May 22, 2002
By Warren Pease
Security Adviser Condi Rice, looking eerily like a bobble-head
doll with a stretched spring, spent about 45 minutes last
Thursday telling the nation that, while the Bush administration
had advance warning of significant terrorist activity involving
hijacked airliners, they failed to recognize that these events
would be "non-traditional."
Now that traditional and non-traditional hijackings have
entered the national lexicon, it seems useful to examine the
characteristics of each so that the flying public can decide
if they're in for a stay in the Libyan desert or a date with
The Traditional Hijacking: Understated but Elegant
Traditional hijackers wear leather and bandoleers. Their
leaders stride slowly and purposefully up the aisle to the
cockpit. Their accomplices glare threateningly at the passengers
while the theme from "Shaft," arranged for bouzouki and kazoo,
blares from the cabin PA.
Traditionalists have no use for box cutters. They prefer
the time-honored tools of their craft: Fine automatic weapons
and plastique, smuggled on board while Office of Homeland
Security geniuses busied themselves jacking up 75-year-old
grannies and confiscating their sewing scissors and toothbrushes.
In any case, Ward, June, Wally and the Beav aren't going
to grandma's after all. They're on their way to spend four
fabulous days in Libya, where they'll sit on the broiling
tarmac at Tripoli for endless hours without air conditioning
- eating cold couscous, inhaling the scent of overflowing
chemical toilets and watching the hijackers solidify their
bargaining positions by shooting a passenger every hour, on
Then, the obligatory storming of the plane, complete with
concussion grenades, tear gas, and a couple of hijackers ripped
to bloody shreds by automatic weapons fire. The rest are led
away in irons shouting unintelligible Arabic phrases which,
loosely translated into our native tongue, mean, "You ain't
got nothin', copper. I'll be back on the streets in an hour."
Who would want to be warned against the event of a lifetime?
Quelle adventurous! Tres chic!
The Non-Traditional Hijacking: Avant Garde, Bold and sooo
Non-traditional hijackers - on "non-trads," as they're known
in secret White House memos - wear black, eschew conventional
weaponry and ram the planes into buildings when they're done.
One can sense the difference right away, particularly with
the obvious absence of American film soundtracks and glaring
And the weaponry - sheer genius. Who needs guns and explosives
when, according to coded instructions in the secret Al-Qaeda
manual, non-trads can build their own lethal weapons using
a pocket full of everyday, non-metallic geegaws costing about
$3.59 at Home Depot.
In less than five minutes, non-trads can turn these innocent-looking
parts into a combination plasma-driven particle beam death
ray and high-altitude glider.
According to an Office of Homeland Security memo, passengers
should know that a non-traditional hijacking is in progress
when the air pirates storm their way down the main aisle and
into the cabin, vaporizing the entire flight crew and several
patriotic passengers along the way.
Once inside the cockpit, the non-trads set the autopilot
on glide path for the nearest major city, blast their way
back down the aisle and exit the plane through a rear door,
deploying the glider at 15,000 feet and using the death ray
as a steering mechanism.
A few minutes after the non-traditional hijackers escape,
Air Force fighter jets carrying enough ordnance to destroy
the moon form up on the jetliner. The squadron leader idles
a hundred feet or so off the jetliner's port wing, smiling
and waving and giving thumbs-ups to the passengers. He's awaiting
instructions from the president himself.
But all hell's breaking loose in the White House situation
room. Two teams of perfectly tailored, elegantly coifed Gucci
Gulch bagmen with competing agendas are involved in a game
of high-stakes poker.
It seems that the airline's insurance policy will cover crashes
resulting from acts of sabotage, but the policy is void if
the plane is shot down by US forces over US soil. Obviously,
it's in the best interests of the airline if the plane simply
crashes, while the insurance company would rather the plane
were shot down so they don't have to pay out anything.
So the lobbyists are raising and counter-raising their pledges
for GOP campaign coffers, plunging ahead with looks of steely
confidence while secretly hoping the bidding ends before they're
in serious debt. An RNC bookkeeper punches numbers into a
PalmTop every few minutes and smiles quietly.
