My contribution to Another French False Flag?: Bloody Tracks from Paris to San Bernardino, ed. Kevin Barrett, 2016.
In a 2008 World Public Opinion Poll, 46% of world citizens, including almost 80% of Americans, said they believe al-Qaeda was responsible for 9/11. In Muslim countries, the opinion was mixed, from from 3% in Pakistan and 11% in Jordan, to 35% in Morocco, 43% among Palestinians, and up to 71% in Nigeria (only 40% Muslim). There are leading public intellectuals, who do not share this view; some, notably contributors to this book and its predecessor We Are NOT Charlie Hebdo, raise questions about the official version of this year’s events in Paris.
I will not focus here on the details of the two French 9/11s, as some call them. My focus is broader and of course starts with 9/11 itself. Let me warn you: I am a doubting Thomas on all-encompassing conspiracy theories in general. I don't deny that 9/11 was a conspiracy, but so far, in my view, claims of such a conspiracy as MHOP (made it happen on purpose) by a secret cabal of hundreds of high level officials are even more incredible that the conventional wisdom, primarily because of Ockham's Razor, which states that among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.*
That said, my thesis is that indeed we live in a world of conspiracy, a systemic one called capitalism, that shapes our actions and our thinking. The moment 9/11 happened, as I watched the towers fall in real time from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, I thought 'Is this a Zionist plot?' I have great respect for Jewish know-how and determination. It has been honed year after year since 1947 in the Holy Land, where a Jewish settler-state has faced overwhelming opposition from the angry native Arabs, displaced to compensate European and American Jews for the crimes of Germans—the most glaring 'conspiracy' around, one which most people accept because it is 'good'—inciting, of course, many lesser plots of all kinds.
Surprise, surprise, cui bono (who benefits) points the finger at Israel in 9/11. There were tantalizing hints of cell phone warnings to Jews from an Israeli server, and a remarkable absence of Israelis among the dead, airline stock options mysteriously sold just days before the event, the famous dancing Israelis watching the collapse from across New York Bay in Jersey City, comments of delight from Israeli leaders (quickly adjusted to condolences), etc, etc.
But no smoking gun. Ditto, shadowy Pentagon figures. Lots of cui bono but no identifiable figures caught with their fingers in the pie in the sky. The one clear example of a false-flag attack at the time of 9/11 was the anthrax attack a few days afterwards, later implicitly acknowledged by the US government as a false-flag attack from an American germ warfare lab, designed to incite hatred of Muslims and solidarity with Israel.
As Barrett argues in We Are Not Charlie Hebdo, "Scrawled on the anthrax letters was the message: 'Death to America. Death to Israel. Allah is great.'" The perps succeeded in killing four Americans, infecting another seventeen, and "convincing Americans that Muslims could deliver weapons of mass destruction to anyone with a mailbox." A suspect was identified by the FBI but never convicted. This conspiracy was either by an independent crank or, by a cabal inside the US government, as suggested by Graeme MacQueen. In either case, the ineptness of it undermines the credibility of claims of a far grander conspiracy behind 9/11.
I will keep looking for what I consider credible smoking guns. I tell Kevin Barrett: 'Keep up your important search for evidence that can convince us skeptics. I wish you well.'
Right from the first articles I published after 9/11 in yellowtimes.org, beginning my creative journalist career (thank you 9/11!), I have been a sympathetic skeptic of the view that 9/11 was primarily a cynical, uber-Machiavellian conspiracy by the shadowy forces behind western society (neocon, Zionist, banker, Freemason, Illuminati...). But I encourage you, whether a truther or not, to read further. I swear that you will agree with me, whatever your take on 9/11 and its offsprings.
9/11 as uber-conspiracy
Conspiracy theories surrounding September 11 were granted a certain legitimacy in the Holy of Holies. Alan Riding (New York Times 26/6/02) predictably ridiculed the bestseller L'Effroyable Imposture (The Horrifying Fraud) by the leading conspiracy theorist Thierry Meyssan, which goes so far as to claim that the Pentagon was struck by an air-to-ground missile fired by the US Air Force and the planes which struck the World Trade Center were flown by similar elements in the US government.
