The Looming Tower & The Perfect Storm (II)

LAST TIME I TRACED THE HISTORY of Islamofascism from its inception to the late 1980s, when al-Qaeda ("the base") was formed by Osama bin Ladin (OBL) and his rival (later co-conspirator) Dr. Ayman Zawahiri, as detailed in Lawrence Wright's masterpiece The Looming Tower. I now continue with more "highlighter worthy" excerpts from this fascinating book up to the eve of 9/11:

  • OBL is reputed to suffer from kidney failure; there is no evidence of this. Rather, he likely suffers from Addison's disease, a disorder of the endocrine system marked by low blood pressure, weight loss, muscle fatigue, stomach irritability, sharp back pain, dehydration, and an abnormal craving for salt. (159)
  • Saudi Arabia, only 1% of the world Muslim population, supports 90% of the expenses of the entire fundamentalist and radical Wahhabi faith, overriding other traditions of Islam. (170)
  • Bin Ladin announced his murderous intentions back in 1982, "When America permitted the Israelis to invade Lebanon (to stop the shelling of Israeli towns), as I looked at those demolished towers in Lebanon, it entered my mind that we should punish the oppressor in kind and that we should destroy towers in America in order that they taste some of what we tasted." (172)
  • Although al-Qaeda was originally formed to oppose Marxism in Afghanistan, where it had America as an ally, OBL turned the organization into an anti-American terrorist cabal because he is rooted in the 7th century where Christianity (evidenced by his use of the term "Crusaders") was not just a rival, but the archenemy. (194)
  • Significance of September 11th to Muslims: On September 11, 1683, in Vienna, the king of Poland began the battle that turned back the farthest advance of Muslim armies. This is why that date was chosen for the attack on America. For the next 300 years, Islam would be in retreat. (194)
  • Al-Qaeda trained the suicide bombers that attacked the Marine Corps barracks in Lebanon in 1983. (197)
  • Omar Abdul Rahman (the Blind Sheik), despite being listed as a terrorist on the State Dept. watch list, was granted entry into the US, and traveled to mosques nationwide, calling on Muslims to "cut the transportation of their (the West's) countries, tear it apart, destroy their economy, burn their companies, eliminate their interests, sink their ships, shoot down their planes, kill them on sea, air, or land." (201)
  • Though it is unclear whether OBL sent Ramzi Yousef to bomb the World Trade Center in 1993, Yousef did learn his bomb-craft in an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan. (202)
  • OBL told trainees at al-Qaeda camps: "America appears mighty, but it is actually weak and cowardly. Look at Vietnam. Look at Lebanon. Whenever soldiers start coming home in body bags, Americans panic and retreat. Such a country needs only to be confronted with two or three sharp blows, then it will flee in panic, as it always has. For all its wealthy and resources, America lacks conviction. It cannot stand against warriors of faith who do not fear death." (214)
  • In Somalia, when the bodies of a downed helicopter crew were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, Pres. Clinton quickly withdrew all American soldiers from the country. Bin Ladin's analysis of the American character had been proven correct. (215)
  • At the end of 1993, a Sudanese general had reportedly obtained black market uranium. OBL had been working with the Sudanese government to develop chemical agents that could be used against the Christian rebels in the south. OBL paid for the uranium, but it turned out to be red mercury (cinnabar), a substance used in nuclear scams for more than 25 years. (218)
  • The first man to betray OBL was Jamal al-Fadl, a Sudanese, who stole more than $100,000 from al-Qaeda. He sold his story to the Americans for $1 million. While in protective custody, he won the New Jersey Lottery! (225)
  • The Taliban ("students") in Afghanistan arose in 1994, most of them orphans who had been raised in refugee camps and who were outraged by the chaos and depravity of the rule of mujahideen. The liberators in the war against the Soviets had turned out to be more barbaric rulers than their enemies. (255) The Taliban became the largest growers of opium poppies in the world. (259)
  • August 23, 1996: OBL declares war on America: "Terrorizing you is a legitimate and moral obligation." (266)
  • Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, uncle of WTC bomber Ramzi Yousef, approached OBL in 1996 with several schemes to attack America, including one that would require pilots to crash airplanes into buildings. (268)
  • Iranian-backed terrorists Hezbollah were responsible for the 1996 explosion at the Khobar Towers, a military housing complex in Dharan, Saudi Arabia, killing 19 and injuring 400. (271)
