular mayhem, and America steps
up requests for armed marshals on
incoming flights, the latest warning from the FBI cuts straight
to the heart of the terrorist threat in America today. No, we're not
talking about lethal chemical weapons owned
by disgruntled militiamen we're talking about something so dangerous
it could only be possessed by a farmer, or perhaps even your grandmother.
We're talking about an almanac.
On to Target
the Associated Press on December 24th, this threat is
so serious that the FBI has just issued a nationwide police dispatch:
FBI is warning police nationwide to be alert for people carrying almanacs,
cautioning that the popular reference books covering everything from
abbreviations to weather trends could be used for terrorist planning.
a bulletin sent Christmas Eve to about 18,000 police organizations,
the FBI said terrorists may use almanacs 'to assist with target selection
and pre-operational planning.'
urged officers to watch during searches, traffic stops and other investigations
for anyone carrying almanacs, especially if the books are annotated
in suspicious ways.
practice of researching potential targets is consistent with known methods
of al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations that seek to maximize
the likelihood of operational success through careful planning,' the
gripping announcement symbolized a new low in the "war on terror." The
fact that it was reported without even a smirk shows that the American
media is, as feared, brain dead. The AP report contained only this line:
Associated Press obtained a copy of the bulletin this week and verified
though everyone knows that America's much-vaunted journalistic "standards"
of objectivity preclude any British-style "commentary,"
one nevertheless is astounded as to how this obviously ludicrous warning
could have been conveyed without even the slightest intimation
of doubt or surprise. In keeping with American standards, the opposite
viewpoint that almanacs are in fact harmless and not particularly useful
for terrorists was dutifully given at the end, when two almanac publishers
were quoted. The requirement to give "both sides of the story" was thus
satisfied even if one of the "sides" was logically impaired.
article is recommended reading for anyone who doubts the mass media's
propensity for "dumbing down" reality. As is so often the case, silence
is complicity enough.
Got Your Number, Osama al-Manaqzi!
should we believe that the same people capable of hijacking and taking
over four planes almost simultaneously need to rely on the Old Farmer's
Almanac to get their coordinates straight? Or that they would be found
meandering around American cities with such a tome, in order to decide
on a target? Nevertheless, the FBI is asking patriotic local police
officers to report any suspicious almanac-activity to their "local U.S.
Joint Terrorism Task Force."
next, guidebooks? I can see it now: some unfortunate foreigner, leafing
through his Lonely Planet
outside a historical monument or other potential target, is dragged
off in handcuffs just for trying to find a decent restaurant. Indeed,
loyal citizens, the only way to guarantee your safety is to immediately
put down any sort of reading material that might contain any logistical
Real Target Thought
is the crux of the problem with the Bush Administration's approach to
fighting terror on the home front. We all remember the PATRIOT Act's
requirement that public libraries be prepared to reveal what their patrons
were reading. The logic was that readers huddled furtively in front
of say, the Koran, might also be planning to blow up American cities.
librarians protested, as well they should have. Any idea of introducing
the rule of the "thought police" to free America is particularly odious;
besides, it's also very unlikely that potential terrorists would
ever be rooted out because of covert library ops.
not just certain material that is "questionable," as the almanac farce
has shown. In essence, the government's scare tactic is meant to discourage
loyal citizens from reading at all. Indeed, why should they, when Fox News tells them everything they need to
know? Keeping the people ignorant and uncritical is a prerequisite to
keeping up their support for foreign wars.
scapegoating of free thought employs the same logic that lets Richard Perle that great
champion of American freedoms slander the painstaking
Seymour Hersh as "the closest thing American journalism has to a
terrorist." No wonder that the same government now fretting about almanacs
is also the one planning a crackdown
on university programs. Apparently, American international studies
programs are just not pro-American enough:
Kurtz of Stanford University's Hoover Institution, a conservative think
tank, proposed the advisory board to a House committee in June. Kurtz
testified that the programs, especially those that focus on the Middle
East, are biased against U.S. foreign policy and actively discourage
students from working for the federal government. Three months after
Kurtz testified, Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., introduced a bill on Sept.
