Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Most Laughable Story You'll Read This Week

This is a joke, right?:
MIAMI (Reuters) - Seven men plotted to bring down the U.S. government by poisoning saltshakers and bombing landmark buildings, a prosecutor told Miami jurors as their terrorism conspiracy trial opened on Tuesday.

The "Liberty City Seven" aimed to create chaos as part of a holy war to pave the way for al Qaeda-affiliated guerrillas to take over the United States, Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Gregorie said in the prosecution's opening statement.

"We need to make the people go crazy in the streets," Gregorie quoted alleged ringleader Narseal Batiste as saying. "Allah is going to take over through us."

OK, some background on this: About fifteen months ago, a huge breaking story that ran across the front pages of newspapers all across the country went something like this: "Terror Plot To Blow Sears Tower Busted."

Note the timing: nearly one year after the 7/7/05 terror bombings in London, and just ahead of the Fourth of July holiday.

Homegrown terrorists, ties to Al Qaeda, massive bombing plot...soopersecret stuff, right? Probably busted wide open by an undercover FBI mole who, as his patriotic duty insisted, turned on his friends and narced.

Eh. Not so much:
Rather than trained terrorists for whom stealth and secrecy is the golden rule, these guys seem to have strutted around a poor African-American neighborhood in Miami wearing military-style garb (sometimes also turbans), standing guard and doing exercise drills. You know, like the S1Ws in the old Public Enemy hip-hop shows. And just like the S1Ws, seems like these guys didn’t have any real weapons either. The indictment against them is pretty hilarious, because it makes clear that the only contact these guys had with “al-Qaeda” was through a U.S. government undercover agent posing as a Qaeda operative. So the indictment says they swore oaths to al-Qaeda and sought its assistance in waging a ground war (yes, a ground war!) against the “devils” on U.S. soil. But, of course, any such “oaths” were administered not by al-Qaeda, but by a U.S. government agent posing as al-Qaeda. (I’m sure the lawyers are going to have fun with this one!)
Sure enough, they will:
Defense lawyers said the charges were "nonsense" scripted by the government and orchestrated by paid FBI informants they called Conman No. 1 and Conman No. 2.

They said the defendants, one of whom was devoted mainly to smoking marijuana, had no weapons or intent to do violence and that it was the informants who suggested poisoning restaurant saltshakers and blowing up buildings.
Now, I don't know about you, but I don't know too many stoners who would even get up off the couch to blow up a balloon (except for a shotgun hit for someone else) much less a building.

But come on! Think about the implications of this preposterous story: seven men, and only seven men, would poison enough salt shakers and blow up enough buildings to foment panic in the streets sufficient for wave upon wave of Al Qaeda fighters to invade our homeland and overthrow the US government?

Yeeeeeeeeea. Someone's been watching Red Dawn and smoking mesc...

However, it provides a neat segue into something I was thinking about this morning: fear.

I was reading a column by Jeffrey Kluger in Time magazine. He made the following observation:
It's impossible to resist comparing the America of 1957 with the America of 2007-- and finding the modern version wanting. There was a clear-eyed quality to the U.S. commitment to space and a frank understanding of what it would take to get there. This wasn't an effort built on tax credits for willing industries or bipartisan earmarking. It wasn't a program financed by cooked books or off-budget accounting. Most important, it was sustained by appealing not to what scared us but rather to what elevated us. There's no need to invoke WMD when you've got MIT.

In a nativist time like ours, it's hard to imagine a national effort so peopled by foreigners--German expat Wernher von Braun building our rockets, New Zealand immigrant William Pickering heading our unmanned program. In a time of flash-paper attention spans, it's similarly hard to picture any agency surviving the setbacks NASA did. Ranger 7 was the first unmanned U.S. ship to land on the moon--following the sequential failures of Rangers 1 through 6. Think that program would make it as far as Ranger 4 today?

Most remarkable, though, was the odd humility that marked our space enterprise. Yes, in the historical mirror, some of it seems overdone: the astronauts in silver space suits (when military green would have served just as well), shedding names like Virgil and Donald and Gordon for Gus and Deke and Gordo. But that was done with a cultural wink, one that belied the workmanlike ethos beneath the effort.

In that most American of plays, Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman, father of two layabout sons, is stunned to find that his neighbor's boy is arguing a case before the Supreme Court and hasn't mentioned it. "He don't have to," his neighbor answers. "He's gonna do it." A coda to that idea is offered in the elegiac new documentary In the Shadow of the Moon. One of the scenes shows the men of Mission Control lighting cigars after the 1969 splashdown of Apollo 11. Behind them, on a control room viewing screen, two words are projected: TASK ACCOMPLISHED. That may be a less triumphal phrasing than "mission," but whatever you call it, Americans knew enough not to boast about a thing until we had done it.
Indeed. The unspoken coda to this article is this photo:

What are our leaders-- and through their reactions and calculated efforts, us-- so afraid of?

What do we have to fear from a terror attack? The best Al Qaeda could do in ten plus years of planning was find a small flaw in our civil defenses and exploit it.

Rather than wasting our energy and more important, squandering our justifiable concern over real terrorist actions over idiotic scams like this Miami plot, we ought to be focusing on finding the people who really want to hurt us and stopping them.

And not making up boogeymen so we can burnish our credentials falsely. During the Clinton administration, the Federal government managed to foil 16 terrorist plots, including the famous plot by Ramsi Yussef to blow up seven transPacific airliners, the precursor to the 9/11 hijackings themselves.

No one talked much about it (mostly because Republicans and the media were focused on a different missile), and things were handled. We need to get back to that, to the attitude that it's not talked about, it's just done.