Saturday, 26 September 2009

Keith Laidler: Ensuring Acquiescence

From Keith Laidler, Surveillance Unlimited (Icon Books Ltd, 2008) pp.171-194

Chapter 11
Ensuring Acquiescence: The Carrot and The Stick

The Carrot

We hear much about the ‘Orwellian’ dynamic in our society, but in truth the changes we are witnessing owe more to Huxley’s Brave New World than anything found in Nineteen Eighty-four. Instead of repressive tyrants and omnipresent intrusive technology we are in the midst of a process of mass pacification. Computers and technology have been designed to be user-friendly - all the hard-to-understand jargon, all the sharp edges have been smoothed away. Technology is our friend, non-judgmental and ever-present and eventually ... invisible. The danger of a ubiquitous technological environment was seen as long ago as 1991, when Mark Weiser, chief technologist of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), pointed out that ‘the most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.’

This ubiquitous computing (or ubicomp), known in Europe as ambient intelligence (AmI), is already well advanced, with plans for ultra-convenient RFID personal biometric monitors woven into clothing to act as a cue for lighting and heating within the home, altering our personal environment continuously and without our conscious awareness. Refrigerators that monitor (via RFID again) our food stocks and automatically order replacements from the supermarket when we run low form another frequently mentioned example of the ubicomp environment.

We are developing a childlike dependence on technology: it informs us, entertains us, cooks our food, even gives us directions when driving. Our mobile phones keep us connected to friends and family, credit cards transfer funds for goods and services in a fraction of a second. We know our laptop like an intimate friend, one to whom we are happy to confide our hidden interests and passions. But beyond the slick technology is a darker reality. Our computer is less a friend than a gossip, its console less a TV screen than a one-way mirror. We see only the reflections of our own commands appearing on the screen - we do not observe the myriad individuals and organisations who are collecting our every keystroke and using it to record, analyse and sell on to others everything we buy, our sexual preferences, what our political affiliations are, and a host of other private transactions.

Intimacy and ‘bonding’ with the machine lowers our resistance, salves our suspicion and lulls us into a sense of false security. Each day we unwittingly divulge more and more about ourselves to our electronic friend, forgetting that we are no longer playing with individual gadgets - we are dealing with an overarching technological umbrella, and the complex mass of information we allow to be placed under this umbrella ‘will be passed on endlessly, to be configured and reconfigured, sold, resold, and redirected in a thousand ingenious ways.’

But note: there is no coercion here. We are all so cosy with technology that, with no thought, we routinely hand over enormous amounts of personal info, or subscribe to a road toll system that may cut a minute or two off our daily travel time, but will at the same time ensure that, 24/7 and year-round, no confidential data we possess, no journey we make, will escape technology’s all-seeing eye. If we choose to accept the benefits of these technologies without considering their attendant risks, then we are assuming that the possibility of creeping government repression - leading ultimately to the establishment of a controlled society - is non-existent. This flies in the face of all historical precedent; given human nature and the desire of individuals and groups for dominance, such an assumption is a reckless betrayal of all our society’s freedoms. And for what? More convenient shopping and a shorter delay at the toll booth?

On the rare occasions that mass protest does erupt, the wise government espouses compromise, making minor changes, or even ostentatiously shelving a large part of the programme (intending to introduce it in stages, by stealth, later). This normally has the effect of neutralising opposition. In a liberal democracy people feel uncomfortable holding ‘extreme’ views, even on such topics as basic freedoms, and if the other side offers ‘concessions,’ they feel duty-bound to reciprocate. A sham compromise effectively disarms resistance and allows repressive legislation to creep, stage by stage, over our liberties.

The stick

When cosmetic changes and compromise are insufficient, the authorities promote a climate of fear and loathing; ID cards have been in turn a cure for benefit scroungers, illegal immigrants, and terrorists. This latter grouping has been the most useful as, although we may loathe benefit scroungers, we actively fear terrorists, a shadowy grouping who have the power to take away our health and life without warning. The fight against this nemesis has been given an elevated status: the ‘war on terror.’ Today the term is a little out of fashion, and while President George W. Bush still mentions the WoT, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has apparently forbidden the phrase. But then again, it has served its purpose.

