No Comment — June 4, 2007, 8:05 am

Department of Headless Chickens

This weekend brings word of a significant terrorist plot which targeted the delivery of aviation fuel to JFK. It was hyped in a completely shameless fashion by media airheads (Josh Marshall has a rundown of some of the most vapid and irresponsible pieces reporting the story). The initial account of the arrests presented by the U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn, Roslynn R. Mauskopf, invited much of this. According to the New York Times, Mauskopf stated:

“Had the plot been carried out, it could have resulted in unfathomable damage, deaths and destruction… The devastation that would be caused had this plot succeeded are just unthinkable.”

But those who know just a little bit about pipelines were very quick to throw cold water on the latest mushroom-cloud scenarios – it starts with the fact that pipelines are filed with product, not oxygen or oxygenated gases which can lead to tremendous explosions. For instance, an MSNBC piece up on Sunday:

Richard Kuprewicz, a pipeline expert and president of Accufacts Inc., an energy consulting firm that focuses on pipelines and tank farms, said the force of explosion would depend on the amount of fuel under pressure, but it would not travel up and down the line.

Later reports have made clear that the “plot” was in early stages, if that, and that the principal mover was a man who ran a business exporting air conditioners to Guyana with a reputation for outlandish claims. All this information is still fragmentary, but it doesn’t stack up with the claims that Mauskopf made or the initial reporting of the more hysteria-prone media.

Almost from the outset of the so-called war on terror, senior officers of the Department of Justice have been quick to make breathless, dramatic announcements of the apprehension of “terrorists” involved in vile plots. I still remember the dramatic announcement that John Ashcroft made on June 10, 2002 – in Moscow – of the capture of Jose Padilla. (In fact I was in Moscow that day and watched Ashcroft speak; I was foolish enough at the time to believe every word he uttered.) Most of the claims he made then failed to pan out, and the fact of Ashcroft’s press conference seems clearly to have driven a prosecution that leveler heads would have abandoned. The same is true of the Liberty City arrests in Florida, and a number of other prosecutions around the country. In each case, the acts of the Justice Department officials appear with more distance to be little short of fear-mongering with clear-cut partisan political overtones. Indeed, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge at one point openly acknowledged that alerts and announcements of the apprehension of terror suspects were playing a political agenda that he considered short-sighted.

The point here is not that there is no terrorist threat, or that risks are somehow imaginary. We clearly live in an environment in which the risk is growing with each passing month. The point is that public officials who attempt to exploit public fears for political purposes are undermining the integrity and authority of their office. And for the Department of Justice in particular, integrity is already in shockingly short supply.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

August 2016

Atlas Aggregated

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Origins of Speech

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Four in Verse

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Sigh and a Salute

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Four in Prose

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Don the Realtor

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
Martin Amis on the rise of Trump, Tom Wolfe on the origins of speech, Art Spiegelman on Si Lewen, fiction by Diane Williams, and more

In Havana, the past year has been marked by a parade of bold-faced names from the north — John Kerry reopening the United States Embassy; Andrew Cuomo bringing a delegation of American business leaders; celebrities ranging from Joe Torre, traveling on behalf of Major League Baseball to oversee an exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team, to Jimmy Buffett, said to be considering opening one of his Margaritaville restaurants there. All this culminated with a three-day trip in March by Barack Obama, the first American president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. But to those who know the city well, perhaps nothing said as much about the transformation of political relations between the United States and Cuba that began in December 2014 as a concert in the Tribuna Antiimperialista.

Illustration by Darrel Rees
Article
Don the Realtor·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"If you have ever wondered what it’s like, being a young and avaricious teetotal German-American philistine on the make in Manhattan, then your curiosity will be quenched by The Art of the Deal."
Photograph (detail) © Polly Borland/Exclusive by Getty Images
Article
The Origins of Speech·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"To Chomsky...every child’s language organ could use the 'deep structure,' 'universal grammar,' and 'language acquisition device' he was born with to express what he had to say, no matter whether it came out of his mouth in English or Urdu or Nagamese."
Illustration (detail) by Darrel Rees. Source photograph © Miroslav Dakov/Alamy Live News
Article
A Sigh and a Salute·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Si told me that various paintings had spoken to him, but he wished they had been hung closer together 'so they could talk to each other.' This observation planted a seed that would come to fruition years later in his mature work."
Artwork (detail) by Si Lewen
Article
El Bloqueo·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Amid the festivities and the flood of celebrities, it would be easy for Americans to miss that the central plank of the long-standing cold war against Cuba — the economic embargo — remains very much alive and well."
Photograph (detail) by Rose Marie Cromwell

Estimated portion of registered voters in Zimbabwe who are dead:

1/4

Honeybees can recognize individual human faces.

Pope Francis announced that nuns could use social media, and a priest flew a hot-air balloon around the world.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today