11 to set up such a board.
bill charges the seven-member board with advising the secretary of education
and Congress on ways to improve international studies to better meet
national security needs and to encourage students to work for the government."
passage indicates that the government sees university funding as merely
an investment having an anticipated return: that is, as an investment
which should produce cookie-cutter graduates flush with pro-government
pride and eager to work for the state. Just think we could have lots
of bright-eyed and industrious little Perles and Wolfies, just rolling
off the university assembly line and ready to serve the state. If ever
there were a formula for eternal war, this would be it.
Motive: To Make Local Cops Feel Special
there's an additional explanation for the almanac announcement. Since
the FBI warning was made internally (i.e., to the police) and not externally
to the general public, it may be best understood as a way to boost morale
amongst America's finest by reminding them of their status as front-line
fighters in the war on terror.
9/11, the average donut-shop cop in every small town has been bursting
with pride over having a new role in the "war on terror." However, in
real terms, this has been largely for show. For all of the stark warnings
given and apocalyptic scenarios envisaged, most local policemen in America
are still doing the same stuff they were before handing out traffic tickets, cracking
down on underage
drinking, setting up speedtraps
donuts. It's not hard to see how the prospect of fighting international
terrorists would seem a bit more exciting.
the FBI's dictate to already overzealous local cops only increases the
likelihood of civil liberties
abuses. The AP report quotes one David Heyman, a terrorism expert
for the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Speaking of the need to eliminate almanac conspirators, Heyman avers,
local law enforcement, it's just to help give them one more piece of
information to raise their suspicions…it helps make sure one more bad
guy doesn't get away from a traffic stop, maybe gives police a little
bit more reason to follow up on this.'"
who has ever lived in a small town in America knows that there's absolutely
no good reason to further "raise the suspicions" of underworked
and overeager local cops. If my hunch is correct, the FBI is just toying
with their emotions and playing on their patriotic pride, in order to
make them feel like "part of the team" in the war against terror. In
the case of the almanac (and related weapons like, say, road maps) this
manipulation could have unpleasant effects for overtly literate citizens
Almanac A Substance Merely for 'Recreational' Use?
libertarians have long criticized the Bush Administration's inverted sense of justice,
which states that the accused is guilty
until proven innocent. This propensity has been witnessed in the
detention of hundreds of terrorist suspects, held without charge or
access to a lawyer. The guilty-until-proven-innocent formula has been
utilized for attacking whole countries (like Afghanistan and Iraq) and
so many others.
context, note the credulity with which the AP reports the FBI announcement:
FBI noted that use of almanacs or maps may be innocent, 'the product
of legitimate recreational or commercial activities.' But it warned
that when combined with suspicious behavior such as apparent surveillance
a person with an almanac 'may point to possible terrorist planning.'"
phrase "may be innocent." That this has to be explicitly stated
reveals the underlying implication of guilt left unsaid. To its great
detriment, the Associated Press reported the phrase verbatim with neither
comment nor chuckle. It would have been far more apt and objective to
have written, at least once, that "the crafters of the FBI's warning
may not be raving idiots."
Publishers Front and Center!
put under the spotlight, almanac insiders were forced to hurriedly account
for their questionable activities. "I don't think anyone would consider
us a harmful entity," said the World Almanac's senior editor,
Kevin Seabrooke. As if he thought the suspicious law enforcement community
would be convinced, he attempted to defend his product, which contains:
a dozen pages out of its 1,000 pages total listing the world's tallest
buildings and bridges but includes no diagrams or architectural schematics.
'It's stuff that's widely available on the Internet,' he said."
part, the publisher for The Old Farmers Almanac, John Pierce,
also brushed off the allegations set against the "…famous publication
of weather predictions and witticisms." However, understanding full
well the severity of the charge, Pierce knuckled under and decided to
play ball with the Feds:
we doubt that our editorial content would be of particular interest
to people who would wish to do us harm, we will certainly cooperate
to the fullest with national authorities at any level they deem appropriate."
FBI, however, is not convinced. Almanacs contain "…profiles of cities
and states and information about waterways, bridges, dams, reservoirs,
tunnels, buildings and landmarks." As everyone knows, this is exactly
the kind of information that terrorists want. Almanac publishers can
we trust you to act responsibly?
all, should such an object fall into the wrong hands well, no one wants
to contemplate the dark, dark possibilities of unconventional
almanac warfare or, even worse, the proliferation of the threat
to other forms of printed material. These are dangerous times indeed
readers, you have been warned.