Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

"Outstanding…Moore Triumphs! Publishers Weekly

Mike & Friends Blog

Tom Engelhardt

Tom Engelhardt created TomDispatch.com and is co-founder of the American Empire Project

August 11th, 2011 12:57 PM

Could the Pentagon Be Responsible for Your Death?

The Military’s Marching Orders to the Jihadist World

Crossposted from Tomdispatch

Put what follows in the category of paragraphs no one noticed that should have made the nation’s hair stand on end.  This particular paragraph should also have sent chills through the body politic, launched warning flares, and left the people’s representatives in Congress shouting about something other than the debt crisis.

Last weekend, two reliable New York Times reporters, Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, had a piece in that paper’s Sunday Review entitled “After 9/11, an Era of Tinker, Tailor, Jihadist, Spy.” Its focus was the latest counterterrorism thinking at the Pentagon: deterrence theory.  (Evidently an amalgam of the old Cold War ideas of “containment” and nuclear deterrence wackily reimagined by the boys in the five-sided building for the age of the jihadi.)  Schmitt and Shanker’s article was, a note informed the reader, based on research for their forthcoming book, Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America’s Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda

And here’s the paragraph, buried in the middle of their piece, that should have stopped readers in their tracks:

“Or consider what American computer specialists are doing on the Internet, perhaps terrorist leaders’ greatest safe haven, where they recruit, raise money, and plot future attacks on a global scale. American specialists have become especially proficient at forging the onscreen cyber-trademarks used by Al Qaeda to certify its Web statements, and are posting confusing and contradictory orders, some so virulent that young Muslims dabbling in jihadist philosophy, but on the fence about it, might be driven away.”

The italics are mine, and as the authors urge us to do, let’s consider for a moment this tiny, remarkably bizarre window into military reality.  As a start, just where those military “computer specialists” are remains unknown.  Perhaps they are in the Pentagon, perhaps somewhere in the National Counterterrorism Center, but whoever and wherever they are, here’s the question of the week, possibly of the month or the year: Just what kind of “orders” can they be posting “so virulent that young Muslims dabbling in jihadist philosophy, but on the fence about it, might be driven away”?

And even if our computer experts really were capable of turning wavering young Muslims back from the shores of jihadism -- and personally I wouldn’t put my money on the Pentagon’s skills in that realm -- what about young Muslims (or older ones for that matter) who weren’t on that fence and took those “orders” seriously?  What exactly are they being “ordered” to do?

Talk about a potential Frankenstein situation -- and all we can do is ask questions.  Just what monsters, for example, might the military’s computer specialists be helping to forge?  And who exactly is supervising those “specialists” and their vituperative messages?  (Especially since they are unlikely to be in English, and we already know that Arabic, Pashto, Dari, and Farsi speakers at the higher levels, or even lower levels, of the Pentagon are, at best, few and far between.)

Keep in mind that we already have an example of a similarly wacky program lacking meaningful oversight that went awry, hit the headlines, and resulted in the perfectly real deaths of at least one U.S. Border Patrol agent and undoubtedly many more Mexicans.  The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives launched its now infamous gun-tracking program in Arizona in late 2009, under the moniker “Operation Fast and Furious” (a reference to a series of movies about street car racers).   It was meant to track cross-border gun sales to Mexico’s drug cartels by actually letting perfectly real weapons cross the border -- more than 2,000 of them, as it turned out.  ATF agents, according to a Washington Post report, would be “instructed not to move in and question the [gun runners] but to let the guns go and see where they eventually ended up.”  And so they did for more than a year and, not exactly surprisingly, those weapons ended up “on the street” and in the ugliest of hands.

The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart asked an apt question about the program: “The ATF plan to prevent American guns from being used in Mexican gun violence is to provide Mexican gangs with American guns. If this is the plan that they went with, what plan did we reject?”

