The absolutely true story of how The BEAST smuggled al Qaeda into the U.S.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Glenn Greenwald’s recent post about the insane military & homeland “security” spending since 9/11, called The Decade’s Biggest Scam, reminded me of a similar point I made a few years ago — by illegally canoeing from Buffalo, NY to Ft. Erie, Canada to test border security. The point was that these expenditures aren’t meant to keep us safe from terrorists. That threat is incredibly overblown. The point of it is for defense & security contractors to get paid. Big time.
Sorry for the rerun, BEAST fiends, but some of our new, post-Walker prank readers may have missed it. And, you know, I don’t feel like canoeing across the Niagara river again. The following report was originally published in the August, 2008 print edition of The BEAST.
“I want security, yeah
Without it I had a great loss, oh now
And I want it at any cost, oh now”
July 16, 2008—“Are you guys crazy?” a fisherman screams to us across his bow. His larger, motorized vessel rocks precariously in the Lake Erie chop, fifty yards off our port. The wind is twenty if it’s a knot. The sea, she’s a daft wench this morn’.
“Yarrrrrr, matey!” Jones manages to answer, as a white-capped swell pitches our canoe like a child’s toy. The fiberglass prow hammers the deep trough and he bounces forward. “Yarrrrr!”
The man yells again, his cries now muffled. Our ship yaws starboard in the quiet valley of swill. Rising with the wave, it rolls. We forgo paddling and cling like barnacles to the shallow hull. As we crest, our port side juts into the air. The canoe teeters on edge like a die cast by Poseidon.
We’re a third of the way across the Great Lake’s volatile northern tip. We’ve been roughly a third of the way for the last two hours. The first hour, we made no westerly progress at all. After docking at the last break wall—to the shrieking indignance of countless gulls protecting their offspring, and an overwhelming stink of shit—we decided it wise to head south along its east side before battling the open water.
Our mission, when we launched from a barricaded Buffalo boat ramp (which now acts as a de facto dump for hypodermic flotsam and decomposing jetsam) was to slip into Canada undetected, procure some Anthrax and smuggle it back into the U.S—just to see if we could. Now, a mere knot south of the Mighty Niagara’s mouth, our mission is to stay alive.
“Row, ya bastard!” I lash out from the sagging stern. “Row!” We’ve taken on a few gallons, but we’re still afloat.
The fisherman garbles at our fatigued backs. The roughest sea behind us, it’s now an endurance game. To the dismay of several other boaters, and our own burning muscles, we maintain our speed and westerly trajectory. The current does the rest, curving us gently north, toward a placid beachhead at the foot of Ontario’s historic Fort Erie.
Despite the millions of Homeland Security dollars being spent on infrared cameras, retinal scanners, helicopters and increased ship presence, the local Border Patrol has called upon civilians to be the first line of defense in this tiny battle in the War on Terror. Of the dozen boaters we passed, none reported our decidedly “suspicious behavior,” as the DHS would have them do. They’ve all failed their country. They’re clearly against us and with them—the terrorists, which in this case are us.
Defended by a lone Canuck and his dopey golden retriever, we storm the beach with little difficulty. As we stash the canoe in a patch of thick brush, phase one of our mission is complete. The trip back, if we make it that far, must be easier—we hope.
Walking by the 18th century British stone fort, we banter in rehearsed Canadian accents about “Hockey Night in Canada” and “The Red Green Show.” It’s essential we blend in with the native culture. We ring a now defunct cab company—the only number we wrote down. Having trusted that a local cabby would know the area, we now have no idea how to get to the Anthrax pickup. We walk aimlessly.
Shells from the gull sanctuary break wall stab the bottoms of my feet as we march east on Dominion Road. It’s sunny, and the humidity’s stifling. We’re tired and dehydrated. We turn north on to a long stretch of country road, hoping Allah deliver us to evil. We don’t speak, focused exclusively on our Jihad. After a solid hour, we reach the bustling intersection of Helena & Garrison.
To the east, we see the Peace Bridge—an aging steel monster local pols have been failing to replace for the last two decades. Incidentally, the latest design effort was quashed due to an environmental impact study, which found that the 565 ft cable bridge would disrupt commuting gulls, terns and other waterfowl. Digressing further, why are we giving these winged dinosaurs quarter? They pretend they can’t fly above, below or through the cables. But they can. It’s like when they insist on crossing the road at windshield level. They don’t have to do that—they simply lack the political will to impose safety regulations.
In this crappy sci-fi novel we call Post 9/11 America, people and birds are more similar than either party would care to admit. We’re both scared, greedy creatures. The bird could flap over your car without expending too much energy, which is the currency of all beings. But they don’t want to spend the cash. They’d rather swoop down from the trees and glide across your bumper. It’s easier. The low risk of being pulverized is worth the gain of skimping on energy. Threaten their babies, on the other wing, as we did at the break wall, and they’ll spend through the beak on the industry of defense.
