TBR News June 25, 2020

Jun 25 2020

The Voice of the White House
“Here we have today’s headlines in The Guardian about the dread Covic-19

  • Covid-19 Trump plan to cut federal support for testing sites sparks alarm
  • Trump: President and his health officials diverge on Covid-19
  • Video explainer How Trump has defied science on coronavirus
  • California State sees 69% rise in two days as LA has most US cases
  • 48m more Americans file for unemployment as pandemic takes toll
  • California sees 69% Covid-19 rise in two days as LA county has most cases in US
  • Texas Covid-19 cases hit all-time daily high as Houston hospitals near capacity
  • Europe’s cases surge since lockdowns eased; 1,100 Qatar World Cup workers test positive
  • World should build ‘new normal’ post-pandemic – WHO chief; World Cup worker dies from Covid-19; Europe sees increase in weekly cases for first time in months
  • Israel brings back tracking system after surge in Covid-19 cases
  • England: major incident declared as people flock to south coast
  • Air cooling systems in abattoirs could heighten Covid-19 risk
  • How Trump and his officials diverge on coronavirus
  • Revealed: data shows 10 countries risking coronavirus second wave as lockdown relaxed
  • Of the 45 countries to have recorded more than 25,000 coronavirus cases to date, 21 currently have relaxed responses to the pandemic. Of these, 10 are reporting a rising number of cases

Why not add:

  • Everyone in Norway dead of Covid-19
  • Can peanut butter spread Covid-19?
  • Does Covid-19 cause involuntary bowel movements?
  • Do crocodiles spread Covid-19?


Trump’s Approval Rating

June 20

USA Rating

Approve     Disapprove

35%          65%

The Table of Contents

  • FBI Expands ability to collect cellphone location data, monitor social media, recent contracts show
  • The Poor Man’s Air Force: A History of the Car Bomb
  • Is AIPAC Finished?
  • Israeli Spying in US, Part 1 1947-2009
  • Jesus: Fact and Fiction
  • The Encyclopedia of American Loons

FBI Expands ability to collect cellphone location data, monitor social media, recent contracts show
June 24, 2020
by Lee Fang
The Intercept

The Federal Bureau of Investigation may be watching what you tweet and where people gather.

The federal law enforcement agency’s records show a growing focus on harnessing the latest private sector tools for mass surveillance, including recent contracts with companies that monitor social media posts and collect cellphone location data.

On May 26, as demonstrations around the country erupted over the police killing of George Floyd, the FBI signed an expedited agreement to extend its relationship with Dataminr, a company that monitors social media.

A few days later, the agency modified an agreement it signed in February with Venntel, Inc., a Virginia technology firm that maps and sells the movements of millions of Americans. The company purchases bulk location data and sells it largely to government agencies.

The FBI has long pursued advanced technological tools to rapidly predict crime and locate potential suspects, capabilities that have raised concerns that the agency targets lawful forms of protest and free expression. Earlier this year, the agency released a bid proposal for technological solutions to “obtain early alerts on ongoing national security and public safety-related events through lawfully collected/acquired social media data.”

It’s not clear exactly how the February Venntel contract was modified. Chris Gildea, the president of Venntel, did not respond to a request for comment. The company is a subsidiary of Gravy Analytics, a major data broker that sells location-tracking information to advertisers and other clients, which also declined to comment “due to the confidential nature of that work.” A spokesperson for the FBI also declined to comment for this article.

Dataminr, which already held contracts with the FBI worth over $1 million, monitors social media for breaking news and events. “Dataminr provides the FBI with First Alert, a product that delivers breaking news alerts on emergency events, such as natural disasters, fires, explosions and shootings,” noted a spokesperson for Dataminr in a statement.

The statement claimed that the service “was designed and built to technologically restrict all forms of surveillance and be compliant with the user protection and data use policies of social media platforms.”

Christopher Wray, the director of the FBI, has warned that “terrorism today moves at the speed of social media.” During testimony last year, Wray told lawmakers that threats from “everything from anarchist groups to racially-motivated violent extremist groups” tend to “begin mostly online.”

But critics of the agency are concerned that the new reach could encroach upon First Amendment-protected speech.

“We are deeply concerned that the FBI is further expanding their surveillance capacity,” said Mary Zerkel, coordinator of the American Friends Service Committee’s Communities Against Islamophobia program.

“The FBI has for decades used surveillance and racial profiling to target Muslims, immigrants, people of color, activists in general, and Black activists in particular. AFSC itself has a substantial FBI file,” added Zerkel. “Mass data collection tools will only serve to further criminalize protests and free speech, and expand the criminalization of Muslims and people of color.”

Few regulations exist to restrict the use of location-tracking data, a form of data collection that many common phone applications collect and monetize. The Supreme Court’s 2018 Carpenter v. United States ruled that government prosecutors require a warrant to obtain cellphone location data from service providers. But many experts worry that the ruling may not apply to third-party data brokers such as Venntel.

The Intercept has reported that since the recent wave of street demonstrations, FBI agents have questioned at least one individual for simply tweeting in jest that they are members of “antifa,” a reference to a style of violent activism popular among some on the activist far-left. Members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force have also questioned protest organizers at their homes — sometimes within hours of posting an event on social media.

The FBI has tapped other notable surveillance firms in recent years, including Palantir, which builds tools to visualize relationships using an array of information, from social media to license plate numbers.

But the embrace of powerful mass location data through a firm such as Venntel represents a potential new era for the agency.

The Wall Street Journal was the first to report that government agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had tapped Venntel for tax and immigration enforcement, respectively. After the initial story ran, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., reportedly reached out to the company to inquire about the federal government’s use of the technology — but that the company declined to answer most questions.

The Poor Man’s Air Force: A History of the Car Bomb
April 12, 2006
by Mike Davis

Buda’s Wagon (1920

You have shown no pity to us! We will do likewise. We will dynamite you!

— Anarchist warning (1919)

On a warm September day in 1920, a few months after the arrest of his comrades Sacco and Vanzetti, a vengeful Italian anarchist named Mario Buda parked his horse-drawn wagon near the corner of Wall and Broad Streets, directly across from J. P. Morgan Company. He nonchalantly climbed down and disappeared, unnoticed, into the lunchtime crowd. A few blocks away, a startled postal worker found strange leaflets warning: “Free the Political Prisoners or it will be Sure Death for All of You!” They were signed: “American Anarchist Fighters.” The bells of nearby Trinity Church began to toll at noon. When they stopped, the wagon — packed with dynamite and iron slugs — exploded in a fireball of shrapnel.

“The horse and wagon were blown to bits,” writes Paul Avrich, the celebrated historian of American anarchism who uncovered the true story. “Glass showered down from office windows, and awnings twelve stories above the street burst into flames. People fled in terror as a great cloud of dust enveloped the area. In Morgan’s offices, Thomas Joyce of the securities department fell dead on his desk amid a rubble of plaster and walls. Outside scores of bodies littered the streets.”

Buda was undoubtedly disappointed when he learned that J.P. Morgan himself was not among the 40 dead and more than 200 wounded — the great robber baron was away in Scotland at his hunting lodge. Nonetheless, a poor immigrant with some stolen dynamite, a pile of scrap metal, and an old horse had managed to bring unprecedented terror to the inner sanctum of American capitalism.

His Wall Street bomb was the culmination of a half-century of anarchist fantasies about avenging angels made of dynamite; but it was also an invention, like Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine, far ahead of the imagination of its time. Only after the barbarism of strategic bombing had become commonplace, and when air forces routinely pursued insurgents into the labyrinths of poor cities, would the truly radical potential of Buda’s “infernal machine” be fully realized.

Buda’s wagon was, in essence, the prototype car bomb: the first use of an inconspicuous vehicle, anonymous in almost any urban setting, to transport large quantities of high explosive into precise range of a high-value target. It was not replicated, as far as I have been able to determine, until January 12, 1947 when the Stern Gang drove a truckload of explosives into a British police station in Haifa, Palestine, killing 4 and injuring 140. The Stern Gang (a pro-fascist splinter group led by Avraham Stern that broke away from the right-wing Zionist paramilitary Irgun) would soon use truck and car bombs to kill Palestinians as well: a creative atrocity immediately reciprocated by British deserters fighting on the side of Palestinian nationalists.

Vehicle bombs thereafter were used sporadically — producing notable massacres in Saigon (1952), Algiers (1962), and Palermo (1963) — but the gates of hell were only truly opened in 1972, when the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) accidentally, so the legend goes, improvised the first ammonium nitrate-fuel oil (ANFO) car bomb. These new-generation bombs, requiring only ordinary industrial ingredients and synthetic fertilizer, were cheap to fabricate and astonishingly powerful: they elevated urban terrorism from the artisanal to the industrial level, and made possible sustained blitzes against entire city centers as well as the complete destruction of ferro-concrete skyscrapers and residential blocks.

The car bomb, in other words, suddenly became a semi-strategic weapon that, under certain circumstances, was comparable to airpower in its ability to knock out critical urban nodes and headquarters as well as terrorize the populations of entire cities. Indeed, the suicide truck bombs that devastated the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 prevailed — at least in a geopolitical sense — over the combined firepower of the fighter-bombers and battleships of the U.S. Sixth Fleet and forced the Reagan administration to retreat from Lebanon.

Hezbollah’s ruthless and brilliant use of car bombs in Lebanon in the 1980s to counter the advanced military technology of the United States, France, and Israel soon emboldened a dozen other groups to bring their insurgencies and jihads home to the metropolis. Some of the new-generation car bombers were graduates of terrorism schools set up by the CIA and Pakistani intelligence (the ISI), with Saudi financing, in the mid-1980s to train mujahedin to terrorize the Russians then occupying Kabul. Between 1992 and 1998, 16 major vehicle bomb attacks in 13 different cities killed 1,050 people and wounded nearly 12,000. More importantly from a geopolitical standpoint, the IRA and Gama’a al-Islamiyya inflicted billions of dollars of damage on the two leading control-centers of the world economy — the City of London (1992, 1993, and 1996) and lower Manhattan (1993) — and forced a reorganization of the global reinsurance industry.

In the new millennium, 85 years after that first massacre on Wall Street, car bombs have become almost as generically global as iPods and HIV-AIDS, cratering the streets of cities from Bogota to Bali. Suicide truck bombs, once the distinctive signature of Hezbollah, have been franchised to Sri Lanka, Chechnya/Russia, Turkey, Egypt, Kuwait, and Indonesia. On any graph of urban terrorism, the curve representing car bombs is rising steeply, almost exponentially. U.S.-occupied Iraq, of course, is a relentless inferno with more than 9,000 casualties — mainly civilian — attributed to vehicle bombs in the two-year period between July 2003 and June 2005. Since then, the frequency of car-bomb attacks has dramatically increased: 140 per month in the fall of 2005, 13 in Baghdad on New Year’s Day 2006 alone. If roadside bombs or IEDs are the most effective device against American armored vehicles, car bombs are the weapon of choice for slaughtering Shiite civilians in front of mosques and markets and instigating an apocalyptic sectarian war.

