Beyond the Blasts

MotherJones.com's guide to undercovered news, commentary and resources to help put the Sept. 11 terror attacks and their aftershocks into context. Updated throughout the day.

Thu Sep. 27, 2001 2:00 AM EDT

Sept 27, 2001

Military response to air rage -- San Francisco Chronicle
Once, it would have been a routine in-flight annoyance: Upon being caught smoking in the bathroom of an Air Canada jetliner leaving Los Angeles International Airport, a male passenger of Middle Eastern descent got mouthy with the flight crew, including uttering what Air Canada officials described as "an anti-American threat." In the post-Sept. 11 world, that was enough to get the plane returned to LAX with a fighter jet escort. The passenger, Javid Naghani, an Iranian national living legally in the US, was handed over to the FBI for questioning.

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Anti-terror war wins battle for drug war -- DRCNet
Add the illegal drug trade to the list of industries hammered economically by the fallout of the twin terror attacks. Customs officials and drug dealers alike agree that drug smuggling has been all but suspended for the time being, what with hundreds of National Guard troops joining customs agents to search virtually every vehicle entering the US. That's dire news in parts of British Colombia, where a $4 billion domestic marijuana industry employs tens of thousands. "Rural areas of the province are in a panic," former Grand Forks mayor Brian Taylor says. "The outdoor crop is in -- it was a great year -- but nobody knows where to sell it."

Why the US should have done more for the mujahedeen -- The New Republic
"American intervention in the Afghan war didn't create Osama bin Laden," writes Peter Beinart. "In fact, if the United States bears any blame for bin Laden's terrorist network today, it's because in the 1980s and '90s, we didn't intervene in Afghanistan aggressively enough." Skittish CIA operatives, wary of being blamed if the uprising failed, tried to support the mujahedeen rebels without becoming directly involved with them, asserts Beinart. As a result, the most radical elements of the anti-Soviet alliance were able to gain power.

Sept 27, 2001

What the allies want -- The Guardian (UK)
Vladimir Putin wants help fighting the Chechens. China wants more "understanding" about Taiwan. Pakistan, if it holds together, stands to gain millions in financial aid and trade; Iran is also angling for new trade agreements. And Britain's Tony Blair, who is actively positioning himself as Bush's right hand in the crisis? "Blair's price for British support is not money or diplomatic favours," writes Simon Tisdall. "Blair's price is power."

"Superior civilization" remarks slammed -- Various
President George Bush saw fit to apologize for offending Muslims by referring to the war on terrorism as a "crusade." But Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi apparently feels no such compunction. The recently elected media mogul (think Rupert Murdoch in politics) has urged Western allies to be "aware of the superiority of our civilization" over Islam. Politicians throughout the world are chastising the premier's remarks; Italy's own opposition says Berlusconi has "launched into eccentric and dangerous calls for conflict between civilizations... using terms that no statesman worthy of the name has used." (The BBC reports that Berlusconi -- whose federal police was chastised worldwide for its violent attacks on protesters in Genoa this summer -- "also compared what he called Islamic terrorism to the anti-globalization movement.")

Sept 26, 2001

Mass destruction meets mass confusion -- Washington Monthly/TomPaine.com
The "Defense Against Weapons of Mass Destruction Act of 1996" was supposed to prepare the country for a biological, chemical or nuclear attack. But it turned into a feeding frenzy for government agencies, with everyone from the Marine Corps to the National Park Service trying to get a slice of the $6.7 billion pie, writes Joshua Green. The result: "The billions of dollars spent to prepare for an attack has only created an expensive and uncoordinated mess." One National Guard inspection of units meant to respond to mass-terror attacks, for instance, turned up an appalling list of errors, from air filters installed inside-out to incompatible emergency equipment.

Aqua-terror? -- Boston Globe
Prudent precaution, or overreaction? Massachusetts state troopers are barring residents from walking near the Wachusett Reservoir and other parts of the state's water-supply system, fearing that terrorists might try to poison the drinking water supply. The state's top water official insists these are necessary steps, even though "to contaminate a water supply is so difficult it would border on the impractical."

How we learned to love the twin towers -- Reason
Angus Kress Gillespie, author of a 1999 book studying the history and cultural significance of the World Trade Center, reminds us that the twin towers were heavily criticized when they were built in the late 1960s. "The architectural establishment slammed it as banal and bland. The steel industry was upset because 25 percent of the steel came from Japan. The landlords were upset because they saw it as government interference in private markets because the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which ran the project, is a quasi-governmental establishment. The environmentalists were upset when the World Trade Center first came on line because it was pumping something like 170,000 gallons of raw sewage into the Hudson River on a daily basis." It took years of careful public relations for the towers to become widely accepted, he says.

