Here's my conclusion from ten years of war on terror, one drawn from expert perspective. It's simple: The bad guys won. I don't mean bin Laden or al Qaeda. My view deals with the US mechanism, the security and threat assessment machine that was part of the post 9/11 Bush boom in the tools of war.
Today there's no visible mechanism in the nation looking at things from the perspective of a devil's advocate. There is nothing acting to put the breaks on a mechanism where the only function is to find new enemies.
It hardened into this all things terror all the time half a decade ago.
Arms control agencies, any public information source that didn't directly serve the war on terror by finding new threats, any threats, went silent, were marginalized or ceased to exist.
It's a matter of economics and capitalism. There is no money in not feeding the fear.
We did this to ourselves, out of cynicism and convenience. The worst parts in the paranoid reptile brain useful for a national business model based upon a constant state of fear, were allowed to take over.
Over the years I've known a number of good people who did practice reason and criticism, individuals who fought against the making of terror stories and information into commodities, planted p.r. for political recognition and increased funding. If they went into the apparatus, and some did, they were silenced.
Purchase for service and work in the government destroyed all the value of formerly public critical thinking.
Of course, we still have it. It just has no place now.
From my experience, it's informative to look back at how I got into looking at terrorism. The idea was to be rational. And that doesn't seem too unreasonable even when printed today.
This occurred when I was contacted by British defense counsel in the infamous London ricin trial. I had been researching "recipes" for ricin and how and where they had circulation worldwide. I published on the web through GlobalSecurity.
And these recipes were going to be part of the trial. The prosecution's case was initially aimed at linking a recipe found in England with other recipes found when the US overturned the Taliban and routed al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The reasoning was that it would prove a linkage and an operation that had been interrupted.
And I was familiar with all the original ricin recipes and where and when they had been published.
Kamel Bourgass's jewelry tin of castor seeds, used to help grease the Iraq invasion. "The prosecuting authorities effectively [stood] accused of suborning justice to shore up support for an unjustifiable war," wrote a columnist for The Telegraph in April of 2005.
Take a close look at that photo of a jewelry tin of castor seeds.
In September of 2002 until January of 2004, British anti-terrorist branch men were engaged in a dragnet for suspected terrorists in the north and east of London. In one operation on January 5, the plant poison ricin was claimed to have been found in an apartment above a pharmacy in a place called Wood Green. The news flashed around the world.
Tension was high and TIME International wrote in a story entitled "Poisonous Plot:" "Watching the police officers come and go, some of them in protective white suits and masks, and seeing the long hours they spent in the top-floor apartment above a local pharmacy, neighbors in North London's multiracial Wood Green section knew that something big was up."
Several suspected terrorists were arrested. One at Wood Green, others connected to a raid at the Finsbury Park mosque and one, Kamel Bourgass, a week later, in Manchester. Bourgass stabbed and killed a police officer in the Manchester raid. At the apartment in Wood Green -- a "residue of ricin" was said to have been found. "A presumed al-Qaeda terror lab had been shut down."
The residue of ricin eventually turned out to be a false positive, news suppressed until the trial of accused suspects in 2004. As for anything deadly -- 22 castor seeds, most of them in the tin shown above, were the best that could be produced.
When I was first contacted by a representative of the defense counsel, document specialist/expert Duncan Campbell, the opinion was that a crew of terrorists taken in the London raids were going to be sent over.
Most still believed there was some substance to Colin Powell's presentation to the UN Security Council, a now totally discredited piece of theatre that ended his career. It was a show in which one of the government slides focused on a nefarious network allegedly linking al Qaeda in Iraq to plots in Europe.
Now -- replace that ominous-looking and shadowy "UK Poison Cell" with the silly photo of a jewelry tin of castor seeds.
It's impossible to take even half seriously as any basis for even one plank of an argument for taking the US into a disastrous war in Iraq. That it was used in such a way was and is criminal.
Nevertheless, that's what our leaders did.