If we step back and view the broad canvas of events over the past decade, it is obvious that 11 September 2001 was the tipping point for all matters of a surveillance nature. There had, of course, been surveillance before this date: CCTV had been in operation for some 25 years, and wire-tapping and mail intercepts were not unknown. But post-9/11 it is obvious that an absolute deluge of legislation and surveillance has been unleashed on the nations of Western Europe and the United States. An editorial in Surveillance & Society succinctly describes events:

Suddenly, during 2001, the steady increase in surveillance received a boost from a world event. September 11 prompted widespread international concern for security in the face of global terrorism ... Already existing surveillance was reinforced at crucial points, with the promise of more to come. Many countries rapidly passed laws permitting unprecedented levels of policing and intelligence surveillance, which in turn draws upon other sources such as consumer records.

The attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre is the causa causans, the fount and origin of the term ‘war on terror,’ and the fundamental justification for those who claim we face so grave a situation that we must be prepared to give up many of our basic freedoms in order to live in reasonable security. It behoves us, therefore, to look very closely at the events of 9/11 and to decide if we really are in such great danger as some would have us believe, or if the threat has been exaggerated in order to serve another agenda.

In chapter 5 we looked at the idea of defining the ‘topography of the argument’ so as to steal a march on rival arguments: progressive teaching, wind farms and the like. Now we have the ‘war on terror.’ It is instructive to ask whether the draconian measures implemented since 9/11 would have received such an easy passage had the president announced a ‘campaign against terror,’ or an ‘anti-terror initiative.’ The word ‘war’ successfully defines the topography of the argument in favour of the hawks and those advocating extreme measures, because a war demands extreme measures.

The immediate parallels with the threat of Islamic extremism, at least for the United Kingdom, must lie with the IRA action of the last half of the 20th century. Note that this conflict was never graced with the title ‘war’; on the contrary, because successive UK governments did not wish to emphasise the level and consequences of sectarian dissension in the province, the conflict was ‘the Troubles’ - a phrase that, even now, serves to defuse the impact of the murders, bombings and religious violence that Northern Ireland suffered for more than 25 years.

IRA activity led to innumerable deaths and mutilations. According to the book Lost Lives, up to 2004 the IRA were responsible for 1,781 deaths, while around 20,000 were injured (6,000 of them British Army, UDR or RUC personnel and up to 14,000 civilians). The paramilitaries killed Lord Mountbatten, a cousin of the Queen, the Conservative MP Airey Neave, and they attempted to kill the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher and most of her Cabinet in the Brighton bombing of 12 October 1984. Against this, in the UK the jihadists have managed the 7/7 tube and bus bombing with a death toll of 52, and a failed bombing fourteen days later. And yet the IRA attacks were ‘Troubles’ which did not even lead to the introduction of additional passport restrictions on citizens of the Irish Republic, and whose impact on the freedoms of the British people (internment in Northern Ireland excepted) was minimal. In contrast, a single successful bombing has led to Britain acting as a willing ally to the ‘war on terror’s’ main protagonist, the USA. What lies behind this perceptual dichotomy that we are invited - or rather, instructed - to accept?

It is not that the threat of Islamic extremism is non-existent; it is the disproportionate response, the asymmetrical manner in which we are asked to perceive the threat, and the blatant overreaction in terms of legislation and deployment of surveillance technology, that gives cause for concern. In terms of actual damage and deaths, the jihadists have not demonstrated one hundredth of the destructive potential of the IRA. Why, then, should a terrorist threat of low intensity result in an exponential rise in draconian legislation and intrusive surveillance powers? Is this merely a political panic attack, or are we looking at an orchestrated dismantling of our freedoms?