Under siege from weapons indistinguishable from ordinary traffic, the apparatuses of administration and finance are retreating inside “rings of steel” and “green zones,” but the larger challenge of the car bomb seems intractable. Stolen nukes, Sarin gas, and anthrax may be the “sum of our fears,” but the car bomb is the quotidian workhorse of urban terrorism. Before considering its genealogy, however, it may be helpful to summarize those characteristics that make Buda’s wagon such a formidable and undoubtedly permanent source of urban insecurity.

First, vehicle bombs are stealth weapons of surprising power and destructive efficiency. Trucks, vans, or even SUVs can easily transport the equivalent of several conventional 1,000-pound bombs to the doorstep of a prime target. Moreover, their destructive power is still evolving, thanks to the constant tinkering of ingenious bomb-makers. We have yet to face the full horror of semi-trailer-sized explosions with a lethal blast range of 200 yards or of dirty bombs sheathed in enough nuclear waste to render mid-Manhattan radioactive for generations.

Second, they are extraordinarily cheap: 40 or 50 people can be massacred with a stolen car and maybe $400 of fertilizer and bootlegged electronics. Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, bragged that his most expensive outlay was in long-distance phone calls. The explosive itself (one half ton of urea) cost $3,615 plus the $59 per day rental for a ten-foot-long Ryder van. In contrast, the cruise missiles that have become the classic American riposte to overseas terrorist attacks cost $1.1 million each.

Third, car bombings are operationally simple to organize. Although some still refuse to believe that Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols didn’t have secret assistance from a government or dark entity, two men in the proverbial phone booth — a security-guard and a farmer — successfully planned and executed the horrendous Oklahoma City bombing with instructional books and information acquired from the gun-show circuit.

Fourth, like even the ‘smartest’ of aerial bombs, car bombs are inherently indiscriminate: “Collateral damage” is virtually inevitable. If the logic of an attack is to slaughter innocents and sow panic in the widest circle, to operate a “strategy of tension,” or just demoralize a society, car bombs are ideal. But they are equally effective at destroying the moral credibility of a cause and alienating its mass base of support, as both the IRA and the ETA in Spain have independently discovered. The car bomb is an inherently fascist weapon.

Fifth, car bombs are highly anonymous and leave minimal forensic evidence. Buda quietly went home to Italy, leaving William Burns, J. Edgar Hoover, and the Bureau of Investigation (later, to be renamed the FBI) to make fools of themselves as they chased one false lead after another for a decade. Most of Buda’s descendants have also escaped identification and arrest. Anonymity, in addition, greatly recommends car bombs to those who like to disguise their handiwork, including the CIA, the Israeli Mossad, the Syrian GSD, the Iranian Pasdaran, and the Pakistani ISI — all of whom have caused unspeakable carnage with such devices.

Preliminary Detonations (1948-63)

“Reds’ Time Bombs Rip Saigon Center”

— New York Times’ headline (January 10,. 1952)

The members of the Stern Gang were ardent students of violence, self-declared Jewish admirers of Mussolini who steeped themselves in the terrorist traditions of the pre-1917 Russian Socialist-Revolutionary Party, the Macedonian IMRO, and the Italian Blackshirts. As the most extreme wing of the Zionist movement in Palestine — “fascists” to the Haganah and “terrorists” to the British — they were morally and tactically unfettered by considerations of diplomacy or world opinion. They had a fierce and well-deserved reputation for the originality of their operations and the unexpectedness of their attacks. On January 12, 1947, as part of their campaign to prevent any compromise between mainstream Zionism and the British Labor government, they exploded a powerful truck bomb in the central police station in Haifa, resulting in 144 casualties. Three months later, they repeated the tactic in Tel Aviv, blowing up the Sarona police barracks (5 dead) with a stolen postal truck filled with dynamite.

In December 1947, following the UN vote to partition Palestine, full-scale fighting broke out between Jewish and Arab communities from Haifa to Gaza. The Stern Gang, which rejected anything less than the restoration of a biblical Israel, now gave the truck bomb its debut as a weapon of mass terror. On January 4, 1948, two men in Arab dress drove a truck ostensibly loaded with oranges into the center of Jaffa and parked it next to the New Seray Building, which housed the Palestinian municipal government as well as a soup-kitchen for poor children. They cooly lingered for coffee at a nearby café before leaving a few minutes ahead of the detonation.

“A thunderous explosion,” writes Adam LeBor in his history of Jaffa, “then shook the city. Broken glass and shattered masonry blew out across Clock Tower Square. The New Seray’s centre and side walls collapsed in a pile of rubble and twisted beams. Only the neo-classical façade survived. After a moment of silence, the screams began, 26 were killed, hundreds injured. Most were civilians, including many children eating at the charity kitchen.” The bomb missed the local Palestinian leadership who had moved to another building, but the atrocity was highly successful in terrifying residents and setting the stage for their eventual flight.

It also provoked the Palestinians to cruel repayment in kind. The Arab High Committee had its own secret weapon — blond-haired British deserters, fighting on the side of the Palestinians. Nine days after the Jaffa bombing, some of these deserters, led by Eddie Brown, a former police corporal whose brother had been murdered by the Irgun, commandeered a postal delivery truck which they packed with explosives and detonated in the center of Haifa’s Jewish quarter, injuring 50 people. Two weeks later, Brown, driving a stolen car and followed by a five-ton truck driven by a Palestinian in a police uniform, successfully passed through British and Haganah checkpoints and entered Jerusalem’s New City. The driver parked in front of the Palestine Post, lit the fuse, and then escaped with Brown in his car. The newspaper headquarters was devastated with 1 dead and 20 wounded.

According to a chronicler of the episode, Abdel Kader el-Husseini, the military leader of the Arab Higher Committee, was so impressed by the success of these operations — inadvertently inspired by the Stern Gang — that he authorized an ambitious sequel employing six British deserters. “This time three trucks were used, escorted by a stolen British armored car with a young blond man in police uniform standing in the turret.” Again, the convoy easily passed through checkpoints and drove to the Atlantic Hotel on Ben Yehuda Street. A curious night watchman was murdered when he confronted the gang, who then drove off in the armored car after setting charges in the three trucks. The explosion was huge and the toll accordingly grim: 46 dead and 130 wounded.

The window of opportunity for such attacks — the possibility of passing from one zone to another — was rapidly closing as Palestinians and Jews braced for all-out warfare, but a final attack prefigured the car bomb’s brilliant future as a tool of assassination. On March 11, the official limousine of the American consul-general, flying the stars and stripes and driven by the usual chauffeur, was admitted to the courtyard of the heavily-guarded Jewish Agency compound. The driver, a Christian Palestinian named Abu Yussef, hoped to kill Zionist leader David Ben Gurion, but the limousine was moved just before it exploded; nonetheless, 13 officials of the Jewish Foundation Fund died and 40 were injured.

This brief but furious exchange of car bombs between Arabs and Jews would enter into the collective memory of their conflict, but would not be resumed on a large scale until Israel and its Phalangist allies began to terrorize West Beirut with bombings in 1981: a provocation that would awake a Shiite sleeping dragon. Meanwhile, the real sequel was played out in Saigon: a series of car and motorcycle bomb atrocities in 1952-53 that Graham Greene incorporated into the plot of his novel, The Quiet American, and which he portrayed as secretly orchestrated by his CIA operative Alden Pyle, who is conspiring to substitute a pro-American party for both the Viet-Minh (upon whom the actual bombings would be blamed) and the French (who are unable to guarantee public safety).

The real-life Quiet American was the counterinsurgency expert Colonel Edward Lansdale (fresh from victories against peasant Communists in the Philippines), and the real leader of the ‘Third Force’ was his protégé, General Trinh Minh The of the Cao Dai religious sect. There is no doubt, writes The’s biographer, that the general “instigated many terrorist outrages in Saigon, using clockwork plastic charges loaded into vehicles, or hidden inside bicycle frames with charges. Notably, the Li An Minh [The’s army] blew up cars in front of the Opera House in Saigon in 1952. These ‘time-bombs’ were reportedly made of 50-kg ordnance, used by the French air force, unexploded and collected by the Li An Minh.”

Lansdale was dispatched to Saigon by Allen Dulles of the CIA some months after the Opera atrocity (hideously immortalized in a Life photographer’s image of the upright corpse of a rickshaw driver with both legs blown off), which was officially blamed on Ho Chi Minh. Although Lansdale was well aware of General The’s authorship of these sophisticated attacks (the explosives were hidden in false compartments next to car gas tanks), he nonetheless championed the Cao Dai warlord as a patriot in the mould of Washington and Jefferson. After either French agents or Vietminh cadre assassinated The, Landsdale eulogized him to a journalist as “a good man. He was moderate, he was a pretty good general, he was on our side, and he cost twenty-five thousand dollars.”

Whether by emulation or reinvention, car bombs showed up next in another war-torn French colony — Algiers during the last days of the pied noirs or French colonial settlers. Some of the embittered French officers in Saigon in 1952-53 would also become cadres of the Organisation de l’Armé Secrete (OAS), led by General Raoul Salan. In April 1961, after the failure of its uprising against French President Charles de Gaulle, who was prepared to negotiate a settlement with the Algerian rebels, the OAS turned to terrorism — a veritable festival de plastique — with all the formidable experience of its veteran paratroopers and legionnaires. Its declared enemies included De Gaulle himself, French security forces, communists, peace activists (including philosopher and activist Jean-Paul Sartre), and especially Algerian civilians. The most deadly of their car bombs killed 62 Moslem stevedores lining up for work at the docks in Algiers in May 1962, but succeeded only in bolstering the Algerian resolve to drive all the pied-noirs into the sea.

The next destination for the car bomb was Palermo, Sicily. Angelo La Barbera, the Mafia capo of Palermo-Center, undoubtedly paid careful attention to the Algerian bombings and may even have borrowed some OAS expertise when he launched his devastating attack on his Mafia rival, “Little Bird” Greco, in February 1963. Greco’s bastion was the town of Ciaculli outside Palermo where he was protected by an army of henchmen. La Barbera surmounted this obstacle with the aid of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta. “This dainty four-door family saloon,” writes John Dickie in his history of the Cosa Nostra, “was one of the symbols of Italy’s economic miracle — ‘svelte, practical, comfortable, safe and convenient,’ as the adverts proclaimed.” The first explosive-packed Giulietta destroyed Greco’s house; the second, a few weeks later, killed one of his key allies. Greco’s gunmen retaliated, wounding La Barbera in Milan in May; in response, La Barbera’s ambitious lieutenants Pietro Torreta and Tommaso Buscetta (later to become the most famous of all Mafia pentiti) unleashed more deadly Giuliettas.

On June 30, 1963, “the umpteenth Giulietta stuffed with TNT” was left in one of the tangerine groves that surround Ciaculli. A tank of butane with a fuse was clearly visible in the back seat. A Giulietta had already exploded that morning in a nearby town, killing two people, so the carabinieri were cautious and summoned army engineers for assistance. “Two hours later two bomb disposal experts arrived, cut the fuse, and pronounced the vehicle safe to approach. But when Lt. Mario Malausa made to inspect the contents of the boot, he detonated the huge quantity of TNT it contained. He and six other men were blown to pieces by an explosion that scorched and stripped the tangerine trees for hundreds of metres around.” (The site is today marked by one of the several monuments to bomb victims in the Palermo region.)

