Thursday, June 22, 2006

A tinfoil-hat story without the tinfoil

William Arkin, author of Codenames: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs, and Operations in the 9/11 World (2005) deciphers some very current ones for us - partially, anyway - in Code Name(s) of the Week: Marble Challenge, Focal Point Washington Post 06/22/06:

Today, the government will announce that four days of coordinated exercises to prepare for a WMD attack on Washington have wrapped

Three exercises, involving all elements of military and civilian government and utilizing a common scenario, began Monday.  They include Forward Challenge 06, a continuity of government live event that I have written about here before; Top Officials 4 (TOPOFF 4), the fourth in a series of nationwide "consequence management" command post exercises, and a highly classified FBI exercise called Marble Challenge 06-02.

It reads like a tinfoil-hat story.  But Arkin is a real military analyst and he's careful about drawing conclusions.  He's not ohjecting to the exercises.  But he does raise some questions without trying to answer them.  He asks a question about the level of "compartmentalization" in the relevant unit in NORTHCOM (US command covering the US), though I must admit I don't fully understand the implications of what he's asking there.

Arkin seems to think, for instance, that the exercises are too focused on "weapons of mass destruction" attacks:

According to Department of Homeland Security press materials, the exercise is based on the National Planning Scenarios (NPS), a series of 15 hypothetical events about which I wrote last year.  "Scenarios are based on researched terrorist[s]’ capabilities," DHS says.

Terrorists have the "capability" to obtain illicit nuclear materials, the "capability" to fabricate 10-kiloton nuclear devices, the "capability" to smuggle not one but two nuclear devices into the United States,and the "capability" to get one of those nuclear device to downtown D.C. and detonate it.  A terrorist group has been given all of these "capabilities," by someone writing a fictional account of a non-existent organization.

Don't you get it?  "Actual terrorist organizations' capabilities" become plausible threats through sheer repetition and the WMD stranglehold.  The threats, realistic or not, influence policy and plans.  In turn, those policies and plans makes the threats seem real.

The necessity for war against Saddam Hussein, a U.S. first strike on North Korea, a suspension of U.S. law to fight the Universal Adversary - pretty soon just about anything can be justified to keep those mushroom clouds away.

If I'm reading him correctly on this one, he's suggesting that a fixation on "rogue states" and their nuclear weapons ambitions may be exerting an overwhelming influence on antiterrorism planning.  While the actual 9/11 attacks, the ones that are the excuse for anything Bush wants to do now, legal or illegal, those attacks reportedly cost about $250,000 and relied on box cutters and hijacked airplanes.

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