The politicians, of course, insist it is neither of these alternatives. The justification lies not in terrorist activity seen to date in the UK, but in the catastrophic fact of the attack on the World Trade Centre. If the jihadists are able and willing to mount attacks on this scale, resulting in the collapse of enormous structures with huge loss of life, then - so the argument goes - we are dealing with a threat level well outside of that posed by the IRA, UDA, ETA, or any of the many extremist groups that currently populate our planet. And in the face of such a challenge, all the many recent restrictions and intrusions on our freedom are, they argue, necessary for our own good.

Time and again, then, we come back to 9/11 as the pivotal moment, the raison d’être, for the exponential growth in the most repressive aspects of the surveillance society. ID cards, centralised data bases, RFID tagging, electronic surveillance and the rest, all are presently necessary to protect us against the jihadists, and the reason the jihadists are to be feared is 9/11. If this is so, we should certainly look very closely at the circumstances of this iconic attack on Western civilisation.

World Trade Centre 7 and the ‘prophetic’ BBC

There are already a huge number of books, articles and TV programmes concerning the attack on the Twin Towers, and it is not the purpose of this work to enumerate a minute-by-minute account of the disaster. Nor to apportion blame. Indeed, looking too closely at the minutiae of such events is sometimes counter-productive; we have had, for example, numerous ‘human interest’ TV programmes on 9/11, the plight of individuals, the dangers facing fire crews etc, but too few on the accusations and counter-accusations that have made the attack so problematical. There is, however, one part of 9/11 that must give any thinking person pause: not the destruction of the twin towers (World Trade Centre 1 and 2), but the little-reported collapse of World Trade Centre 7, more than seven hours after the first of the Twin Towers came down. And the BBC’s ability to cover its destruction 26 minutes before it actually occurred.

A new Pearl Harbor?

For more than 50 years controversy has raged around the Japanese attack on the US naval base of Pearl Harbor in 1941 - was it, as Franklin D. Roosevelt said, a ‘day of infamy’ when Japanese planes appeared out of a clear blue sky and brought death and destruction to an unsuspecting American Pacific Fleet? Or did the American government have advance warning of the planned attack, and choose to allow an outrage to occur in order to awaken an isolationist American public to the dangers of fascist Germany and a Japan with grandiose imperial pretensions?

In Infamy: Pearl Harbor and its Aftermath, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John Toland revealed compelling evidence that President Roosevelt had foreknowledge of the event, yet chose to do nothing. Robert Stinnett, in his book Day Of Deceit, presents massive evidence that Roosevelt intended to goad the Japanese into an overt attack. Indeed, in the Vacant Seas order, Roosevelt had cleared both civilian and naval shipping away from the Japanese fleet’s attack route, in order to aid the enemy’s undetected approach to within striking distance of Pearl Harbor. The release of former secret files from the US Navy has shown that the US had broken the Japanese Navy’s codes and knew exactly where and when the attack would take place. The more valuable US ships such as aircraft carriers were ordered out of Pearl to other locations. Tellingly, 69 of the 74 Navy intelligence summaries delivered to President Roosevelt in the two weeks prior to the attack have been ‘lost.’

In sum, the Pearl Harbor ‘let it happen’ scenario is at least plausible, and given the undoubted isolationist feeling among the US public, a good argument can be made that it was, despite the underhand way in which it was carried out, absolutely essential to the final victory over fascism.

The parallels between the situation facing President Roosevelt in 1940 and that confronting the Bush administration at the beginning of the 21st century are compelling. The Taliban and their terrorist training camps had been identified as a clear threat to United States interests, just as Nazi Germany and an imperially-minded Japan had been over 50 years earlier. And despite what was seen, by the respective US administrations at least, as a pressing need to destroy their enemy before they gained in strength, in both cases the American public were steadfastly against foreign military adventures. Roosevelt’s answer, as we know from recently declassified correspondence, was to provoke Japan into making the first overt act of aggression, so justifying a military response and letting the president off the hook of his electoral promise not to send American boys to fight abroad unless the US were attacked. The breaking of the Japanese codes, the failure to warn Pearl Harbor, the movement of strategically important vessels, the Vacant Seas policy, all make it highly likely that the president of the United States took the decision to sacrifice the men and women at Pearl Harbor in order to prevent an even greater catastrophic loss of life and geopolitical influence in the future. Captain Joseph J. Rochefort was head of the Navy’s Mid-Pacific Radio Intelligence Network before and during the Pearl Harbor attack. In his oral history for the US Naval Institute, he put the case for allowing the attack to go ahead with characteristic succinctness: ‘It was’ he said, ‘a pretty cheap price to pay for unifying the country.’

