Beyond the Blast

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.

Fri Nov. 9, 2001 4:00 AM EST

November 9, 2001

UN: bombing dam a "disaster" -- The Independent (UK)
The US bombing of a hydroelectric plant near a dam in southern Afghanistan could lead to a "disaster of tremendous proportions," warn United Nations officials. Richard Lloyd Parry reports that the UN is concerned that the loss of electricity from the plant will cause civilian suffering. Moreover, UN officials reportedly fear that future damage to the nearby Kajaki Dam -- which holds back a 32-mile long reservoir -- could result in massive flooding that would damage crops and risk the lives of tens of thousands of people.

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Not-so-smart cards -- Slate
Drivers' licenses are easier to fake than ever before, but Bill Barnes says that Oracle CEO Larry Ellison's offer to provide the technology for national "smart" ID cards is no solution. Barnes argues that Ellison's suggestion "would be grossly expensive to build and maintain" and is not sure to work as promised. "It will take something more than technology to make me feel safe again," Barnes writes.

Arm Our Pilots! -- various
While one airline considers giving pilots stun guns, the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute has been ardently campaigning to provide them with the real deal. As early as Sept. 12, the school was offering to "train every commercial pilot in the world free of charge in the defensive use of the handgun." The Front Sight Web site includes an encouraging form letter for potential travelers to send to airlines: "Arm Pilots or I Will Not Fly."

November 8, 2001

Are United Nations, European Union becoming obsolete? -- Slate
"The past two months have been good ones for leaders of large nation-states with relatively significant military capabilities," writes Anne Applebaum. For the United Nations and the European Union, however, "they've been an unmitigated disaster," she says. In this period of multi-national crises and coalitions, supposedly important multi-lateral organizations have been embarassingly sidelined while the US and its European allies call the real shots, says Applebaum.

Bungling a bioweapons treaty -- New Scientist
In those carefree days before Sept. 11, the Bush administration vetoed an international protocol aimed at limiting the spread of biological weapons. Now, Washington is submitting an alternative proposal, reports Debora MacKenzie, but they're not likely to find much favor. "Instead of coming up with new ideas, say experts, the US has simply revived some sections of a protocol that it rejected earlier this year, while ignoring crucial parts that it doesn't like," MacKenzie writes. "So despite the recent anthrax attacks on the US, few people expect any progress on enforcing the convention when its members meet in Geneva later this month."

November 7, 2001

Journalists changing face of Afghan village -- San Francisco Chronicle
Ilana Ozernoy reports that the influx of hundreds of foreign journalists has created an economic boom in the northern Afghan village of Jabal Seraj. Ozernoy says that the "trickle-down economics" of meeting journalists' demands has transformed the wind-swept village about 50 miles north of Kabul into "a capitalist haven." The village marketplace, which Ozernoy says once stocked "little more than pistachios and almonds," is overflowing with rarities such as ketchup, orange Tang and instant oatmeal. Despite the economic benefits, Reuters' Mike Collett-White reports the journalists haven't been ideal guests. Collett-White says that reporters have been disregarding local Muslim culture, smuggling vodka in water bottles and even paying anti-Taliban soldiers to arrange mock firefights for the cameras.

Musharraf calling for halt to bombing during Ramadan -- The Guardian (UK)
Pakistani leader General Pervez Musharraf, whose support for the US military campaign against the Taliban has made him an invaluable ally for Washington, is calling for a halt to the bombing of Afghanistan during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Musharraf, who will meet with government officials in Paris, London and Washington this week, said that any continuation of the bombing during Ramadan "will have definite negative effects around the Islamic world." Musharrraf will meet with President Bush on Saturday, one day after Ramadan begins.

Port security cutting into war on drugs -- The Philadelphia Inquirer
With 7,000 federal agents reassigned to counterterrorism duty and Coast Guard vessels busy protecting domestic ports, Tim Johnson reports that drug enforcement officials find themselves in a fight for resources. Asa Hutchinson, chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said it is too early to know whether the changes will require significant shifts in the agency's duties or a reworking of jurisdictional lines. Still, noting that the Coast Guard has reassigned as much as 75 percent of its fleet from the Caribbean to handle port security, Hutchinson says the shifts will have an impact. "I don't want Miami and the Caribbean to go back to the way it was in the 1980s," Hutchinson says.