Meyssan's book was quickly followed up by a critique L'Effroyable Mensonge (The Horrifying Lie) by Jean Guisnel and Guillaume Dasique. At the same time, Dasique wrote Osama bin Laden: The Forbidden Truth with Jean-Charles Brisard, describing a no less conspiratorial connection between September 11, but featuring Bin Laden and a stalled plan for Unocal to build a pipeline to exploit the vast natural gas fields along the Caspian Sea in Turkmenistan. Their story pointed damning fingers at American petroleum companies and the Bush administration, citing instances where US anti-terrorism efforts were thwarted in order to smooth the way for the pipeline deal.
Dasique exonerates the CIA and FBI, pointing to the fact that FBI deputy director responsible for the search for Bin Laden John O'Neill quit the FBI in disgust at that time, for the Bush administration's refusal to do anything about all the evidence pointing to a major al-Qaeda attack, and then himself was pulverized at the Trade Center on 9-11. That and the fact that soon-to-be Afghan President Hamid Karzai and then US advisor on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad were former Unocal consultants are outrageous. But these are not smoking guns, and don't tell us who dunnit.
The Unocal theory behind 9/11 has since been discredited, but the incompetence of Bush and Condaleezza Rice and Bush's love affair with Saudis, even the family of Osama Bin Laden, are well documented. 9/11 most certainly gave to Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld the blank check necessary to pursue their own conspiratorial activities to put in place a grand New World Order. Cui bono.
Conspiracy theory today
History is littered with real and imagined conspiracies, especially where the Cold War is concerned. We can laugh in retrospect at attempts to poison Fidel Castro's cigars, but the far more serious shenanigans of the radical right wing at critical junctures, when their agenda is threatened, show that with or without blatant conspiracies, the bad guys will fight tooth and nail to push their agenda, using whatever pretext is at hand. We should be careful not to be sidetracked from this broader picture.
The great turning points in the past century where militarism triumphed have all contained elements of conspiracy—the turning back of detente at crucial points during the 1930s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, and the refusal to honor the "peace dividend" promised following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Despite, in each case, mass peace movements creating pressure on politicians to resist militarism, the right was always able to triumph. When necessary, using subversion and overt conspiracy. Sometimes, by merely orchestrating and latching onto imagined threats.
Turning point 1
The Riechstag fire facilitated Hitler's seizure of power in 1933, and was officially solved, but continues to be debated. It certainly was convenient for the Nazis, but pinning down the responsibility for the Reichstag fire remains a problem. Did the accused, the communist Van der Lubbe, acted alone, as he said, to protest the condition of the German working class? The Nazis accused the Comintern of the act. A few historians endorse the conspiracy theory proposed by the Communist Party: that the arson was planned and ordered by the Nazis as a "false flag" operation. Whatever the truth, the Nazis used the fire to solidify their power and eliminate the communists as political rivals.
The term "Reichstag fire" has even entered the political lexicon along with "false flag" to denote a calamitous event staged by a political movement and orchestrated so as to cast blame on one's opponents. This is an ancient political tradition, which can be dated to the destruction of the palace of Diocletian at Nicomedia, which has been described as a "fourth-century Reichstag fire", used to justify an extensive persecution of Christians.
Turning point 2
The most convincing claim of a political conspiracy orchestrated by individuals is Pearl Harbor. There are individuals who can be identified—there were many in the US government, including FDR, that were eager for an excuse to declare war on Japan—but the fact stands: the Japanese attacked the US. They were not paying attention to what was happening in Europe, gambled on an Axis victory, and lost. But if your conspiracy is 'good' and you win, it is no longer a conspiracy.
Turning point 3
Consider the first great post-WWII crossroads, which was closed with the assassination of President Kennedy. The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty had just gone into effect and the 1962 Peace Prize awarded (a year late) to Linus Pauling, the major public figure behind the test ban campaign (a controversial award, delayed a year with 2 members of the selection committee resigning in protest, saying that Pauling was too pro-Soviet).
In his acceptance speech Pauling said: "The world has now begun its metamorphosis from its primitive period of history, when disputes between nations were settled by war, to its period of maturity, in which war will be abolished and world law will take its place." He saw the test ban treaty as "the first of a series of treaties that will lead to the new world from which war has been abolished forever. The first of a series of treaties that will lead to the new world from which war has been abolished forever."
