June 1, 2002
It's Only a Traditional Hijacking, Folks, So Just Sit Back and Enjoy the Flight
By Warren Pease
National Security Adviser Condi Rice, looking eerily like a bobble-head doll with a stretched spring, spent about 45 minutes last Thursday telling the nation that while the Bush administration had advance warning of significant terrorist activity involving hijacked airliners, they failed to recognize that these events would be "non-traditional."
Now that traditional and non-traditional hijackings have entered the national lexicon, it seems useful to examine the characteristics of each so that the flying public can decide if they're in for a stay in the Libyan desert or a date with a skyscraper.
The Traditional Hijacking: Understated but Elegant
Traditional hijackers wear leather and bandoleers. Their leaders stride slowly and purposefully up the aisle to the cockpit. Their accomplices glare threateningly at the passengers while the theme from "Shaft," arranged for bouzouki and kazoo, blares from the cabin PA.
Traditionalists have no use for box cutters. They prefer the time-honored tools of their craft: Fine automatic weapons and plastique, smuggled on board while Office of Homeland Security geniuses busied themselves jacking up 75-year-old grannies and confiscating their sewing scissors and tooth brushes.
In any case, Ward, June, Wally and the Beav aren't going to grandma's after all. They're on their way to spend four fabulous days in Libya, where they'll sit on the broiling tarmac at Tripoli for endless hours without air conditioning -- eating cold couscous, inhaling the scent of overflowing chemical toilets and watching the hijackers solidify their bargaining positions by shooting a passenger every hour, on the hour.
Then, the traditional storming of the plane, complete with concussion grenades, tear gas, and a couple of hijackers ripped to bloody shreds by automatic weapons fire. The rest are led away in irons shouting unintelligible Arabic phrases which, loosely translated into our native tongue, mean, "You ain't got nothin', copper. I'll be back on the streets in an hour."
Who would want to be warned against the thrill of a lifetime? Quelle adventurous! Tres chic!
The Non-Traditional Hijacking: Avant Garde, Bold and Sooo 21st Century
Non-traditional hijackers -- on "non-trads," as they're known in secret White House memos -- wear black, eschew conventional weaponry and ram the planes into buildings when they're done. One can sense the difference right away, particularly with the obvious absence of American film soundtracks and glaring accomplices.
And the weaponry -- sheer genius. Who needs guns and explosives when, according to coded instructions in the secret Al-Qaida manual, non-trads can build their own lethal weapons using a pocket full of everyday, non-metallic geegaws costing about $3.59 at Home Depot.
In less than five minutes, non-trads can turn these innocent-looking parts into a combination plasma-driven particle beam death ray and high-altitude glider.
According to an Office of Homeland Security memo, passengers should know that a non-traditional hijacking is in progress when the air pirates storm their way down the main aisle and into the cabin, vaporizing the entire flight crew and several patriotic passengers along the way.
Once inside the cockpit, the non-trads set the autopilot on glide path for the nearest major city, blast their way back down the aisle and exit the plane through a rear door, deploying the glider at 15,000 feet and using the death ray as a steering mechanism.
A few minutes after the non-traditional hijackers escape, Air Force fighter jets carrying enough ordnance to destroy the moon form up on the jetliner. The squadron leader idles a hundred feet or so off the jetliner's port wing, smiling and waving and giving thumbs-ups to the passengers. He's awaiting instructions from the president himself.
But all hell's breaking loose in the White House situation room. Two teams of perfectly tailored, elegantly coifed Gucci Gulch bagmen with competing agendas are involved in a game of high-stakes poker.
It seems that the airline's insurance policy will cover crashes resulting from acts of sabotage, but the policy is void if the plane is shot down by US forces over US soil. Obviously, it's in the best interests of the airline if the plane simply crashes, while the insurance company would rather the plane were shot down so they don't have to pay out anything.
So the lobbyists are raising and counter-raising their pledges for GOP campaign coffers, plunging ahead with looks of steely confidence while secretly hoping the bidding ends before they're in serious debt. An RNC bookkeeper punches numbers into a PalmTop every few minutes and smiles quietly.
