Terrorism / Counterterrorism

Chasey, William C. Pan Am 103: The Lockerbie Cover-up. Bridger House Publishers (P.O. Box 2208, Carson City NV 89702, Tel: 800-729-4131), 1995. 383 pages.

Imagine a slick Washington lobbyist who's on a first-name basis with the most important members of Congress. He's an ex-Marine, a former professor, he and his wife entertain at their home in Rancho Santa Fe, California, and they ski every Christmas at Vail with the rest of the beautiful people. Meanwhile, George Bush has exonerated Syria for the Lockerbie bombing in exchange for Assad's support against Iraq. The runner-up bad guy is Libya, but Qaddafi won't give up the accused unless they are tried in a neutral country. This proves convenient for the U.S., since the evidence to convict these two Libyans is sorely lacking.

Now imagine that this slick lobbyist is hired to work for Libya on this issue, and he ends up taking Congressman Carroll Hubbard and the wives to Libya for personal visits with the accused and Qaddafi himself. But any dealings with Libya are marginally illegal. You get the picture -- the feds go ballistic. Wiretaps, FBI sting operations, and frozen bank accounts. For the first half of the book, Chasey's name-dropping narrative doesn't inspire much sympathy. By the end of the book one has to admit that beneath that too-smooth exterior, Chasey has real character after all. It took courage to let it all hang out in these pages; it's a career-crusher for sure.

Emerson, Steven. Secret Warriors: Inside the Covert Military Operations of the Reagan Era. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1988. 256 pages.

The CIA's operations in Nicaragua and Afghanistan were getting all the attention during the Reagan years, and this suited the U.S. military just fine. Because by 1981 they had set up their own covert capability -- a collection of units with names like Delta, Yellow Fruit, Seaspray, Quick Reaction Team, Task Force 160, Intelligence Support Activity, and Special Operations Division. From the basement of the Pentagon, secret missions were staged in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Italy, Iraq, Laos, Israel, Lebanon, Panama, West Germany, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, complete with front companies and proprietaries. Since Congressional oversight did not apply to the military, Reagan's people were eager to encourage an "off-the-shelf" capability through the National Security Council.

But in 1983 Yellow Fruit was scandalized by financial improprieties. Army investigators discovered that top brass didn't even know the unit existed, as officers with CIA ties had developed a need-to-know Army within the Army. Heads began to roll in a series of secret courts-martial.

Author Steven Emerson became interested during the military's massive three-year investigation. For this book he conducted 250 interviews and collected 100,000 pages of documents.

Herman, Edward S. and O'Sullivan, Gerry. The "Terrorism" Industry: The Experts and Institutions That Shape Our View of Terror. New York: Pantheon Books, 1989. 312 pages.

If they don't support U.S. interests we call them "terrorists," but wrap the same activity in a different flag it is always done by "counter- terrorists" or "freedom fighters." This is the first vocabulary lesson to be learned from Washington's McMedia talking heads and think tank mandarins.

The authors describe the experts, examine their many overlapping links with Western intelligence, lobbyists, the security industry, and corporate foundations, and even tabulate their usage of the word "terrorism" in some of their books. They also look at state vs. nonstate terrorism, and the PLO's overpublicized terrorism as opposed to Israel's "sacred" terrorism in terms of the numbers killed, to make the point that media coverage is highly selective. "The mass media, whose structural links to government and the corporate system are already potent, and who are therefore already inclined to accept a state line, are driven further toward closure by the fact that the experts, whose credentials are from affiliation with institutions specializing in terrorism, are supplied them by the industry collective. These experts all follow the approved semantics and model and select and fit facts accordingly.... This reflects an effective propaganda system."

Hicks, Sander. The Big Wedding: 9/11, The Whistle-Blowers, and the Cover-Up. Brooklyn NY: Vox Pop, 2005. 180 pages.

Sander Hicks is the founder of Soft Skull Press and runs the Vox Pop bookstore and coffeehouse in Flatbush, Brooklyn, with a staff that is unionized by the IWW. This book is a well-rounded contribution to the 9/11 Truth Movement, a loose grassroots attempt to examine and publicize 9/11 theories that the major media won't touch. Hicks might be considered a moderate in the Truth Movement, whose members vary from those who believe that U.S. intelligence did 9/11, to those who feel that the U.S. didn't do it, but knew it was coming and helped it happen, or just let it happen.

