What Threat?
George Szamuely
New York Press


Year after year Bill Clinton curtails civil liberties and squanders billions fighting a supposed "terrorist" threat to the United States. The media cheers in delight; Congress forks over the money with barely a murmur of dissent. Even by his dishonest standards the nonsense he spouts about "cyberattacks" on our infrastructure or Osama bin Laden types armed with biological weapons is shameless opportunism. The goal as always is to increase the powers of government and enrich the corporations that are in the forefront of the fight against "terrorism."

In May 1998, Clinton signed two Presidential Decision Directives to defend America from computer hackers and terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction. The directives set up a variety of boards and agencies, including the office of National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counter-terrorism, headed by Richard Clarke.

According to a story put out by Clinton – almost certainly untrue then – he was stunned into action by reading Richard Preston’s The Cobra Event about a bioterrorism attack on New York. He immediately convened a White House roundtable discussion on genetic engineering and biological weapons. On April 10, 1998, seven experts briefed him on breakthroughs in biotechnology and genetic engineering. Also attending the meeting were top officials from the departments of Justice, Defense, State, and Health and Human Services, and from the CIA, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the NSC. The experts allegedly advised Clinton that "terrorists" could soon have the capability to produce lethal organisms that would evade existing vaccines and antibiotics.

In May 1998, Clinton announced the redirection of nearly $300 million of appropriations to defense against chemical and biological weapons; proposed the creation of a stockpile of specialized medicines; ordered the federal government to develop a national plan for dealing with a biological attack on the United States. Washington would train doctors, police and firemen, equipping them with chemical suits and with chemical and biological weapons detectors. Clinton has even spoken of establishing a commander-in-chief for the defense of the continental United States.

In January, 2000, Clinton launched the National Plan for Information Systems Protection. According to the plan, "America is vulnerable…because it has quickly become dependent upon computer networks for many essential services... Water, electricity, gas, communications…and other critical functions are directed by computer controls over vast information systems networks. The threat is that in a future crisis a criminal cartel, terrorist group, or hostile nation will seek to inflict economic damage, disruption and death, and degradation of our defense response by attacking those critical networks." Note how easily the United States, by far the most powerful nation on Earth, takes to describing itself as "vulnerable."

The plan is little more than a proposal that government takes over business. "Systems owned and operated by private companies provide 90 plus percent of the telecommunications and electrical power required by the Defense Dept. and other agencies of government," explains the somewhat demented Richard Clarke. "If you take down the privately owned and operated telecoms and electricity and banking and transportation networks, you have destroyed this country. So we need not only to protect the government but more importantly we need to protect the private sector systems." No wonder that businesses that are to be "saved" from these dastardly "cyberattackers" are not exactly jumping with joy at the administration’s proposals.

Clinton has continued to increase funding on infrastructure "protection." During the State of the Union he departed from the prepared text to predict that terrorists and organized criminals "with increasing access to ever more sophisticated chemical and biological weapons" will soon pose "the major security threat" to the United States. Infrastructure protection is up 16 percent to $2.03 billion in the FY2001 budget proposal. In March, the administration submitted an $11.1 billion request to Congress to strengthen "domestic preparedness" against a terrorist attack – almost twice what it was in 1995 ($5.7 billion). This sum includes $1.5 billion for defense against weapons of mass destruction and almost $2 billion for protection of computer networks.

Read George Szamuely's Antiwar.com Exclusive Column

Archived Columns by George Szamuely from the New York Press

What Threat?

Peculiar Yet Brave

Closed to Debate

Arrogance of Power

Prison Love

Gore's Oil

Rough Justice

Race Race

Al the Coward

Intruder Alert

McCain's Money

Haider Seek

Out of Africa

Prosecute NATO

Villain or Victim?

Intervention, Immigration, and Internment

Home-Grown Terrorism

Who Benefits?

Laws of Return

Embassy Row

Selling Snake Oil

Chinese Puzzle

That Was No Lady, That Was the Times

The Red Tide Turning?

Pat & The Pod

United Fundamentalist States

Let Them All Have Nukes!

Liar, Liar

Gangster Nations

Puerto Rico Libre – and Good Riddance

Leave China Alone

A World Safe for Kleptocracy

Proud To Be Un-American

All articles reprinted with permission from the New York Press

The amazing thing about this wanton squandering of precious resources is that there is no threat whatsoever to this country from terrorists or "rogue states." What is striking is not how much terrorism there is but how little. Why waste time with biological weapons? Nothing could be easier for a "terrorist" than to make an old-fashioned bomb and leave it in Times Square subway during rush hour. Yet no one has done it. Why? Perhaps because the "terrorists" are not quite as insane as Clinton and Hollywood would have us believe. Biological weapons are extremely difficult to make. "I am a trained biochemist and have written on biological warfare for 30 years, but I would have no idea how to build a biological weapon," Milton Leitenberg of the University of Maryland said recently in The Washington Post.

According to Richard Clarke, several nations "have developed offensive information warfare units, organizations, tactics, doctrine and capability… And in a crisis, historically, nations have attacked each other’s infrastructure... So it’s not inconceivable to have a scenario in the future in which a future opponent might think that they could attack our civilian, privately-owned infrastructure through computer attack."

Note the vagueness, the pretentious jargon. Nations generally know who their adversaries are and whether they pose a threat or not. Clinton’s artificially generated hysteria has little to do with national interest or national security.

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