  • The tortured reasoning of the Islamists which license them to murder non-Muslims: The Islamic nation is in misery because of illegitimate leadership, due to the Christian-Jewish alliance that emerged after the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, in which Britain and France divided the Arab lands between them, and the Balfour Declaration in 1917, which called for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Soon after, the Ottoman Empire collapsed, and with it the Muslim caliphate. This is all seen as an ongoing campaign by the Christian-Jewish alliance to suffocate Islam, using such tools as the United Nations, compliant Arab rulers, multinational corporations, satellite channels, and international relief agencies. (294)
  • An al-Qaeda computer was obtained in 1997 by the CIA. It was owned by Zawahiri's closest political confidant. Called the "Rosetta stone of al-Qaeda," it was nevertheless not made available to the FBI because the Bureau would use the information as evidence at trials, and therefore public, which would ruin its value as intelligence as far as the CIA was concerned. (305) This kind of stand-off, resulting in no intelligence passing between the agencies, would contribute in large part to 9/11.
  • Another captured al-Qaeda computer in 1998 linked OBL to the killing of American servicemen in Somalia, which resulted in a criminal indictment against him in Federal District Court in New York. ( 302)
  • August 1998: Al-Qaeda suicide bombers attack American embassies in Nairobi, Kenya (213 dead, 4,500 injured), and Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania (11 dead, 85 wounded). (308) Five embassies had been targeted, but luck and intelligence had saved the other three. FBI investigators were stunned to learn that nearly a year earlier an Egyptian member of al-Qaeda had walked into the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi and told the CIA about the bombing plot. (311)
  • Shortly after the embassy bombings, Monica Lewinsky testified before a Washington grand jury about her sexual relationship with Bill Clinton. In the minds of Islamists, the relationship between the president and the intern perfectly symbolized Jewish influence in America, and any military response to the bombings was likely to be seen as an excuse to punish Muslims and divert attention from the scandal. (319)
  • Soil samples at a Sudanese chemical plant purportedly owned by OBL contained traces of EMPTA, an essential chemical in the nerve gas VX. On August 20, Clinton authorized missiles to destroy the plant, which turned out to be a pharmaceuticals plant, which OBL had nothing to do with. Sudan then let the two accomplices in the embassy bombings escape and the FBI lost an invaluable opportunity to capture al-Qaeda insiders. (320)
  • Though the NSA was able to monitor satellite phone calls, it refused to share the raw data with the FBI, the CIA, or even the White House. (321)
  • At the same time as the aspirin factory attack, intel indicated OBL was at the Khost al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. Several of the 66 Tomahawk missiles that rained down camp failed to detonate. OBL sold them to China for $10 million. (323)
  • Iraq was an ally in al-Qaeda's war on the west; there had been a series of contacts between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda operatives. Iraqi delegations met with OBL, who asked for weapons and training caps inside Iraq. (335) Nevertheless, FBI director Louis Freeh reportedly stressed in White House meetings that al-Qaeda posed no domestic threat. OBL did not even make the FBI's most wanted list until June 1999.
  • In December 1999, al-Qaeda-trained Ahmed Ressam was arrested at the Port Angeles, Washington, border crossing. In his trunk were the makings of an Oklahoma City-type bomb, intended for LAX. (337)
  • January 3, 2000: a plot is accidentally foiled by Yemeni fisherman who encountered a fiberglass skiff containing C-4 explosives destined for the USS The Sullivans, which was refueling in the Aden harbor. (339)
  • Between ten and twenty thousand trainees passed through Afghanistan al-Qaeda training camps from 1996 until they were destroyed in 2001. (341)
  • The media helps the terrorists: Zawahiri was keen on the use of biological and chemical warfare, saying, "Despite their extreme danger, we only became aware of them when the enemy drew our attention to them by repeatedly expressing concern that they can be produced simply." (343)
  • Hollywood helps out, too: Al-Qaeda trainees spent considerable time planning how to pull of terrorist maneuvers. At night they would often watch Hollywood thrillers, looking for tips. The movies of Arnold Schwarzenegger were particular favorites. (343)

