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News and Features
The FBI has come under harsh criticism in recent weeks for its failure
to act on information that might have enabled it to thwart the September
11 attacks. Rather than deny the criticism, FBI Director Robert Mueller
has embraced it (easy for him to do, since he didn't start on the job
until September 4) and then exploited it to argue that the bureau needs
more power, more resources and fewer restrictions.
Both the criticism and the remedy are misguided. The dots that everyone
now says should have been connected consist of a few leads spread over a
three-year period: a 1998 memo from an FBI agent in Oklahoma suspicious
about some Middle Eastern men taking flying lessons; a July 2001 memo
from a Phoenix agent speculating that Osama bin Laden could be sending
terrorists to flight schools here; and the August 2001 arrest of
Zacarias Moussaoui for acting suspiciously in flight school. Viewed in
hindsight, each points inexorably to September 11. But there is a world
of difference, as any gambler, stock trader or palm reader will tell
you, between perceiving the connections after and before the fact. On
September 10 these three bits of information competed for the FBI's
attention with thousands of other memos, leads and suspicious events
pointing in thousands of other directions. We are engaged in a
nationwide session of Monday-morning quarterbacking.
The remedy is worse. Shifting resources to fighting terrorist threats
makes sense, but freeing the FBI from the minimal restrictions it has
operated under in the past does not. The guidelines governing the FBI's
domestic criminal investigations, which do not even apply to
international terrorism investigations, had nothing to do with the FBI
missing the September 11 plot. And it is likely that the changes in the
guidelines announced by Attorney General John Ashcroft will actually
reduce the FBI's effectiveness in fighting terrorism.
The old guidelines were sparked by revelations that in the 1960s and
'70s, the FBI's COINTELPRO initiative targeted perfectly lawful antiwar,
environmental, feminist and civil rights groups for widespread
monitoring, infiltration and disinformation. The guidelines sought to
remedy the FBI's proclivity for indulging in guilt by association and
conducting intrusive and sweeping investigations of political groups
without any criminal basis. They sought to focus the FBI on its mission,
which, contrary to popular perception, has always been to prevent as
well as to investigate crime.
But even under the guidelines abuses continued. One of the most
prominent involved an investigation of the Committee in Solidarity With
the People of El Salvador (CISPES) from 1983 to 1985. Under the rubric
of counterterrorism, the FBI monitored student rallies, infiltrated
meetings and identified attendees at CISPES events. In the end, the
bureau had collected information on 1,330 groups--including Oxfam
America, the US Catholic Conference and a Cincinnati order of nuns--but
no evidence of crime.
Such investigations are likely to be commonplace in the post-
September 11 era. Ashcroft's guidelines expressly permit the FBI to
conduct some investigations without even a shred of information about
potential criminal conduct. And Congress has so expanded the definition
of federal crimes that requiring a criminal basis is not enough to
forestall political spying. Federal antiterrorism laws of 1996 and 2001
now make it a crime to provide any associational support to foreign
groups we designate as terrorist, even if the support has no connection
whatever to terrorist activity. Under those laws, the CISPES
investigation would have been legal, on suspicion that CISPES was
supporting the Salvadoran rebel movement.
The combined effect of the expanded statute, loosened guidelines and
increased counterterrorism personnel at the FBI will be to bring in
exponentially more information about the populace than the FBI has ever
had. Some of the additional information obtained may, like the isolated
leads developed before September 11, be related to terrorist plots. But
those leads are almost certain to be drowned out by the barrage of
information about innocent political activity.
An intelligence expert on a recent panel with me claimed that what we
need now is "all-source intelligence fusion," meaning a group of
analysts sitting in a room analyzing mounds of data for trends and
patterns. Despite its techno-trendy title, all-source intelligence
fusion is no substitute for good relations with the affected
communities. If the FBI has information that the threat is likely to
stem from Arab sources, it should be building bridges to the millions of
law-abiding Arabs--instead of profiling Arab students without cause,
holding Middle Easterners without charges and selectively registering
all immigrants from Arab countries. You don't build bridges by
infiltrating and monitoring legitimate political and religious activity.