Before this “First Mafia War” ended in 1964, the Sicilian population had learned to tremble at the very sight of a Giulietta and car bombings had become a permanent part of the Mafia repertoire. They were employed again during an even bloodier second Mafia war or Matanza in 1981-83, then turned against the Italian public in the early 1990s after the conviction of Cosa Nostra leaders in a series of sensational “maxi-trials.” The most notorious of these blind-rage car bombings — presumably organized by ‘Tractor’ Provenzano and his notorious Corleonese gang — was the explosion in May 1993 that damaged the world-famous Uffizi Gallery in the heart of Florence and killed 5 pedestrians, injuring 40 others.

“The Black Stuff”

“We could feel the rattle where we stood. Then we knew we were onto something, and it took off from there.”

— IRA veteran talking about the first ANFO car bomb

The first-generation car bombs — Jaffa-Jerusalem, Saigon, Algiers, and Palermo — were deadly enough (with a maximum yield usually equal to several hundred pounds of TNT), but required access to stolen industrial or military explosives. Journeymen bomb-makers, however, were aware of a homemade alternative – notoriously dangerous to concoct, but offering almost unlimited vistas of destruction at a low cost. Ammonium nitrate is a universally available synthetic fertilizer and industrial ingredient with extraordinary explosive properties, as witnessed by such accidental cataclysms as an explosion at a chemical plant in Oppau, Germany in 1921 — the shock waves were felt 150 miles away and only a vast crater remained where the plant had been — and a Texas City disaster in 1947 (600 dead and 90% of the town structurally damaged). Ammonium nitrate is sold in half-ton quantities affordable by even the most cash-strapped terrorist, but the process of mixing it with fuel oil to create an ANFO explosive is more than a little tricky as the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) found out in late 1971.

“The car bomb was [re]discovered entirely by accident,” explains journalist Ed Maloney in his The Secret History of the IRA, “but its deployment by the Belfast IRA was not. The chain of events began in late December 1971 when the IRA’s quartermaster general, Jack McCabe, was fatally injured in an explosion caused when an experimental, fertilizer-based homemade mix known as the ‘black stuff’ exploded as he was blending it with a shovel in his garage on the northern outskirts of Dublin. [Provisionals’] GHQ warned that the mix was too dangerous to handle, but Belfast had already received a consignment, and someone had the idea of disposing of it by dumping it in a car with a fuse and a timer and leaving it somewhere in downtown Belfast.” The resulting explosion made a big impression upon the Belfast leadership.

The “black stuff” — which the IRA soon learned how to handle safely — freed the underground army from supply-side constraints: the car bomb enhanced destructive capacity yet reduced the likelihood of Volunteers being arrested or accidentally blown up. The ANFO-car bomb combination, in other words, was an unexpected military revolution, but one fraught with the potential for political and moral disaster. “The sheer size of the devices,” emphasizes Moloney, “greatly increased the risk of civilian deaths in careless or bungled operations.”

The IRA Army Council led by Sean MacStiofain, however, found the new weapon’s awesome capabilities too seductive to worry about ways in which its grisly consequences might backfire on them. Indeed, car bombs reinforced the illusion, shared by most of the top leadership in 1972, that the IRA was one final military offensive away from victory over the English government. Accordingly, in March 1972, two car bombs were sent into Belfast city center followed by garbled phone warnings that led police to inadvertently evacuate people in the direction of one of the explosions: Five civilians were killed along with two members of the security forces. Despite the public outcry as well as the immediate traffic closure of the Royal Avenue shopping precinct, the Belfast Brigade’s enthusiasm for the new weapon remained undiminished and the leadership plotted a huge attack designed to bring normal commercial life in Northern Ireland to an abrupt halt. MacStiofain boasted of an offensive of “the utmost ferocity and ruthessness” that would wreck the “colonial infrastructure.”

On Friday, July 21st, IRA Volunteers left 20 car bombs or concealed charges on the periphery of the now-gated city center, with detonations timed to follow one another at approximately five-minute intervals. The first car bomb exploded in front of the Ulster Bank in north Belfast and blew both legs off a Catholic passerby; successive explosions damaged two railroad stations, the Ulster bus depot on Oxford Street, various railway junctions, and a mixed Catholic-Protestant residential area on Cavehill Road. “At the height of the bombing, the center of Belfast resembled a city under artillery fire; clouds of suffocating smoke enveloped buildings as one explosion followed another, almost drowning out the hysterical screams of panicked shoppers.” A series of telephoned IRA warnings just created more chaos, as civilians fled from one explosion only to be driven back by another. Seven civilians and two soldiers were killed and more than 130 people were seriously wounded.

Although not an economic knockout punch, “Bloody Friday” was the beginning of a “no business as usual” bombing campaign that quickly inflicted significant damage on the Northern Ireland economy, particularly its ability to attract private and foreign investment. The terror of that day also compelled authorities to tighten their anti-car-bomb “ring of steel” around the Belfast city center, making it the prototype for other fortified enclaves and future “green zones.” In the tradition of their ancestors, the Fenians, who had originated dynamite terrorism in the 1870s, Irish Republicans had again added new pages to the textbook of urban guerrilla warfare. Foreign aficionados, particularly in the Middle East, undoubtedly paid close attention to the twin innovations of the ANFO car bomb and its employment in a protracted bombing campaign against an entire urban-regional economy.

What was less well understood outside of Ireland, however, was the enormity of the wound that the IRA’s car bombs inflicted on the Republican movement itself. Bloody Friday destroyed much of the IRA’s heroic-underdog popular image, produced deep revulsion amongst ordinary Catholics, and gave the British government an unexpected reprieve from the worldwide condemnation it had earned for the Blood Sunday massacre in Derry and internment without trial. Moreover, it gave the Army the perfect pretext to launch massive Operation Motorman: 13,000 troops led by Centurian tanks entered the “no-go” areas of Derry and Belfast and reclaimed control of the streets from the Republican movement. The same day, a bloody, bungled car bomb attack on the village of Claudy in County Londonderry killed 8 people. (Protestant Loyalist paramilitary groups — who never bothered with warnings and deliberately targeted civilians on the other side — would claim Bloody Friday and Claudy as sanctions for their triple car bomb attack on Dublin during afternoon rush hour on May 17, 1974 which left 33 dead, the highest one-day toll in the course of the “Troubles.”)

The Belfast debacle led to a major turnover in IRA leadership, but failed to dispel their almost cargo-cult-like belief in the capacity of car bombs to turn the tide of battle. Forced onto the defensive by Motorman and the backlash to Bloody Friday, they decided to strike at the very heart of British power instead. The Belfast Brigade planned to send ten car bombs to London via the Dublin-Liverpool ferry using fresh volunteers with clean records, including two young sisters, Marion and Dolours Price. Snags arose and only four cars arrived in London; one of these was detonated in front of the Old Bailey, another in the center of Whitehall, close to the Prime Minister’s house at Number 10 Downing Street. One hundred and eighty Londoners were injured and one was killed. Although the 8 IRA bombers were quickly caught, they were acclaimed in the West Belfast ghettoes and the operation became a template for future Provisional bombing campaigns in London, culminating in the huge explosions that shattered the City of London and unnerved the world insurance industry in 1992 and 1993.

Hell’s Kitchen (the 1980s)

“We are soldiers of God and we crave death. We are ready to turn Lebanon into another Vietnam.”

— Hezbollah communiqué

Never in history has a single city been the battlefield for so many contesting ideologies, sectarian allegiances, local vendettas, or foreign conspiracies and interventions as Beirut in the early 1980s. Belfast’s triangular conflicts — three armed camps (Republican, Loyalist, and British) and their splinter groups — seemed straightforward compared to the fractal, Russian-doll-like complexity of Lebanon’s civil wars (Shiite versus Palestinian, for example) within civil wars (Maronite versus Moslem and Druze) within regional conflicts (Israel versus Syria) and surrogate wars (Iran versus the United States) within, ultimately, the Cold War. In the fall of 1971, for example, there were 58 different armed groups in West Beirut alone. With so many people trying to kill each other for so many different reasons, Beirut became to the technology of urban violence what a tropical rainforest is to the evolution of plants.

Car bombs began to regularly terrorize Moslem West Beirut in the fall of 1981, apparently as part of an Israeli strategy to evict the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from Lebanon. The Israeli secret service, the Mossad, had previously employed car bombs in Beirut to assassinate Palestinian leaders (novelist Ghassan Kanfani in July 1972, for example), so no one was especially surprised when evidence emerged that Israel was sponsoring the carnage. According to Middle Eastern schoalr Rashid Khalidi, “A sequence of public confessions by captured drivers made clear these [car bombings] were being utilized by the Israelis and their Phalangist allies to increase the pressure on the PLO to leave.”

Journalist Robert Fisk was in Beirut when an “enormous [car] bomb blew a 45-foot-crater in the road and brought down an entire block of apartments. The building collapsed like a concertina, crushing more than 50 of its occupants to death, most of them Shia refugees from southern Lebanon.” Several of the car bombers were captured and confessed that the bombs had been rigged by the Shin Bet, the Israeli equivalent of the FBI or the British Special Branch. But if such atrocities were designed to drive a wedge of terror between the PLO and Lebanese Moslems, they had the inadvertent result (as did the Israeli air force’s later cluster-bombing of civilian neighborhoods) of turning the Shias from informal Israeli allies into shrewd and resolute enemies.

The new face of Shiite militancy was Hezbollah, formed in mid-1982 out of an amalgamation of Islamic Amal with other pro-Khomeini groupuscules. Trained and advised by the Iranian Pasdaran in the Bekaa Valley, Hezbollah was both an indigenous resistance movement with deep roots in the Shiite slums of southern Beirut and, at the same time, the long arm of Iran’s theocratic revolution. Although some experts espouse alternative theories, Islamic Amal/Hezbollah is usually seen as the author, with Iranian and Syrian assistance, of the devastating attacks on American and French forces in Beirut during 1983. Hezbollah’s diabolic innovation was to marry the IRA’s ANFO car bombs to the kamikaze — using suicide drivers to crash truckloads of explosives into the lobbies of embassies and barracks in Beirut, and later into Israeli checkpoints and patrols in southern Lebanon.

The United States and France became targets of Hezbollah and its Syrian and Iranian patrons after the Multinational Force in Beirut, which supposedly had landed to allow for the safe evacuation of the PLO from that city, evolved into the informal and then open ally of the Maronite government in its civil war against the Moslem-Druze majority. The first retaliation against President Reagan’s policy occurred on April 18, 1983, when a pickup truck carrying 2,000 pounds of ANFO explosives suddenly swerved across traffic into the driveway of the oceanfront U.S. embassy in Beirut. The driver gunned the truck past a startled guard and crashed through the lobby door. “Even by Beirut standards,” writes former CIA agent Robert Baer, “it was an enormous blast, shattering windows. The USS Guadalcanal, anchored five miles off the coast, shuddered from the tremors. At ground zero, the center of the seven-story embassy lifted up hundreds of feet into the air, remained suspended for what seemed an eternity, and then collapsed in a cloud of dust, people, splintered furniture, and paper.”