The American people are actually related to birds, and it shows. In the interest of cheapness, we’ve deregulated every danger under the sun. So what if some poor sucker gets pulverized from time to time? And, like our distant avian cousins, we’ll spend big dough protecting our offspring—even if the threat is minimal or entirely imagined. You may think I’m joking, but it’s nothing to squawk at.
To the west, and our amazement, we see the Anthrax pickup site bathed in golden sunlight: Wal-Mart.
We enter and march, double-time, past the cheap Chinese goods and seemingly ubiquitous shrines to Hannah Montana. We riffle through the sad selection of CDs.
“Shit!” I curse. “They don’t have any Anthrax—not even the ‘Bring the Noise’ collaboration with Public Enemy.”
“Yeah, dude,” Jones charges. “It’s 2008!” I sense a mutiny afoot.
“What the hell do we do now?” I beg. “We came here to get an evil-sounding prop, goddamnit!”
“I don’t know,” Jones calmly evaluates. “Biohazard? Chemical Brothers? Poison? Celine Dion?”
“Damn! Damn! Damn!” I see nothing. We search.
“Allah-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!” Jones tongues from an aisle over. “I got it!”
“What?” I rush up. “What?”
“Al Qaeda!” He beams sadistically, holding up a hip-hop album entitled “al Qaeda Jada” by Jadakiss. The purchase goes off without incident.
As with most trips back home, things go a bit faster. We’re at the Fort Erie beach in no time.
“Hey!” a sunbathing native beckons as we uncover the canoe. “Where you guys coming from?”
“There!” I point to the Buffalo skyline. “America.”
“Yeah!” he says. “I was out on the water this morning and I saw you guys. It sure was choppy—you didn’t have any trouble with the Border Patrol?”
“Not yet,” I gulp.
“I can’t believe they didn’t get you.” He’s stunned. “But… but… why the hell did you do it?”
“To test the border security, I think.”
“Good man!” he smiles. “Now we know anybody can get across!” We don’t take it personally.
The canoe trip back was quicker, too, as we were sucked mercilessly north by the current and ended up crashing into a rocky break wall on the quickly narrowing Niagara. We perilously portaged over the wall and redeployed on the other side, running aground at a private facility—located between an Army vehicle depot and a Navy building.
After pleading that they open the fence and not force us back into the river, we drag our weary bodies to the original launch site, drive back to pick up the canoe and call it a day. Our terrorist mission was a complete success.
The fisherman was right, though: We’re amateurs. We don’t even hate us for our freedoms. Practically anyone can sneak across the U.S./Canadian border. Given that fact, there can only be one reason America hasn’t been completely annihilated by terrorists: They don’t exist—not in Canada, anyway.
Border security will get tighter and tighter, and passage more and more restrictive. While we spend nearly twenty years planning to build a better bridge, haggling over the price tag and design, we have no problem throwing millions upon millions at the slightest perceived threat, with no apparent design at all.
Birds and Americans are stupid like that. Jones and I posed no real threat to those gulls on the break wall, but we were a shadowy, nefarious other. They flapped and dipped at us; they squawked and yelled; they spent energy vigorously in an attempt to protect their families. They pooped.
There are, however, some major differences between Americans and birds: No bird ever got rich peddling fear. There are scavengers and brash opportunists of every species, but birds don’t do kleptocracy. Incredible defense industry waste and theft, facilitated by public fear and hysteria, doesn’t fly for birds. Energy is a finite commodity, and if their flock spent as wastefully as Americans have on security, they’d find themselves on the losing end of evolution real quick.
Also, birds won’t sacrifice their freedoms to purportedly protect those very same freedoms. They have a finer sense of these things, apparently. But, if it’s any consolation, we look better in jeans.
What’s the story here? What’s the moral of this sci-fi novel called Post 9/11 America? The benighted reader may get this thing completely backwards. So, at the risk of being pedantic, I’ll spell it out:
The lesson is not that we have weak border security. The lesson is not to throw another million dollars at it, so punks like me can’t make you worry about Mohamed canoeing into the U.S. with a suitcase nuke.
That won’t make you safer—because I didn’t only test the DHS on the northern tip of Lake Erie. I wrote e-mails and text messages about my original plan to “sneak Anthrax into the U.S. by canoe” for months. I talked about it on cell phones and land lines as much as my friends could bear. And I thought the government was spying on us to protect us.
Again, to be thorough, the lesson is not that the government should give another billion in contracts to legally untouchable telecom companies. The lesson, simply, is that these security measures don’t work, because they don’t have to—they’re not designed to. They’re designed make the few rich at the expense of the many, under the pretense of security. That these costly follies can make us feel safer is moot, because the actual terrorist threat doesn’t warrant our hyperbolic insecurity.
Already in this War of Terror, we’ve sacrificed over a trillion dollars, our civil liberties and thousands of lives. The more we spend, the less safe we become, the more we spend. Post 9/11 America is a national cuckoo’s nest, terrified by a self-fulfilling prophecy that vast networks of evildoers are hell-bent on slipping over the border to kill our children.
So, we flap and flap. We dip and dive. We poop.
And in the end, we’ll be too exhausted from protecting our children against imaginary threats to feed them.