And by a strange coincidence, exactly twelve months before the 9/11 attacks a major American ‘neo-con’ think tank cited ‘another Pearl Harbor’ as the quickest means of bringing about the transformation of American military and geopolitical strength. The Project for a New American Century (PNAC) was founded in 1996 to promote an agenda for strengthening America’s position and influence in the world. In September 2000 it published Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century, in which it claimed that ‘ ... the process of transformation [in American strategy and forces], even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event - like a new Pearl Harbor.’

This comment does not, as some have insisted, reveal a plot to launch 9/11. But it does show that the value of a ‘new Pearl Harbor’ in bringing about transformational change was acknowledged by PNAC. Of interest, too, is the fact that a significant number of PNAC’s founders and signers are working for, or have worked for, the Bush administration, including Dick Cheney, Richard Armitage, Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld.

This is far from proving that the Bush administration instigated a ‘new Pearl Harbor’ in order to allow major changes in US foreign and domestic policy. And yet the idea is not perhaps as incredible as it might at first appear - the US government has certainly considered similar ideas at least once before. A fifteen-page US government Top Secret document dated 13 March 1962 and entitled Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Justification for US Military Intervention in Cuba detailed, among other deceptions, a number of ways that attacks on American soil by US operatives could be used to stir up national indignation and act as a pretext for the invasion of communist Cuba. Among the suggestions in what has become known as Operation Northwoods was using drone planes to simulate an attack on an American passenger aeroplane. Below are two extracts from this document:

It is possible to create an incident which will demonstrate convincingly that a Cuban aircraft has attacked and shot down a chartered civil airliner en route from the United States ...

We could develop a Communist Cuba terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington ... We could sink a boatload of Cubans en route to Florida (real or simulated). We could foster attempts on lives of Cuban refugees in the United States even to the extent of wounding in instances to be widely publicized. Exploding a few plastic bombs in carefully chosen spots, the arrest of Cuban agents and the release of prepared documents substantiating Cuban involvement also would be helpful in projecting the idea of an irresponsible [Cuban] government.

To sum up, it seems likely that:

1) Pearl Harbor was a ‘managed event’ used as a means of uniting the nation in an acceptance that American foreign policy should change.
2) Not only had similar plans been considered in 1962 (despite the risk of loss of life to American citizens in ‘Homeland America’), but that
3) the value of such a ‘new Pearl Harbor’ to rapidly ‘transforming’ American geopolitical perceptions had been explicitly acknowledged as late as September 2000 by a group (PNAC) which would contribute major players to the Bush administration.

This is emphatically NOT a smoking gun. But it does bring a note of caution to the proceedings; we should take nothing for granted, and should look at the events surrounding the attack on the World Trade Centre with unbiased eyes, refusing to pass over or omit awkward facts.

A possible scenario would see the US intelligence services aware of the impending jihadist attack, allowing it to go ahead and, knowing the targets involved well ahead of the event, using this lead time to enhance the destructiveness of the attack, making it a visual spectacle that would burn itself into the nation’s psyche and conjure up an unstoppable demand for retribution. And indeed, there are many anomalies in the World Trade Centre/Pentagon attacks, deeply unsettling questions that remain unanswered while the mass media continue to uncritically regurgitate the official version.

Of all the many anomalies, none is so strange and compelling as the collapse of 7 World Trade Centre. Rather than get bogged down in a detailed overview of the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, this discussion will concentrate solely on 7 WTC. There are many advantages to this, not least of which is the bewildering complexity of the full story. By focussing on 7 WTC, we can look at a manageable event and come to some valid conclusions that should be applicable to the attack as a whole. 7 WTC is interesting for two main facts which no one disputes:

1) 7 WTC collapsed without any active terrorist involvement, six hours after the main attack on 1 and 2 WTC (the Twin Towers).
2) The BBC announced the collapse of this building 26 minutes before it fell.