Whether as a result of superb intelligence or sheer luck, the bombing coincided with a visit to the embassy of Robert Ames, the CIA’s national intelligence officer for the Near East. It killed him (“his hand was found floating a mile offshore, the wedding ring still on his finger”) and all six members of the Beirut CIA station. “Never before had the CIA lost so many officers in a single attack. It was a tragedy from which the agency would never recover.” It also left the Americans blind in Beirut, forcing them to scrounge for intelligence scraps from the French embassy or the British listening station offshore on Cyprus. (A year later, Hezbollah completed their massacre of the CIA in Beirut when they kidnapped and executed the replacement station chief, William Buckley.) As a result, the Agency never foresaw the coming of the mother-of-all-vehicle-bomb attacks.

Over the protests of Colonel Gerahty, the commander of the U.S. Marines onshore in Beirut, Ronald Reagan’s National Security Advisor, Robert McFarlane, ordered the Sixth Fleet in September to open fire on Druze militia who were storming Lebanese Army Forces positions in the hills above Beirut — bringing the United States into the conflict brazenly on the side of the reactionary Amin Gemayel government. A month later, a five-ton Mercedes dump truck hurled past sandbagged Marine sentries and smashed through a guardhouse into the ground floor of the “Beirut Hilton,” the U.S. military barracks in a former PLO headquarters next to the international airport. The truck’s payload was an incredible 12,000 pounds of high explosives. “It is said to have been the largest non-nuclear blast ever [deliberately] detonated on the face of the earth.” “The force of the explosion,” continues Eric Hammel in his history of the Marine landing force, “initially lifted the entire four-story structure, shearing the bases of the concrete support columns, each measuring fifteen feet in circumference and reinforced by numerous one and three quarter inch steel rods. The airborne building then fell in upon itself. A massive shock wave and ball of flaming gas was hurled in all directions.” The Marine (and Navy) death toll of 241 was the Corps’ highest single-day loss since Iwo Jima in 1945.

Meanwhile, another Hezbollah kamikaze had crashed his explosive-laden van into the French barracks in West Beirut, toppling the eight-story structure, killing 58 soldiers. If the airport bomb repaid the Americans for saving Gemayal, this second explosion was probably a response to the French decision to supply Saddam Hussein with Super-Etendard jets and Exocet missiles to attack Iran. The hazy distinction between local Shiite grievances and the interests of Tehran was blurred further when two members of Hezbollah joined with 18 Iraqi Shias to truck-bomb the U.S. embassy in Kuwait in mid-December. The French embassy, the control tower at the airport, the main oil refinery and an expatriate residential compound were also targeted in what was clearly a stern warning to Iran’s enemies.

Following another truck bombing against the French in Beirut as well as deadly attacks on Marine outposts, the Multinational Force began to withdraw from Lebanon in February 1984. It was Reagan’s most stunning geopolitical defeat. In the impolite phrase of Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, “Essentially we turned tail and ran and left Lebanon.” American power in Lebanon, added Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, was neutralized by “just 12,000 pounds of dynamite and a stolen truck.”

The CIA’s Car Bomb University (the 1980s)

“The CIA officers that Yousef worked with closely impressed upon him one rule: never use the terms sabotage or assassination when speaking with visiting congressmen.”

— Steve Coll, Ghost Wars

Gunboat diplomacy had been defeated by car bombs in Lebanon, but the Reagan administration and, above all, CIA Director William Casey were left thirsting for revenge against Hezbollah. “Finally in 1985,” according to the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward in Veil, his book on Casey’s career, “he worked out with the Saudis a plan to use a car bomb to kill [Hezbollah leader] Sheikh Fadlallah who they determined was one of the people behind, not only the Marine barracks, but was involved in the taking of American hostages in Beirut… It was Casey on his own, saying, ‘I‘m going to solve the big problem by essentially getting tougher or as tough as the terrorists in using their weapon — the car bomb.'”

The CIA’s own operatives, however, proved incapable of carrying out the bombing, so Casey subcontracted the operation to Lebanese agents led by a former British SAS officer and financed by Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar. In March 1984, a large car bomb was detonated about 50 yards from Sheikh Fadlallah’s house in Bir El-Abed, a crowded Shiite neighborhood in southern Beirut. The sheikh wasn’t harmed, but 80 innocent neighbors and passersby were killed and 200 wounded. Fadlallah immediately had a huge “MADE IN USA” banner hung across the shattered street, while Hezbollah returned tit for tat in September when a suicide truck driver managed to break through the supposedly impregnable perimeter defenses of the new U.S. embassy in eastern (Christian) Beirut, killing 23 employees and visitors.

Despite the Fadlallah fiasco, Casey remained an enthusiast for using urban terrorism to advance American goals, especially against the Soviets and their allies in Afghanistan. A year after the Bir El-Abed massacre, Casey won President Reagan’s approval for NSDD-166, a secret directive that, according to Steve Coll in Ghost Wars, inaugurated a “new era of direct infusions of advanced U.S. military technology into Afghanistan, intensified training of Islamist guerrillas in explosives and sabotage techniques, and targeted attacks on Soviet military officers.”

U.S. Special Forces experts would now provide high-tech explosives and teach state-of-the-art sabotage techniques, including the fabrication of ANFO (ammonium nitrate-fuel oil) car bombs, to Pakistani intelligence service (or ISI) officers under the command of Brigadier Mohammed Yousaf. These officers, in turn, would tutor thousands of Afghan and foreign mujahedin, including the future cadre of al-Qaeda, in scores of training camps financed by the Saudis. “Under ISI direction,” Coll writes, “the mujahedin received training and malleable explosives to mount car-bomb and even camel-bomb attacks in Soviet-occupied cities, usually designed to kill Soviet soldiers and commanders. Casey endorsed these despite the qualms of some CIA career officers.”

Mujahedin car bombers, working with teams of snipers and assassins, not only terrorized uniformed Soviet forces in a series of devastating attacks in Afghanistan but also massacred leftwing intelligentsia in Kabul, the country’s capital. “Yousaf and the Afghan car-bombing squads he trained,” writes Coll, “regarded Kabul University professors as fair game,” as well as movie theaters and cultural events. Although some members of the National Security Council reportedly denounced the bombings and assassinations as “outright terrorism,” Casey was delighted with the results. Meanwhile, “by the late 1980s, the ISI had effectively eliminated all the secular, leftist, and royalist political parties that had first formed when Afghan refugees fled communist rule.” As a result, most of the billions of dollars that the Saudis and Washington pumped into Afghanistan ended up in the hands of radical Islamist groups sponsored by the ISI. They were also the chief recipients of huge quantities of CIA-supplied plastic explosives as well as thousands of advanced E-cell delay detonators.

It was the greatest technology transfer of terrorist technique in history. There was no need for angry Islamists to take car-bomb extension courses from Hezbollah when they could matriculate in a CIA-supported urban-sabotage graduate program in Pakistan’s frontier provinces. “Ten years later,” Coll observes, “the vast training infrastructure that Yousaf and his colleagues built with the enormous budgets endorsed by NSDD-166 — the specialized camps, the sabotage training manuals, the electronic bomb detonators, and so on — would be referred to routinely in America as ‘terrorist infrastructure.'” Moreover the alumni of the ISI training camps like Ramzi Yousef, who plotted the first 1993 World Trade Center attack, or his uncle Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who allegedly designed the second, would soon be applying their expertise on every continent.

Cities under Siege (the 1990s)

“The hour of dynamite, terror without limit, has arrived.”

— Peruvian Journalist Gustavo Gorritti, 1992

Twenty-first century hindsight makes it clear that the defeat of the U.S. intervention in Lebanon in 1983-84, followed by the CIA’s dirty war in Afghanistan, had wider and more potent geopolitical repercussions than the loss of Saigon in 1975. The Vietnam War was, of course, an epic struggle whose imprint upon domestic American politics remains profound, but it belonged to the era of the Cold War’s bipolar superpower rivalry. Hezbollah’s war in Beirut and south Lebanon, on the other hand, prefigured (and even inspired) the “asymmetric” conflicts that characterize the millennium. Moreover, unlike peoples’ war on the scale sustained by the NLF and the North Vietnamese for more than a generation, car-bombing and suicide terrorism are easily franchised and gruesomely applicable in a variety of scenarios. Although rural guerrillas survive in rugged redoubts like Kashmir, the Khyber Pass, and the Andes, the center of gravity of global insurgency has moved from the countryside back to the cities and their slum peripheries. In this post-Cold-War urban context, the Hezbollah bombing of the Marine barracks has become the gold standard of terrorism; the 9/11 attacks, it can be argued, were only an inevitable scaling-up of the suicide truck bomb to airliners.

Washington, however, was loath to recognize the new military leverage that powerful vehicle bombs offered its enemies or even to acknowledge their surprising lethality. After the 1983 Beirut bombings, the Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico began an intensive investigation into the physics of truck bombs. Researchers were shocked by what they discovered. In addition to the deadly air blast, truck bombs also produced unexpectedly huge ground waves.

“The lateral accelerations propagated through the ground from a truck bomb far exceed those produced during the peak magnitude of an earthquake.” Indeed, the scientists of Sandia came to the conclusion that even an offsite detonation near a nuclear power plant might “cause enough damage to lead to a deadly release of radiation or even a meltdown.” Yet the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 1986 refused to authorize the emplacement of vehicle barriers to protect nuclear-power installations and made no move to alter an obsolete security plan designed to thwart a few terrorists infiltrating on foot.

Indeed, Washington seemed unwilling to learn any of the obvious lessons of either its Beirut defeat or its secret successes in Afghanistan. The Reagan and Bush administrations appeared to regard the Hezbollah bombings as flukes, not as a powerful new threat that would replicate rapidly in the “blowback” of imperial misadventure and anti-Soviet escapades. Although it was inevitable that other insurgent groups would soon try to emulate Hezbollah, American planners — although partially responsible — largely failed to foresee the extraordinary “globalization” of car bombing in the 1990s or the rise of sophisticated new strategies of urban destabilization that went with it. Yet by the mid-1990s, more cities were under siege from bomb attacks than at any time since the end of World War Two, and urban guerrillas were using car and truck bombs to score direct hits on some of the world’s most powerful financial institutions. Each success, moreover, emboldened groups to plan yet more attacks and recruited more groups to launch their own “poor man’s air force.”

Beginning in April 1992, for example, the occult Maoists of Sendero Luminoso came down from Peru’s altiplano to spread terror throughout the cities of Lima and Callao with increasingly more powerful coche-bombas. “Large supplies of explosives,” the magazine Caretas pointed out, are “freely available in a mining nation,” and the senderistas were generous in their gifts of dynamite: bombing television stations and various foreign embassies as well as a dozen police stations and military camps. Their campaign eerily recapitulated the car bomb’s phylogeny as it progressed from modest detonations to a more powerful attack on the American embassy, then to Bloody-Friday-type public massacres using 16 vehicles at a time. The climax (and Sendero’s chief contribution to the genre) was an attempt to blow up an entire neighborhood of “class enemies”: a huge ANFO explosion in the elite Miraflores district on the evening of July 16 that killed 22, wounded 120, and destroyed or damaged 183 homes, 400 businesses and 63 parked cars. The local press described Miraflores as looking “as if an aerial bombardment had flattened the area.”

