The damage done to U.S. foreign policy in the wake of the 9/11 attacks was largely self-inflicted, a case of wildly overreacting to Al Qaeda’s bloody provocation, writes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.
By Paul R. Pillar
In thinking about the significance and consequences, a decade and a half later, of the terrorist attacks known as 9/11, it is best to begin with what the attacks did not mean — despite what voluminous commentary ever since the event might lead one to believe.
The attacks did not mark a major change in security threats faced by the United States or anyone else. Americans were not suddenly more in danger on Sept. 12, 2001 than they had been on Sept. 10, even though the reactions of many Americans would suggest that they were.
Nor was one spectacular, lethal and lucky shot to be equated with a larger threat that can be thought of in strategic terms, or with sudden revelation of such a threat. Those whose job was to assess such things, including those in U.S. officialdom, had communicated prior to 9/11 their clear understanding of the strategic threat represented by Bin Laden’s variety of international terrorism.
September 2001 did not mark the advent of a substantially greater vulnerability of the U.S. homeland, and certainly not an existential one. The techniques involved were not at all comparable in that regard to the introduction of the long-range bomber and the intercontinental ballistic missile.
Nor did September 2001 mark the beginning of serious counterterrorist efforts by the United States, notwithstanding the larger amount of resources thrown at the problem in the wake of 9/11. There was a lot of counterterrorism going on before, especially in the 1980s and continuing into the 1990s.
The available tools and elements of counterterrorism have remained essentially unchanged from those earlier periods, apart from a few technological developments such as those involving unmanned aerial vehicles.
The biggest changes brought about by 9/11 instead involved public perceptions and emotions, and consequently the political treatment of subjects that those perceptions and emotions involved. The politics riding on public fears have been far more consequential than any external reality about what terrorist groups are up to. And much of the public perceptions have been inaccurate, as indicated by the way those perceptions about terrorist threats changed from Sept. 10 to Sept. 12.
Even the public perceptions about terrorism have not been a one-way progression. There has been some of the same swinging of the pendulum of public preferences as seen after previous major terrorist incidents. Although the swing after 9/11 was substantially higher than usual, we have already seen some of the pendulum’s return in the opposite direction.
Some measures taken and quietly accepted by Congressional overseers in the name of counterterrorism in the earliest years after 9/11, including bulk collection of electronic data by government agencies and torture of captives, later became subjects of controversy or condemnation.
The shock effect of 9/11 suddenly made the American public much more militant and more willing than before to assume costs and take risks in the name of national security. This was an emotional response, little diverted or contained by more sober calculation of what really would enhance national security, and with little attention to how some could exploit the emotions for other purposes.
The single most consequential result of all of this was the launching in 2003 of the war in Iraq. Although Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, the surge in public militancy made it politically possible for the first time for neoconservatives to implement this longstanding item on their agenda.
The damage, including to matters related to U.S. national security, has been vast, including trillions in expenditures, the igniting of a continuing civil war in a major Middle Eastern state, the stoking of region-wide sectarian conflict, and — as far as terrorism is concerned — giving birth to the group now known as ISIS.
U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan was another legacy of 9/11, of course. Unlike Iraq, it was related to 9/11 with regard to Al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan under the Taliban. But years ago, the intervention morphed from a counterterrorism operation into more of a nation-building operation. And now it has become America’s longest war.
Concepts offered by the intelligentsia, and not just emotions felt by the public, have been substantially affected by 9/11. After much groping since the end of the Cold War for ways to characterize, in a satisfyingly simple manner, both an era and a global U.S. mission, the fight against terrorism finally seemed to fill the bill.
The unfortunate “war on terror” metaphor much affected policy discourse and thus policy itself. Counterterrorism came to be thought of in chiefly military terms, and conceiving of a war against a tactic meant a war without either geographic or temporal limits.
The aforementioned responses and effects will have more lasting consequences than the enhanced investigative powers, such as those in the Patriot Act, that have received much attention. There is natural resistance in American tradition and habits of thought to such enhancement. There is not comparable resistance to fighting endlessly a foreign menace, even a menace defined as a tactic.
The main legacy of 9/11 has been less anything that terrorists have done to us than what we have done to ourselves, and to others, in response. On balance the legacy has not been beneficial.
Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is author most recently of Why America Misunderstands the World. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)
Ingva Larsson –“but the assumption was there from the very beginning with no proof.”
from the beginning and forever after,
“The Truth” will be,
‘that we were attacked by Arabs’
and, therefore Justified and Entitled
to instigate the massacre and decimation of
Whole Other Ethnic Arab National Families.
All that was required was a Radical Faction to blame
and Zelikow wrote and established
9/11 represents a process of the indoctrination of historical lore
Our sacred star spangled banner,as enshrined historical lore,
informs the world that we are a bellicose people (surprised ?)
from the walls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli
We will fight destructive wars for our “National Interests”
even if it means the deployment of False Flag Operations
like Paperclip or the Phoenix Program or
our delusions of grandeur do not confuse the outside world.
a little bit of history cleanses the mind of fog-of-war delirium.
— Zelikow wrote and established the protocol. ( “All We Need Now is a NEW PEARL HARBOR”)
In 1998, Zelikow actually wrote Catastrophic Terrorism about imagining “the transformative event” three years before 9/11. Here are Zelikow’s 1998 words; Readers should imagine the possibilities for themselves, because the most serious constraint on current policy [nonaggression] is lack of imagination. An act of catastrophic terrorism that killed thousands or tens of thousands of people and/or disrupted the necessities of life for hundreds of thousands, or even millions, would be a watershed event in America’s history. It could involve loss of life and property unprecedented for peacetime and undermine Americans’ fundamental sense of security within their own borders in a manner akin to the 1949 Soviet atomic bomb test, or perhaps even worse. Constitutional liberties would be challenged as the United States sought to protect itself from further attacks by pressing against allowable limits in surveillance of citizens, detention of suspects, and the use of deadly force. More violence would follow, either as other terrorists seek to imitate this great “success” or as the United States strikes out at those considered responsible. Like Pearl Harbor, such an event would divide our past and future into a “before” and “after.” The effort and resources we devote to averting or containing this threat now, in the “before” period, will seem woeful, even pathetic, when compared to what will happen “after.” Our leaders will be judged negligent for not addressing catastrophic terrorism more urgently.
If we can get people to see that the guy who wrote The 9/11 Commission Report got his Ph.D. in PUBLIC MYTHS and actually had his hand in scripting the 9/11 event itself in 1998, they might be more receptive to the idea that the official story of 9/11 should be revisited.
Was al-qaeda ever actually determined to have been the perpetrators of so-called 9/11? Everyone has said so ever since; but has osama bin laden ever claimed responsibility? Or did al-qaeda simply serve as the perfect scapegoat opportunity at the time? I do not recall that al-qaeda and osama bin laden were ever definitively shown to be behind the attacks. Perhaps they were; but the assumption was there from the very beginning with no proof. If it had happened a few decades before it would have all been blamed on agents of the communist international…or hippies.
He DID claim responsibility, in 2003. I am going to assume the benefit of the doubt and that you simply forgot that.
Evidence? Because the F.B.I. said otherwise. It’s also counterintuitive that he would have done so in 2003, even if he hadn’t denied culpability in 2001.
Friends with Cass Sunstein?
Glenn Greenwald’s article has attached commentary that is worth sharing:
1)Harvard . . .
Lincoln Gordon died a few weeks ago at the age of 96. He had graduated summa cum laude from Harvard at the age of 19, received a doctorate from Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, published his first book at 22, with dozens more to follow on government, economics, and foreign policy in Europe and Latin America. He joined the Harvard faculty at 23. Dr. Gordon was an executive on the War Production Board during World War II, a top administrator of Marshall Plan programs in postwar Europe, ambassador to Brazil, held other high positions at the State Department and the White House, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, economist at the Brookings Institution, president of Johns Hopkins University. President Lyndon B. Johnson praised Gordon’s diplomatic service as “a rare combination of experience, idealism and practical judgment”.
You get the picture? Boy wonder, intellectual shining light, distinguished leader of men, outstanding American patriot.
Abraham Lincoln Gordon was also Washington’s on-site, and very active, director in Brazil of the military coup in 1964 which overthrew the moderately leftist government of JoÃ£o Goulart and condemned the people of Brazil to more than 20 years of an unspeakably brutal dictatorship. Human-rights campaigners have long maintained that Brazil’s military regime originated the idea of the desaparecidos, “the disappeared”, and exported torture methods across Latin America. In 2007, the Brazilian government published a 500-page book, “The Right to Memory and the Truth”, which outlines the systematic torture, rape and disappearance of nearly 500 left-wing activists, and includes photos of corpses and torture victims …
The coup … was actually the beginning of a series of fascistic anti-communist coups that trapped the southern half of South America in a decades-long nightmare, culminating in “Operation Condor”, in which the various dictatorships, aided by the CIA, cooperated in hunting down and killing leftists.
