"Osama bin Laden turned Blackwater into what it is today," Clark said. – Virginia Pilot, series on Blackwater, the mercenary company, July 24, 2006
In one of his weirder essays, “Secret Societies,” De Quincey claimed that at the age of seven (an important age for de Quincey – the age when his father died, and the age when he started dreaming vividly), he was introduced to the literature on secret societies – specifically, the dreaded Illuminati – by a thirty four year old woman. She loaned him Abbe Barruel’s Memoires pour servir a l’histoire du Jamcobinisme, a book that recounted the “dark associations” of a vast society organized to over throw Christianity. De Quincey was particularly – or perhaps morbidly – fascinated by Barruel’s use of a disease metaphor that has perennially clung to the conspiracy discourse
“I had already Latin enough to know that cancer meant a crab; and that the disease so appalling to a child’s imagination, which in English we call a cancer, asoon as it has passed beyond the state of an indolent scirrhous tumour, drew its name from the horrid claws, or spurs, or roots, by which it connected itself with distant points running underground, as it were, baffling detection, and defying radical extirpation.”
De Quincey, at seven, asks the right questions: ‘Then, also, when wickedness was so easy, why did people take all this trouble to be wicked? The how and the why were alike incomprehensible to me.”
“The mysteriousness to me of men becoming partners (and by no means sleeping partners) in a society of which they had never heard, - or, again, of one fellow standing at the beginning of a century, and stretching out his hand as an accomplice towards another fellow standing at the end of it, without either having known of the other’s existence, -- all that did but sharpen the interest of wonder that gathered about the general economy of Secret Societies. Tertullian’s profession of believing things, not in spite of being impossible, but simply because they were impossible, is not the extravagance that most people suppose it. There is a deep truth in it. Many are the things which, in proportion as they attract the highest modes of belief, discover a tendency to repel belief on that part of the scale which is governed by the lower understanding. And here, as so often elsewhere, the axiom with respect to extremes meeting manifests its subtle presence. The highest form of the incredible is sometimes the initial form of the credible.”
Albert Pionke, in Plots of Opportunity, his study of conspiracy literature in Victorian England, highlights the notion of a general economy of secret societies – the phrase being marked, for the literatus, by Bataille’s notion of general economy. But LI loves those last two sentences – English eccentricity finding its metaphysics.
Myself, I take a literary interest in conspiracies. I’ve noticed, however, much talk about conspiracy theory lately on the blogs, including a post on Charlotte Street contrasting conspiracy theory and incompetence. I think Mark Kaplan is responding to the conspiracy theories that still revolve around 9/11. In fact, there are nothing but conspiracy theories that revolve around 9/11. The orthodox view, which I share, is that the 9/11 attack was the result of a conspiracy devised by the leadership of Al Qaeda. Other theories finger other devisers of the attack – none of those theories seem to me to be convincing on any level. De Quincey’s question to the woman who gave him Barruel’s book was, why are the illuminati conspiring to overthrow Christianity? Her response was that then they could commit all kinds of wickedness, to which the wise child replied, but they could commit all kinds of wickedness anyway.
On the other hand, I have nursed my own conspiracy theory about another incident in the “war on terror … ttt-terrorism… ttt-terrorists.” In fact, I am very surprised that this incident has attracted so little attention. Perhaps it is because the Lefty side that opposes Bush has such ambiguous feelings about the Afghanistan war that it doesn't want to investigate what it means to leave a terrorist group on tap. I’m talking, of course, about the battle of Tora Bora, and the escape of Bin Laden into Pakistan.
Here is an instance, I think, when incompetence and conspiracy are two faces of the same coin. What really happened at Tora Bora has been reported, as most of the fuck-ups of the non-war have been reported, long after it really happened. To disarm the news, simply delay it for enough years that people don’t care any more – that does seem to be the strategy of the Big Fix in D.C., and it certainly works on the journalists. None of them, so far, have taken the hint from Suskind about Bush’s meeting with the CIA in August, 2001 and deepened it, so we still don’t know have a complete sense of our unpreparedness due, almost uniquely, to the apathy of the reigning potentate.
Anyway, I recently came across Army Times reporter Sean Naylor’s account of the battle. According to Naylor, the incompetence factor (although he doesn’t put it so bluntly) can be laid at the feet of General “Kick me in the ass” Franks, who operated in our heroic Afghanistan war as a conduit for the senilities of Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld, of course, didn’t want the Afghanistan war to involve regular troops, on the theory that that is where the Russians went wrong. No, we’d used bombing and our super duper special forces – initial decisions that we are paying for today. Anyway, the American force that approached Tora Bora at the end of November, 2001 was extremely small, and depended on Afghan allies that were busy feuding with each other. According to Naylor, as the siege proceeded, the Air Force flew over the twenty mile passage between Tora Bora and Pakistan and recorded “hot spots” on their heat sensing equipment. Now, CENTCOM, unbelievably, had never considered the possibility that Al Qaeda’s forces could escape from Tora Bora – thus, there were no guards on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. But the hot spot data did provoke some consultation:
“The Generals in Kuwait recommend[ed] bombing the positions as soon as possible. But Franks [who, you will recall, bravely lead our heroic troops from a boat in Florida] and his staff did not see it like that. “They might be shepherds,” was Control Command’s attitude, according to two officers who sat in on the video-teleconferences in which the matter was discussed. At CFLCC that theory didn’t wash. The idea that scores of shepherds were tending to their flocks at 10,000 feet in the middle of winter was implausible.”