In this issue, on the twentieth anniversary of the June 12, 1982, march
of a million people in Manhattan's Central Park protesting nuclear arms,
we publish an appeal calling on the public to demand that the United
States commit itself, together with the other nuclear powers, to the
abolition of nuclear weapons--and to take prompt, concrete steps toward
that goal. The appeal will be introduced in Congress by Representative
Ed Markey as a resolution on June 11.
As it happens, the cloud of nuclear danger is blacker at this moment
than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis. Nuclear danger has
spread, as it was destined to as long as the United States and the other
cold-war-era nuclear powers insisted on holding on to their arsenals.
Now the grim drama is being played out in a new locality, South Asia.
The hatred is not ideological but religious and ethnic. The millions of
potential victims are not the rich and powerful but the poorest of the
poor. The antagonists, partitioned in 1947, are twins from a single
zygote. Nuclear suicide would also be fratricide.
The United States, which actually did to Hiroshima and Nagasaki what the
South Asians so far only threaten to do to each other, and which for
more than a half-century has been the trailblazer in the development and
rationalization of nuclear weapons, cannot condescend to the newcomers
to the game. At the end of May the United States announced that it will
be building a plant for the construction of brand-new nuclear weapons,
to be ready for use in 2020. And George W. Bush has announced that
deterrence no longer works--"pre-emptive" attacks will be the order of
the day for our military. Such are the actions of the US officials now
on their way to South Asia bearing scenarios showing the awfulness of
nuclear war and counsels of "restraint."
But all that doesn't prevent us from noticing that India and Pakistan
are writing new chapters in the book of nuclear folly. When India tested
five nuclear weapons in 1998 and declared itself a full-fledged nuclear
power, it proved, in the words of its Foreign Minister, Jaswant Singh,
that there was to be no "nuclear apartheid" in the world. Now it seems
bent on proving that there is no apartheid for nuclear madness either.
One of South Asia's distinctive contributions to the field is a
flippancy in discussing nuclear danger, adding a new dimension to Hannah
Arendt's phrase "the banality of evil." Early in the crisis, General
Padmanabhan, India's army chief, commented, "If we have to go to war,
jolly good! If we don't, we will still manage." Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg,
retired chief of Pakistan's armed forces, commented, "I don't know what
you're worried about. You can die crossing the street, hit by a car, or
you could die in a nuclear war. You've got to die someday, anyway." Die,
yes, but must we all be killed?
Around the same time, Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes said that
Pakistan's President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, should not use nuclear
weapons because "I'm sure he doesn't want to kill all the Pakistanis."
Of course, it would not be Musharraf but Indian Prime Minister Atal
Behari Vajpayee and Defense Minister Fernandes who would kill all the
Pakistanis, in retaliation. Have they reflected that a threat to kill
all Pakistanis is a threat of genocide, the gravest of all crimes
against humanity? There was no sign that they had. The world should tell
Meanwhile, the human imagination, brought once more to the brink,
fitfully tries--and mostly fails--to take in the news that 12 million
people (according to a Pentagon estimate) might die immediately in a
nuclear war in South Asia. Millions more would die slowly. (One
television station labeled the story with the logo "Nuclear
Distraction." Presumably, the danger of nuclear war was breaking its
concentration on the squabbles between the FBI and the CIA over
September 11 warnings.)
Yet from South Asia there also came at least one voice that offered the
imagination something to hold on to, a way to begin to grasp the awful
prospect--the voice of novelist Arundhati Roy. Her foreign friends asked
why she doesn't leave New Delhi. Doesn't she think the threat of nuclear
war is real? "It is," she answered, "but where shall we go? If I go away
and everything and every one--every friend, every tree, every home,
every dog, squirrel and bird that I have known and loved--is
incinerated, how shall I live on? Who shall I love? And who will love me
And so she and friends have decided to stay. "We huddle together. We
realize how much we love each other. And we think what a shame it would
be to die now. Life's normal only because the macabre has become normal.