The official version of 7 WTC’s destruction is that debris from the fall of 1 and 2 WTC weakened the building, and ignited fires which led to its eventual collapse. The map [below] shows the relative positions of the seven separate World Trade Centre buildings that were dispersed across World Trade Centre Plaza. As is obvious, of all the buildings, 7 WTC lies furthest from the Twin Towers (1 and 2 WTC) whose eventual downfall generated so much controversy. It might therefore reasonably be expected to receive far less damage than those buildings closer to the collapse. And while this protection-by-distance might well be mitigated by the fact that 7 WTC is the tallest of the remaining buildings, and therefore perhaps more vulnerable in its higher storeys to damage from the destruction of 1 and 2 WTC, the nature of the collapse (for all practical purposes, the Twin Towers fell within their own footprint) would mean that the majority of any debris ejected would originate from the base of the collapsed buildings. If this is so, then, looking at the map below, it is obvious that 6 and 5 WTC would act as shields for 7 WTC. And in fact 5 and 6 WTC did suffer extensive damage, but did not collapse. By contrast, 7 WTC sustained far less damage, implying that the ‘shield effect’ hypothesis is substantially correct. And yet it, alone of all the other WTC buildings, did collapse.

It is valid to ask why this particular building went down, and there are no easy answers. This conflicts with an eyewitness interview conducted by Jason Bermas with Barry Jennings, the deputy director of the Emergency Services Department of the New York City Housing Authority. According to Jennings, not long after 1 WTC had been hit by an aircraft, but before the attack on 2 WTC, he escorted Mr Hess, one of Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s highest-ranking appointed officials, to the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) on 7 WTC’s 23rd floor. This office was the command bunker where any emergency in the WTC area was to be handled, and was staffed by US security personnel. What he found astounded him: the entire emergency headquarters had been abandoned. This is his story:

Upon arriving into the OEM EOC we noticed that everybody had gone. I saw coffee that was on the desk, still - smoke was still coming off the coffee, I saw - I saw uh, half eaten sandwiches. And I called several individuals, one individual told me that, that um, ‘to leave, and leave right away’ ... We subsequently went to the stairwell and we were going down the stairs. When we reached the 8th uh, the 6th floor, the landing that we were standing on gave way. There was an explosion and the landing gave way. And I was left there hanging. I had to walk back up to the 8th floor. After getting to the 8th floor everything was dark.

I’m just confused about one thing, and one thing only. Why WTC 7 went down in the first place? I’m very confused about that. I know what I heard. I heard explosions. The explanation I got was that it was the fuel oil tank. I’m an old boiler guy. If it was a fuel oil tank it would have been one side of the building. When I got to that lobby, the lobby was totally destroyed. It looked like King Kong had came through it and stepped on it. And I - it was so destroyed I didn’t know where I was. It was so destroyed they had to take me out through a hole in the wall, a makeshift hole that I believe the fire depot made to get me out.

Let us be clear about this. A well-respected, credible witness is stating that he was in the 7 WTC building and that there was a devastating explosion before the second of the Twin Towers was even hit by an aircraft, and long before either 1 or 2 WTC came down (this latter event being the supposed cause of the fires and damage that made 7 WTC fall). Just as worryingly, the explosion seems to have been planned, as all the OEM staff had vacated the building and Mr Jennings was told by an unnamed source to flee WTC, ‘to leave, and leave right away.’ And this was no small explosion: it wiped out the entire lobby and (contrary to official claims) caused many deaths too. Equally concerning, if this event was planned - and taking Barry Jennings’ testimony at face value it is very difficult to see how it was not - it could not have been put into effect in the few minutes that had elapsed since the first aeroplane struck the first tower. Such a plan called for prior knowledge of the attack hours, even days, before the event.

The BBC announcement - clairvoyance, chance or something else?