In England and before a jury, the prosecution's terror case collapsed. There was no way to link a scrap of a ricin recipe found in England with material taken off al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The British recipe had been actually been copied from a server in California.
The British jury would convict only Kamel Bourgass. And he was already in prison for life. The ricin trial charges were only icing on the nasty cake.
The jury did not buy that the people in the dock with Bourgass were part of an al Qaeda poison ring. They were exonerated although the British government would continue to make things miserable for them in subsequent years. A trial of more men swept up in the original counter-terror operation was canceled. It had been predicated on the idea that a jury would find evidence of a poison ring and convict all men in the first trial.
I realized early that this would be of some news in the US.
The British government had embargoed the trial in the UK, but not here. So, under the rubric of Globalsecurity, American news agencies were approached.
No one would have it. So we published on site.
Then they started to call.
Walter Pincus of the Washington Post was perturbed. The information, he growled over the phone, put the paper in a difficult position. This meant having to scramble for confirming anonymous sources in England.
Harrumph! Such things disturb the digestion.
Somebody from 60 Minutes called. What did my sources in the government, the intelligence agencies, tell me? What did Colin Powell have to say?
That's what I was asked. I didn't have any sources in the government and intelligence agencies. Colin Powell? Surely, 60 Minutes had to be joking! I never heard from them again.
The mixed outcome dismayed U.S. counterterror specialists who were convinced that Bourgass and his four codefendants were in fact acting as part of a broader international terror plot ...
"This is very disturbing ..." [said a] a government consultant on international terror cases about the acquittals in the ricin-plot case. "These are dangerous people ...
It was tripe. Newsweek wouldn't have the truth.
At the end of one of my write-ups at GlobalSecurity I tried to sound an optimistic note:
The [al Qaeda poison ring] news was too terrible and repeated too often to easily replace as common wisdom. Indeed, there will be many convinced that justice was not served, that a poison plot was foiled and that convictions would have been certain if only the right evidence had been presented and taken seriously. They will think that the case of Bourgass and others was a defeat in the global war on terror.
Others, however, will view it as a victory, an affirmation that specious intelligence, fear, stupidity and suspicions cannot forever trample on reality.
That hesitant optimism was unwarranted. Things were only going to get worse.
The number of people hired to search for and analyze threats exploded.
Today it's a fact there there are a lot more people working in this capacity alone, paid for by the taxpayer, than there are actual members of al Qaeda worldwide.
And you can define the number of times in the last decade even one of them has come forward to offer public reason and perspective contrary to the usual mantra of everything being at threat at any time, simply by using the index finger and thumb to make a big zero.
That's none in the ten years since 9/11.
This has resulted in very many bad things, not nearly all of which can be covered here.
Nevertheless, at a micro level money has been thrown away on not one, but two, experimental ricin vaccines for a decade. It keeps one government operation and one pharmaceutical company afloat, the latter a firm which hasn't brought anything to market in ten whole years.
Now imagine this multiplied tens of thousand times in projects all throughout the country. .
Another result is that at the local level, nationwide, the belief has been embedded nationwide in many people, including those ostensibly involved in counter-terrorism, that al Qaeda men are everywhere, ready to spring from behind any bush to spray Americans with germs or poisons.
And yet another, one of the worst: The cynical monetization of all information and news on terrorism.
It's always good business to have it for your new book's publicity or your big news scoop. Or to manipulate it, leak it, massage and exaggerate it for political purpose, for improving the career or expansion of manpower and funding to search for always more threats.
Indeed, much of it has been written about on this blog, at GlobalSecurity, and at other venues. Almost a decade's worth of work on what now looks like historical documentation for the relentless downward slope.
After bin Laden was killed there was a week of celebration. However,
what was the benefit? Seven days later it was back to more business as usual.
All the people who died ten years ago are not honored by this machine, this gigantic thought-destroying mechanism erected because of one very bad day. One wonders what some of them might say to us if they could have just one look at the way things are now.
Ten years in a song: Predator loans, iPhones and drones ... plus we got the crazy anthrax guy.