If one of the virtues of an air force is the ability to reach halfway around the world to surprise enemies in their beds, the car bomb truly grew wings during 1993 as Middle Eastern groups struck at targets in the Western Hemisphere for the first time. The World Trade Center attack on February 26 was organized by master al-Qaeda bomb-maker Ramzi Yousef working with a Kuwaiti engineer named Nidal Ayyad and immigrant members of the Egyptian group, Gama’a al-Islamiyya, headed by Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman (whose U.S. visa had reputedly been arranged by the CIA). Their extraordinary ambition was to kill tens of thousands of New Yorkers with a powerful lateral blast that would crack the foundations of one WTC tower and topple it on its twin. Yousef’s weapon was a Ryder van packed with an ingenious upgrade of the classic IRA and Hezbollah ANFO explosive.

“The bomb itself,” writes Peter Lange in his history of the bombing, “consisted of four cardboard boxes filled with a slurry of urea nitrate and fuel oil, with waste paper as a binder. The boxes were surrounded by four-foot tanks of compressed hydrogen. They were connected by four 20-foot-long slow-burning fuses of smokeless powder wrapped in fabric. Yousef balanced on his lap four vials of nitroglycerine.” The conspirators had no difficulty parking the van next to the load-bearing south wall of the North Tower, but the massive explosive proved too small — excavating a four-story deep crater in the basement, killing 6 and injuring 1,000 people, but failing to bring the tower down. “Our calculations were not very accurate this time,” wrote Ayyad in a letter. “However we promise you that next it would will [sic] be very precise and the Trade Center will be one of our targets.”

Two weeks after the WTC attack, a car bomb almost as powerful exploded in the underground parking garage of the Bombay Stock Exchange, severely damaging the 28-story skyscraper and killing 50 office workers. Twelve other car or motorcycle bombs soon detonated at other prestige targets, killing an additional 207 people and injuring 1,400. The bombings were revenge for sectarian riots a few months earlier in which Indian Hindus had killed hundreds of Indian Moslems. The attacks were reputedly organized from Dubai by exiled Bombay underworld king Dawood Ibrahim at the behest of Pakistani intelligence. According to one account, Dawood sent three boats from Dubai to Karachi where they were loaded with military explosives. Indian customs officials were then bribed to look the other way while the “black soup” was smuggled into Bombay.

Corrupt officials were also rumored to have facilitated the suicide car bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 17, 1993 which killed 30 and injured 242. The next year, a second “martyr,” later identified as a 29-year-old Hezbollah militant from southern Lebanon, leveled the seven-story Argentine-Israel Mutual Association, slaughtering 85 and wounding more than 300. Both bombers carefully followed the Beirut template; as did the Islamist militant who drove his car into the central police headquarters in Algiers in January 1995, killing 42 and injuring over 280.

But the supreme acolytes of Hezbollah were the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka, the only non-Moslem group that has practiced suicide car bombings on a large scale. Indeed, their leader Prabhaakaran “made a strategic decision to adopt the method of suicide attack after observing its lethal effectiveness in the 1983 suicide bombings of the US and French barracks in Beirut.” Between their first such operation in 1987 and 2000, they were responsible for twice as many suicide attacks of all kinds as Hezbollah and Hamas combined. Although they have integrated car bombs into regular military tactics (for example, using kamikazes in trucks to open attacks on Sri Lankan army camps), their obsession and “most prized theater of operation” in their struggle for Tamil independence has been the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, which they first car-bombed in 1987 in a grisly attack on the main bus terminal, burning scores of passengers to death inside crowded buses.

In January 1996, a Black Tiger — as the suicide elite are called — drove a truck containing 440 pounds of military high explosives into the front of the Central Bank Building, resulting in nearly 1,400 casualties. Twenty months later in October 1997 in a more complex operation, the Tigers attacked the twin towers of the Colombo World Trade Center. They managed to maneuver through barricades and set off a car bomb in front of the Center, then battled the police with automatics and grenades. The following March, a suicide mini-bus with shrapnel-filled bombs affixed to its sideboards was detonated outside the main train station in the midst of a huge traffic jam. The 38 dead included a dozen children in a school bus.

The Tamil Tigers are a mass nationalist movement with “liberated territory,” a full-scale army and even a tiny navy; moreover, 20,000 Tiger cadres received secret paramilitary training in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu from 1983 to 1987, courtesy of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and India’s CIA — the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). But such sponsorship literally blew up in the face of the Indian Congress Party leadership when Indira’s son and successor Rajiv was killed by a female Tiger suicide bomber in 1993. Indeed, the all-too-frequent pattern of surrogate terrorism, whether sponsored by the CIA, RAW, or the KGB, has been “return to sender” — most notoriously in the cases of those former CIA “assets,” blind Sheik Rahman and Osama bin Laden.

The Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995 was a different and startling species of blowback, organized by two angry U.S. veterans of the Gulf War rather than by Iraq or any Islamist group. Although conspiracy theorists have made much of a strange coincidence that put Terry Nichols and Ramzi Yousef near each other in Cebu City in the Philippines in November 1994, the design of the attack seems to have been inspired by Timothy McVeigh’s obsession with that devil’s cookbook, The Turner Diaries. Written in 1978, after Bloody Friday but before Beirut, neo-Nazi William Pierce’s novel describes with pornographic relish how white supremacists destroy the FBI headquarters in Washington D.C. with an ANFO truck bomb, then crash a plane carrying a hijacked nuke into the Pentagon.

McVeigh carefully followed Pierce’s simple recipe in the novel (several tons of ammonium nitrate in a parked truck) rather than Yousef’s more complicated WTC formula, although he did substitute nitro racing fuel and diesel oil for ordinary heating oil. Nonetheless, the explosion that slaughtered 168 people in the Alfred Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995 was three times more powerful than any of the truck-bomb detonations that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and other federal agencies had been studying at their test range in New Mexico. Experts were amazed at the radius of destruction: “Equivalent to 4,100 pounds of dynamite, the blast damaged 312 buildings, cracked glass as far as two miles away and inflicted 80 percent of its injuries on people outside the building up to a half-mile away.” Distant seismographs recorded it as a 6.0 earthquake on the Richter scale.

But McVeigh’s good-ole-boy bomb, with its diabolical demonstration of Heartland DIY ingenuity, was scarcely the last word in destructive power; indeed, it was probably inevitable that the dark Olympics of urban carnage would be won by a home team from the Middle East. Although the casualty list (20 dead, 372 wounded) wasn’t as long as Oklahoma City’s, the huge truck bomb that, in June 1996, alleged Hezbollah militants left outside Dhahran’s Khobar Towers — a high-rise dormitory used by U.S. Air Force personnel in Saudi Arabia — broke all records in explosive yield, being the equivalent perhaps of twenty 1,000-pound bombs. Moreover, the death toll might have been as large as the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1993 save for alert Air Force sentries who began an evacuation shortly before the explosion. Still, the blast (military-grade plastic explosive) left an incredible crater 85-feet wide and 35-feet deep.

Two years later, on August 7, 1998, al Qaeda claimed the championship in mass murder when it crashed suicide truck bombs into the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, in a replay of the simultaneous 1993 attacks on the Marines and the French in Beirut. Located near two of the busiest streets in the city without adequate setback or protective glacis, the Nairobi embassy was especially vulnerable, as Ambassador Prudence Bushnell had fruitlessly warned the State Department. In the event, ordinary Kenyans — burnt alive in their vehicles, lacerated by flying glass, or buried in smoldering debris — were the principal victims of the huge explosion, which killed several hundred and wounded more than 5,000. Another dozen people died and almost 100 were injured in Dar-es-Salaam.

Sublime indifference to the collateral carnage caused by its devices, including to innocent Moslems, remains a hallmark of operations organized by the Al-Qaeda network. Like his forerunners Hermann Goering and Curtis LeMay, Osama bin Laden seems to exult in the sheer statistics of bomb damage — the competitive race to ever greater explosive yields and killing ranges. One of the most lucrative of his recent franchises (in addition to air travel, skyscrapers, and public transport) has been car-bomb attacks on Western tourists in primarily Moslem countries, although the October 2002 attack on a Bali nightclub (202 dead) and the July 2005 bombing of hotels in Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh (88 dead) almost certainly killed as many local workers as erstwhile “crusaders.”

Form Follows Fear (the 1990s)

“The car bomb is the nuclear weapon of guerrilla warfare.”

— Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer

A “billion-pound explosion”? One meaning, of course, is the TNT yield of three or four Hiroshima-size atomic weapons (which is to say, only a smidgen of the explosive power of a single H-bomb). Alternately, one billion (British) pounds ($1.45 billion) is what the IRA cost the City of London in April 1993 when a blue dump-truck containing a ton of ANFO exploded on Bishopsgate Road across from the NatWest Tower in the heart of the world’s second major financial center. Although one bystander was killed and more than 30 injured by the immense explosion, which also demolished a medieval church and wrecked the Liverpool Street station, the human toll was incidental to the economic damage that was the true goal of the attack. Whereas the other truck bomb campaigns of the 1990s — Lima, Bombay, Colombo, and so forth — had followed Hezbollah’s playbook almost to the letter, the Bishopsgate bomb, which Moloney describes as “the most successful military tactic since the start of the Troubles,” was part of a novel IRA campaign that waged war on financial centers in order to extract British concessions during the difficult peace negotiations that lasted through most of the 1990s.

Bishopsgate, in fact, was the second and most costly of three blockbuster explosions carried out by the elite (and more or less autonomous) South Armagh IRA under the leadership of the legendary “Slab” Murphy. Almost exactly a year earlier, they had set off a truck bomb at the Baltic Exchange in St. Mary Axe that rained a million pounds of glass and debris on surrounding streets, killing 3 and wounding almost 100 people. The damage, although less than Bishopsgate, was still astonishing: about 800 million pounds or more than the approximately 600 million pounds in total damage inflicted over 22 years of bombing in Northern Ireland. Then, in 1996, with peace talks stalled and the IRA Army Council in revolt against the latest cease-fire, the South Armagh Brigade smuggled into England a third huge car bomb that they set off in the underground garage of one of the postmodern office buildings near Canary Wharf Tower in the gentrified London Docklands, killing two and causing nearly $150 million dollars in damage. Total damage from the three explosions was at least $3 billion.