Keeping the world safe for gambling -- ABCNews.com
Since the Sept. 11 terror attacks have left tourists nervous about getting on a plane to come to Las Vegas casinos, the gambling industry is looking at ways to bring itself to tourists. Casino corporations are meeting in Nevada this week to discuss boosting Internet-based gambling.

Sept 25, 2001

Branding "Infinite Justice" -- Parameters, US Army War College Quarterly
As US troops mass in the Middle East for the counter-terror strike originally dubbed Operation Infinite Justice, an anxious public may want to know: how do they come up with these names, anyway? Back in World War II, American military planners used unimaginative code names for military operations for security reasons: Operation Indigo, for instance, involved the reinforcement of troops in Iceland. But poorly-planned naming became a problem in Vietnam, when tactless titles like Operation Killer hit the headlines. These days, the Pentagon is much more attuned to the propaganda value of a good title, according to author Gregory Sieminski: "Since 1989, major US military operations have been nicknamed with an eye toward shaping domestic and international perceptions about the activities they describe," starting with the Manuel Noriega-nabbing Operation Just Cause. Infinite Justice, however, won't go down in history as a naming masterstroke: The Pentagon has changed the moniker to Enduring Freedom after it was pointed out that Muslims might find the earlier version offensive.

Fight terror: stay sober -- Congressman Bob Barr
If you're serious about supporting America's campaign against terrorism, better quit getting high, says Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga. "Terrorist organizations abroad are supported in large part by the sale of illegal substances on the streets of America," explained Barr on the occasion of his reappointment last Friday to a Congressional anti-drug task force. "One way to not only strike a blow against terrorism, but to promote security at home, is to strongly oppose the use and proliferation of mind-altering drugs."

Ethnic profiling OK in NJ? -- Newark Star-Ledger
The Attorney General of New Jersey, the state whose troopers have made headlines in recent years because of their enthusiasm for using race as a criteria for pulling over motorists, says that police may begin stopping and questioning New Jerseyans who look Middle Eastern. Angry Muslim leaders and civil libertarians point out that the Attorney General, John Farmer Jr., was hired with a specific mandate to eliminate racial profiling in the state.

Save the nuke plants! -- Reuters
Two nuclear-arms watchdog groups are calling on the government to station National Guard troops and perhaps even anti-aircraft missiles around the 103 nuclear power reactors in the United States. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has acknowledged that American nuclear plants might not withstand a crash from commercial jetliner like those used in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Sept 24, 2001

Inside Al Qaida -- Los Angeles Times
A look at the inner workings of Usama bin Ladin's Al Qaida organization, based on the testimony of some of its former members at the trial of four men found guilty earlier this year of staging the 1998 suicide bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. "The [Al Qaida] depicted in the 76-day trial is capable of relentless, selfless efficiency and, at the same time, amateurish dysfunction," write reporters Mark Fineman and Stephen Braun. "The same secret organization that succeeded in demolishing two embassies in two different lands almost simultaneously was also prone to petty feuds and embezzlement, capable of losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in scams and bad business decisions."

What's hidden in the anti-terror bill -- National Review
Much of the the Department of Justice's proposed emergency antiterrorist legislation has nothing to do with fighting terrorism, writes conservative commentator Dave Kopel. "Instead, the legislation contains a host of items which have been on bureaucratic wish lists for many years ... much [that] is unnecessary, and more that is a serious threat to the Bill of Rights." The bill, for instance, would expand the definition of "property" that can be seized for drug offenses, and it would give law enforcement officials' the ability to tap phones and conduct secret searches on suspects in a variety of crimes, not just possible terrorists.

Selling America to itself -- Wall Street Journal (no subscription required)
The Bush administration is gearing up a new advertising campaign aimed at boosting the nation's morale. But do the American people actually need any more encouragement to rally 'round the flag? "The news stations are already doing that for us," says one dubious ad exec.

Bin Ladin's lieutenants -- Court TV
Thumbnail sketches of five men believed to be among Usama bin Ladin's top advisors and confidantes. Court TV identifies bin Ladin's son-in-law, Muhammad Atef of Egypt, as his most likely successor while the New York Times points to Atef's countryman Ayman al-Zawahiri, a 50-year-old surgeon.

Compiled by MotherJones.com staff.