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?
Doveryai, no proveryai (Trust but verify)
— Russian proverb
- The latest warning
- The threat is serious
- Criticism of the story
- The classic plays that work
- Other posts in this series
- 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:
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
- A vision of a perilous future for us all, and recommendations to avoid it, 6 August 2013 — Our susceptibility to fear
- A look at al Qaeda, the long war — and us, 7 August 2013 — In what sense does AQ exist today?
(6) For More Information
- Successful info ops, but who are the targets?, 1 May 2008
- Concrete evidence of government info ops against us, but it’s OK because we are sheep, 2 December 2008
- How the Soviet Menace was over-hyped – and what we can learn from this, 13 October 2009
- Successful propaganda as a characteristic of 21st century America, 1 February 2010
- Our leaders have made a discovery of the sort that changes the destiny of nations, 15 September 2010
- The Iranian Assassination caper was a complete success!, 17 October 2011
- The easy way to rule: leading a weak people by feeding them disinformation, 13 April 2011
- Our minds are addled, the result of skillful and expensive propaganda, 28 December 2011
- A nation lit only by propaganda, 3 June 2013
- The secret, simple tool that persuades Americans. That molds our opinions., 24 July 2013 — The big lie.