  • NEXT: 9/11 and the aftermath.

    The Looming Tower & The Perfect Storm (I)

    OVER THE PAST FIVE YEARS, I've read a number of books about 9/11, as well as a few about Islam. I even slogged through the Koran. But after reading Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower, I can save you a great deal of time: if you read any book about Islamofascism, let it be this one.

    Instead of writing a review, I'd just like to list the "highlighter worthy" sections of the book, followed by the page number in parenthesis, as well as an occasional comment or clarification of my own.

    In short, 9/11 was a "perfect storm" of gross incompetence and petty in-fighting among the U.S. "intelligence" agencies, the numbingly self-assured cosmology of the Koran (which has just three responses to everyone on the planet: convert, subjugate, or kill), the repressive, insular Islamic culture, simple luck, and the hubris of the American people, who see themselves as good and so cannot imagine anyone else in the world being evil. Mix into this stew the modern technology of cell-phone-activated detonators, radioactive payloads, satellite phones, and the fluidity of modern bomb-transportation vehicles, and you've got a very combustible combination, to wit:

    • The beginnings of Islamofascism started in an American college town: Greely, Colorado, in 1949. (23)
    • The first violent jihadists (the Muslim Brotherhood) made their purpose entirely clear: "It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its law on all nations, and to extend its power to the entire planet." (29)
    • Egyptian president Anwar Sadat had close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, who tried to kill his predecessor, Gamal Abdul Nasser. (31)
    • The Koran prohibits the killing of fellow Muslims. Therefore, death-worthy Islamic foes are termed takfir, ("excommunicants") illegitimate Muslims, and therefore infidels to be treated as such. (34)
    • When Israel won the 6-day war in 1967, Muslims felt God had turned against them. The only way back was to return to the "pure" religion: fundamentalism. (45)
    • "Salafism" is the most backward of all fundamentalist Muslim dogmas. It does not recognize any Islamic traditions after the time of Mohammed. (49)
    • Azzam Zawahiri, bin Ladin's second-in-command, fought with him in Afghanistan against the Russians. When asked why they took aid from America, he said, "Sure, we're taking American help to fight the Russians, but they're equally evil." (54) He was also jailed in connection with the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. (59)
    • The Ayatollah Khomeini, who ousted the Shah of Iran from power in 1979, said, "Islam says: Whatever good there is, exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! The sword is the key to paradise, which can be opened only for holy warriors!" Ponder that statement again. Feel that chill running up your spine? That is the man whose followers want to use the sword on you.
    • Shia vs. Sunni: After the death of Mohammed in 632 A.D., a quarrel arose over the line of succession. Sunnis supported the election of caliphs (rulers), but the Shia believed the caliphate should pass through the Prophet's descendants alone. (56)
    • The Sadat plotters were imprisoned in Egypt and tortured by fellow Muslims. Strikingly, this treatment radicalized them against the West, who they saw as responsible for corrupting and humiliating Islamic society. Indeed, the theme of humiliation, which is the essence of torture, is crucial to understanding the Islamist's rage. (61)
    • The "Blind Sheik," Omar Abdul Rahman, who was convicted in America for his part in a plot to destroy NYC landmarks, was previously charged as a conspirator in the Sadat assassination. (65)
    • "Wahhabism" (aka "Salafism") has its origin in the teachings of Abdul Wahhab, an 18th century revivalist who believed Muslims had drifted away from the true religion. The Wahhabi sect is located primarily in Saudi Arabia, bin Ladin's adopted homeland. (72)
    • Osama bin Ladin's father, Mohammed, began his life in Saudi Arabia working for Aramco, the Saudi-American oil cooperative. He became a wealthy man, primarily because of his connection with this company. (74)
    • Mohammed bin Ladin divorced Osama's mother, Alia, when Osama was just four years old. Mohammed then "awarded" her to one of his employees. (84)
    • Though OBL has never traveled to America, his favorite TV shows growing up were Fury and Bonanza.
    • OBL's view of women: "One [wife] is okay, like walking. Two is like riding a bicycle: it's fast but a little unstable. Three is a tricycle, stable but slow. And when we come to four, ah! This is the ideal. Now you can pass everyone!" (94)
    • Prince Turki (head of Saudi security and charged with bringing bin Ladin to justice), was a classmate of Bill Clinton, who coached him on an ethics test. (98)
    • Though OBL and other Arabs often brag about how they ran the Soviets out of Afghanistan, there were never more than 3,000 Arabs involved in the war, and most of them never made it out of Pakistan. (121)
    • "The lure of an illustrious and meaningful death was especially powerful in cases where the pleasures and rewards of life were crushed by government oppression and economic deprivation." (123)
    • Arab countries are incredibly unproductive. If one subtracts the oil revenue from the Gulf countries, 260 million Arabs export less than the 5 million Finns. (123)
    • "Radicalism usually prospers in the gap between rising expectations and declining opportunities. This is especially true where the population is young, idle, and bored; where art is impoverished; where entertainment---movies, theater, music---is policed or absent altogether; and where young men are set apart from the consoling and socializing presence of women. Adult illiteracy remain[s] the norm in many Arab countries. Unemployment [is] among the highest in the developing world. Anger, resentment, and humiliation spur young Arabs to search for dramatic remedies. (123) And when you focus that anger on a large target (America), you have thousands of willing martyrs.
    • Sharia law: "It is only when the rule of man has been eradicated and Sharia imposed that there will be no compulsion in religion, because there is only one choice: Islam. (125) George Orwell would be proud.
    NEXT: More highlights from The Looming Tower.