Implausible is a kindly word. Let’s recall what was happening back at the scene in Tora Bora. This is from the NYT Magazine’s rather thorough article about it in 2005:
“The American bombardment of Tora Bora, which had been going on for a month, yielded to saturation airstrikes on Nov. 30 in anticipation of the ground war. Hundreds of civilians died that weekend, along with a number of Afghan fighters, according to Hajji Zaman, who had already dispatched tribal elders from the region to plead with bin Laden's commanders to abandon Tora Bora.” – Mary Ann Weaver, NYT, 9/11/05
Recall, also, that at the time Franks was displaying this untoward shepherdophilia, the U.S. was accepting payment from the Northern alliance in captives gathered at random – the camel driver, the Avon salesman, the cab driver – and subjecting them to the waterboarding, beatings, and sometimes murder that they obviously richly deserved.
So if it wasn’t kindness that drove Franks, what could it be? Well, LI’s search for a theory would begin by asking who would gain an advantage by a stripped down force of Al Qaeda escaping to Pakistan. Hmm. Well, they would provide a ready reminder of “terror” if there were people in the military and in the White House who intended to use the 9/11 attack to provoke, for purely political reasons, further wars that would aggrandize their shaky political position and – oh joy – unleash the fruits of the war culture, giving the government an excuse to spend hundreds of billions of dollars, especially in the Red States, and sweetening the retirement of every general who went along.
The problem with this theory is that it implies that the White House is full of cretinous, treasonous creatures who would flush the interests of the country down the toilet if it gave them an extra meal or two at Signatures restaurant.
In any case, how nice and thoughtful of OBL to be around, and popping out whenever needed, at the small cost of a few collateral deaths in Casablanca, London, and Madrid.
One of the very grateful people should be the founder of Blackwater, the mercenary company. The Virginia Pilot’s JOANNE KIMBERLIN AND BILL SIZEMORE have written a six piece series on that company. Here are highlights from different articles in the series.
“Blackwater wants all doors open. The company says it has more than two dozen projects under way, an almost dizzying pursuit of new frontiers.
-- In addition to its ongoing assignments guarding American officials and facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, Blackwater has won contracts to combat the booming opium trade in Afghanistan and to support a SEAL-like maritime commando force in Azerbaijan, an oil-rich former Soviet republic.
-- On the home front, Hurricane Katrina's $73 million purse has persuaded Blackwater officials to position themselves as the go-to guys for natural disasters. Operating licenses are being applied for in every coastal state of the country. Governors are being given the pitch, including California's Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom a Blackwater official recently visited to discuss earthquake response.
"We want to make sure they're aware of who we are and what we can bring to the table," said Seamus Flatley, deputy director of Blackwater's new domestic operations division. "We want to get out ahead of it."
-- Last year, the company opened offices in Baghdad and Amman, Jordan. More recent expansion plans call for a Blackwater West in Southern California and a jungle training facility at the former Subic Bay naval base in the Philippines.”
From the first article:
“The company had spent its first three years struggling for an identity, paying staff with an executive's credit card and begging for customers.
"But in 2000, in the fallout from the terrorist attack on the destroyer Cole, Blackwater found its future: providing security in an increasingly insecure world.
"There is nothing humble about the company today. In March, Fast Company business magazine, under the heading "Private Army," named Blackwater President Gary Jackson No. 11 in its annual "Fast 50" list of leaders who are "writing the history of the next 10 years." It made special note of the company's estimated 600 percent revenue growth between 2002 and 2005.
Blackwater has rocketed from obscurity to the big time in less than a decade. Peter Singer, author of "Corporate Warriors" and a scholar at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, says that although Blackwater might not be the biggest player in the private military industry, "they've certainly gained the biggest profile."”
“While the company had struggled early on, its timing was excellent. Several forces had created a perfect storm for the rise of the private military industry.
"Instead of peace, the end of the Cold War created a power vacuum and a chaotic world order, putting millions of former soldiers out on the market. At the same time, there was a growing trend toward privatization of government functions. The result: a $100 billion-a-year global business.”
Ah, all the disgusting details. Definitely check out these articles at the Virginia Pilot’s site. Yes, who did benefit from OBL’s escape? Hint – it wasn’t shepherds.