Assumedly, the same question could be asked of the military’s online anti-jihadist program, involving as it evidently does messages believed to be too extreme for wavering young Muslims with an interest in the jihadi “philosophy.”  Shouldn’t someone start asking whether those Pentagon’s “orders” to jihadis might not turn out to be the online equivalent of so many loose guns?

After all, what are those specialists ordering them to do?  And if actual jihadis actually tried to follow those “confusing and contradictory orders,” possibly being confused and contradictory kinds of guys, if they took them seriously and interpreted them in ways not predicted by their putative Pentagon handlers, is there a possibility that anyone could die as a result?  And if such messages turn off some prospective jihadis, isn’t it possible that they might turn on others?  And could they, for instance, have been ordered to commit confused and contradictory acts that might end up involving Americans?

Really, someone should blow Schmitt and Shanker’s paragraph up to giant size, tack it up somewhere in the Capitol, and call for a congressional investigation.  If the ATF could do it, why not the Pentagon?  And honestly, is this how Americans want to see their tax dollars spent?

Read the Schmitt and Shanker piece and you’ll get a sense of what Shakespeare might have called the “oerweening pride” rife in the Pentagon when it comes to their skills and their ability to put one (or two, or three) over on the jihadist community.  So pleased with themselves were they, that they evidently couldn’t help bragging to the two reporters about their skills.  The old phrase “too smart for your own good” comes to mind.  It’s enough to make you worry, even based on so little information (which the new book from the two reporters may significantly amplify).

And by the way, if you want another unsettling analogy, when it comes to off-the-wall ideas for “deterring” jihadist networks, check out the major record companies and their efforts to deter communities and individuals from illegally downloading music.  The Recording Industry Association of America, representing the four major record labels, decided to make a cautionary example of Jammie Thomas-Rasset, a Minnesota mom, by suing her “for illegally downloading and sharing 24 songs on the peer-to-peer file-sharing network Kazaa in 2006.”  So far, the organization has dragged her through three trials, getting terrible publicity.  Even if they win and leave her in hock for the rest of her life, do you think for one second that they will have made a dent in the world of illegal downloads or deterred anyone?  Just ask your kid. 

Don't think deterrence here, think blowback. 

Honestly, if Schmitt and Shanker’s claim is accurate, you should be shaking in your boots.  And someone on Capitol Hill should be starting to ask some relevant questions, including this one: Could “computer specialists” in the employ of the Pentagon be responsible for your death in a future terrorist attack?

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book, The United States of Fear (Haymarket Books), will be published in November.

Copyright 2011 Tom Engelhardt

You must log in to comment.

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Log in | Register

If you have a moment today, I hope you can read the obituary for my father Francis (Frank) Moore, who died this past Saturday at the age of 92: Francis...

Apr 22nd
6:33 PM
Read More

My father, Francis (Frank) Moore, passed away this morning a few months shy if his 93rd birthday. He was a great dad I am blessed to have had him in my life. I...

Apr 20th
2:58 AM
Read More

Time to put the cuffs on Chris Christie -- not for the bridge scandal, but for this: Chris Christie's $300m pension proposal broke state anti-corruption...

Apr 18th
7:31 PM
Read More

George W. Bush Debuts New Paintings Of Dogs, Friends, Ghost Of Iraqi Child That Follows Him... www.theonion.com President Bush has a new hobby -- painting! --...

Apr 17th
7:28 PM
Read More

Big new story from David Sirota and Pando on top Christie adviser and appearance of corruption at New Jersey's pension fund: REVEALED: Gov....

Apr 17th
12:41 PM
Read More

FBI Uncovers Al-Qaeda Plot To Just Sit Back And Enjoy Collapse Of United States www.theonion.com WASHINGTON—The FBI announced today that it has uncovered a...

Apr 15th
3:28 PM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel's top donor bought stock in Marriott just before it was awarded huge contract pando.com As schools are closed and pensions cut,...

Apr 9th
2:00 PM
Read More

I'll be at First Time Fest today in New York City at the screening of my first film, Roger & Me. Loews Village 7 at 12:30 pm. Come see it on the big...