As Jon Coaffee points out in her book on the impact of the bombings, if the IRA like the Tamil Tigers or Al Qaeda had simply wanted to sow terror or bring life in London to a halt, they would have set off the explosions at rush-hour on a business day — instead, they “were detonated at a time when the City was virtually deserted” — and/or attacked the heart of the transport infrastructure, as did the Islamist suicide bombers who blew up London buses and subways in July 2005. Instead, Slab Murphy and his comrades concentrated on what they perceived to be a financial weak link: the faltering British and European insurance industry. To the horror of their enemies, they were spectacularly successful. “The huge payouts by insurance companies,” commented the BBC shortly after Bishopsgate, “contributed to a crisis in the industry, including the near-collapse of the world’s leading [re]insurance market, Lloyds of London.” German and Japanese investors threatened to boycott the City unless physical security was improved and the government agreed to subsidize insurance costs.

Despite a long history of London bombings by the Irish going back to the Fenians and Queen Victoria, neither Downing Street, nor the City of London Police had foreseen this scale of accurately targeted physical and financial damage. (Indeed, Slab Murphy himself might have been surprised; like the original ANFO bombs, these super-bombs were probably a wee bit of serendipity for the IRA.) The City’s response was a more sophisticated version of the “ring of steel” (concrete barriers, high iron fences, and impregnable gates) that had been built around Belfast’s city center after Bloody Friday in 1972. Following Bishopsgate, the financial press clamored for similar protection: “The City should be turned into a medieval-style walled enclave to prevent terrorist attacks.”

What was actually implemented in the City and later in the Docklands was a technologically more advanced network of traffic restrictions and cordons, CCTV cameras, including “24-hour Automated Number Plate Recording (ANPR) cameras, linked to police databases,” and intensified public and private policing. “In the space of a decade,” writes Coaffee, “the City of London was transformed into the most surveilled space in the UK and perhaps the world with over 1500 surveillance cameras operating, many of which are linked to the ANPR system.”

Since September 11, 2001, this anti-terrorist surveillance system has been extended throughout London’s core in the benign guise of Mayor Ken Livingstone’s celebrated “congestion pricing” scheme to liberate the city from gridlock. According to one of Britain’s major Sunday papers:

“The Observer has discovered that MI5, Special Branch and the Metropolitan Police began secretly developing the system in the wake of the 11 September attacks. In effect, the controversial charging scheme will create one of the most daunting defence systems protecting a major world city when it goes live a week tomorrow. It is understood that the system also utilizes facial recognition software which automatically identifies suspects or known criminals who enter the eight-square-mile zone. Their precise movements will be tracked by camera from the point of entry… However, civil liberty campaigners yesterday claimed that millions had been misled over the dual function of the scheme, promoted primarily as a means of reducing congestion in central London.”

The addition in 2003 of this new panopticon traffic scan to London’s already extensive system of video surveillance ensures that the average citizen is “caught on CCTV cameras 300 times a day.” It may make it easier for the police to apprehend non-suicidal terrorists, but it does little to protect the city from well-planned and competently disguised vehicle bomb attacks. Blair’s “Third Way” has been a fast lane for the adoption of Orwellian surveillance and the usurpation of civil liberties, but until some miracle technology emerges (and none is in sight) that allows authorities from a distance to “sniff” a molecule or two of explosive in a stream of rush-hour traffic, the car bombers will continue to commute to work.

The “King” of Iraq (the 2000s)

“Insurgents exploded 13 car bombs across Iraq on Sunday, including eight in Baghdad within a three-hour span.”

— Associated Press news report, January 1, 2006

Car bombs — some 1,293 between 2004 and 2005, according to researchers at the Brookings Institution — have devastated Iraq like no other land in history. The most infamous, driven or left by sectarian jihadists, have targeted Iraqi Shiites in front of their homes, mosques, police stations, and markets: 125 dead in Hilla (February 28, 2005); 98 in Mussayib (July 16); 114 in Baghdad (September 14); 102 in Blad (September 29); 50 in Abu Sayda (November 19); and so on.

Some of the devices have been gigantic, like the stolen fuel-truck bomb that devastated Mussayib, but what is most extraordinary has been their sheer frequency — in one 48-hour-period in July 2005 at least 15 suicide car bombs exploded in or around Baghdad. The sinister figure supposedly behind the worst of these massacres is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian arch-terrorist who reportedly criticized Osama bin Laden for insufficient zeal in attacking domestic enemies like the “infidel Shias.” Al-Zarqawi, it is claimed, is pursuing an essentially eschatological rather than political goal: a cleansing of enemies without end until the Earth is ruled by a single, righteous caliphate.

Toward this end, he – or those invoking his name — seems to have access to an almost limitless supply of bomb vehicles (some of them apparently stolen in California and Texas, then shipped to the Middle East) as well as Saudi and other volunteers eager to martyr themselves in flame and molten metal for the sake of taking a few Shiite school kids, market venders, or foreign “crusaders” with them. Indeed the supply of suicidal madrassa graduates seems to far exceed what the logic of suicide bombing (as perfected by Hezbollah and the Tamil Tigers) actually demands: Many of the explosions in Iraq could just as easily be detonated by remote control. But the car bomb — at least in Al-Zarqawi’s relentless vision — is evidently a stairway to heaven as well as the chosen weapon of genocide.

But Al Zarqawi did not originate car bomb terrorism along the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates; that dark honor belongs to the CIA and its favorite son, Iyad Allawi. As the New York Times revealed in June 2004:

“Iyad Allawi, now the designated prime minister of Iraq, ran an exile organization intent on deposing Saddam Hussein that sent agents into Baghdad in the early 1990s’s to plant bombs and sabotage government facilities under the direction of the CIA, several former intelligence officials say. Dr. Allawi’s group, the Iraqi National Accord, used car bombs and other explosives devices smuggled into Baghdad from northern Iraq… One former Central Intelligence Agency officer who was based in the region, Robert Baer, recalled that a bombing during that period ‘blew up a school bus; schoolchildren were killed.'”

According to one of the Times’ informants, the bombing campaign, dead school kids and all, “was a test more than anything else, to demonstrate capability.” It allowed the CIA to portray the then-exiled Allawi and his suspect group of ex-Baathists as a serious opposition to Saddam Hussein and an alternative to the coterie (so favored by Washington neoconservatives) around Ahmed Chalabi. “No one had any problem with sabotage in Baghdad back then,” another CIA veteran reflected. “I don’t think anyone could have known how things would turn out today.”

Today, of course, car bombs rule Iraq. In a June 2005 article entitled, “Why the car bomb is king in Iraq,” James Dunnigan warned that it was supplanting the roadside bomb (which “are more frequently discovered, or defeated with electronic devices”) as the “most effective weapon” of Sunni insurgents as well as of Al Zarqawi, and thus “the terrorists are building as many as they can.” The recent “explosive growth” in car ownership in Iraq, he added, had made it “easier for the car bombs to just get lost in traffic.”

In this kingdom of the car bomb, the occupiers have withdrawn almost completely into their own forbidden city, the “Green Zone,” and their well-fortified and protected military bases. This is not the high-tech City of London with sensors taking the place of snipers, but a totally medievalized enclave surrounded by concrete walls and defended by M1 Abrams tanks and helicopter gunships as well as an exotic corps of corporate mercenaries (including Gurkhas, ex-Rhodesian commandos, former British SAS, and amnestied Colombian paramilitaries). Once the Xanadu of the Baathist ruling class, the 10-square-kilometer Green Zone, as described by journalist Scott Johnson, is now a surreal theme park of the American way of life:

“Women in shorts and T-shirts jog down broad avenues and the Pizza Inn does a brisk business from the parking lot of the heavily fortified U.S. Embassy. Near the Green Zone Bazaar, Iraqi kids hawk pornographic DVDs to soldiers. Sheik Fuad Rashid, the U.S.-appointed imam of the local mosque, dresses like a nun, dyes his hair platinum blond and claims that Mary Mother of Jesus appeared to him in a vision (hence the getup). On any given night, residents can listen to karaoke, play badminton or frequent one of several rowdy bars, including an invitation-only speakeasy run by the CIA.”

Outside the Green Zone, of course, is the ‘Red Zone’ where ordinary Iraqis can be randomly and unexpectedly blown to bits by car bombers or strafed by American helicopters. Not surprisingly, wealthy Iraqis and members of the new government are clamoring for admission to the security of the Green Zone, but U.S. officials told Newsweek last year that “plans to move the Americans out are ‘fantasy.'” Billions have been invested in the Green Zone and a dozen other American enclaves officially known for a period as “enduring camps,” and even prominent Iraqis have been left to forage for their own security outside the blast walls of these exclusive bubble Americas. A population that has endured Saddam’s secret police, U.N. sanctions, and American cruise missiles, now steels itself to survive the car bombers who prowl poor Shiite neighborhoods looking for grisly martyrdom. For the most selfish reasons, let us hope that Baghdad is not a metaphor for our collective future.

Mike Davis is the author most recently of The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu (The New Press) and Planet of Slums (Verso). He lives in San Diego.

Is AIPAC Finished?
No conference, guidance, deference, or Foreign Affairs Committee chair
June 25, 2020

by Grant Smith

These are desperate times for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC. AIPAC has canceled its single most important program. The lobby’s grip on Congress is slipping and its influence in the Foreign Affairs Committee has been truncated. Is AIPAC finished? There are three reasons to believe it may be.

First came the cancellation of AIPAC’s March 2021 policy conference, ostensibly due to “uncertainties created by the COVID-19 pandemic.” The disadvantage this brings to the Israel lobby ecosystem which is the “spear” behind AIPAC’s “tip” cannot be overstated. The conference is the Israel lobby ecosystem’s single key lobbying initiative because every year it allows “citizen lobbyists” to interface with their representatives. The amount AIPAC discloses that it spends to the Clerk of Congress on its own dozen or so professional lobbyists is quite small compared to the expenditures on the policy conference, and there is a reason for that.

The annual policy conference has long been an opportunity for pro-Israel activists to network, participate in sessions on how to generate public support for Israel, and learn about the AIPAC policy agenda. It is telling that AIPAC is not even considering a “virtual” or hybrid online event. That is because it has never really been about the “intimate educational sessions” or “demonstrations of groundbreaking Israeli innovations” that AIPAC publicly touts. Rather, the core purpose of the gathering is keeping members of Congress in line.

AIPAC’s policy agenda has nearly always mirrored the demands of the Israeli government. AIPAC was, after all, founded by a registered Israeli foreign agent, and was itself ordered to register (it never did). Conferences have mostly proceeded smoothly . After a few days hobnobbing with elected U.S. and Israeli government officials, attendees march up to Capitol Hill to pre-scheduled meetings with their representatives, all speaking the same talking points in favor of unconditional US foreign aid, robust US confrontation with Israel’s rivals, and demand for legislative undermining of the free speech rights of Israel’s growing number of American critics.

Not in 2021. This is important because Congress has grown restless. More and more members have refused to be unconditionally supportive of AIPAC or its Israel agenda. Last year, Betty McCollum wounded AIPAC deeply by accurately portraying its actions as those of a hate group. But the rebellion is poised to become bipartisan. Shibley Telhami’s latest poll reveals that majorities of Republican and Democratic voters now believe it is either “acceptable” or “the duty of” members of the US Congress to question the Israeli-American relationship. That is not sentiment favorable to AIPAC.

AIPAC has recently been nearly invisible on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s key initiative – annexing large swaths of the West Bank where indigenous Palestinians vastly outnumber Israeli colonizers. The lobby has even timidly acquiesced to members of Congress criticizing the move. Why?

