Going Nowhere Fast

by Charley Reese

May 13, 2002

How is America's War on Terrorism going? Well, actually, it's not going anywhere.

There are about 6,000 Americans in Afghanistan, concentrated in about four bases; there are trainers in Yemen, the Philippines and Georgia (the former Soviet Republic, not the Peach State). And that's it. Other than bad laws, busted budgets, overblown rhetoric and a few thousand dead Afghans and "Visiting Others," that's the whole box score.

Where are the 60,000 members of al-Qaida the administration talked so much about? I don't know. Lying low, perhaps. I think a better question, however, is, were there ever 60,000 members of al-Qaida in the first place? I seriously doubt it. People who don't have to produce documented evidence of their claims are prone to exaggeration for purposes of inflating their importance and their budgets. Intelligence and national-security types lead the race, with drug-enforcement bureaucrats close behind.

Have you ever wondered, for example, how the United States would ever get a head count of a secretive organization? Why, the same way it gets exact amounts of illegal drugs being sold in the United States – guesses out of thin air. Obviously, terrorists don't sign up for the local census, and equally obvious, drug dealers the government hasn't caught don't file reports on monthly sales with the Commerce Department.

I have said all along that there is nothing wrong with the president pursuing al-Qaida and killing its members in retaliation for the attack on the World Trade Center. It's calling it a war that is the problem. First of all, only Congress has the authority to declare war. We should not forget that, even though Congresses and the presidents since 1945 clearly have.

Second, you can't make war on individuals. You can kill them, but you don't need national mobilization to do that. You don't need laws that allow the FBI to demand lists of books bought at bookstores or books checked out of libraries. There is such a law, and once the FBI makes a demand, the bookseller or the library is forbidden to say the FBI's demand ever happened.

Does the FBI seriously think that a professional terrorist is going to buy or check out a book on "How to Be a Terrorist"? Apparently so. As the trivial files uncovered by the Freedom of Information Act so clearly demonstrate, the FBI's appetite for irrelevant information and public gossip about individuals is insatiable. On the other hand, when the brother of an FBI agent comes in and says he thinks his brother is spying for the Soviet Union, the FBI ignores it. No kidding. That really happened.

A Palestinian friend spent two years trying to get access to his supposedly top-secret FBI dossier. The FBI refused, on national-security grounds, to release it under the FOIA. When a federal judge ordered the FBI to release it, guess what was in this top-secret file, the disclosure of which would threaten national security? Newspaper clippings. Nothing else. Now, clipping stories out of American newspapers and stamping them Top Secret is real intelligence gathering.

It's probably fortunate that the numbers of terrorists have been exaggerated. If there really were 60,000, we'd probably lose Mr. Bush's war, given the record of our national-security organizations.

Of course, the real threats to our national security are soil erosion, soil contamination, unjust foreign policies, a profiteering health-care system and millions of hungry and poor people in the world. I don't think either the Pentagon or the Justice Department will be of much use in dealing with these genuine threats.

Extracted 09/17/02 from Charley Reese


E-mail your comments to amirali@ilaam.net