This was surely the high point of the postwar detente. The Cuban missile crisis was safely behind us, and Kennedy, chastened by both it and the Bay of Pigs scandal, looked ready to talk seriously with Khrushchev, who had denounced Stalin and launched a policy of detente with the West, about a new world order, one which would include the Soviet Union.
If we are to believe the Oliver Stone school of thought, Kennedy was assassinated, a mere month after the test ban treaty, in a conspiracy, precisely because he was about to make a sea change in US foreign policy, embracing detente and making an about-face on Vietnam. Instead, the US war in Vietnam went into full gear, and Khrushchev was deposed.
Was this a conspiracy? I don't know. Again, there are tantalizing hints and lots of cui bono. Whatever really happened, it was nonetheless followed by "Full speed ahead!" for the US war machine. It's not all that important if it was a personally orchestrated conspiracy by a few nasties. It was really just part of the capitalist conspiracy holding us all hostage.
Turning point 4
Then there is the culmination of the anti-Vietnam war movement and the disarmament struggle in the 1970s, when popular pressure and a weakened US forced the government to sign major disarmament treaties and to cooperate with the Soviets in outer space—the Apollo-Souz program. The Olympics were about to be held in Moscow, when the world was suddenly shocked by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Surely, this was not the fault of the American right (though we all know that it went on to arm the anti-Christ Bin Laden himself)?
Now we find out that the story was more complex, that in fact, the US had already begun a program of covert aid to the Afghan guerrillas six months before the Soviets invaded. Former CIA director Robert Gates in his 1996 memoir From the Shadows revealed that peace-loving Jimmy Carter approved this secret $500 million aid program designed to counter the Soviet support to the pro-Soviet regime that had overthrown the dictator Daud (who had just overthrown his cousin, the king) in Kabul.
Some elements in the Carter administration wanted to lure the Soviets into a Vietnam-like entanglement. There were no strategic US interests at stake there (unless you argue that the US has strategic stakes everywhere at all times), as the Soviets had been close to Kabul since the 1920s. However, a pro-Soviet regime in Kabul was simply not acceptable to the right, and to inject poison into the underbelly of the Soviet empire was just too tempting to resist.
According to Gates, at a meeting on March 30, 1979, Under Secretary of Defense Walter Slocumbe suggested "there was value in keeping the Afghan insurgency going, 'sucking the Soviets into a Vietnamese quagmire.'" In a 1998 interview in Le Nouvel Observateur former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski admitted, "We didn't push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would."
Yet Carter, who authorized the covert program on July 3, 1979, today explains that it was definitely "not my intention" to inspire a Soviet invasion. The then Secretary of State Cyrus Vance's aide Marshall Shulman insists that the State Department worked hard to dissuade the Soviets from invading and would never have undertaken a program to encourage it, but admits he was unaware of the covert program at the time. Carter and Vance were hoodwinked. In a conspiracy against the US president. Does this sound like Rumsfeld vs Powell in Iraq 2003 (this time a conspiracy by the US president)?
Is it fair to label Brzezinski et al as conspirators in 1979? I think so. Either way, it created the foundations for the greatest military build-up that the world has ever seen, as Reagan won a landslide election in 1980 on the promise to deposit the Sovet Union in history's trash heap.
The detentes of Khrushchev, even stodgy conservative Brezhnev, and most certainly Gorbachev were serious threats to the right wing agenda. The case of Gorbachev is particularly tragic. Rarely in history does the leader of a powerful nation honestly (and in retrospect, foolishly) propose disarmament, and reject any desire for world hegemony, as did Gorbachev.
But the US right could not countenance Gorbachev's betrayal of the rules of their game. US policy ruthlessly continued to undermine him, even while making loud noises in his praise. US funds and arms continued to flow into Afghanistan, even after Soviet troops had withdrawn, and Reagan/ Bush Sr refused to negotiate disarmament seriously with Gorbachev. Why show magnanimity when your opponent is down?
Lots of cui bono in Afghanistan in 1979, and this time there is lots of hard evidence. This conspiracy was the real thing and, what's shocking, is that we cheered it on at the time. As Bush famously said: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice ..." But the perps have no sense of shame, and even bragged about it in their memoirs. They believed that their conspiracy was 'good', that they would win and be treated like heroes, their conspiracy forgiven and forgotten, like Pearl Harbor or Israel's bald-faced conspiracy today.
