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Commentary :: Human Rights : Politics : War and Militarism
9/11, the Marathon Bombing, and the Security-Industrial Complex
05 May 2013
In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings and subsequent manhunt and shootout, speculation has been rife about the attack being a "false flag operation", that is, a terrorist attack arranged by government agents for the purpose of scapegoating a particular group or nation, an example being the Reichstag fire. It's certainly not impossible. A government willing to commit similar atrocities on a daily basis by means of drone attacks in Pakistan is hardly above suspicion just because this attack occurred on US soil.

The conspiracy theorists are missing a more important point, however. Even if Tamerlan Tsarnaev wasn't secretly working for the CIA, the Marathon attack did a huge favor for the US security-industrial complex.
For starters, consider the city where the attack occurred. Boston is the home of US Attorney Carmen Ortiz, whose office has developed a well deserved reputation for politically motivated prosecutions. Ortiz is best known for hounding Internet activist Aaron Swartz to suicide, for a "crime" no more serious than downloading public documents in bulk from the JSTOR web site. Her office has also been widely criticized for engineering false terrorism convictions in the cases of Tarek Mehanna and Rezwan Ferdaus. Now that Ortiz gets to prosecute a "real" terrorist her record of unjust persecution will be forgotten in a flood of congratulating publicity. Her political prospects, once blighted by criticism of her handling of the Swartz case, are now on the rise again.

A similar dynamic applies nationally. Twelve years after 9/11 "changed everything", everything was slowly changing back again. With bogeyman extraordinaire Osama bin Laden dead, and Al Qaeda on the ropes, the excuse that a police state was necessary to fight terrorism was wearing decidedly thin. Police budgets were shrinking in cash-strapped municipalities, and criticism of police brutality was mounting. Cases ranging from Oscar Grant to Tony Bologna to Christopher Dorner all took their toll on police credibility. Internet surveillance bills such as CISPA and SOPA were having a hard time making it through Congress, and surveillance in general was being increasingly questioned. Even the TSA, an agency not exactly known for responsiveness to public opinion, recently started allowing small knives on airplanes again.

In the face of all rationality, the fiction that the US is under a serious threat from Muslim terrorists has been maintained by a steady trickle of cases such as Ferdaus', in which a cartoonishly evil plot was supposedly thwarted by the bravery and dedication of the FBI. (Ferdaus was accused of conspiring to fly an explosive-laden remote controlled airplane into the Capitol dome.) The problem was that most of the plots were created and funded by FBI agents, and the "terrorists" were random patsies from the fringes of Muslim communities, often mentally unbalanced, without the ambition, resources or capability to carry out an attack on their own. People were beginning to notice. Trevor Aaronson's new book The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI's Manufactured War on Terrorism describes the FBI's antiterrorism strategy as being focused on uncovering not terrorists, but people who can be framed as terrorists. Once agents have identified a sucker they insinuate an informant into his life, who offers money, supplies, connections to Al Qaeda, and anything else the "terrorist" needs to implement whatever bizarre and grandiose scheme he has concocted. Often the informant even supplies the bizarre and grandiose scheme, or at least a selection of schemes from which to choose. From there, it's just a matter of arresting the poor sap and issuing a press release. Juries virtually always hand down convictions in terrorism cases, led on by judges who refuse to allow exculpatory evidence to be admitted.

In the absence of any actual attacks this strategy has an obvious drawback. Even the dimmest Fox News viewer is eventually going to wonder how the feds always manage to infiltrate every single terrorist plot in time to stop it. And even a cursory look at the details of these cases reveals their sordid nature. In this light then, the Marathon bombing can be seen as a well timed booster shot for 9/11. Post-bombing, cops are heroes again. Muslims are dangerous again. Thank God for the PATRIOT Act. If you see something say something...

That doesn't mean we're going back to the days of amber alerts and wholesale detention of Muslims, but life did just get a lot easier for anyone who wears a badge. The FBI is already pressuring Congress to allow them to levy automatic fines against any web site that fails to provide a real time back door to user communications such as GChat or Facebook messages. While this may well have been in the works before the bombing, its chances of success are much greater now. The FBI has also placed exiled Black Liberation Army member Assata Shakur on the Most Wanted Terrorist list, and collaborated with the New Jersey state police to double the reward for her arrest. Their excuse, according to a spokesman, is that she is a "terrorist" because she "has been given the pulpit to preach and profess", another line that is now far easier to sell.

Local cops get a piece of the action too. "Shelter in place" is a thing now. Having seen Bostonians accept the near-total shutdown of their city, amid hundreds of blatantly unconstitutional home searches, municipal police departments will be eager to try the same thing at home, probably on even flimsier excuses. Like a riot against police brutality, for example...

Even without city-wide lockdowns local police still get to reap the PR and budgetary harvest of a renewed war on terror. The Boston PD is planning security perimeters and bag searches at large outdoor events this summer. The Phoenix, Arizona bomb squad recently shot up a coffee machine lid they found at a bus stop. We can expect a flood of such security theater measures, accompanied by funding cuts for libraries, schools, and other services to pay for them. Peddlers of drones, surveillance cameras, face recognition software, and other tools of repression have reason to celebrate.

At this point law and order aficionados will object. "But how else can we defend against terror attacks?" Noam Chomsky has been answering that question for years in regard to Israel, and the answer is the same here. We can defend against attacks by halting the behavior that inspires them. By conducting genocidal wars for oil and resources in the Middle East, supporting apartheid in Israel-occupied Palestine, propping up dictatorial regimes in Honduras, Saudi Arabia, and many other places, among other abusive and oppressive practices, the US has made itself the most hated nation in the world. But instead of changing its habits abroad, the government prefers to exploit the inevitable blowback in order to make Orwell's 1984 a reality at home.

This work is in the public domain