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The US government is competent, as proven by the results of the latest terror alert

12 August 2013

Summary: Since 9-11 Homeland Security has declared 15 alerts (8 Red and 7 Yellow) with no terror strikes. Now we have another, this time overseas. Again, nothing has happened. These alerts are successes on a historic scale, as the government has maintained a climate of fear and built support for the vast and growing security state. But the US government must share the credit. They could not have done it without us, and our gullibility. Our inability to learn might prove more destructive to America than any likely terror strike. Will we change?

Charlie Brown & the football

The definition of gullibility

Doveryai, no proveryai (Trust but verify)
— Russian proverb

Contents

  1. The latest warning
  2. Our leaders tell us, as usual, that the threat is serious
  3. Criticism of the story
  4. Run with the classic plays when you want results
  5. Other posts in this series
  6. For More Information

(1) The latest warning

We what appears to be yet another in the US government’s long series of successful information operations waged against us. Bomber gap, missile gap, Tonkin Gulf incident, Saddam’s WMDs, etc. Post-WW2 history has been shaped by our gullibility.

For a description of the latest terror alert we turn to that source of right-wing fear-mongering propaganda, The Washington Times: “Congressional leaders agree on drastic response to al Qaeda terrorist threat” 4 August 2013 — Excerpt:

Key Democratic and Republican members of Congress said Sunday that the terrorism threat reportedly triggered by an intercepted message between senior al Qaeda operatives is the most serious threat in years, with some warning that the threat is an indication the terrorist group responsible for the 9/11 attacks still poses a significant danger to the U.S.

The threat forced the closings of more than 20 U.S. embassies and consulates this weekend. A travel alert was issued for Americans planning to travel overseas, particularly in the Middle East, and will remain in effect for the rest of August. The closures of the embassies and consulates and the travel alert were triggered by an intercepted message between senior al Qaeda operatives, CNN reported Sunday.

Like clockwork our leaders and national security gurus nod in agreement. Cue the fear-mongering…

(2) Our leaders tell us, as usual, that the threat is serious

(a) Rep. Michael T. McCaul (R-TX, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence) on “Face the Nation“, CBS, 4 August 2013:

Words from the past

Words from when we were strong

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We’re on a high state of alert. I have been given every assurance we’re doing everything we can to prevent this threat from happening. This is probably one of the most specific and credible threats I’ve seen perhaps since 9/11. And that’s why everybody is taking this so seriously. In fact the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff called it “extremely significant.” The State Department’s warning with respect to the Arabian Peninsula is significant as well because, as your commentator mentioned, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is probably the biggest threat to the homeland.

(b) Senator Dick Durbin (D-ILO, Assistant Majority Leader) on “Meet the Press“, NBC News, 4 August 2013:

it’s a big deal. Vice President Biden gave us a classified briefing this last week. They identified more than 25 of our embassies around the world that are particularly vulnerable. More than 25. … we need to know and realize we’re living in an increasingly dangerous world. And this specific threat that we’ve been briefed on over and over again has reached a new level.

(c) Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) on “Meet the Press“, NBC News, 4 August 2013:

These programs are controversial, we understand that, they’re very sensitive, but they’re also very important because they’re what allow us to have the ability to gather this chatter that I referred to. If we did not have these programs, then we simply wouldn’t be able to listen in on the bad guys.

(d) Senator Lindsey Graham (R. SC) on “State of the Union“, CNN, 4 August 2013:

I had a briefing with the vice president. It is scary. Al Qaeda’s on the rise in this part of the world. And, the NSA program is proving its worth yet again. But we need to reevaluate where we’re at in light of these threats.

(3) Criticism of the story

Criticisms of this story come in two forms. Ted Koppel (NBC journalist) explains the first and most common critique: “America’s Chronic Overreaction to Terrorism“, op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, 7 August 2013 — “The country’s capacity for self-inflicted damage must have astounded even Osama bin Laden.”

Terrorism, after all, is designed to produce overreaction. It is the means by which the weak induce the powerful to inflict damage upon themselves—and al Qaeda and groups like it are surely counting on that as the centerpiece of their strategy.

It appears to be working. Right now, 19 American embassies and a number of consulates and smaller diplomatic outposts are closed for the week due to the perceived threat of attacks against U.S. targets. Meantime, the U.S. has launched drone strikes on al Qaeda fighters in Yemen. By the standards of World War I, however, the United States has responded to the goading of contemporary terrorism with relative moderation.

… We have created an economy of fear, an industry of fear, a national psychology of fear. Al Qaeda could never have achieved that on its own. We have inflicted it on ourselves.