From the time of the first attack on 11 September, the BBC newsreaders, like most of the world’s media, had been providing a constant stream of updates on the unprecedented situation in New York.

At 21.54 London time on 11 September 2001, a BBC newsreader made the sombre announcement that the Salomon Brothers building (another name for 7 WTC) had collapsed:

Now more on the latest building collapse in New York. You might have heard a few moments ago we were talking about the Salomon Brothers building collapsing, and indeed it has. Apparently that was only a few hundred yards away from where the World Trade Centre towers were. And it seems this was not the result of a new attack, it was because the building has been weakened during this morning’s attack.

There was just one problem with this news: it was wrong. Or rather, it was a little ahead of time. 7 WTC was still standing when the broadcast was made - it did not collapse until 26 minutes later, at 22.20 London time.

As if to compound the error, the London anchorman then handed over to his New York colleague Jane Standley, who carried on the report of the collapse apparently unaware that the 7 WTC building could still be seen on the right of the screen, behind her left shoulder. This point needs to be emphasised: the visual evidence here is absolutely irrefutable. As the BBC reporter confirms the destruction of 7 WTC it stands as large as life on the screen behind her. And, enhancing the Alice in Wonderland nature of the report, as Ms Standley continues to comment on this new ‘collapse.’ a strap line appears across the lower half of the screen confirming the news: ‘The 47-storey Salomon Brothers building close to the World Trade Centre has also collapsed.’

But there is more. At around 22.15, as Jane Standley continues to hold forth on the non-existent collapse (with 7 WTC still standing proudly behind her), a very strange thing happens. Had this broadcast conversation continued for a further five minutes (and there was no sign of it winding down), we would have been treated to the spectacle of 7 WTC collapsing for real, on air, behind Ms Standley. But, mirabile dictu, at this crucial moment, just five minutes before the actual collapse, the image of Jane Standley begins to break up and the BBC loses the feed and the picture from New York.

BBC News 24 also broadcast the news that 7 WTC had collapsed, with a corroborative time stamp on their broadcast to confirm, without fear of contradiction, that the BBC was somehow aware of the destruction of 7 WTC around half an hour before it went down.

Richard Porter, the head of news at BBC World, offered this explanation for these astonishing events:

1) We’re not part of a conspiracy. Nobody told us what to say or do on September 11th. We didn’t get told in advance that buildings were going to fall down. We didn’t receive press releases or scripts in advance of events happening.

2) In the chaos and confusion of the day, I’m quite sure we said things which turned out to be untrue or inaccurate - but at the time were based on the best information we had. We did what we always did - sourced our reports, used qualifying words like ‘apparently’ or ‘it’s reported’ or ‘we’re hearing’ and constantly tried to check and double check the information we were receiving.

3) Our reporter Jane Standley was in New York on the day of the attacks, and like everyone who was there, has the events seared on her mind. I’ve spoken to her today and unsurprisingly, she doesn’t remember minute-by-minute what she said or did - like everybody else that day she was trying to make sense of what she was seeing; what she was being told; and what was being told to her by colleagues in London who were monitoring feeds and wire services.

4) We no longer have the original tapes of our 9/11 coverage (for reasons of cock-up, not conspiracy). So if someone has got a recording of our output, I’d love to get hold of it. We do have the tapes for our sister channel News 24, but they don’t help clear up the issue one way or another.

5) If we reported the building had collapsed before it had done so, it would have been an error - no more than that.

This is, with the greatest respect, simply not good enough. Much of Mr Porter’s carefully worded comments contradict one another; others are plainly untrue:

1) We didn't get told in advance that buildings were going to fall down. No one is accusing the BBC of this. But it is obvious that the BBC was told in advance that a building had fallen down. This is a crucial point. Someone told the BBC that 7 WTC had collapsed. Who had foreknowledge of this event? The BBC doesn’t say.