Finally the airline can go no higher. Already beleaguered
by decades of deregulation, lousy management and the public's
aversion to airline travel since 9-11, the airline's lobbyists
can't match the insurance industry's $20M campaign donation.
Wondering whatever possessed him to sign that insane campaign
finance reform bill, the president reaches for the phone and
gives the order to shoot down the plane. High in the sky,
the squadron leader looks over at the passengers, smiles and
waves again, pops the safety cover on his air-to-air weapons
systems, and blows the jetliner out of the sky.
Now this is definitely the kind of thing you'd like some
advance warning about. The Libyan desert is one thing, but
atomization is quite another. But how could anyone know these
hijackings would be non-traditional?
Oh, How Could We Possibly Have Known? The White House asks
the American people not to judge them too harshly. After all,
they say, with all these nonspecific warnings, it would have
crippled the airline industry to issue warnings that would
have curtailed air travel. And really, what's a few thousand
lives compared with the health of one of America's backbone
But as to advance notice of specific types of terrorist actions,
one supposes they could have read the conclusions of the Hart-Rudman
Commission, which in December 2000 warned that:
- "Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in
- "America will become increasingly vulnerable to hostile
attack on our homeland, and our military superiority will
not entirely protect us."
- "The combination of unconventional weapons proliferation
with the persistence of international terrorism will end the
relative invulnerability of the US homeland to catastrophic
attack. To deter attack against the homeland in the 21st century,
the United States requires a new triad of prevention, protection,
- "America's present global predominance does not render
it immune from these dangers. To the contrary, US preeminence
makes the American homeland more appealing as a target, while
America's openness and freedoms make it more vulnerable."
- "This Commission believes that the security of the American
homeland from the threats of the new century should be the
primary national security mission of the US government."
- "Since the occurrence of even one event that causes catastrophic
loss of life would represent an unacceptable failure of policy,
US strategy should therefore act as far forward as possible
to prevent attacks on the homeland."
Gee, ya think? Unfortunately, the Bush administration apparently
tossed the commission's findings into the trash, probably
because they were inherited from Bill Clinton and AG John
Ashcroft was worried that that icky whitish goo on the cover
of his copy could have been - you know... Turns out it was
sugar from a glazed donut, but you just can't be too careful
But the administration didn't stop playing ostrich there.
It hopes we believe that it merely ignored the warnings from
the FBI, the CIA, foreign intelligence services, and international
heads of state that flooded the White House almost from the
time the moving vans departed. The administration hopes we
believe this because, if we don't, the only other logical
conclusions we can draw from this uniquely inept performance
are collusion and complicity.
So the news is bad these days for BushCo, but it's been a
great week for the other six billion inhabitants of the planet.
Excuses are wearing thin. Even some Republican stalwarts are
demanding a full investigation (although their motives in
doing so are far from clear).
Most shocking of all, the comatose American mainstream media
shows a slight improvement in vital signs. Viewers of various
cable and over-the-air news broadcasts report occasional brief
glimpses of actual journalistic integrity. The May 20 editions
of Time and Newsweek ask some hard questions - at least seven
months late, but fear is a powerful thing.
Even the mainstream dailies are starting to act like there's
such a thing as the First Amendment. The fact that they've
been scooped by virtually the entire rest of the world may
have finally begun to chafe. More likely, they just want to
sell more papers. But whatever the reason, the results are
There are still constants in the world, however. Wingnut
radio continues to blast Bill Clinton for everything from
the dinosaur die-off to male pattern baldness.
Bloviating wingnuts notwithstanding, when all the dots are
finally connected, when everybody's sick of parsing traditional
and non-traditional hijackings, when Ari spins for the last
time. the only real question left is which offense to charge
these frauds with: criminal negligence, treason or accessory
to mass murder.
Lately, Dickens' Madame DeFarge seems a far more sympathetic
character. Her needles click, the blade falls, another head
rolls, the victims are avenged.
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