Apr 5th
9:48 AM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel cuts public pensions, diverts money to benefit campaign donors pando.com If you've read the financial news out of Chicago the last...

Apr 4th
2:19 PM
Read More

Please take a moment today to think of Casey Austin Sheehan, son of Cindy and Patrick, who was murdered by U.S. foreign policy in Sadr City, Baghdad ten years...

Apr 4th
2:00 PM
Read More

ICYMI - I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence...

Apr 3rd
7:38 PM
Read More

I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention...

Apr 2nd
8:27 PM
Read More

I am opposed to the death penalty, but to every rule there is usually an exception, and in this case I hope the criminals at General Motors will be arrested...

Apr 1st
3:55 PM
Read More

How Long Some in the US Will Survive Under New Health Law ...by Donna Smith www.michaelmoore.com Those who must access care to live and can afford it are not...

Mar 31st
10:13 PM
Read More

Last night, The Good Wife on the East Coast started 40 minutes late due to the overrun of the NCAA basketball game. If you had your DVR set for the show, you...

Mar 24th
5:41 PM
Read More

Watching films today, looking for the ones I'm going to pick for my film festival this summer. I (and a whole bunch of others!) have this thing we put on...

Mar 23rd
4:48 PM
Read More

When the U.S. Health Care System Keeps Killing, Who Cares Enough to Fight? ...by Donna Smith www.michaelmoore.com We have largely forgotten that people are at...

Mar 21st
5:56 PM
Read More

Tell the White House not to give up on Dr. Vivek Murthy's nomination as Surgeon General despite the ferocious opposition from the NRA: Don't give...

Mar 21st
5:38 PM
Read More

This criminal would never see a jail cell, nor would his cronies. In fact, they'd later be rewarded with re-election: Presidential Address on War with...

Mar 19th
9:40 PM
Read More

The crime of the century -- our invasion & slaughter in Iraq -- started 11 years ago tonite in this 7pm (ET) hour, March 19th, 2003: CNN Coverage of...

Mar 19th
9:08 PM
Read More

Washington’s Back-to-the-Future Military Policies in Africa ...by Nick Turse www.michaelmoore.com Nick Turse is an award-winning journalist, historian,...

Mar 17th
4:59 PM
Read More

"I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world." -- Tony Benn, 1925-2014 Tony Benn in 'Sicko'

Mar 14th
10:07 AM
Read More

RIP Tony Benn, one of the UK's greatest leaders: Tony Benn, veteran Labour politician, dies aged 88 www.theguardian.com Former cabinet minister died at...

Mar 14th
9:53 AM
Read More

Please read this important story from K. Ford K.: Am I the Face of the New American Middle Class? www.huffingtonpost.com I began to feel I had slipped so low...

Mar 13th
2:24 PM
Read More

Yesterday Dianne Feinstein revealed that the CIA has been spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is all about the report the committee has produced...

Mar 12th
6:48 PM
Read More

Health Care for All Colorado has brought Mercy Killers, a show written and performed by Michael Milligan about our murderous for-profit healthcare system, to...

Mar 10th
1:08 PM
Read More

Health Care Dramas that Sting and Why We Have to Watch ...by Donna Smith www.michaelmoore.com The realities Milligan has written into the show cut deep into...

Mar 10th
1:02 PM
Read More

Did you know the Lehrer Newshour on PBS has been produced for 20 years by a company owned by conservative cable billionaire John Malone? Me neither. After...

Mar 7th
8:39 PM
Read More

Mr. Obama, if int’l law is so damn crucial . . . | RootsAction.org act.rootsaction.org The Russian intervention deserves criticism. But let’s be clear. The...

Mar 6th
1:21 PM
Read More

Subscribe to Mike's Blog RSS

Click here to suggest an article

Mike's Blog

See More Blogs

Vew the archives

View older articles