While we wait for rain, for football, for justice, the old generals and
the eager boy-anchors on TV talk of first-strike and second-strike
capabilities as though they're discussing a family board game. My
friends and I discuss Prophecy, the documentary about the bombing
of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.... The dead bodies choking the river. The
living stripped of skin and hair.... We remember especially the man who
just melted into the steps of a building. We imagine ourselves like
that. As stains on staircases.... The last question every visiting
journalist always asks me: Are you writing another book?
"That question mocks me. Another book? Right now? When it looks as
though all the music, the art, the architecture, the literature--the
whole of human civilization--means nothing to the fiends who run the
world? What kind of book should I write?
"It's not just the one million soldiers on the border who are living on
hairtrigger alert. It's all of us. That's what nuclear bombs do. Whether
they're used or not, they violate everything that is humane. They alter
the meaning of life itself."
If the world can attune itself to this voice, it will abolish nuclear
weapons, and there will be no nuclear war.
Calls for an end to nuclear weapons are growing--including in
A DECADE after the end of the cold war, the peril of nuclear destruction
is mounting. The great powers have refused to give up nuclear arms,
other countries are producing them and terrorist groups are trying to
POORLY GUARDED warheads and nuclear material in the former Soviet Union
may fall into the hands of terrorists. The Bush Administration is
developing nuclear "bunker busters" and threatening to use them against
nonnuclear countries. The risk of nuclear war between India and Pakistan
DESPITE THE END of the cold war, the United States plans to keep large
numbers of nuclear weapons indefinitely. The latest US-Russian treaty,
which will cut deployed strategic warheads to 2,200, leaves both nations
facing "assured destruction" and lets them keep total arsenals (active
and inactive, strategic and tactical) of more than 10,000 warheads each.
THE DANGERS POSED by huge arsenals, threats of use, proliferation and
terrorism are linked: The nuclear powers' refusal to disarm fuels
proliferation, and proliferation makes nuclear materials more accessible
THE EVENTS of September 11 brought home to Americans what it means to
experience a catastrophic attack. Yet the horrifying losses that day
were only a fraction of what any nation would suffer if a single nuclear
weapon were used on a city.
THE DRIFT TOWARD catastrophe must be reversed. Safety from nuclear
destruction must be our goal. We can reach it only by reducing and then
eliminating nuclear arms under binding agreements.
WE THEREFORE CALL ON THE UNITED STATES AND RUSSIA TO FULFILL THEIR
COMMITMENTS UNDER THE NONPROLIFERATION TREATY TO MOVE TOGETHER WITH THE
OTHER NUCLEAR POWERS, STEP BY CAREFULLY INSPECTED AND VERIFIED STEP, TO
THE ABOLITION OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS. AS KEY STEPS TOWARD THIS GOAL, WE CALL
ON THE UNITED STATES TO:
§ RENOUNCE the first use of nuclear weapons.
§ Permanently END the development, testing and production of nuclear warheads.
§ SEEK AGREEMENT with Russia on the mutual and verified destruction of nuclear weapons withdrawn under treaties, and increase the resources available here and in the former Soviet Union to secure nuclear warheads and material and to implement destruction.
§ STRENGTHEN nonproliferation efforts by ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, finalizing a missile ban in North Korea, supporting UN inspections in Iraq, locating and reducing fissile material worldwide and negotiating a ban on its production.
§ TAKE nuclear weapons off hairtrigger alert in concert with the other nuclear powers (the UK, France, Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Israel) in order to reduce the risk of accidental or unauthorized use.
§ INITIATE talks on further nuclear cuts, beginning with US and Russian reductions to 1,000 warheads each.
TO SIGN THE STATEMENT, GO TO URGENTCALL.ORG OR SEND NAME,
ORGANIZATION/PROFESSION (FOR ID ONLY) AND CONTACT INFORMATION TO URGENT
CALL, C/O FOURTH FREEDOM FORUM, 11 DUPONT CIRCLE NW, 9TH FLOOR,
WASHINGTON, DC 20036. WE NEED TAX-DEDUCTIBLE DONATIONS, MADE TO URGENT
CALL, TO DISSEMINATE THIS CALL. PLEASE MAIL TO THE SAME ADDRESS.