Most of this op-ed is delusional exaggeration. For example, the quite mad “by the standards of WW1″, as if it is rational to compare our reaction to a few thousand terrorists to total war among the world’s major nations. However the specific point of this quote is obviously correct. But it is a small point.

The larger significance of this terror alert concerns the source of the warnings: the US government. This particular warning was so timely it seemed designed to deflect criticism of the NSA’s surveillance programs. Successfully so. But this obvious if speculative explanation appears to be unspeakable, at least by most journalists and national security experts.

From a longer-term perspective, consider the cost of these information operations. They are expensive, as they will eventually burn away the government’s credibility. Not just in general, but specifically in terms of the utility of the warnings — as in the “boy who cried wolf”.

(4) Run with the classic plays when you want results

“Mr. President, if that’s what you want there is only one way to get it. That is to make a personal appearance before Congress and scare the hell out of the country.”

— Senator Arthur Vandenberg’s advice to Truman about how to start the Cold War. On 12 March 1947 Truman did exactly that. From Put yourself in Marshall’s place, James P. Warburg (1948); in 1941 Warburg helped develop our wartime propaganda programs.

Fear-mongering was the essential tool to start the Cold War, was used successfully many times since, and still works today.

To end this on an optimistic note: perhaps eventually we might learn from experience. On that day America will have changed for the better.

(5) Other posts in this series

(6) For More Information

Details of the alleged threats:

About information operations run against us:

  1. Successful info ops, but who are the targets?, 1 May 2008
  2. Concrete evidence of government info ops against us, but it’s OK because we are sheep, 2 December 2008
  3. How the Soviet Menace was over-hyped – and what we can learn from this, 13 October 2009
  4. Successful propaganda as a characteristic of 21st century America, 1 February 2010
  5. Our leaders have made a discovery of the sort that changes the destiny of nations, 15 September 2010
  6. The Iranian Assassination caper was a complete success!, 17 October 2011
  7. The easy way to rule: leading a weak people by feeding them disinformation, 13 April 2011
  8. Our minds are addled, the result of skillful and expensive propaganda, 28 December 2011
  9. A nation lit only by propaganda, 3 June 2013
  10. The secret, simple tool that persuades Americans. That molds our opinions., 24 July 2013 — The big lie

Posts about the revelations by Edward Snowden, and what they show about America:

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. 12 August 2013 3:45 am

    Unfortunately, as we consider the liberty-for-security bargain the government is offering us, the human brain is wired to make a terrible miscalculation:
    “This is Your Brain on Terrorism” http://libertymcg.com/2013/07/23/this-is-your-brain-on-terrorism/

    Like

  2. Matt D. permalink
    12 August 2013 8:45 am

    Quick comment: I wonder if “by the standards of WW1″ refers to the fact that the launch of the war was actually a reaction to a terrorist attack against a single individual? That’s just a guess. Either way, I think its a confusing way of putting things.

    Like

    • 12 August 2013 1:17 pm

      Perhaps.

      That raises the question: imagine if the President had been killed on 9-11. How would the USA, led by President Cheney, have responded?

      The comparison with WW1 might be more appropriate in that timeline.

      Like

  3. merocaine permalink
    12 August 2013 3:42 pm

    I think we should consider how seriously this was taken by the citizens.
    The mainstream media reported (channelled) the regime, but it is my sense that the vast run of the citizens paid no attention whatsoever. This was intended for the, as Fabius has called them the
    Outer Party, the Republican and Democratic foot soldiers. Even among them the overwhelming reaction was fatigue and cynicism.

    Like

    • 12 August 2013 5:49 pm

      Merocaine,

      I agree with your analysis, but have a different perspective. The starting point should be, IMO, what was the desired reaction intended by the government?

      Not panic. Like in most episodes of South Park, hysterical crowds screaming in panic as they aimlessly run through the streets.

      My guess — emphasis on guess — is the goal was renewed support for the surveillance state, and stop efforts to change its operations. Did they succeed? We can consult our most sensitive windsocks — the boys and girls in Congress. Hence the quotes I provided in the post.

      The more definitive result will be seen in the next few weeks. They will have won big if this issue dies down, replaced in the new media’s amnesiac haze by a new hairstyle by Princess Kate of the UK or Princess Katy of USA.

      We will see soon. I placed my bet early and big on them winning. Because they have been winning since 9-11. Has anything changed?

      Like

    • 12 August 2013 5:51 pm

      Further note about my reply —

      I didn’t mean to imply that a new hairstyle by Katy Perry isn’t a big deal. That would be crazy.

