Towards an Atlantic police state? (11) Via 9/11 to the ‘War on Terror’

The War on Terror which supposedly legitimates mass surveillance was prepared by the newly established Project for a New American Century (PNAC, with Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, and others). In Rebuilding America’s Defences, PNAC rehearsed the themes of the Defence Planning Guidance again, adding the much-cited phrase that the necessary revolution in military affairs, RMA (from Cold-War era air-land battles to global rapid intervention based on ‘Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance’, ISR) would be a protracted transformation, ‘absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event—like a new Pearl Harbor’.

Would surveillance have prevented a 9/11? Well, given ECHELON and other eavesdropping operations, there was certainly surveillance and there were also PNAC members and other high-ranking officials in the US national security establishment who kept talking about the impending new Pearl Harbor. Except that it was not prevented.

Western intelligence had been picking up signals about an impending attack on US soil using ‘airplanes as weapons’ for more than a year, and even the media had information to that effect for at least six months prior to 9/11 of a major attack on US soil. The then-CIA director, John Deutch, in 1998 warned against an ‘electronic Pearl Harbor’; he also co-authored a piece in Foreign Affairs with University of Virginia scholar Philip D. Zelikow and former assistant secretary of defence Ashton B. Carter (and advocate of information-based warfare later secretary of defence under Obama) that speculated on an impending ‘transforming event’ that would, ‘like Pearl Harbor, … divide our past and future into a before and after’. Taking the World Trade Centre bombing attempt of 1993 as their reference, the authors sum up the War on Terror scenario as outlined by Netanyahu as far back as 1984. ‘The United States might respond with draconian measures, scaling back civil liberties, allowing wider surveillance of citizens, detention of suspects, and use of deadly force’.

In 1999 Zelikow in a paper ruminated on how politics is directed by ‘public myths’ that rest on a ‘moulding event’ such as Pearl Harbor. That creates ‘generational public presumptions … that become etched in the minds of those who live through them.’ Not that they need not be ‘true’; what matters are beliefs ‘thought to be true (although not necessarily known to be true with certainty)’. Certainly they must be ‘shared in common within the relevant political community’, hence it is mandatory that consensus is secured by discrediting all dissent (ever since the Warren Report on the J.F. Kennedy assassination, dismissing dissent as ‘conspiracy theory’ had worked well to that effect).

As the presidential election of 2000 approached, a high-level Aspen Strategy Group worked out a blue-print for the incoming president. Carter, Deutch and Zelikow were among the participants and Zelikow edited its recommendations. They included a warning by Ashton Carter of ‘catastrophic terrorism of unprecedented scope and intensity … on U.S. territory’.
When this report came out Bush Jr had meanwhile assumed the presidency; Zelikow was on the transition team. As PNAC luminaries joined the new administration in key positions (Cheney as vice-president, Rumsfeld at Defence with Wolfowitz as deputy), the Pearl Harbor motif was not laid to rest, on the contrary. Right in January 2001 Rumsfeld, the key RMA advocate, predicted a ‘Space Pearl Harbor’, whilst engaging jointly with Cheney and their respective staffs in planning a global war that in the US itself would include warrantless wiretapping, mass arrests of Arabs, Pakistanis, and Muslim immigrants and a suspension of the civil liberties.

To prepare for such a vast operation an event at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in December 2000 explored the impact of the information revolution, globalization, and the end of the Cold War on US foreign policy. Among the issues flagged up in the meeting was the ‘Global Control Revolution’ through which a response to the elusive information revolution was to be developed.

Through ECHELON the US intelligence community was well informed of the impending attack and surveillance of possible perpetrators or accomplices had been stepped up. After the bombing of US embassies in East Africa in 1998, Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone calls were being monitored continually. Assuming he was really so central in them, ECHELON surveillance would therefore have picked up hints of the planning of new attacks, which were estimated by US officials to have begun two years prior to 9/11. Ten weeks prior to 9/11, the counterterrorism coordinator in the White House, Richard A. Clarke, concluded from ECHELON information that an attack was being prepared. At that point ECHELON network intercepted military communications and private and business ones on a world scale: telephone calls, fax, e-mail and other data. Significantly, Vice-President Cheney, who effectively ran the Bush presidency, headed a task force on domestic terrorism in May but it did not convene. Wolfowitz on the other hand in a speech recalled Pearl Harbor and warned that ‘the unfamiliar and the unlikely’ were on the way again.

Stock trading is also tracked by ECHELON and it suggested at the time that somebody knew something given that massive speculation against stocks of the airlines affected on 9/11 was in evidence. Eventually traced to a Bankers Trust official appointed CIA executive director in March. Such speculation need not rely on complete knowledge of an integral plot: expensive private newsletters circulating in and around the US government in Washington contain hints, as in several previous US-fomented coups that were exploited for private gain.

But if 9/11 was seized on to further intensify mass surveillance, why was it not prevented itself? Once again this raises the issue of who is behind the mass surveillance project.

Kees van der Pijl
For a complete text with full references see Surveillance Capitalism and Crisis

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