Gordon later testified at a congressional hearing and while denying completely any connection to the coup in Brazil he stated that the coup was “the single most decisive victory of freedom in the mid-twentieth century.”
…So the next time you’re faced with a boy wonder from Harvard, try to keep your adulation in check no matter what office the man attains, even â€” oh, just choosing a position at random â€” the presidency of the United States. Keep your eyes focused not on these “liberal” … “best and brightest” who come and go, but on US foreign policy which remains the same decade after decade. There are dozens of Brazils and Lincoln Gordons in America’s past. In its present. In its future. They’re the diplomatic equivalent of the guys who ran Enron, AIG and Goldman Sachs.
Of course, not all of our foreign policy officials are like that. Some are worse.
And remember the words of convicted spy Alger Hiss: Prison was “a good corrective to three years at Harvard.”
2)Does Sunstein have no appreciation for irony?
He wants to discredit attempts “to explain an event or practice by reference to the machinations of powerful people, who have also managed to conceal their role” though the use of powerful people, who manage to conceal their role.
3)How is this any different from what the Israel lobby is already doing?
Sunstein advocates that the Government’s stealth infiltration should be accomplished by sending covert agents into “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups,” and also proposes that the Government secretly hire “independent” credible voices to bolster the Government’s messaging. This program would target those advocating “conspiracy theories,” which they define to mean: “an attempt to explain an event or practice by reference to the machinations of powerful people, who have also managed to conceal their role.”
I’d bed good money that several regular comment/letter writers here are on the payroll at AIPAC and other such organizations.
At any rate, there were tapes and written statements purportedly released by bin Laden laying such claim. What are the chances they were faked? Beats me. That’s why it would have been preferable to have bagged him and brought him back alive from Abottabad rather than double tapping him first chance the seals got. He may have been more inconvenient captured alive than shot dead.
The Bush administration was warned of planned acts of terror by Bin Laden’s group well before 9-11 and chose to be remiss about the matter. FBI agent Coleen Rowley, for one, warned them of what might happen. The speed with which the agency presented complete dossiers on each of the 19 hijackers after the attack implies that these guys were under surveillance (or were being prepped) for months before the incident. These 19 guys were mostly Saudis, and yet every Saudi citizen within America’s borders was given a get-out-of-jail card for free by Bush in the aftermath of the attack, while virtually everyone else, including you, me, and that guy behind the tree were considered fair suspects. Totally innocent people were kidnapped and rendered for torture to loyal American vassal states like Poland and, um, Syria as part of the witch hunt orchestrated by Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld. I don’t even need to bring up Building No. 7. What part of “charade” do logical analysts who want the actual truth not understand? Perhaps the administration did not organize and plan the attack, perhaps they did, but they sure facilitated it, wittingly or unwittingly. In either case, they should have been fired–impeached, convicted, and dismissed with or without criminal charges–soon after a competent investigation was completed. Alas, when even the congress of the United States was obstructed in this endeavor, what is one to conclude? When Iran(!!!) is held liable for this attack in our court system, but Saudi Arabia skates, what is any sane person to think? That our whole system of government is just a shame? A facade used by rich and powerful people to do whatever they please to micromanage world events? Nah, couldn’t be that. Much easier to believe the Iranian ayatollahs (or Saddam, and maybe even Gaddafi) were behind it. After all, they hate us for our freedoms. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?
Catastrophic Terrorism: Tackling the New Danger
Journal Article, Foreign Affairs, volume 77, issue 6,
November / December 1998
Authors: Ashton B. Carter, Former Co-Director, Preventive Defense Project, Harvard & Stanford Universities, John M. Deutch, International Council Member, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs,
Philip D. Zelikow, Former Associate Professor of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School; Former Faculty Affiliate, International Security Program
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security; Preventive Defense Project
November/December 1998, Volume 77, Number 6
CATASTROPHIC TERRORISM: Tackling the New Danger
By Ashton Carter, John Deutch, and Philip Zelikow
IMAGINING THE TRANSFORMING EVENT
What part of “charade” do logical analysts who want the actual truth not understand?
