As the anthrax scare spread to Washington, D.C., they emptied out the Capitol Building, and the House of Representatives hiked up their skirts and skittered back to their home districts. Newsrooms across the nation instituted strict security measures as NBC and CBS were hit by bio-terrorists. As of this writing, 40 people in New York, Washington, Reno, and Boca Raton (Florida) have been exposed, and surely there are more to come. This morning [Thursday, October 18] we all woke to news of the penultimate horror pending: "We were notified last night that a security threat had been made against Three Mile Island," said a spokesman for the Pennsylvania nuclear facility. "That threat was deemed credible. We took extra security measures and we remain at that heightened state of alert." Halloween, it seems, has come early this year, and this trick is no treat….
US warplanes continue to bomb Afghanistan, with more than 300 of them engaged in some capacity in the skies over Bin Laden Country, but we have hardly paid attention to any of that as news of the bizarre and the ominous on the home front sends a pre-Halloween chill down the spine. Yes, yes, Colin Powell has traveled to Pakistan and it looks like the ground troops are about to go in, but who cares about any of that when we have to worry about a procedure so hopelessly mundane as opening the mail? Even here at Antiwar.com we’re getting a little nervous, and I told Eric, our webmaster, to wear gloves and a protective mask while opening our snail-mail, and no one thought such a request in the least bit odd. But then, nothing is really odd these days, because the macabre is the commonplace: we are all of us living in a grade-B horror movie, and I’m not just talking about the threat of bio-nuclear terrorism….
To add a hint of the positively supernatural to the mix, or at least a hint of clairvoyance, we have the news that on September 6, a Brooklyn youth at New Utrecht High School was sitting in class, staring out the window which looked out over lower Manhattan. "What are you looking at?" snapped the teacher, who had been trying to stimulate a discussion of current events amongst her lethargic students. This effort no doubt met with limited success, and the probably frustrated Antoinette DiLorenzo pounced on the young daydreamer, whose thoughts seemed light years distant from the news of the day. Ah, but perhaps not: "See those two buildings over there?" he answered, pointing at the twin towers of the World Trade Center, "well they aren’t going to be there after next week."
The teacher failed to fully appreciate the eerieness of this remark until after 9/11, whereupon she went to the authorities: who soon had New Utecht HS in lockdown. While the rest of the kids were given lunch, shown a movie, and told to be calm, the cops hauled the clairvoyant kid and his brother off to the local hoosegaw for milk-and-cookies with the FBI. They are, we are told, still "investigating." Another ongoing investigation has focused on the curious form of "insider trading" that seems to have occurred in the days prior to the attack.
"Put" options and "short sales" are a means of betting that a stock will fall, and in two instances the volume in these investments increased dramatically three days before the twin towers debacle. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that "on one day, UAL put option purchases were 25 times greater than the year-to-date average. In the month before the attacks, short sales jumped by 40 percent for UAL and 20 percent for American."
These mysterious investors, who seemed to be based in Germany, have yet to claim their profits, which amount to some $2.5 million, which seems to confirm our worst suspicions. No doubt they didn’t count on having the markets closed for 4 days, and were stymied in their plan to take the money and run. The Chronicle story sputters out toward the end, when it comes time to identify these sinister practitioners of what the head of the German central bank called "terrorist insider trading." All the Chronicle could come up with was they are "all presumed to be affluent residents of Arab nations." Although naturally the information this is based on is "classified," just like the evidence against Bin Laden himself, knowledgeable insiders assure us that this is so. "This smells real bad," said an anonymous source cited by the Chronicle, probably some SEC official, and maybe he’s right – although not quite in the way he means it.
An article in Barron’s generally ridiculing the "terrorist insider trading" scenario details the ongoing investigation, which is currently examining financial instruments linked to 38 companies, not only the two airlines but also insurance carriers and the investment firms (such as Morgan Stanley) once housed in the WTC. We are told that there are plenty of documents with Social Security numbers and tax ID numbers: they can trace the money as it flowed into investors’ bank accounts. "If there’s something there," says Mary Bender, of the Chicago Board of Exchange, "we’ll find it," adding: "I’m not confident there’s anything there." But why not? The unusual activity in UAL and American Airlines options, and similar activity a month prior to 9/11, is surely suspicious, which is why we heard about it almost immediately after the Event. Now here it is more than a month later, and what’s happened to this investigation? It seems curiously… stalled. Surely the authorities must know, by now, who profited from these highly unusual investments – and don’t tell me it was two Pakistani kids in Brooklyn.
