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:

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

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.

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

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

September 2015

Weed Whackers

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Tremendous Machine

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Goose in a Dress

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Genealogy of Orals

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Romancing Kano·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:

The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.

leadership
service
integrity
creativity

Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.

Article
The Prisoner of Sex·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It is disappointing that parts of Purity read as though Franzen urgently wanted to telegraph a message to anyone who would defend his fiction from charges of chauvinism: ‘No, you’ve got me wrong. I really am sexist.’”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
Gangs of Karachi·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In Karachi, sometimes only the thinnest of polite fictions separates the politicians from the men who kill and extort on their behalf.”
Photograph © Asim Rafiqui/NOOR Images
Article
Weed Whackers·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Defining 'native' and 'invasive' in an ever-shifting natural world poses some problems. The camel, after all, is native to North America, though it went extinct here 8,000 years ago, while the sacrosanct redwood tree is invasive, having snuck in at some point in the past 65 million years.”
Photograph by Chad Ress
Article
The Neoliberal Arts·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“College is seldom about thinking or learning anymore. Everyone is running around trying to figure out what it is about. So far, they have come up with buzzwords, mainly those three.”
Artwork by Julie Cockburn

Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:

65

An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.

A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today