Finally the airline can go no higher. Already beleaguered by decades of deregulation, lousy management and the public's aversion to airline travel since 9-11, the airline's lobbyists can't match the insurance industry's $20M campaign donation.
Wondering whatever possessed him to sign that insane campaign finance reform bill, the president reaches for the phone and gives the order to shoot down the plane. High in the sky, the squadron leader looks over at the passengers, smiles and waves again, pops the safety cover on his air-to-air weapons systems, and blows the jetliner out of the sky.
Now this is definitely the kind of thing you'd like some advance warning about. The Libyan desert is one thing, but atomization is quite another. But how could anyone know these hijackings would be non-traditional?
Oh, How Could We Possibly Have Known?
The White House asks the American people not to judge them too harshly. After all, they say, with all these nonspecific warnings, it would have crippled the airline industry to issue warnings that would have curtailed air travel. And really, what's a few thousand lives compared with the health of one of America's backbone industries.
But as to advance notice of specific types of terrorist actions, one supposes they could have read the conclusions of the Hart-Rudman Commission, which in December 2000 warned that:
- "Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers."
- "America will become increasingly vulnerable to hostile attack on our homeland, and our military superiority will not entirely protect us."
- "The combination of unconventional weapons proliferation with the persistence of international terrorism will end the relative invulnerability of the US homeland to catastrophic attack. To deter attack against the homeland in the 21st century, the United States requires a new triad of prevention, protection, and response."
- "America's present global predominance does not render it immune from these dangers. To the contrary, US preeminence makes the American homeland more appealing as a target, while America's openness and freedoms make it more vulnerable."
- "This Commission believes that the security of the American homeland from the threats of the new century should be the primary national security mission of the US government."
- "Since the occurrence of even one event that causes catastrophic loss of life would represent an unacceptable failure of policy, US strategy should therefore act as far forward as possible to prevent attacks on the homeland."
Gee, ya think? Unfortunately, the Bush administration apparently tossed the commission's findings into the trash, probably because they were inherited from Bill Clinton and AG John Ashcroft was worried that that icky whitish goo on the cover of his copy could have been -- you know. . . Turns out it was sugar from a glazed donut, but you just can't be too careful these days.
But the administration didn't stop playing ostrich there. It hopes we believe that it was merely incompetent when it ignored warnings from the FBI, the CIA, foreign intelligence services, and international heads of state that flooded the White House almost from the time the moving vans departed.
It hopes we believe that it was merely coincidental that George W. Bush slept on the aircraft carrier Enterprise in Genoa harbor during the G8 talks last July rather than in the customary plush hotel because US intelligence had received warnings from European security services that the Bin Laden organization might be planning to use hijacked airliners as assassination weapons against Bush and other G8 leaders. Not taking those threats idly, Italian security officials deployed batteries of surface-to-air missiles to shoot down possible airborne attackers.
The administration hopes we believe all this because, if we don't, the only other logical conclusions we can draw from its uniquely inept performance begin with collusion and end with firing squads.
So the news is bad these days for BushCo, but it's been a great week for the other six billion inhabitants of the planet. Excuses are wearing thin. Even some Republican stalwarts are demanding a full investigation (although their motives in doing so are far from clear).
Most shocking of all, the comatose American mainstream media shows a slight improvement in vital signs. Viewers of various cable and over-the-air news broadcasts report occasional brief glimpses of actual journalistic integrity. The May 20 editions of Time and Newsweek asked some hard questions -- at least seven months late, but fear is a powerful thing.
Even the mainstream dailies are starting to act like there's such a thing as the First Amendment. The fact that they've been scooped by virtually the entire rest of the world may have finally begun to chafe. More likely, they just want to sell more papers. But whatever the reason, the results are encouraging.
There are still constants in the world, however. Wingnut radio continues to blast Bill Clinton for everything from the dinosaur die-off to male pattern baldness.
Bloviating wingnuts notwithstanding, when all the dots are finally connected, when everybody's sick of parsing traditional and non-traditional hijackings, when Ari spins for the last time. . . the only real question left is which offense to charge these frauds with: criminal negligence, treason or accessory to mass murder.
Lately, Dickens' Madame DeFarge seems a far more sympathetic character. Her needles click, the blade falls, another head rolls, the victims are avenged.
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