    A Simple Solution to Illegal Immigration

    I GUESS I'M OLD ENOUGH, and have seen enough, to state unequivocally that the people who run this country are no smarter than you and I, but they are definitely more self-dealing. A cursory look at illegal immigration makes this abundantly clear. The solutions to this problem are so simple, and the politicians so attuned to ignoring them, that only one explanation is possible: they don't want to solve the problem.

    Why? Illegal immigration costs this country millions of dollars in social services, education, health care, and border enforcement each year. Clearly, we could afford to pay a little more for our burgers if these costs were reduced. Again, the only clear answer is that the politicians see a benefit to illegal immigration. The most direct is gaining potential voters; the other is cheap labor for the millionaire industrialists who donate to the politicians. Either way you slice it, politicians' failure to enforce current immigration law benefits primarily themselves. Which is why they have the lowest approval ratings of all.

    I have a solution, though I have no illusions it will be adopted by the political class. It is simple, will cost very little, and will result not only in a vast, voluntary reduction in the presence of illegals in this country, but will transform Latin America into a true partner for progress and peace in his hemisphere.

    It is this: Latinos are here to work. We all know that. Latino men do not loiter in front of Home Depot pleading for hand-outs---they are pleading for work. And who employs them? Everyone from landscapers to multinational corporations. The solution is to remove the incentive for these people to be here, to deny them employment. And the way to do it is not to round them up, load them in vans, and transport them back to Calexico. It is to enforce current laws which make it illegal to employ undocumented aliens.