THIS CALL WAS DRAFTED BY JONATHAN SCHELL, THE HAROLD WILLENS PEACE
FELLOW OF THE NATION INSTITUTE AND THE AUTHOR OF THE FATE OF THE
EARTH; RANDALL CAROLINE (RANDY) FORSBERG, DIRECTOR OF THE INSTITUTE
FOR DEFENSE AND DISARMAMENT STUDIES AND AUTHOR OF THE "CALL TO HALT THE
NUCLEAR ARMS RACE," THE MANIFESTO OF THE 1980s NUCLEAR WEAPONS FREEZE
CAMPAIGN; AND DAVID CORTRIGHT, PRESIDENT OF THE FOURTH FREEDOM FORUM AND
FORMER EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF SANE.
A more virulent nuclear era has superseded the perils of the cold
When India and Pakistan conducted their nuclear tests in 1998, even those of us who condemned them balked at the hypocrisy of Western nuclear powers.
Did you know that the mere act of asking what kind of warning members of
the Bush Administration may have received about a 9/11-like attack is
just clever hype by that sneaky liberal media conspiracy? So goes the
argument of the regular National Review seat on Communist News
Network liberal media program, Reliable Sources. Recently, host
(and Washington Post media reporter) Howard Kurtz decided to fill
the chair not with his favorite guest/source, NR editor Rich Lowry, or the much-invited NR
Online editor, Jonah Goldberg, but with the relatively obscure
NR managing editor, Jay Nordlinger. Nordlinger explained, "The
story is surprisingly slight," blown up by a liberal media fearing Bush
was getting "a free ride." Give the man points for consistency. The Bush
White House's exploitation of 9/11 to fatten Republican coffers via the
sale of the President's photo that fateful day--scurrying from safe
location to safe location--was also, in Nordlinger's view, "another
Nordlinger's complaint echoed the even stronger contention of another
Kurtz favorite, Andrew Sullivan. The world-famous
gaycatholictorygapmodel took the amazing position that potential
warnings about a terrorist threat that would kill thousands and land us
in Afghanistan was "not a story" at all. Sounding like a Karl Rove/Mary
Matalin love child, Sullivan contended, "The real story here is the
press and the Democrats' need for a story about the war to change the
climate of support for the President."
But Sullivan at least deserves our admiration for expertly spinning
Kurtz regarding The New York Times Magazine's decision to cut him
loose. Echoing Sullivan's PR campaign--and with a supportive quote from,
uh, Rich Lowry--Kurtz framed the story entirely as one of Times
executive editor Howell Raines avenging Sullivan's obsessive attacks on
the paper's liberal bias. OK, perhaps the standards for a Post
writer tweaking the Times top dog are not those of, say, Robert
Caro on Robert Moses, but where's the evidence that Raines was even
involved? The paper had plenty of reasons to lose Sullivan even if his
stupendously narcissistic website never existed. Sullivan's Times
work may have been better disciplined than his "TRB" columns in the
notsoliberal New Republic (before he was replaced by editor Peter
Beinart) and certainly than the nonsense he posts online, but it still
must have embarrassed the Newspaper of Record. As (now Times Book
Review columnist) Judith Shulevitz pointed out in a critique of his
"dangerously misleading" paean to testosterone, Sullivan was permitted
to "mix up his subjective reactions with laboratory work." Stanford
neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky told Shulevitz at the time, Sullivan "is
entitled to his fairly nonscientific opinion, but I'm astonished at the
New York Times." The Andrew Sullivan Principles of Pre-Emptive
Sexual Disclosure also embarrassed the magazine when he used its pages
to out as gay two Clinton Cabinet members and liberal Democrats like
Rosie O'Donnell. (I imagine he came to regret this invasion of privacy
when his own life became tabloid fare.) Meanwhile, Sullivan's
McCarthyite London Sunday Times column about September 11--in
which he waxed hysterical about the alleged danger of a pro-terrorist
"Fifth Column" located in the very city that suffered the attack--should
have been enough to put off any discerning editor forever. Yet the myth
of his martyrdom continues. Sullivan's website carries the vainglorious
moniker "unfit to print." For once, he's right.