Great question and thoughtful post. But I guess some truth is allowed, and other truth isn’t.
I hope this post doesn’t get scrubbed, as it will be my last. The scholarship, insight, and humanitarianism that so many of the readers on this site bring to the table has been, and I trust will continue to be, a source of great interest for me. I’d like to think that I have contributed, when able and in my own small way, to the discussion. But when my sincere efforts to do so are scrubbed, particularly concerning one of the most important events of our time, I feel that I should not trouble myself, or the gatekeepers, any further. I have given money to CN, and had planned to continue that support, but have reconsidered. This type of censorship goes against everything I hold dear. I”m sure someone will be glad he won’t have to plug his ears. Thanks to many….
Thank You, Gregory Herr.
As you may notice, three comments are missing from this section.
I’ve asked for reason of the removal. ‘Self inflicted wounds’ is not the problem here.
Phillip Zelikow represents a problem to the establishments’ buoyancy of floating lies.
The “Bush-did-it” theory and the “Bush-let-it-happen” theory contradict each other. Mentioning both the pre-911 memo and Building 7 is illogical.
I will make this exception because I can’t let this pass. Whether or not Bush had personal knowledge or involvement is irrelevant to denunciation of the plausibility or logic of the government’s conspiracy theory of the events of 9/11. The government’s “investigation” and explanation was far from comprehensive, and to my mind, beyond implausibllity, and strikingly so. The evidence to refute the official “story” is legion. That is first and foremost what must be recognized.
I have no personal hunch about Bush’s pre-9/11 insights, but think it probable he was at least informed of his limited options on the day of 9/11, and, being who he is, had a hand in the coverup (whether coerced or not). I know the question of Bush’s “involvement” is not your point of contention, but want to be clear that attempts to “box-in” alternative explanations, theories, and speculations won’t fly. Some follow the evidence and are eminently plausible and some do not. (And as an aside…the layers of evidence regarding the events of the day make “piggybacking” or “letting it happen” a false construction as opposed to making it happen. Too much went down. Even if “letting it happen” were plausible, that would be just as egregious as “making it happen”).
Now, to the point at hand. The pre-9/11 memo could have been part of the set-up to implicate bin Ladin, to bolster the planned narrative. There is nothing logically inconsistent with the existence of the memo and the perpetration of demolition. And nothing depends upon Bush’s involvement. One would think that would have been considered a liability rather than an asset anyway. Cheers.
Not illogical at all. No one is contending that all referenced scenarios are concomitantly true or even that they are equally plausible. But, because of the weak, suspect “investigation” by congress (led by Florida Senator Graham who virtually repudiated his own work), they all certainly remain possibilities, unless you have evidence allowing us to cross them off the list.
Sept 11 was the American holocaust. The beginning of a campaign of manipulation (sound familiar ?). Alfred E. Neuman’s / (George W. Bush) Lol… was the first to declare “either you’re for us or you’re for the terrorist” slogan which pits the citizens against the government….. as having no choice ” heads I win tails you lose”….USA citizens are really excellent citizens……excellent to a fault…..It’s your country…right ? Take it back !…..Storm the castle ???
No, more aptly it was the burning of the Reichstag. As for w bush, I doubt he could have come up with a phrase as complicated as “You’re either with us, or with the terrorists.” I am sure that line was written by a literate; probably Goebbels (rove).
The “chaos” and “recklessness” is part of the plan.
Crisis is an opportunity.
Paradise Suppressed is wonderful reading. — ego and establishment as well.
How The West Created ISIS
… with a little help from our friends.
By Nafeez Ahmed @nafeezahmed
September 13, 2014
Part 1 – OUR TERRORISTS
“This is an organisation that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision which will eventually have to be defeated,” Gen Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon press conference in August.
Military action is necessary to halt the spread of the ISIS/IS “cancer,” said President Obama. Yesterday, in his much anticipated address, he called for expanded airstrikes across Iraq and Syria, and new measures to arm and train Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces.
“The only way to defeat [IS] is to stand firm and to send a very straightforward message,” declared Prime Minister Cameron. “A country like ours will not be cowed by these barbaric killers.”
