America: Too Nice for Terrorism?

by Matt Taibbi

SOMETHING Thomas Friedman wrote last week got me thinking. He actually aroused my sense of patriotism.

The Times columnist wrote an article entitled, "Awaking to a Dream," which was remarkable in many respects. It was a sort of philistine-centrist anthem, a white-line-in-the-middle-of-the-road version of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech. In it, Friedman opens his heart and reveals his daring utopian vision of the future, which includes the president ditching his limousine for a fuel-efficient Toyota Prius, and John Kerry choosing John McCain as his running mate. Increased fuel efficiency and cautious bipartisanship; Friedman is going to put Thomas More and Fourier out of business.

But the passage that really caught my eye was one in which Friedman attempts to explain the true failure of Bush's pre-9/11 intelligence policy. He insists that the problem was not that we were poorly prepared, but that—get this—we were insufficiently evil to even imagine such an attack:

"It was not a failure of intelligence, it was a failure of imagination. We could have had perfect intelligence on all the key pieces of 9/11, but the fact is we lacked—for the very best of reasons—people with evil enough imaginations to put those pieces together and realize that 19 young men were going to hijack four airplanes for suicide attacks against our national symbols and kill as many innocent civilians as they could, for no stated reason at all."

If we don't have enough people with evil imaginations working for us in America, where are those nearly half a trillion dollars in defense appropriations going every year? Who's teaching in the School of the Americas—James Taylor and Carly Simon? Who was the bagman for those death squads in Guatemala? A nice guy? Who signed off on Suharto's massacres? Who ordered the saturation bombing of neutral Laos, killing one-tenth of that country's population? A foreigner?

Oh, right. It was a foreigner in that last case. A naturalized foreigner, but a foreigner all the same. Maybe Friedman is right. Maybe our domestic evil crop is not equal to the task. It's bad enough to be dependent on foreign oil supplies; it's even worse if we have to rely on exiles from traditional evil-havens like Russia, Germany and Israel to provide us with the evil we need to make our way in this big, bad world.

The problem is that what few evil people we have in this country come from a certain mind-set, with a distinct set of budget assumptions. In pondering the problem of how best to assassinate foreign undesirables, they ask for a billion dollars to develop an unmanned drone that will launch missiles at them from the stratosphere. When they want to gather intelligence on the domestic population, they take another billion or two to develop systems like Carnivore and Echelon, which noiselessly spy on anyone with the temerity to use the internet or make an international phone call.

This is a mistake. In order to combat terrorism, we need to retain people who have evil imaginations and are, like most terrorists, poor. In other words, they need to hire me.

Thomas Friedman laments the U.S. government's lack of evil imagination. I've had the same thought about al Qaeda. Nine-eleven notwithstanding, these people are rank amateurs. If they really wanted to hit America where it lived, they could do it a lot more effectively, while spending a lot less money than they probably have to date. Here are some of the ideas I've come up with. Friedman's friends in the counter-terrorism world should take note.

Kidnapping. Here is a great way to shake things up in America, one that would probably not even involve a loss of life. Muslim terrorists have already proven their willingness to kidnap foreigners on Western territory (I'm thinking of the Chechens), but they always stumble on the follow-through, making impossible demands and turning everyone off by causing huge, pointless bloodbaths.

What I'd do is kidnap someone like Sandy Weill or Jeffrey Katzenberg, then demand a perfectly reasonable ransom—say, $20 million in cash. But instead of collecting the money, I'd demand that it be put into small bills, flown directly over Manhattan Island and released from a helicopter in the middle of a work day. The spectacle would be incredible: all of New York thrashing around in its own greed, with old ladies and stockbrokers fistfighting over tens and twenties. The damage would be tremendous, and the terrorists wouldn't even have to inflict it themselves. Once this was done, you could release your kidnapping victim—preferably in a state of nakedness, in the parking lot of a suburban mall—and then safely escape.

Leave a paper trail. Okay, so you're al Qaeda, right? You don't have a lot of money, but you have three things going for you: You have people willing to sacrifice their lives, you have access to the world's best heroin, and you can poison anyone for life merely by associating with them. So here's what you do: You start farming serious amounts of opium, then you arrange through the usual middlemen—the CIA, say, or Colombian drug lords—to convert your heroin supplies to cocaine. Then you take your coke to Wall Street and sell slightly under market to everybody you can. You then form a dummy company or lobbyist group (say, the Pakistani Freedom Fund for Small Business Development) and through it, you take the proceeds of your Wall Street coke deals and you turn it all into campaign contributions for people like Tom DeLay and Bill Frist. Along the way, you lobby for the usual legislative initiatives: the relaxing of trade restrictions against governments with repressive dictators, the spiking of environmental regulations, the continued prohibition against distributing generic medicines to the foreign poor, etc. Make sure to ask for something specific, so that there is at least a superficial link between your money and the legislation.

Once you've got this whole system up and running, you commit a pointless act of terrorism on American soil. It doesn't have to be bloody: You can blow up Britney Spears' empty tour bus, for instance, or arrange a coordinated series of explosions at the 50-yard lines of NFL football fields on the night before opening Sunday, leaving craters that render the games unplayable and infuriating all of America. Then—and this is the key part—you have to a) claim responsibility on behalf of al Qaeda, and b) have some of your lower-level guys, who perhaps don't know the whole plan, get caught. That leads investigators and journalists on an unusually sensational paper trail. In the best-case scenario, your target politicians will be forced to convince the American public that they didn't know they were furthering legislation at the behest of al Qaeda/Wall Street drug money. And even if they appear to succeed, not everyone will believe them.

This does a lot more for you, propaganda-wise, than the indiscriminate slaughter of thousands of Americans. If al Qaeda had truly imaginative evil people working for them, like KGB or Mossad veterans, these kinds of plans would be underfoot already. People like Friedman better hope they stay as dumb as they are.

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