It's becoming clearer by now that the official 9/11 commission played a role that was similar to the Warren Commission in the 1960s. Their main concern was credibility, and their access to useful classified information was almost zero. Some curious characters seemed to know something about what was coming down before 9/11 happened. Hicks interviewed 44 people and presents a broad spectrum of questions and curiosities rather than one or two pet theories. This book is a responsible effort, just as Jim Hatfield's biography of George W. Bush, which was recalled and burned by St. Martin's press in 1999, was a responsible piece of journalism. To his everlasting credit, Sander Hicks and his Soft Skull Press reprinted Hatfield's book and sold it on the web.

Hopsicker, Daniel. Welcome to Terrorland: Mohamed Atta and the 9-11 Cover-up in Florida. Eugene, OR: MadCow Press, 2004. 400 pages. (www.madcowprod.com)

The two basic assumptions of this book are that the feds are trying to hide something about the events leading to 9/11, and that some clues can be found by following leads in Venice, Florida, where three of the four pilots learned to fly. Huffman Aviation plays a central role, and two flight-school entrepreneurs active in Venice, Wallace J. Hilliard and Rudi Dekkers, have curious connections and are always out of money, but never worry about it. Narcotics, perhaps, or the CIA, or both? It seems that you can't poke around any small aviation company in the U.S. without finding CIA connections sooner or later. Hopsicker's previous book was about Barry Seal and the CIA at the Mena, Arkansas airfield during Iran-contra.

The FBI was running around Venice after 9/11, telling people to keep their mouths shut. Does this mean anything? The 9/11 Commission report, issued after this book appeared, traces the key terrorists well enough to make this book seem too narrow in its focus. Nevertheless, interesting questions are raised by Hopsicker that no one else has investigated. It's possible that the feds wanted to cover up patterns of activity that should have set off alarms, but didn't. Why not? Probably for reasons unrelated to 9/11 -- bureaucratic turf wars, protecting sources and methods, drug profiteering, or whatever. Chances are that 9/11 was a complete surprise.

Livingstone, Neil C. The Cult of Counterterrorism. Lexington MA: Lexington Books, 1990. 437 pages.

Livingstone conducts a brisk insider's tour of the 1980s world of operatives, entrepreneurs, and flakes who devoted themselves to a specialty they called "counterterrorism." Livingstone himself goes ga-ga over counterterrorism's "gods," the laconic elite forces at the hub of this world. But he tells us far more about the periphery surrounding them: specialists in "executive security," rightist operators of paramilitary training camps, and assorted vendors of mayhem manuals and mail-order arms.

As well he might, Livingstone denounces the rogues and fantasists on the disreputable outer fringe of this world. But Livingstone's own account demonstrates how difficult such distinctions are to draw. Thus for Livingstone, Ollie North in his heyday was a "player," a real counter- terrorist doing a real job. Yet North (a rogue and a fantasist in his own right) accomplished little, had money stick to his fingers, and left behind a trail of dead civilians. Livingstone is too impatient of definitions and argument to attempt to sort all this out. Nor does this book acknowledge that North's funding network paid $75,000 into Livingstone's private institute on "terrorism." -- Steve Badrich

Mayer, Jane. The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals. New York: Doubleday, 2008. 392 pages.

As this is being written, in September 2009, it is much too early to know how this story will evolve. Attorney General Eric Holder announced last month that the issue of torture would be pursued by a special counsel, John Durham. But President Obama doesn't like the idea, and CIA director Leon Panetta is circling the wagons against an investigation, even though Panetta was anti-torture at the time he was appointed. Needless to say, every Iraq hawk on the op-ed pages loves the idea of torturing prisoners, or at least prefers no investigation of clear violations of international law. On the other hand, Obama is not in a position to ask for Holder's resignation over this issue without losing a huge amount of credibility. And it will look bad if Durham goes after only a few low-level cowboys, because they can easily claim that they were "just following orders."

Whatever happens, this book is the one to read for background on this issue, even though more documents have come out since it was published. Dick Cheney is fingered as the key player in promoting torture; he managed to intimidate anyone who opposed his methods in the war against terrorism. A handful of too-clever administration lawyers did his bidding by coming up with phrases that showed why international law was irrelevant in the current context of terrorism, and why torture isn't really torture after all.

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