The air of mystery that hangs over the Halloween War extends to its very justification. No sooner had we been told the US was going to release the evidence against Bin Laden, then the offer was promptly retracted – although Tony Blair was allowed a few peeks, so he could convey his marching orders from Washington to Parliament. Blair has been striding about and pontificating like the second coming of Winston Churchill, speaking of which: All those World War II reminiscences preceding the new Day of Infamy – the Pearl Harbor movie, The Greatest Generation, the endless TV documentaries – have come in handy, now haven’t they? "Loose lips sink ships!" is back in a big way. That and "don’t you know there’s a war on?" (a favorite phrase of Andrew Sullivan’s) are heard loudly drowning out dissenting voices. What few venture a protest are quickly quashed and smeared with the epithet "fifth columnist."
We are not supposed to ask too many questions: that is the main feature of life in wartime America. Besides that, everything is "classified" and everyone is so intimidated that Sullivan, the neoconservatives' fair-haired boy, feels safe in smugly demanding that news anchors wear little flags on their lapels. From the Fashion Police to the Thought Police is not that far a road to travel, and soon Sullivan and his fellow neocons were haranguing Reuters for referring to Al Qaeda by name instead of "the terrorists." It’s amazing that they think they can get away with it – and what’s really changed is that they can.
And here’s another mystery for you: Sullivan, according to a recent profile in New York magazine, fancies himself the 21st Century's equivalent of George Orwell. Yet he seems to have missed his hero’s famous essay, "Politics and the English Language," where Orwell lampoons the literary tricks of various ideologues – and, presciently, describes to a tee the behavior of his British epigone. "Writing that aims at glorifying war usually takes on an archaic color" – ah, so that explains the World War II allusions! And here is a paragraph that fits Sullivan and his ilk quite snugly, capturing the Orwellian spirit of our post-9/11 age so perfectly that it outdoes even old Nostradamus at his most prescient:
"When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases – bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder – one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy.... And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved … he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favorable to political conformity."
Orwell’s famous novel of a future dystopia, 1984, predicted so many different aspects of the world we live in today – it’s politics, its perpetual war for perpetual peace, its nightmarish quality. It is little short of amazing that Orwell should also have anticipated the rise of such literary hacks as Andrew Sullivan. Why, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find a portrait of David Horowitz in there, somewhere, too. Indeed, Orwell gives one example of bad political writing that brings the volatile commie-turned-conservative immediately to mind, of a writer "who knows more or less what he wants to say, but an accumulation of stale phrases chokes him like tea leaves blocking a sink." And no doubt, if we bothered to look, we could find Jonah Goldberg as well. It sometimes seems as if Orwell really did have second sight: there is a visionary quality to his writing, even his nonfiction, which gives it an eerie ring in retrospect. What Orwell failed to predict, however, is that these hacks would take his name in vain, and claim him for their own. For all the darkness of his imagination, that is something not even Orwell, a pessimist by temperament, could have foreseen.
Well, you might think, what phonies – particularly Sullivan! How does he manage to get away with it? You can add this to the other unsolved mysteries attending the Halloween War. As I see it, however, the spookiest mystery is how we managed to avoid all the clear warnings, none of which could have been clearer than this NewsMax story dated October 5, 1999, by Carl Limbacher, which identified not only the culprit but the target:
"The London-based Terrorism and Security Monitor is reporting that U.S. intelligence sources are worried that terrorist Osama Bin Laden may be planning a major terrorist attack on US soil. US sources are said 'to be particularly concerned about some kind of attack on New York', and they have recommended stepped-up security at the New York Stock Exchange and the Federal Reserve. US authorities believe Bin Laden may have acquired chemical weapons."
"Reports of Bin Laden’s activities come on the heels of heightened agitation among Muslims against the West. Yossef Bodansky, staff director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, says, 'There are rumblings throughout the Islamic community right now. There’s a lot of movement and talk. It’s like a volcano just before the explosion'."
Halloween – a time of ghosts and goblins, monsters and ghouls, of horrors shrouded in mystery and witches cackling at human incomprehension. It seems not only to have come early, this year, but may just stay around a bit longer. As the outlines of the ghostly enemy take shape, at home as well as abroad, we are not so much frightened as … astonished. The harder we look, the more it seems that the Saudis, whom we fought to defend during the Gulf War, stand behind Bin Laden. Perhaps they even profited from the worst terrorist atrocity in American history. (Or perhaps the truth is even stranger than that.) Our friends turn out to be our enemies, and our enemies – Russia, China, Pakistan – turn out to be our friends.
Have a happy Halloween – and don’t forget to watch your back….
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