2) Elsewhere in the statement Mr Porter admits that their news output (in line with other news services) was based on incoming information from a variety of sources. He states that BBC colleagues in London were monitoring feeds and wires services and that we did what we always did - sourced our reports and constantly tried to check and double check the information we were receiving. If that is the case, then why did they not pick up on the fact that the story was blatantly untrue? More importantly, there should be a record at the BBC of the source of the ‘7 WTC collapse’ story. Who made this claim? Which agency fed this information through to BBC News - was it Reuters? Voice of America? Associated Press? Knowing the source of the information would allow us to move one step back along the chain of responsibility, and perhaps come to a clearer judgement on the motivation behind the story.

3) [We] used qualifying words like ‘apparently’ or ‘it’s reported’ or ‘we’re hearing.’ This is simply not true. As one commentator noted:

In the most important final 7 minutes and 15 seconds of the said segment the words ‘apparently,’ ‘it’s reported’ or ‘we’re hearing’ are not used in the context of building 7, viz.: ‘Now more on the latest building collapse in New York ... the Salomon Brothers Building collapse ... and indeed it has.’ ‘What can you tell us about the Salomon Building and its collapse?’ ‘When it collapsed.’ [Ticker] - ‘The 47-storey Salomon Brothers building close to the World Trade Centre has also collapsed.’

This same commentator also asks: ‘Who is responsible for the newsroom in-desk and floor prompters being used by the news presenter? Who is responsible for the news report on the bottom screen news ticker? Who is responsible as the newsroom floor source for giving these people information? What is the complete list of editors and journalists responsible for this program on said day?’ None of this information has been vouchsafed by the BBC.

4) We no longer have the original tapes of our 9/11 coverage. This statement beggars belief, and brings to mind other convenient document misplacements, like the Belgrano incident’s missing submarine logs. Such a loss appears even less likely in the face of BBC policy which states:

[Ref No. Policy Area/Policy Statement 01 Components to be Retained 01-01] : The following components to be retained: Two broadcast standard copies of all transmitted/ published TV, radio and BBCi output - one to be stored on a separate site as a master; One browse-quality version for research purposes, to protect the broadcast material.

5) In the chaos and confusion of the day, I’m quite sure we said things which turned out to be untrue or inaccurate - but at the time were based on the best information we had. This is exactly the point: in the chaos and confusion the BBC omits all qualifiers such as ‘apparently’ or ‘we’ve unconfirmed reports that ...’ and gives the correct name of the building, the precise number of floors in that building (47), the explanation of the collapse (that 7 WTC was weakened by damage from the collapse of 1 and 2 WTC), and the Corporation even knows that the building was apparently empty. This is no throwaway remark or rumour that somehow took on the robe of truth; this is detailed, accurate data. Where did this information originate? It is all very unsettling. As one commentator notes, this is ‘some pretty precise reporting for a day of chaos when everyone was “trying to make sense of what they were seeing ...” ’

6) If we reported the building had collapsed before it had done so, it would have been an error - no more than that. But it is much more than that - it was an error that turned out to be true. It was prescient. The likelihood that the BBC, or anyone else, would suddenly decide, de novo, that another building would collapse - no, more, that it had collapsed - when the only buildings that had fallen so far were those struck by large passenger jets, has to be vanishingly small. And yet someone does make up this incredible tale, the BBC reports it as fact, and 26 minutes later, the incredible occurs. To call it an ‘error’ does not even come close. We need to know the originator of this story, the man or woman who can foretell the future with such impressive accuracy. The BBC must have the name of this person or organisation - the Corporation has a moral obligation to bring this information into the public domain.

The BBC’s disingenuous approach to what must be regarded as a highly suspicious series of events has satisfied no one. A posting on the net encapsulates the feelings of anger and frustration felt by many:

You lose footage of one of the most important days in modern history … (Good job! That way no one can ‘prove’ anything that day …) Out of all the surrounding buildings that suffered massive damage - WTC 3, 4, 5, 6 - and assorted others that suffered minor damage (among them, WTC 7 - Salomon Brothers Building), the BBC - by merely a mistake and in confusion - picked exactly the right one that was going to fall - (Good job!) Hey, the BBC is incompetent - they lose tapes AND they claim buildings fall that haven’t - but what LUCK! They hit the lottery! What a ‘lucky guess,’ huh? BBC should go to Vegas, with those odds - you’d be rich. BBC is not part of the conspiracy - but you are just a bunch of pathetic dupes. You capture the biggest smoking gun in history ... and your response is ... to call yourselves incompetent and go play ‘blind/deaf/dumb monkey’ on your public. Good job, Guys!!