Missing from the chorus of outrage, however, has been any acknowledgement of the integral role of covert US and British regional military intelligence strategy in empowering and even directly sponsoring the very same virulent Islamist militants in Iraq, Syria and beyond, that went on to break away from al-Qaeda and form ‘ISIS’, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or now simply, the Islamic State (IS).
Since 2003, Anglo-American power has secretly and openly coordinated direct and indirect support for Islamist terrorist groups linked to al-Qaeda across the Middle East and North Africa. This ill-conceived patchwork geostrategy is a legacy of the persistent influence of neoconservative ideology, motivated by longstanding but often contradictory ambitions to dominate regional oil resources, defend an expansionist Israel, and in pursuit of these, re-draw the map of the Middle East.
Now despite Pentagon denials that there will be boots on the ground – and Obama’s insistence that this would not be another “Iraq war” – local Kurdish military and intelligence sources confirm that US and German special operations forces are already “on the ground here. They are helping to support us in the attack.” US airstrikes on ISIS positions and arms supplies to the Kurds have also been accompanied by British RAF reconnaissance flights over the region and UK weapons shipments to Kurdish peshmerga forces.
I agree, Wobblie. Most of us were not convinced by the claims in 2002 and 2003; all the warnings of the consequences were understood. But that was not the point. The point was to get into Iraq, to create chaos and destruction. As much as I hate the idiots in charge, I do not believe they were mistaken and heedless of the results. The chaos we see now is what they wanted. Because now, through the Pentagon, they will get trillions more dollars than if there had been diplomacy and relative peace. I also think that many of those at the top want another world war. They want to prune the human species of so much of its excess. We all may get our chance yet to fight “a good war”.
“All deception in the course of life is indeed nothing else but a lie reduced to practice, and falsehood passing from words into things.” — Robert Southey
What was needed for America to dominate much of humanity and the world’s resources, it said, was
“some catastrophic and catalysing event – like a new Pearl Harbor” — Phillip Zelikow and Ash Carter
He says “imagine the possibilities”. Why would anyone want to imagine the possibilities he suggests (it does sound like a script, doesn’t it?), except to deter them? But he doesn’t sound as though deterring such “possibilities” is what he has in mind…even though he uses the guise of “containing this [terrorist] threat”. And yes, he had the “report” done in outline before the Commission went to work. Then he (with the aid of the White House) tightly controlled the parameters and proceedings of the Commission. What a set-up his remarks are! Kind of like the bin Ladin presidential brief. Pure set-up.
Also, the Patriot Act was planned before 9/11:
In 1998, Zelikow actually wrote Catastrophic Terrorism about imagining “the transformative event” three years before 9/11. Here are Zelikow’s 1998 words;
Readers should imagine the possibilities for themselves, because the most serious constraint on current policy [nonaggression] is lack of imagination. An act of catastrophic terrorism that killed thousands or tens of thousands of people and/or disrupted the necessities of life for hundreds of thousands, or even millions, would be a watershed event in America’s history. It could involve loss of life and property unprecedented for peacetime and undermine Americans’ fundamental sense of security within their own borders in a manner akin to the 1949 Soviet atomic bomb test, or perhaps even worse. Constitutional liberties would be challenged as the United States sought to protect itself from further attacks by pressing against allowable limits in surveillance of citizens, detention of suspects, and the use of deadly force. More violence would follow, either as other terrorists seek to imitate this great “success” or as the United States strikes out at those considered responsible. Like Pearl Harbor, such an event would divide our past and future into a “before” and “after.” The effort and resources we devote to averting or containing this threat now, in the “before” period, will seem woeful, even pathetic, when compared to what will happen “after.” Our leaders will be judged negligent for not addressing catastrophic terrorism more urgently.
If we can get people to see that the guy who wrote The 9/11 Commission Report got his Ph.D. in PUBLIC MYTHS and actually had his hand in scripting the 9/11 event itself in 1998, they might be more receptive to the idea that the official story of 9/11 should be revisited.
I’ve twice tried to actually read this essay, and both times failed. Perhaps later I can put aside that image of the Texas Torturer and concentrate on the words.
I’ve said that i believe President Trump would be the worst President in US history, but the memories of the Smirking Chimp cause me to waver on that. Trump is an ignorant and arrogant blow-hard, but so was Bush. Trump at least claims he’d not rush to start wars with everybody, and that’s something.
This business of installing the least qualified people in America to run the nation really must stop if we’re going to pull out of the hole we’ve dug. And are still digging.