* * *
Sorry, I know enough can be more than enough, but this quote of Sully's
is irresistible: "I ignored Geoffrey Nunberg's piece in The American
Prospect in April, debunking the notion of liberal media bias by
numbers, because it so flew in the face of what I knew that I figured
something had to be wrong." When a conservative pundit "knows" something
to be true, don't go hassling him with contrary evidence. It so happens
that linguist Geoffrey Nunberg did the necessary heavy lifting to
disprove perhaps the one contention in Bernard Goldberg's book
Bias the so-called liberal media felt compelled--perhaps out of
misplaced generosity--to accept: that the media tend to label
conservatives as such more frequently than alleged liberals. Tom
Goldstein bought into it in Columbia Journalism Review. So did
Jonathan Chait in TNR. Howard Kurtz and Jeff Greenfield let it go
unchallenged on Communist News Network. Meanwhile, Goldberg admits to
"knowing," Sullivan style, happily ignorant of any relevant data beyond
his own biases. He did no research, he says, because he did not want his
book "to be written from a social scientist point of view."
Unfortunately for Bernie, Nunberg discovered that alleged liberals are
actually labeled as such by mainstream journalists more frequently than
are conservatives. This is true for politicians, for actors, for
lawyers, for everyone--even institutions like think tanks and pressure
groups. The reasons for this are open to speculation, but Nunberg has
the numbers. A weblogger named Edward Boyd ran his own set of numbers
that came out differently, but Nunberg effectively disposed of Boyd's
(honest) errors in a follow-up article for TAP Online. In a truly
bizarre Village Voice column, Nat Hentoff recently sought to ally
himself with the pixilated Goldberg but felt a need to add the
qualifier, "The merits of Goldberg's book aside..." Actually, it's no
qualifier at all. Goldberg's worthless book has only one merit, which
was to inspire my own forthcoming book refuting it. (Hentoff
mischaracterizes that, too.) Meanwhile, the merits of Hentoff's column
aside, it's a great column.
* * *
Speaking of ex-leftists, what's up with Christopher Hitchens calling
Todd Gitlin and me "incurable liberals"? Since when is liberalism
treated as something akin to a disease in this, America's oldest
continuously published liberal magazine? Here's hoping my old friend
gets some treatment for his worsening case of incurable Horowitzism. (Or
is it Sullivanism? Hentoffism? Is there a Doctor of Philosophy in the
Meanwhile, I've got a new weblog with more of this kind of thing at
www.altercation.msnbc.com. Check it every day, or the terrorists
I got up Monday feeling mellow:
Expected red, but it was yellow.
OK, so maybe John Ashcroft and Robert Mueller are not the sharpest tools in the shed. How else to explain that, after September.
The question is not the 1970s cliché, What did the President know
and when did he know it? The appropriate query is, What did US
intelligence know--and what did the President know and do about that?
The flap over the August 6, 2001, intelligence briefing of George W.
Bush--in which he was told that Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network was
interested in hijackings and looking to strike the United States
directly--should not have focused on whether the President ignored that
information and missed the chance to prevent the September 11 strikes.
Still, a political dust-up ensued, as the White House, overreacting to
the overreaction of the Democrats, went into full spin mode. The crucial
issue was broached when National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice
stated, "I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people
would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center."
Actually, it was predicted, and the recent hullabaloo called
attention to the sad fact that the Clinton and the Bush II national
security establishments did not heed hints going back to 1995. In that
year a terrorist arrested in the Philippines said bin Laden operatives
were considering a plot to bomb airliners and fly a plane into CIA
headquarters--information shared with the United States. Two weeks
before that arrest, Algerian terrorists linked to Al Qaeda hijacked a
plane, hoping to crash it into the Eiffel Tower (French commandos killed
the hijackers at a refueling stop).