    But we won't be going after Joe's Landscaping Service. Instead, we should prosecute and imprison a small number (say ten or so) of the CEOs of the largest law-breaking corporations. This will send a message: employ an illegal, go to jail. The word will spread like wildfire. Before long, Joe and his competitors will not dare employ illegals. Yard maintenance costs will go up, but with the reduction in taxes due to lower health care, education, courts, border fence, and ICE costs, we will be able to afford higher landscaping fees when Joe hires a 17-year-old kid to run the leaf blower instead of 42-year-old Juan from Chiapas. All it will take are a few high-profile prosecutions. No ridiculous and ineffective wall, no 24-7 border patrols, no immigration court hearings. Just a few weeks in federal court prosecuting the president of General Mills.

    What will happen then is Econ 101: since Latinos are here to work, if there is no work, they will go home. By the millions. If there is no employment, no school enrollment, and no access to health care, they will return to their own countries.

    Having spent a substantial amount of time in Latin America, I know the kind of governments they have there: most are dictatorships or are ruled by a small cabal of rich families. What Americans fail to recognize is that most illegal Latinos in the U.S. are the best and brightest in their native lands. They saw the dire state of their home state and looked northward for opportunity and freedom. If I was a campesino in Nicaragua, I would do the same and so would you. To realize this dream, they leave home, family, and culture, travel thousands of miles, and risk their lives crossing the border, all to run a leaf blower for ten bucks an hour. I admire these people, but they are still law-breakers and a tremendous drain on our health, education, security, and court system. And if I were one of them, I would not be surprised that the U.S. is trying to enforce its borders---after all, Mexico's southern border is tighter than James Browns' pants. Ask any Guatemalan.

    So what happens when the best and brightest return to their pueblos? They will look around with new eyes, eyes that have seen the possibilities of a free country. As they ran a leaf blower across your driveway in Malibu, they did not fail to notice your million dollar home and the new BMW parked out front. They now know what they only dreamed of before: the possibilities of freedom.

    And standing in the muddy calle of their tiny, poor hamlet, they will ask their neighbors, "What is going on here?" And their neighbors will tell them about the malvado down the block who boldly extorts money from them in full daylight; about the corrupt politician who skims local revenues for his own profit; about the greedy factory owner who works their children mercilessly for mere pesos.

    And the people who have returned will say, "Well, then, let's put a stop to this now." For they have seen a country of laws, where the police are not uniformly corrupt, where politicians can be thrown out of office if they misbehave, and where most of the rich achieve their wealth through honest industry.

    What will follow will be bloody but necessary: the town mafioso will be found dead outside his home; corrupt politician will be ousted in the next election; and factories will be shut down as people organize and make their voices heard.

    We should and must support this kind of grassroots revolution through financing, fomenting, and even special ops if necessary. It is time to take the gloves off. Vicente Fox is no less corrupt than his predecessors have been; he just speaks better English. The CIA and other covert agencies must help the Mexican people especially (since they are our closest neighbors) run the half-dozen families that control Mexico out of the country and help the Mexican people take control of their homeland. No Mexican (or Guatemalan or Ecuadorian) wants to live thousands of miles from his family and country. They, like you, want to be near their homes and friends. If their own countries were not so corrupt and the ruling regimes so ruthless, they would not be here raking your leaves. So we must aid and abet revolution in these countries, the kind of revolution that built our country. Remember "No taxation without representation"? That is going on in Chiapas, Guatemala City, and Guayaquil.

    If the U.S. wants democracy in Latin America, then we must make it happen. And I'm not talking about propping up petty tin-pot dictators. I'm talking about making it possible for villages to operate under democratic principles: honest and verifiable elections, secure banks, and access to proceeds from the great natural resources of these countries: mining, oil, forests, the ocean. In short, remove dictators and ruling cabals from their positions by helping the very guy who is mowing your lawn to achieve the same kind of life you have. Give him, by the sword if necessary, freedom and security, and you will be astonished at the near over-night transformation of Latin America.