The American public not only opposes most of the vast subsidies the US has delivered to Israel, such as unconditional foreign aid and diplomatic support including the recognition of Jerusalem as its capital. A plurality also opposes the US formally recognizing annexation, which most of the world rightly believes is both unjust and unlawful. AIPAC likely now fears the diminution of its own power and influence as the true nature of Israel and AIPAC emerges. After annexation, professional AIPAC “peace processors” such as Dennis Ross will no longer be able to pretend to be negotiating over the future of the “pizza” – Palestine – even as Israel ravenously consumes it – via settlements and discriminatory laws.

The mask will finally fall.

Lastly, AIPAC’s campaign contribution ecosystem has been trounced. Representative Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, once bragged that he would sit down with AIPAC on “every piece of legislation coming out of the Foreign Affairs Committee.” Engel’s easy defeat by upstart Jamaal Bowman nakedly reveals the organization’s relative weakness compared to the old days. Back then, AIPAC could fine-tune supposedly “independent” PAC contributions to individual candidates or even tip a key senate election by having proxies fund a spoiler like Ed Vallen. No longer.

As more members of Congress fully understand they can win elections without prostration before AIPAC and subordinating legitimate US foreign policies to those of Israel, many more will break free from Israel’s most important foreign agent.

Israeli Spying in US, Part 1 1947-2009

Information obtained by the Jewish-owned Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in its spy operations on US citizens is used by the House Select Committee on Unamerican Activities. Subcommittee Chair Clare Hoffman dismisses the ADL’s reports on suspected communists as hearsay.

1950 John Davitt, former chief of the Justice Department’s internal security section notes that the Israeli intelligence service is the second most active in the United States after the Soviets.

1954 A hidden microphone planted by the Israelis is discovered in the Office of the US Ambassador in Tel Aviv.

1956 Telephone taps are found connected to two telephones in the residence of the US military attach in Tel Aviv.

1954 “The Lavon Affair”. Israeli agents recruited Egyptian citizens of Jewish descent to bomb Western targets in Egypt, and plant evidence to frame Arabs, in an apparent attempt to upset US-Egyptian relations. Israeli defense minister Pinchas Lavon is eventually removed from office, though many think real responsibility lay with David Ben-Gurion.

1965 Israel  illegally obtained enriched uranium from NUMEC Corporation. ( Washington Post, 6/5/86, Charles R. Babcock, “US an Intelligence Target of the Israelis, Officials Say.”)

1967 Israel attacks the USS Liberty, a CIA intelligence- gathering vessel flying a US flag, operating at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, killing 34 crew members.. In 2004, Captain Ward Boston, Senior Legal Counsel for the Navy’s Court of Inquiry into the attack swears under oath that President Lyndon Johnson ordered the investigation to conclude that the deliberate assault was an “unfortunate accident,” even though the evidence indicates the attack was deliberate. Given the use by Israel of unmarked boats and planes, and the machine-gunning of USS Liberty’s lifeboats, the most likely explanation is that USS Liberty was to be sunk with all hands, with evidence left to frame Egypt for the sinking. This would have dragged the US into the war on Israel’s side.

1970 While working for Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, Richard Perle is caught by the FBI giving classified information to Israel. Nothing is done.

1978, Stephen Bryen, then a Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer, is overheard in a DC hotel offering confidential documents to top Israeli military officials. Bryen obtains a lawyer, Nathan Lewin, and the case heads for the grand jury, but is mysteriously dropped. Bryen later goes to work for Richard Perle.

1979 Shin Beth [the Israeli internal security agency] tries to penetrate the US Consulate General in Jerusalem through a “Honey Trap”, using a clerical employee who was having an affair with a Jerusalem girl.

1984  Jonathan Jay Pollard, a graduate of Stanford University and an employee of the Naval Investigative Service (NIS) surface ships division  was accused and convicted of stealing over a million highly sensitive documents and selling them to the Israeli government. As an example, Pollard stole and copied  the latest version of Radio-Signal Notations (RASIN), a 10-volume manual comprehensively detailing America’s global electronic surveillance network. Pollard was sentenced to life in prison on one count of espionage on March 4, 1987. Pollard is federal prisoner #09185-016 and is incarcerated at the Butner Federal Correction Complex in Butner, North Carolina.

1985 The New York Times reports the FBI is aware of at least a dozen incidents in which American officials transferred classified information to the Israelis, quoting [former Assistant Director of the F.B.I.] Mr. [Raymond] Wannal. The Justice Department does not prosecute.

1985 Richard Smyth, the owner of MILCO, was indicted on charges of smuggling nuclear timing devices to Israel ( Washington Post, 10/31/86).

1987 April 24 Wall Street Journal headline: “Role of Israel in Iran-Contra Scandal Won’t be Explored in Detail by Panels”

1992 The Wall Street Journal reports that Israeli agents apparently tried to steal Recon Optical Inc’s top-secret airborne spy-camera system.

1992 Stephen Bryen, caught offering confidential documents to Israel in 1978, is serving on board of the pro-Israeli Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs while continuing as a paid consultant — with security clearance — on exports of sensitive US technology.

1992 “The Samson Option,” by Seymour M. Hersh reports, illicitly obtained intelligence was flying so voluminously from LAKAM into Israeli intelligence that a special code name, JUMBO, was added to the security markings already on the documents. There were strict orders, Ari Ben-Menashe recalled: “Anything marked JUMBO was not supposed to be discussed with your American counterparts.”

  1. The ADL is caught operating a massive spying operation on critics of Israel, Arab-Americans, the San Francisco Labor Council, ILWU Local 10, Oakland Educational Association, NAACP, Irish Northern Aid, International Indian Treaty Council, the Asian Law Caucus and the San Francisco police. Data collected was sent directly to Israel via their Embassy and in some cases to South Africa. Pressure from Jewish organizations forced San Francisco authorities to drop the criminal case, but the ADL settles a civil lawsuit for an undisclosed sum of cash.

1995 The Defense Investigative Service circulated a memo warning US military contractors that ” Israel aggressively collects [ US] military and industrial technology.” The report stated that Israel obtains information using “ethnic targeting, financial aggrandizement, and identification and exploitation of individual frailties” of US citizens.

1996 A General Accounting Office report “Defense Industrial Security: Weaknesses in US Security Arrangements With Foreign-Owned Defense Contractors” found that according to intelligence sources “Country A” (identified by intelligence sources as Israel, Washington Times, 2/22/96) “conducts the most aggressive espionage operation against the United States of any US ally.” The Jerusalem Post (8/30/96) quoted the report, “Classified military information and sensitive military technologies are high-priority targets for the intelligence agencies of this country.” The report described “An espionage operation run by the intelligence organization responsible for collecting scientific and technologic information for [ Israel] paid a US government employee to obtain US classified military intelligence documents.” The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (Shawn L. Twing, April 1996) noted that this was “a reference to the 1985 arrest of Jonathan Pollard, a civilian US naval intelligence analyst who provided Israel’s LAKAM [Office of Special Tasks] espionage agency an estimated 800,000 pages of classified US intelligence information.”

The GAO report also noted that “Several citizens of [ Israel] were caught in the United States stealing sensitive technology used in manufacturing artillery gun tubes.”

1996 An Office of Naval Intelligence document, “Worldwide Challenges to Naval Strike Warfare” reported that ” US technology has been acquired [by China] through Israel in the form of the Lavi fighter and possibly SAM [surface-to-air] missile technology.” Jane’s Defense Weekly (2/28/96) noted that “until now, the intelligence community has not openly confirmed the transfer of US technology [via Israel] to China.” The report noted that this “represents a dramatic step forward for Chinese military aviation.” (Flight International, 3/13/96)

1997 An Army mechanical engineer, David A. Tenenbaum, “inadvertently” gives classified military information on missile systems and armored vehicles to Israeli officials (New York Times, 2/20/97).

1997 The Washington Post reports US intelligence has intercepted a conversation in which two Israeli officials had discussed the possibility of getting a confidential letter that then-Secretary of State Warren Christopher had written to Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat. One of the Israelis, identified only as Dov, had commented that they may get the letter from Mega, the code name for Israel’s top agent inside the United States.

1997 US ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, complains privately to the Israeli government about heavy-handed surveillance by Israeli intelligence agents.

1997 Israeli agents place a tap on Monica Lewinsky’s phone at the Watergate and record phone sex sessions between her and President Bill Clinton. The Ken Starr report confirms that Clinton warned Lewinsky their conversations were being taped and ended the affair. At the same time, the FBI’s hunt for Mega is called off. Mega is later revealed to be XXX   XXXXXX

2001 It is discovered that US drug agent’s communications have been penetrated. Suspicion falls on two companies, AMDOCS and Comverse Infosys, both owned by Israelis. AMDOCS generates billing data for most US phone companies and is able to provide detailed logs of who is talking to whom. Comverse Infosys builds the tapping equipment used by law enforcement to eavesdrop on all American telephone calls, but suspicion forms that Comverse, which gets half of its research and development budget from the Israeli government, has built a back door into the system that is being exploited by Israeli intelligence and that the information gleaned on US drug interdiction efforts is finding its way to drug smugglers. The investigation by the FBI leads to the exposure of the largest foreign spy ring ever uncovered inside the United States, operated by Israel. Half of the suspected spies have been arrested when 9-11 happens. On 9-11, 5 Israelis are arrested for dancing and cheering while the World Trade Towers collapse. Supposedly employed by Urban Moving Systems, the Israelis are caught with multiple passports and a lot of cash. Two of them are later revealed to be Mossad. As witness reports track the activity of the Israelis, it emerges that they were seen at Liberty Park at the time of the first impact, suggesting a foreknowledge of what was to come. The Israelis are interrogated, and then eventually sent back to Israel. The owner of the moving company used as a cover by the Mossad agents abandons his business and flees to Israel. The United States Government then classifies all of the evidence related to the Israeli agents and their connections to 9-11. All of this is reported to the public via a four part story on Fox News by Carl Cameron. Pressure from Jewish groups, primarily AIPAC, forces Fox News to remove the story from their website. Two hours prior to the 9-11 attacks, Odigo, an Israeli company with offices just a few blocks from the World Trade Towers, received an advance warning via the internet. The manager of the New York Office provided the FBI with the IP address of the sender of the message, which turned out to be located in the Israeli Embassy in Washington, hence could not be further investigated.

2001 The FBI  investigated 5 Israeli moving companies as possible fronts for Israeli intelligence.

2001 The Jewish Defense League’s Irv Rubin arrested for planning to bomb a US Congressman. He was murdered in the LA County Jail dies before he could be brought to trial.

2001 The Isreali Mossad, in conjunction with senior members of the Bush administration, penetrated a Saudi terrorist group located at Hollywood, Florida, and materially assisted them in preparing for an aerial assault on various significant American targets. The White House was kept fully courant of the Mossad’s actions by the Israeli Embassy personnel in Washington.

2002 The DEA issues a report that Israeli spies, posing as art students, had aggressively been trying to penetrate US Government offices.