      Like

  4. DMK permalink
    12 August 2013 8:44 pm

    I do not contest your conclusion that the alert was orchestrated to justify NSA surveillance programs. That said, last week was the anniversary of President Bush receiving the “Bin Laden Determined to Strike at U.S.” memo which he presumably dismissed.

    Imagine Obama in 2009 or the next President in 2016 receiving their first intelligence briefing and being told that credible threats exist. Perhaps these officials threaten resignation if their recommendations are not followed How does a President push back?

    Like

    • 12 August 2013 10:12 pm

      DMK,

      You are absolutely correct that the President faces overwhelming pressure to act in the face of even borderline evidence.

      The question here — which we lack the info to answer — is this like the “bin laden warning? Or is it more like the “Saddam has WMDs” data, which resulted from pressure on intel staff to produce the politically useful conclusions?

      We have a long long list of proven incidents in which the warnings given to the US public were exaggerated or outright faked. And this warning is very timely for the government. As such IMO skepticism is warranted.

      The alternative to skepticism — and public pressure for a more reliable and less political warning system — is continuing to allow ourselves to be led by the nose by the national security establishment — as they increasingly have since WW2. That is, IMO, a far more real and dangerous threat than from the few thousand jihadists — most of whom are in purely local insurgencies, hating us because we have gotten involved (often defending scum of the Earth tyrants).

      Each person must draw their own conclusions.

      Like

  5. merocaine permalink
    12 August 2013 9:53 pm

    It is inevitable that this would fade away of its own volition. With or without Yemen and Kathy Perry.

    Hoping for some kind of change in the mind set of Congress over a single issue like this is probably to much to ask. More and more I think it is the young who will effect change, they certainly seem to be more aware of the pitfalls and possibilities of this technology.
    Guys like Graham fill me with worry, they seem unaware that they are creating tools that undermine there own power.

    On a side note there seems to be a nation wide failure of critical thinking, you call it a broken OODA loop, I call it a failure to differentiate between belief and the facts.

    Like

    • 12 August 2013 10:13 pm

      merocaine,

      Sadly I agree with your analysis.

      I have a post going up this week taking your insight about our failure of critical thinking, suggesting that this could be a foundational element for an effective new political reform movement in America.

      Like

  6. merocaine permalink
    12 August 2013 10:24 pm

    Education, Education, Education. teach the children philosophy, weapons for life!

    Like

    • 12 August 2013 10:43 pm

      merocaine,

      While I agree in theory, in practice children are taught in accordance with the regimes political beliefs. In much of America they are taught myths as US history; in some of America they are taught religion instead of science.

      Good philosophical education of children is a result of reform, not a cause of reform.

      Like

  7. merocaine permalink
    12 August 2013 11:24 pm

    Exactly, this is a problem in Britain and Ireland too, (and probably the rest of Europe too) an over emphasis on technical subjects and a narrow kind of history focusing on nationalist myths. You end up with adults who are narrowly specialized in computers/engineering/finance, but lacking a broader base of knowledge that would help them think critically about the larger social structures of there lives.
    When I hear people go on about how many engineers the Chinese produce as if that’s a good thing, I have to laugh. The CCP isn’t worried about those guys, its the artist, writers, freethinkers non conformists, that cause them fits.

    Like

    • 12 August 2013 11:30 pm

      Aristotle said that the nature of the political regime infuses all aspects of society, and is the determinative factor in the nature of the society of a polis.

      I believe history validates his theory, in a general sense.

      The Founders saw the relationship as more two-way. The nature of the American people made democracy possible (they saw democracy as a plant requiring special conditions to thrive), and the Republic would grow men and women capable of and determined to sustain the Republic.

      It has worked for two centuries. We will see how the third works out. It is off to a rocky start, but not the first such rough patch.

      Like

  8. 13 August 2013 12:55 am

    A friend (in advertising) recently pointed out to me that the US Gov public relations campaign is run like they are pro insiders from the advertising industry. They have done this sort of thing with high art. Whenever public support for the wars, the Patriot Act–and now the NSA spying–starts to falter, another threat is announced to whip everyone back into a state of fear and compliance.

    Since we’re citing the Greek classics, Plato concluded his Republic with the warning the arts present an appearance of things, not the things in themselves as they actually are. Such falsehoods appeal to the baser instincts of humanity. We can apply this to our current analysis, with emotion and fear chief among the products of this “high art.”

    The problem is, as Plato contends as his main thesis in the Republic, there can be no justice without the facts being known.

    Like

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