    In short order, tens of millions of Latinos will stream across the border---southward this time---and in Mexico, instead of slave-labor farms and factories, we will see the advent of an industrial revolution. The U.S. has graduated from its manufacturing phase; it is a service economy now. Our greatest talent lies in creativity: software, entertainment, business, medicine, innovation. Instead of yard workers, we should be importing automobiles, microwaves, and cellphones from their countries. It is Mexico's (and Latin America's) turn to enter the industrial phase, to follow in our footsteps. As such, it needs steelworkers, automotive assembly line workers, and oil rig wildcatters.

    And in the short term, Americans must pay more for a burger and teach their kids how to mow the lawn again.

    Warming to Climate Change (II)

    THE EARTH'S AVERAGE TEMPERATURE has risen a little less than a degree Celsius over the past century. Although almost half of this warming occurred before 1940, greenhouse gas emissions (95% water vapor) began to rise substantially only after the 1950s. And one degree isn't much anyway, by any historical standard.

    But it matters little, as 40% of all U.S. CO2 emissions are reabsorbed, mostly by vegetation. And CO2 is only one factor in GCC. Other factors are solar irradiance (Mars is warming, too), linear contrails, black carbon on snow, stratospheric water vapor, methane, and ozone. In addition, other factors contribute to global cooling: aerosol cloud albedo (reflectivity) effects, aerosol direct effects, surface albedo land use, and stratospheric ozone. The only factors we know much about are CO2 and methane; the others are largely mysteries.

    But let's suppose that the planet is warming and let's also assume that's bad. High Priest Gore and his minions predict dire consequences of this one degree of warming. But how accurate a prophet is Gore?

    There is no scientific consensus as to which climate change model should be used. In the last twenty years, no fewer than four major models have been created, with divergence in predictions of cataclysm, ranging from a 1995 prediction of five degrees Celsius rise by 2100, to a 2007 prediction of a 3 degree rise by 2100. And only half of all scientists believe humans are to blame for the present warming. The other half is silenced, frozen out as heretics by the mainstream media that has embraced the church of GCC.

    But again, let's pretend Gore is right: the sky is falling. The melting ice caps will drown the polar bears and put NYC under fifty feet of water, right? Wrong. Sea levels have risen since the Earth began to come out of the last ice age, yet since 1961, the rise has been far lower than the historic average. Also, though the arctic ice sheet is melting, Antarctica's glaciers are thicker than ever, due to increased precipitation (remember that pesky greenhouse gas, water vapor? It takes the form of snow in Antarctica). And polar bear numbers have increased from around 5,000 in the 1950s to almost 25,000 today. That's a lot of Coke to share with the penguins.

    Gore also predicted yearly hurricane disasters like Katrina. Yet the season that just ended was historically calm. In fact, there has been no change in either the occurrence or strength of hurricanes outside the natural range of variability.

    But what about droughts and weather-related deaths? Also a false doctrine: since the 1920s, weather-related deaths have decreased from almost 500 per year to just under 20. And the chart for U.S. lands affected by drought looks like the NYC skyline, with many ups and downs and a gradual decrease since 1935.

    Finally, what the prophets of doom fail to reveal are the many benefits from increased CO2: plants grow bigger and faster, which means more available water, greater farm productivity, less food scarcity, and less starvation of polar bears and man alike.

    Mankind is the most adaptable creature on earth. If it's cold, we put on a jacket; if it's hot, suntan oil. If the sea rises 2", we build the seawall 2" higher. The real danger of the GCC orthodoxy is how it misplaces the scarce resource of money. If everyone in the U.S. drives a Prius (which costs thousands more than its conventional counterparts), there will be less money spent on real threats: malaria, water purification, nutrition research, starvation, HIV/AIDS, heart disease, and cancer.

    On May 1, 1970, on our high school quad we had a speaker for the first "Earth Day" celebration. She warned us of the impending ice age that mankind had brought upon itself by its selfish use of the world's resources. My friends and I, even at that tender age, knew a loon when we saw one: she was wearing a parka in eighty degree heat.

    So to Al Gore, I say, "You're a false prophet, your god is a fraud, and I already have a religion."

    NEXT: An easy and inexpensive solution to illegal immigration.