November 6, 2001

Bungling homeland defense -- The Economist
The Bush administration has quickly created the Office of Homeland Security, widened the authority of FBI and police investigations, and heightened security restrictions on many of the nation's ports and borders. But, The Economist argues, the main target of terrorist activity is still poorly attended: the airlines. Saturday's security breach in Chicago, in which a man nearly boarded a United Airlines flight with seven knives, serves as one alarming example.

Airline security's 50 year-old baggage -- The Los Angeles Times
While airplane passengers are subject to intensified scrutiny, checked luggage is still getting a free ride. "Despite ample evidence that airliners are vulnerable to bombings, U.S. officials have made only halting progress in countering the explosives threat," Ted Rohrlich reports. Suitcase bombs have taken down more than two dozen planes since 1955, but even now "only a small percentage of passenger luggage on domestic flights is screened for explosives," Rohrlich writes.

White power groups to bin Ladin: You beat us to it -- The Village Voice
Many US white power organizations have publicly supported the Sept. 11 attacks, James Ridgeway reports, and are chastising movement members online for not being organized or powerful enough to commit the acts themselves. However, experts warn that right-wing extremists are capable of other forms of terrorism, like the recent flurry of anthrax scares aimed at abortion clinics. White-power groups have long held an interest in bioterrorism technology, and have even reportedly made alliances with the Iraqi government and members of Usama bin Ladin's al-Qaida, Ridgeway says.

Is there a doctor in the White House? -- Slate
One important voice has been conspicuously absent from the bio-terrorism clamor: the medical establishment. A clear explanation of potential health threats facing America from a "physician in chief" would go a long way to calming American nerves, Emily Yoffe writes, but the Bush Administration seems to be content to let Tom Ridge and Donald Rumsfeld reassure the public.

Have you seen this mullah? -- Voice of America
The Pentagon has upped the PR war in Afghanistan: It's now dropping leaflets specifically targeting the supreme leader of the Taliban. The leaflets, which contain photographs of Mullah Mohammed Omar and his car's license plate, as well as the inscription "We are watching," are intended to intimidate the Taliban, Alex Belida reports. The leaflets come in conjunction with radio announcements urging Afghans to refrain from feeding, assisting or harboring those connected to the Taliban or Usama bin Ladin's al-Qaida terrorist network.

November 5, 2001

Mystery men in Afghanistan -- The Los Angeles Times
There has been no scarcity of rumors about US military advisors in northern Afghanistan, but Paul Watson reports that four men seen observing anti-Taliban troops "had the look of the real thing." Watson says the men, conspicuous because of their light skin, wraparound sunglasses, western sportswear and expensive watches, refused to speak to journalists. An Afghan interpreter claimed the men spoke only Spanish, but Watson says they still refused to answer when asked a question by a Spanish-speaking photographer.

No more eyes in Afghanistan -- The Miami Herald
The departure of Pakistan's intelligence agents from Afghanistan has hurt the Pentagon's ability to wage war on the Taliban, say Michael Zielenziger and Juan O. Tamayo. Having cut off his country's support for the Taliban and pledged to provide intelligence support to the US, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has pulled all of Pakistan's agents from Afghanistan. Some experts believe that the loss of the Pakistani spies, many of whom maintained close friendships with high-ranking Taliban officials, will weaken the US campaign. But at least one expert, a former director of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, suggests it would be foolish to rely on information coming from sources friendly with the enemy.

Rushdie points finger at "paranoid Islam" -- The Guardian (UK)
Salman Rushdie, whose book The Satanic Verses earned him the enmity of Muslim fundamentalists, has again taken on the uncomfortable subject of radical Islam. In an opinion column, Rushdie argues that, despite what western leaders have said, the current conflict is very much "about Islam." But Rushdie says that the version of Islam the Taliban and others are fighting for "stands, in a jumbled, half-examined way, not only for the fear of God - the fear more than the love, one suspects - but also for a cluster of customs, opinions and prejudices." Those prejudices, Rushdie says, include "a loathing of modern society in general" and the cultural forces associated with it. "This paranoid Islam, which blames outsiders, 'infidels,' for all the ills of Muslim societies, and whose proposed remedy is the closing of those societies to the rival project of modernity, is presently the fastest-growing version of Islam in the world," Rushdie claims.

Compiled by MotherJones.com staff.