By O'Sullivan, Gerry | The Humanist, May-June 1993 | Go to article overview


O'Sullivan, Gerry, The Humanist

On the day of the World Trade Center bombing, New York felt like a city under siege. Radio and television stations were knocked off the air, and traffic patterns in and out of Manhattan were even more erratic than usual. It was the most dramatic bombing on U.S. soil since the FALN, a Puerto Rican nationalist organization, blew up Fraunces Tavern in the early 1970s--and the most lethal since the LaGuardia Airport explosion in 1976, which killed 11 people.

Still, the United States has not been a "terror target" by any stretch of the imagination. Acts of political violence here have been random, sporadic, and almost entirely indigenous--which is much more than can be said for the wholesale regime terror our govermnent has long supported throughout the world. How many millions have died since World War 11 as a result of small, hot wars fought with U.S. guns, money, and personnel?

Domestic terror has, over the last two decades, actually come from quarters often ignored by the press. NeoNazi, Christian Identity, and Ku Klux Klan groups have long engaged in wanton acts of brutality with barely a yawn from the New York Times or the wire services. For years, black inmates have been lynched by white supremacists in Mississippi's prison system. And in the 1970s, the FALN wasn't the only group planting or mailing bombs; the Jewish Defense League--the twisted child of the late Meir Kahane--oversaw a virtual bombing spree aimed at enemies both real and imagined.

The World Trade Center bombing allowed the media to engage in several days' worth of politically expedient speculation about international terrorism. Only hours after the explosion, there was Wolf Blitzer pontificating about potential international terror connections on New York television station WPIX. Just minutes later, Ed Barnes of Time magazine discounted the possibility of an internationally orchestrated effort, pointing out that no "signature," no claim of responsibility, had preceded the blast. (That came later, as the figure of groups and individuals willing to own the attack rose to an astonishing--and absurd-55.) The New York Post was characteristically restrained; its header for Saturday, February 27, blared: "SADDAM'S REVENGE."

Terrorology is an inexact science. Those who staff think tanks as "terrorism experts" are, in actuality, counter, insurgency specialists, themselves skilled in unconventional-warfare operations carried out against civilians in places like El Salvador, Guatemala, and Angola. Anyone acquainted with the likes of Frank Kitson, the British founding father of counterinsurgency theory, knows that it is imperative to label any rebel or dissenting group terrorist in nature and intent before setting out to exterminate it.

Those terrorism experts trotted out by the press after the World Trade Center bombing represented the hoariest holdovers from the era of Reagan "roll, back." RAND's Brian Jenkins was both an apologist for and one of the architects of the contra war against Nicaragua--a terror war aimed primarily at the civilian population and infrastructure. In the winter 1983-1984 issue of World Affairs, the ubiquitous Neil Livingstone chided El Salvador's paramilitary forces for dumping the bodies of their victims on the streets rather than in the ocean. And Robert Kupperman, repeatedly quoted by the New York Times, has long refused to acknowledge that the "Libyan hit squad" episode of 1981 was a fraud concocted by Washington to arouse the public. Instead, he claims it was a Libyan strategy to disrupt society, use the U.S. media, and force Ronald Reagan "to retreat into a 'steel cocoon"'--all patent nonsense.

But there they were, and many more. Some predicted waves of bombings to come or speculated about Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, Somali, Iraqi, Iranian, Irish, Palestinian, or Peruvian ties" to a still-uninvestigated incident that had just occurred. Many of these experts work for security companies specializing in counterterrorism planning and design; still others are paid top dollar to provide related training to local law enforcement. …

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