Despite the obvious parallels between Pearl Harbor and 9/11, one huge disparity remains. While Pearl Harbor resulted in military action abroad, very little change occurred within mainland America itself. With the exception of the arguably unconstitutional internment of US citizens of Japanese origin, the freedoms and rights of the American people were left largely unscathed by World War II. Nor were the rights of other nations materially affected by the Japanese aggression against the United States. Not so with the ‘war on terror’ which, we have been told with breathtaking arrogance, ‘is different from any other war in history.’ The attack on the World Trade Centre which precipitated the ‘war on terror’ has led not only to the invasion of two sovereign states, Afghanistan and Iraq, but to a raft of controlling and repressive legislation (most of it issued in the form of secondary legislation) in both the USA and the United Kingdom, and latterly in many of the EU nations as well, and to intrusive and unnecessary surveillance on an unprecedented scale.

Inevitable war

There is an added danger. While the idea of ‘pre-emptive strike’ is derided as cowardly and base when it is delivered by the Japanese on America, the Bush administration (and its UK ally New Labour) appear to have embraced the concept with both hands - if America and friends are doing the striking. Iraq is the example par excellence of this, with ‘coalition troops’ deployed pre-emptively to prevent the development or use of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and to sever links between Al Qaeda and Iraq - both of which motives turned out to be illusory.

But this disastrous symbol of American neo-con philosophy has done nothing to dampen that country’s enthusiasm for firststrike action. Iraq is simply the most prominent example of a worrying malaise that is creeping by stealth into the Western democracies - pre-emptive politics and theories of inevitability. Several academics have pointed out that recent statements by politicians have continually stressed the inevitability of disaster; we are told on a regular basis that terrorist attacks are not merely possible, but unstoppable. In May 2002, FBI Director Robert Mueller announced that more suicide bombings in the USA were ‘inevitable ... We will not be able to stop it. It’s something we all live with.’ Vice President Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld both repeatedly used the phrase ‘Not a question of if, but when’ during several television interviews, as did Tom Ridge, the first Homeland Security Director. Note that very little detail is given, even such obvious parameters as the timescale of these inevitable happenings. Few would argue that a terrorist attack will probably occur sometime in the next ten years, but the rhetorical nature of the repeated emphasis on ‘inevitable attack,’ especially when screened repeatedly via non-critical media, gives the population an impression of predetermined, imminent, repeated attacks about which ‘something must be done.’ Moreover, much of the evidence upon which these sloganeering statements are made is veiled beneath classified documents that are, by definition, completely unavailable to public scrutiny.
What remains is a faith-based form of politics in which a political elite claims to be in possession of facts denied the ordinary citizen, who must accept whatever pre-emptive action that elite deems necessary, purely on the basis of trust. What is worrying, as academics Greg Elmer and Andy Opel have pointed out, is that although rarely-read government policy documents offer less strident analyses of these events, ‘public statements by a host of public officials, broadcast repeatedly as sound bites, describe a stark, inevitable future of unending terror threats. The contradictions between the written documents and the public statements suggest a wilful attempt to harness the immediacy (and uniformity) of ... news outlets to distribute and maintain an atmosphere of fear and emotion.’ And, it might be added, to encourage acquiescence to both foreign pre-emptive strikes and national legislation further restricting personal freedoms.

Given these developments, historical precedent, and the unanswered questions surrounding the World Trade Centre attack the event which introduced and ostensibly legitimised these unwelcome extensions of state power - we have excellent grounds for suspecting that events may well be being manipulated by groups intent on securing an even firmer grip on power and influence. What laws remain to protect our freedoms, and what can we do to resist further encroachment?

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