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:

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

From the June 2014 issue

The Guantánamo “Suicides,” Revisited

A missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

March 2015

A Sage in Harlem

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Man Stopped

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Spy Who Fired Me

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Giving Up the Ghost

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Invisible and Insidious

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Fourth Branch·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Both the United States and the Soviet Union saw student politics as a proxy battleground for their rivalry.”
Photograph © Gerald R. Brimacombe/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
Article
Giving Up the Ghost·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Stories about past lives help explain this life — they promise a root structure beneath the inexplicable soil of what we see and live and know, what we offer one another.”
Illustration by Steven Dana
Article
The Spy Who Fired Me·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In industry after industry, this data collection is part of an expensive, high-tech effort to squeeze every last drop of productivity from corporate workforces.”
Illustration by John Ritter
Article
No Slant to the Sun·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

For the past three years my dosimeter had sat silently on a narrow shelf just inside the door of a house in Tokyo, upticking its final digit every twenty-four hours by one or two, the increase never failing — for radiation is the ruthless companion of time. Wherever we are, radiation finds and damages us, at best imperceptibly. During those three years, my American neighbors had lost sight of the accident at Fukushima. In March 2011, a tsunami had killed hundreds, or thousands; yes, they remembered that. Several also recollected the earthquake that caused it, but as for the hydrogen explosion and containment breach at Nuclear Plant No. 1, that must have been fixed by now — for its effluents no longer shone forth from our national news. Meanwhile, my dosimeter increased its figure, one or two digits per day, more or less as it would have in San Francisco — well, a trifle more, actually. And in Tokyo, as in San Francisco, people went about their business, except on Friday nights, when the stretch between the Kasumigaseki and Kokkai-Gijido-mae subway stations — half a dozen blocks of sidewalk, which commenced at an antinuclear tent that had already been on this spot for more than 900 days and ended at the prime minister’s lair — became a dim and feeble carnival of pamphleteers and Fukushima refugees peddling handicrafts.

One Friday evening, the refugees’ half of the sidewalk was demarcated by police barriers, and a line of officers slouched at ease in the street, some with yellow bullhorns hanging from their necks. At the very end of the street, where the National Diet glowed white and strange behind other buildings, a policeman set up a microphone, then deployed a small video camera in the direction of the muscular young people in drums against fascists jackets who now, at six-thirty sharp, began chanting: “We don’t need nuclear energy! Stop nuclear power plants! Stop them, stop them, stop them! No restart! No restart!” The police assumed a stiffer stance; the drumming and chanting were almost uncomfortably loud. Commuters hurried past along the open space between the police and the protesters, staring straight ahead, covering their ears. Finally, a fellow in a shabby sweater appeared, and murmured along with the chants as he rounded the corner. He was the only one who seemed to sympathize; few others reacted at all.

Photograph © Stuart Franklin/Magnum Photos
Article
Invisible and Insidious·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Wherever we are, radiation finds and damages us, at best imperceptibly.”
Photograph © 2011 Massimo Mastrorillo and Donald Weber/VII

Number of U.S. congressional districts in which trade with China has produced more jobs than it has cost:

1

Young bilingual children who learned one language first are likelier than monolingual children and bilingual children who learned languages simultaneously to say that a dog adopted by owls will hoot.

An Oklahoma legislative committee voted to defund Advanced Placement U.S. History courses, accusing the curriculum of portraying the United States as “a nation of oppressors and exploiters.”

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Driving Mr. Albert

By

He could be one of a million beach-bound, black-socked Florida retirees, not the man who, by some odd happenstance of life, possesses the brain of Albert Einstein — literally cut it out of the dead scientist's head.

Subscribe Today