From 1995 on, US intelligence and the military should have taken steps
to detect and prevent a 9/11-like scheme. There was enough information
in the system to cause the US air command to draw up plans for dealing
with an airliner-turned-missile and to prompt the CIA and the FBI (and
other intelligence outfits) to seek intelligence related to plots of
this type. Apparently nothing of the sort happened. Not even when
terrorism experts continued to raise airliner attacks as a possibility.
In 1998 terrorism analysts briefed Federal Aviation Administration
security officials on scenarios in which terrorists flew planes into US
nuclear plants or commandeered Federal Express cargo planes and crashed
them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the White House, the
Capitol and other targets. In 1999 a report prepared for the National
Intelligence Council noted that Al Qaeda suicide bombers could fly an
aircraft filled with explosives into the Pentagon, CIA headquarters or
the White House.
In 2001 the FBI--not looking for signs of a suicide-bombing plot--failed
to recognize the significance of information its agents received while
investigating foreign students at a Phoenix flight school and Zacarias
Moussaoui, a French national enrolled in a Minnesota aviation school,
later charged with participating in the 9/11 conspiracy. In July Italian
authorities warned the United States that bin Laden agents might try to
attack Bush and other Western leaders at the Genoa summit using an
True, these leads were small pieces of data among the massive amounts of
material swept up by the sprawling intelligence system. But what's the
point of spending more than $30 billion annually on spies and high-tech
eavesdropping if the system can't sort out the valuable nuggets?
Hindsight is indeed easy. The Bush and Clinton administrations, based on
what's now known, don't deserve to be faulted for not discovering the
9/11 plot. But both failed to oversee the intelligence and
law-enforcement communities and make sure they were pointed in the right
There is evidence that the Bush team didn't move quickly on the
counterterrorism front. Newsweek reported that Attorney General
John Ashcroft prodded the FBI to concentrate on violent crime, drugs and
child porn more than on counterterrorism (a story the Justice Department
denied). And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld threatened to veto a move
that shifted $600 million from the anti-ballistic missile program to
antiterrorism. Was there a counterterrorism policy delay? Other
questions linger. In July 2001 Richard Clarke, then the National
Security Council official in charge of counterterrorism, put out an
urgent alert, placing the government at its highest state of readiness
for a possible terrorist attack. The alert faded six weeks later. What
triggered it? What caused the stand-down? Should there have been a
The multiple failures of policy, imagination and coordination over two
administrations should be investigated. To assign blame? Accountability
does have its place in a democracy. The public has a right to know who
messed up and to be assured that those who did aren't in a position to
commit further mistakes. The point, of course, is to learn from those
mistakes and to be able to tell the public the failures have been
addressed. Does the intelligence system deserve more billions, as Bush
has requested, without demonstrating that it can use the money wisely?
After 9/11 the Bush Administration didn't rush to examine what went
wrong. We're too busy fighting the war, it said, while urging Congress
not to pursue the matter. Belatedly, Congress authorized a joint
investigation by the House and Senate intelligence committees, two
panels that traditionally have been cozy with the intelligence crowd.
That probe has gotten off to a terrible start--the investigators
fighting among themselves over whether to examine government failures or
to concentrate on how best to reorganize the intelligence system and
accusing the CIA and the Justice Department of not cooperating. One
positive consequence of the maelstrom over the August 6 briefing is that
it has prompted more calls for an independent commission, which Senators
John McCain and Joseph Lieberman have been advocating. Yet so far no
inquiry is committed to mounting a no-holds-barred examination and to
conducting as much of it as possible in public.
"I don't have any problem with a legitimate debate over the performance
of our intelligence agencies," said Vice President Cheney. But he has
opposed sharing the August 6 briefing with Congress. How can there be
worthwhile debate without information? After all, the recent tussle
began when the press sensed that the White House had withheld a
significant--or intriguing--fact. And how can there be information
without investigation? The issue is not what Bush knew--but why he
didn't know, and whether his Administration took sufficient steps before
and after that awful day to deal with the failings of the agencies that
are supposed to thwart and protect.