Thursday, August 31, 2006

ARMY OF FEARMONGERS: The biggest and best in the world, for many reasons

On Tuesday, DD blog regaled you with tales of Doctors Strangebug and Acid-Thrower, testimony from some of the leading lights of the biochemical terror-is-coming lobby. Dating from 1995, al Qaeda hadn't yet demolished the WTC, but already the mechanisms and experts were in place to pin the capability of easy bio and chemwar to Islamic radicals. Osama bin Laden and company just needed to appear on the stage of history.

Consider the following slide, presented twice during the Strangebug and Acid-Thrower seminar held by the biochem terror lobby in Bethesda, MD, by James A. Genovese, a U.S. Army "expert" on chemical attack.


And it pointedly illustrates the US has a ready corps of experts on methods of terrorism, an army that would tell and does tell anyone who listens -- from politicians to journalists to small children -- that everything is easy to do. And that it is all inevitable.

It is, of course, logical that they do so. Their job security and career development depends upon it. Their paycheck depends on you, and the people in power, understanding that the most macabre types of attack are easy to do.

Dick Destiny blog has documented its regular appearance this summer.

Take, for example, Mubtakkar of Death, peddled by a famous journalist, The Botox Shoe of Death, frightening exaggerations and lies peddled by many, and most recently in what appeared to be the overstated capabilities of the liquid bombers -- here and here and here.

In all these pieces, no shortage at all of experts, sources in-the-know and terror-beat journalists delivering claims on how easy it is for the jihadists to deliver varieties of explosive, chemical and biological ruin.

As this blog moved through the summer, it fashioned search strings for Google so readers could see for themselves the army of fearmongering experts and their professional cant on the inevitable nature of bioterror.

Every week, the same declarations.

"The nation's farms and food supply are highly vulnerable to terrorism and the Department of Homeland Security isn't prepared to deal with the 'catastrophic' consequences of an agro-terror attack, Georgia agricultural experts warned a U.S. House subcommittee [last] Thursday, cried a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"Compared to bioterror, agro-terror is appallingly easy," said Corrie Brown, professor at the University of Georgia's College of Veterinary Medicine, invoking the specter of terrorists introducing foot-and-mouth disease, avian influenza, swine flu or some other animal-borne disease that could disrupt the U.S. economy . . . "

Not just easy, appallingly so!

And why might this be? Because the University of Georgia, and Corrie Brown, want to be the recipients of funding for a new government lab to fight and research terror, and they're competing with other states for it. And the other states have their army of experts who want the funds and the lab and they're just as capable of saying agro-terror is easy, as many times as necessary.

One way of looking at the practice is to divert for a moment to the story of the Cardiff Giant.

In the late 1860's, a con man induced a farmer near Syracuse, New York, to bury a cheap gypsum statue that had been crudely altered to resemble a giant, fossilized man. The statue was then "discovered" and proclaimed "the Cardiff giant," the scary remains of a specimen of a lost race said to have wandered the hills prior to the coming of man.

Although immediately dubbed a fake by a few who smelled a rat, there was a great deal of popular acceptance of "the Cardiff giant," which spilled over into the news media of the time.

Andrew D. White, the first president of Cornell University and one of the "giant's" earliest skeptics, remarked in his memoirs of the affair: "There was evidently a 'joy in believing' in the marvel, and this was increased by the peculiarly American superstition that the correctness of a belief is decided by the number of the people who can be induced to adopt it."

And it's possible to look at the "correctness of a belief . . . decided by the number who can be induced to adopt it" in this unscientific aggregation, here!

Holy smoke! One is almost tempted to say there are more Google hits for experts saying agroterrorism is easy than there are actually terrorists to carry out easy agroterror.

"Our agricultural system is so vast and so integrated, if something gets in, it's going to be all over and the terrorists know this," the expert added for good measure.

"Georgia is one of 11 states in the running for the Department of Homeland Security's proposed National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, which would address such threats . . . The state has offered two locations, both in Athens, as sites for the $500 million center . . . "

Job security, career development and scientific academic/corporate welfare -- the war on terror is great for it.

Naturally, there are terrorists. Dick Destiny blog's essay isn't saying they're Cardiff giants, or that bioterrorism is. What is being said is that the picture is never so cut-and-dried, so easy -- to use one of the fearmongers' faves, or so simplistic and obvious.

But often even experienced journalists, people who should know better, get dizzy from all the hot air.

As example, Dick Destiny blog cites one newspaper war-on-terror beat writer (name withheld to protect the underserving) who had requested an interview last year to talk about "what was easy" for terrorists.

So swept up in the repetition was he, the reporter was amazingly convinced it would even be easy for him to bring about agroterror. Why, all that he had to do was cut the feet off an infected animal and toss them in a cattle pen. The U.S. beef industry, destroyed!

Over a year ago, I wrote this on the phenomenon of professional fear-mongering masquerading as threat analysis:

After I read a stack of these articles, I thought for a moment I was in the wrong business and should devote a couple months and publications to predicting the ways in which terrorists could attack. Terrorists could imitate the methodology of the Washington sniper and his accomplice. Why haven't they? Terrorists could go into the forests and high chaparrals of southern California during fire season and ignite calamitous blazes, making national news and sewing panic. Local arsonists do it. It would be easy for terrorists. Gang members from central Los Angeles shoot into cars on the freeways. Surely that would be easy for terrorists... [Anti-terror celebrity Richard Clarke did do this in a long piece for the Atlantic Monthly.]

It's a good game. It needs to take no account of what terrorists are actually doing, no knowledge of what tough to get human intelligence sources and materials may show, or historically -- what preferences, capabilities, experiences and limitations terrorists carry with them. It can assume that there are more terrorists expertly trained in many degrees and methods of mayhem and working themselves into place than there are actual terrorists. For the anti-terrorism effort, it is only necessary to assign a simple universality to fragility and vulnerability and degrees of omniscience and unlimited resources to the adversary. It is easy, so to speak, to think of things that are easy for terrorists to do.

It's part of a larger original here. [Helpful hint: You might enjoy the article "Over invested in anti-terror widgets and nostrums," too.] And it was revisited a few weeks ago in "One year later on the Doom line."

It comes as a slight surprise then to see the same idea starting to be entertained in a place which is usually seen as the intellectual home of the professional cadre of threat assessors, Foreign Affairs, the policy journal published by the Council on Foreign Relations.

"But if it is so easy to pull off an attack and if terrorists are so demonically competent, why have they not done it?" asks the author of the article.

"Why have they not been sniping at people in shopping centers, collapsing tunnels, poisoning the food supply, cutting electrical lines, derailing trains, blowing up oil pipelines, causing massive traffic jams, or exploiting the countless other vulnerabilities that, according to security experts, could so easily be exploited?"


It's a bit like seeing the town whore begin suddenly applying for correspondence courses with the Church Universal and Triumphant. You can't help but be astounded and then begin to wonder how long the seizure will last.

"A fully credible explanation for the fact that the United States has suffered no terrorist attacks since 9/11 is that the threat posed by homegrown or imported terrorists . . . has been massively exaggerated," the article continues at one point.

"The massive and expensive homeland security apparatus erected since 9/11 may be . . . taxing all to defend the United States against an enemy that scarcely exists."

Coming from a learned organ of the CFR, it's virtually heresy. And someone may have to be imprisoned in a tower until a recant is delivered.

But don't fear for the professional fear-mongers. Because next week they'll be right back with something else, for after all:


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