Behind the Headlines
by Justin Raimondo

November 26, 1999


The same people who lied about alleged "genocide" in Kosovo to justify NATO intervention are now telling us that we mustn't "speculate" about the real cause of the downing of EgyptAir flight 990 – and if that doesn't set off alarm bells, then your b***sh*t detector needs new batteries.


Reuters reports State Department spokesman James Rubin as saying: "We're appealing for calm, and calm can only come if there is a minimum of speculation about conclusions in this country, and a minimum of wild, exaggerated, unfounded conspiracy theories in other media in the Middle East." This is the ideal world of the government bureaucrat: please don't think, don't question, don't "speculate," and, most of all, don't even consider the possible validity of "conspiracy theories" – if you don't accept the government's line (whatever that is at the moment), then you're being "irresponsible."


Gee, if only Rubin had been born sometime in the 1940s, or earlier, he might have actually had the power to enforce his anti-speculation diktat – but, alas, the job of press spokesperson for the Soviet government, along with the Soviet Union itself, is no more.


Rubin's anti-speculation edict has worked pretty well with the American media: so far, at least, reporters and commentators in this country have pretty much toed the government line, they are still dutifully broadcasting selected government "leaks" of the voice recorder transcript, and mindlessly repeating the story that the Egyptian copilot inexplicably decided to commit suicide – and take 217 people with him. Unfortunately for Rubin, however, and those U.S. government officials who have been spinning the story of EgyptAir 990 away from the possibility of terrorism, for the first time an Egyptian official has raised the question, albeit obliquely.


General Issam Ahmed, the chief of Egypt's pilot training program, recently derided the suicide theory, echoing many if not all of his countrymen in his outrage at the idea that an Egyptian pilot could be responsible – but going one step further and suggesting that an explosion in the plane's tail section may have downed the plane. According to Reuters, Ahmed said that an explosion must be considered because the flight data and voice recorders located in the rear of the plane were badly damaged: "This confirms that the tail of the plane, where the two boxes are located, was subjected to an explosion at the height of 33,000 feet. It was either an internal or external explosion." Very interesting: although Ahmed is not directly involved in the investigation, surely he is in a position to know something more than the US government is willing to admit. Ahmed demonstrated an acute understanding of the role of the American media in al this by warning that "methods aimed at condemning EgyptAir and its pilots have been taken by preparing public opinion to accept what they (Americans) want to impose, which is the suicide theory."


Stubbornly wedded to this suicide theory, pushing it hard even after it seems to be discredited, anonymous "leakers" in the US government continue to divert attention away from the looming possibility of a terrorist attack. Far from stopping the buzz, these anonymous spin-meisters only accelerate it – along with a fierce skepticism of all government pronouncements. The more they reassure us that "everything is under control" the more we can be certain that something is afoot – and, whatever it is, it ain't good.


This series of columns on the mystery of EgyptAir flight 990 has generated a record number of letters, which generally fall into two categories: keep up the good work, and put a lid on it. The former have my thanks, but the latter deserve an answer. For the record, I am not wedded to the idea that this tragedy was the result of a terrorist attack: I am merely wondering why this possibility has been dismissed out of hand, and is barely mentioned by US government officials and our echo chamber media. Why have journalists been so ready to accept the "official" story, especially since it seems to change on a daily basis? And, most importantly, who is doing all the very selective "leaking" from the voice recorder transcript, and what is their agenda? This last is a question that, perhaps, many in the American media can answer, but dare not for fear of losing a valuable "inside" source.


The point of my EgyptAir 990 commentaries is to shed light, not only on the tenuous situation in Egypt, but to throw the spotlight on the role of the American news media as the servitor of government. EgyptAir 990 crystallizes a trend that started during the Gulf war and culminated as the bombs started dropping on Belgrade: the growing symbiosis of the media and government.


That is what made the war in Kosovo possible: while State Department spokesman James Rubin was handing out the official government line at press briefings, his wife, CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour, was broadcasting the unofficial government line over what is popularly known as the "Clinton News Network." Together, they managed to fool the public long enough to tear off a large piece of the former Yugoslavia. Now, the real story – a few thousand killed, on both sides, before the NATO invasion – is coming out. Why should anybody listen to these liars about anything?


While Ahmed did not raise the question of terrorism, the implications of an explosion are clear. I raised this possibility in both my first and second columns on this subject, just on the basis of the information available at the time, and Ahmed's thesis fits my own theory like a glove.


Yet another bit of circumstantial evidence is the reaction of the Egyptian people to the suicide theory. The vehemence and level of outrage seems way out of proportion to the alleged offense to Egyptian national pride, as if a long-held resentment that has been carefully controlled suddenly burst through to the surface. The nationalistic reaction seems to have caught Washington and Cairo off guard – with the latter forced to assert itself by overwhelming pressure from below. That pressure is just an indication of the volcanic nationalist and religious turbulence that churns just beneath the surface of Egyptian society. The government of President Hosni Mubarak has so far managed to keep a lid on the Egyptian cauldron by ruthlessly suppressing all opposition. But while the Egyptian government would like everyone to believe that they are using the billions we pour into Cairo's coffers to ensure the stability of the regime, the militant Islamist movement is far from dead.


Indeed, according to many reports, the radical Islamist movement in Egypt is quite active. One of their leaders recently threatened to strike out at the West in retaliation for the apprehension and arrest of 107 Egyptian militants handed over to Cairo by Western intelligence services: nine have been sentenced to death. It seems that these worthies were on their way back from helping NATO to fight their glorious war for "human rights" in Kosovo: what ingratitude! The day before the bombing of US embassies in East Africa, a spokesman for the Islamic Jihad group, Aynman al-Zawahiri, declared that soon his group would be sending a "message" to the US – and that it would be "loud and clear." A close ally of Osama bin Laden, Zawahiri's group is not especially active: rather than a lot of small operations, the Islamic Jihad goes in for bigtime stuff: they are prime suspects in the attacks on the Egyptian Embassy in Pakistan, as well as the bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.


The visibility of the Egyptian terrorist network has been relatively low, at least since the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat; that is, until October 26, when a leader of Islamic Jihad was gunned down in the streets of Tirana by Albanian police. The recent mass roundup of Egyptian militants from their Albanian bases was clearly a coordinated attack on the Islamic Jihad group. Could the downing of EgyptAir flight 990 have been payback time?


There is far more evidence, albeit all of it circumstantial, that this was a terrorist act than there is for the "suicide" thesis. The New York Times [November 25, 1999] portrait of the accused pilot depicts a man who had no reason to commit suicide, no history of mental illness or depression, and every reason to live: "The picture painted of Batouti by those who knew him best seems, absent a secret life yet to be uncovered, starkly at odds with any notion of someone who might have done what the American investigators suggest." Caught in a lie, unable to backtrack, government officials are stuck, insisting against all the mounting evidence that their theory is not at variance with the known facts. But how long can they keep stonewalling?


With top Egyptian government officials breaking their silence, and the Egyptian nationalist backlash gaining steam, US government officials seem hard put to come up with another "theory." And yet, as the millennium approaches, and the specter of terrorism rises up in the collective unconscious, the EgyptAir investigation had better come up with some honest answers – and quick. If this administration is not capable of conducting a credible investigation, then perhaps it is time for Congress to step in and conduct an inquiry of its own. For if government has any legitimate function – and don't you wonder about that sometimes? – then surely it is to protect us from organized attacks by murderous thugs.

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