Turning point 5
Unfortunately for the right, Reagan's success had its downside. With the collapse of the Soviet Union the American war machine lost its raison d'etre and allowed a supposed disciple of JFK (Clinton, in case you fail to recognize the political legacy) to occupy the White House. Under eight years of Clinton, the US looked like it just might be coaxed towards a new era of internationalism comparable to that promised earlier by Pauling in his Nobel speech—nuclear disarmament, peace between the Palestinians and Israel, more reliance on international treaties, and greater authority for the UN.
Meanwhile, fears of global ecological disaster fueled the rise of a mass environmental movement, which demanded that the long-promised peace dividend be used to save the planet from a fate every bit as tragic as nuclear war. But the halting moves towards a saner world came crashing down with breathtaking acts of terrorism in the 1990s by Reagan's offspring in Afghanistan and elsewhere, culminating in a terrorist apotheosis on 9/11 (preceded by a cynical attempt to impeach Clinton and discredit his albeit problematic internationalist perspective).
Whether or not these tragic (or farcical events) were the active work of the CIA, etc, there is no doubt that in each case the events fit the needs of a US imperialism under attack.
Why gamble when it's a sure thing?
Imperialism, a systemic conspiracy, gets into gear when forces threaten, and history is bound to take its course with or without these dramatic footnotes. Bush's incompetence, his laissez-faire attitude once in office, his ignorance of international affairs, combined with his devotion to Saudi oil money,** caught up to him with a vengeance on 9/11.
Once it was clear the Taliban would not cave in to the offer of millions of dollars for a pipelines, and was every bit as anti-US as it was anti-Soviet, it became a matter of waiting for the appropriate terrorist pretext to be found to replace them. The Taliban were written off as a blip on the New World Order map, just as all anti-imperialist regimes are (see Bill Blum's Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II).
And, come to think of it, if Brzezinski et al are bona fide conspirators, as argued above, then Bush certainly is one for invading Afghanistan and Iraq, if not Cheney (so far their conspiracy can't conceivably be labeled 'good'). Lots of cui bono, but just as important, lots of hard evidence.
Is Cheney a Dr Strangelove? Sort of. But remember, Kubrick's film was a parody, a 'what if?' For all Cheney's madness, he mercifully is gone from the scene and we are still alive. At least those who are not his “collateral damage”.
If there is some element of active conspiracy of the 'powers that be' in 9/11 itself, let's say the conspirators were at most hoping for a botched job that would serve as their pretext for steering the US economy more securely onto its warpath, away from international treaties and UN-sponsored policing of trouble spots. But no need to be too nefarious, especially with the worst president in US history; lazy and stupid gets the job done without the nasty side effects of smoking guns. This is what is called LHOP (let it happen on purpose), which seems to me the most likely explanation of both the US and French '9/11s'.
This analysis of geopolitical intrigues is grounded in Marx, who built his powerful critique of capitalism on the contradictions resulting from the difference between appearance and reality. Often what looks one way is in fact quite the opposite. A capitalist tries to beat his competition, say, by lowering his selling price, but instead something quite unpredictable happens. Perhaps his action induces a price war and he goes bankrupt, losing everything. Or perhaps his competition forms a cartel and conspires against him.
Often, these conspiracies are complex and change their appearance quickly, impossible to pinpoint precisely. On a political level, capitalism as a system generates—and then uses—such cataclysmic events as the Reichstag fire or 9/11 to wage war against the enemy of the day, whether or not there is any relationship between them, and regardless of who perpetrated them. It is a world of illusive paradox – the appearance of freedom and equality on the surface, and the reality of exploitation and inequality underneath. The best we can do as analysts is use Ockham's Razor and Marx to try to make sense of both appearance and reality. And a word of advice for would-be conspirators: make sure you win.
*The most politic application of this principle was by Copernicus, who points out in his preface to De revolutionibus orbium coelestium that the motions of the sun, moon and other solar system planets can be calculated using a geocentric model (the earth is at the center) or using a heliocentric model (the sun is at the center). Both work, but the geocentric system requires many more assumptions than the heliocentric system, which has only seven.
**For buying out his bankrupt oil company back in 1984