2002 Police near the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in southern Washington State stop a suspicious truck and detain two Israelis, one of whom is illegally in the United States. The two men were driving at high speed in a Ryder rental truck, which they claimed had been used to “deliver furniture.” The next day, police discovered traces of TNT and RDX military-grade plastic explosives inside the passenger cabin and on the steering wheel of the vehicle. The FBI then announces that the tests that showed explosives were false positives by cigarette smoke, a claim test experts say is ridiculous. Based on an alibi provided by a woman, the case is closed and the Israelis are handed over to INS to be sent back to Israel. One week later, the woman who provided the alibi vanishes.

2003 The Police Chief of Cloudcroft, New Mexico, stops a truck speeding through a school zone. The drivers turn out to be Israelis with expired passports. Claiming to be movers, the truck contains junk furniture and several boxes. The Israelis are handed over to immigration. The contents of the boxers are not revealed to the public. It is later revealed that they contain “extensive documentation” concerning earlier atomic weapon’s testings at nearby Alamagordo, NM

2003 Israel deployed assassination squads into other countries, including the United States. The US Government does not officially protest when they were informed by the Israeli Embassy that these squads were intended to kill known Muslim terrorists possibly operating inside the United States.

2004 Police near the Nuclear Fuel Services plant in Tennessee stop a truck after a three mile chase, during which the driver throws a bottle containing a strange liquid from the cab. The drivers turn out to be Israelis using fake Ids. The FBI refuses to investigate and, on orders from the Department of Justice in Washington,  the Israelis are released.

2004 Two Israelis try to enter Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, home to eight Trident submarines. Their truck tests positive for explosives.

2004, The authoritative Jane’s Intelligence Group noted that Israel’s intelligence organizations “have been spying on the US and running clandestine operations since Israel was established.” The former deputy director of counterintelligence at FBI, Harry B. Brandon, last year told Congressional Quarterly magazine that “the Israelis are interested in commercial as much as military secrets.”

2005 August 4,2005 a federal grand jury indiocted Lawrence Franklin a former United States Department of Defense employee, on five charges of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 in that Franklin passed secret information regarding United States policy towards Iran to staff members of  the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Franklin, pled guilty to several espionage-related charges and was sentenced in January 2006 to nearly 13 years of prison but was later released due to pressure from the Israeli government.

2009: October 20, 2009  Stewart Nozette, a scientist who worked for NASA and had a top-level government security clearance, is charged with trying to sell US secrets to Israel after an FBI sting operation. The FBI pretended to be Mossad agents.

Jesus: Fact and Fiction

The traditional view sees Christianity as the creation of a single man, Jesus Christ. This view persists even today. It is true that Jesus, at least in “enlightened” and “educated” circles, is no longer considered a deity, but he still held to have been an extraordinary personality, who came to the fore with the intention of founding a new religion, and did so, with tremendous success. Liberal theologians hold this view, as so do radical free-thinkers; and the latter differ from the theologians only with respect to the criticism they make of Christ as a person, whom they seek to deprive of all the sublimity they can.

And yet, at the end of the eighteenth century the English historian Gibbon, in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (written between 1774 and 1788), had ironically pointed out how striking it is that none of Jesus’ contemporaries mentions him, although he is said to have accomplished such remarkable feats.

“But how shall we excuse the supine inattention of the Pagan and philosophic world to these evidences which were presented by the hand of Omnipotence, not to their reason, but to their senses? During the age of Christ, of his apostles, and of their first disciples, the doctrine which they preached was confirmed by innumerable prodigies. The lame walked, the blind saw, the sick were healed, the dead were raised, daemons were expelled, and the laws of Nature were frequently suspended for the benefit of the church. But the sages of Greece and Rome turned aside from the awful spectacle, and, pursuing the ordinary occupations of life and study, appeared unconscious of any alterations in the moral or physical government of the world.”

At Jesus’ death, according to the Christian tradition, the whole earth, or at least all of Palestine, was in darkness for three hours. This took place in the days of the elder Pliny, who devoted a special chapter of his Natural History to eclipses; but of this eclipse he says nothing. (Gibbon, Chapter 15).

But even if we leave miracles out of the accounts, it is hard to see how a personality like Jesus of the gospels, who according to them aroused such excitement in people’s minds, could carry on his work and finally die as a martyr for his cause and yet not have pagan and Jewish contemporaries devote a single word to him.

The first mention of Jesus by a non-Christian is found in the Jewish Antiquities of Flavius Josephus. The third chapter of book 18 deals with the procurator Pontius Pilate, and says among other things:

“About this time lived Jesus, a wise man, if he can be called human, for he worked miracles and was a teacher of men, who received the truth gladly; and he found many followers among Jews and Greeks. This was the Christ. Although later Pilate sentenced him to the cross on the complaint of the nobles of our people, those who had loved him remained true to him. For he appeared again to them on the third day, risen to new life, as the prophets of God had prophesied this and thousands of other wonderful things about him. From his comes the name of the Christians, whose sect (phylon) has continued to exist ever since.”

Josephus speaks of Christ again in the 20th book, chapter 9,1, where the high priest Ananus is said in the time of the procurator Albinus to have brought it about that:

“James. The brother of Jesus, said to be the Christ (tou legomenou christou), together with some others, was brought to court, accused as a breaker of the law and delivered over to be stoned to death.”

These pieces of evidence have always been highly prized by Christians; for they come from a non-Christian, a Jew and Pharisee, born in the year 37 of our era and living in Jerusalem, and so very well able to have authentic facts about Jesus. And his testimony was the more valuable in that as a Jew he had no reason to falsify on behalf of the Christians.

But it was precisely the exaggerated exaltation of Christ on the part of a pious Jew that made the first passage suspect, and quite early. Its authenticity was disputed even in the sixteenth century, and today it is agreed that it is forgery and does not stem from Josephus.  It was inserted in the third century by a Christian copyist, who obviously took offense at the fact that Josephus, who repeats the most trivial gossip from Palestine, says nothing at all about the person of Jesus. The pious Christian felt with justice that the absence of any such mention weighed against the existence or at least the significance of his Savior Now the discovery of his forgery has become testimony against Jesus.

But the passage concerning James is also dubious. It is true that Origen (185 to 254 AD) mentions testimony by Josephus concerning James; this occurs in his commentary on Matthew. He remarks that it is surprising that nonetheless Josephus did not believe in Jesus as the Christ. In his polemic against Celsius, Origen cites this statement of Josephus about James and again notes Josephus’ unbelief. These statements by Origen constitute one of the proofs that the striking passage about Jesus in which Josephus recognizes him as the Messiah, the Christ, could not have been in the original text of Josephus. It follows at once that the passage about James that Origen found in Josephus was also a Christian forgery. For this passage he cites runs quite differently from what we find in the manuscript of Josephus that has come down to us. In it the destruction of Jerusalem is said to be a punishment for the execution of James; but this fabrication is not found in the other manuscripts of Josephus. The passage as it occurs in the manuscripts of Josephus that have come down to us is not cited by Origen, while he mentions the other version three times on other occasions. And yet he carefully assembled all the testimony that could be got from Josephus that had value for the Christian faith. It would seem likely that the passage of Josephus about James that has come down to us is also fraudulent, and was first inserted by a pious Christian, to the greater glory of God some time after Origen, but before Eusebius, who cites the passage.

Jesus as a rebel

If the Christians in later times could not resign themselves to abandoning the royal descent of their Messiah, despite his divine origin, they were all the more eager to erase another mark of his Jewish birth: his rebelliousness.

From the second century on, Christianity was more and more dominated by patient obedience. The Judaism of the previous century had been something quite different. It is a matter of historical record of the rebelliousness of those strata of Jews were who were expecting the Messiah at that time, especially the poor classes of Jerusalem and the bands of Galilee, the same elements from which Christianity arose. The obvious assumption is that Christianity was violent in its beginnings. This assumption becomes a certainty when we see the gospels still have traces of it despite the fact that their later revisers tried most desperately to eliminate everything from them that might give offense to the powerful.

Although Jesus usually appears as gentle and submissive, occasionally he says something of quite a different nature which suggests that whether or not he really existed or is only an imaginary, idea figure, he lived as a rebel in the original tradition, one who was crucified for his unsuccessful uprising.

He occasionally speaks of legality in a striking manner: “I come not to call the righteous, but the sinners” (Mark 2, verse 17). The Authorized Version translates: “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance,” and their manuscripts may have read so. The Christians early felt how dangerous it was for them to concede that Jesus called to himself just those groups that were against legality. Luke therefore added to the word “call” the phrase “to repentance” (eis metanoian), an addition which is also found in many manuscripts of Mark as well. But this addition leaves the sentence without any meaning. Who would ever think of calling the “just” (dikaious) to repentance? Moreover this contradicts the context, for Jesus uses the expression because he is reproached for eating and associating with men who were despised; he is not pictured as exhorting them to change their way of life. No one would have held “calling sinners to repentance” against him.

In the version that has come down to us, Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss, which points him out to the police as the man to arrest. Now that is a senseless way to act. According to the Gospels, Jesus was well-known in Jerusalem; he preached in public day in and day out, and was received by the masses with jubilation; and now he to have been so unknown that he had to be pointed out by Judas to be distinguished from the crowd of his supporters! That would be like the FBI paying an informer to indicate the person of Al Capone!

It would be an entirely different matter if it were a question of a plotted coup d’etat. In that case there would be something to betray, a secret worth paying for. If the plot and the coup d’etat were eliminated from the story, the account of Judas’ treason would be to no purpose. Since the betrayal was obviously too well known among the comrades and the bitterness against the traitor too strong, it would not do for the evangelist to pass over this circumstance. He had to construct a new betrayal out of his imagination, however, and did not succeed very well.

The capture of Jesus is just as unhappy an invention as the present version of the betrayal of Jesus by Judas. The man who is arrested is precisely the one who preaches the peaceful way, while the apostles, who drew their swords and smote, are not molested in the least. Indeed, Peter, who cut off the ear of Malchus, followed the constables and calmly sits down among them in the courtyard of the high priest and talks with them. Imagine a man who resists the arrest of a friend, fires a pistol and wounds a police officer and then peacefully accompanies the enforcers of the law to the station house and has a beer with them!

These Christians thus had the idea that the resurrection of a man who had been dead and buried for three days could make so slight an impression on the eyewitnesses that a good gratuity would be enough, not merely to keep their mouths closed forever, but to get them to spread the opposite of the truth. It may be taken for granted that the authors of such views are as are expressed in the Gospels believed in the tale of the resurrection without questioning it.

But that is not the end of the story. This credulousness and confidence in the possibility of resurrection was not peculiar to the Christian community. It was something they had in common with all the Jewry of the time, to the extent that Judaism expected the Messiah. Why was it the Christian alone who had the vision of the resurrection of their Messiah? Why did it not come to any supporter of one of the other Messiahs that suffered the death of the martyr in that period?

Our theologians will rejoin that the fact is to be attributed to the especially deep impression made by the personality of Jesus, an impression produced by none of the other Messiahs. Against this there is the circumstance that Jesus’ activity, which by all accounts lasted only a short time, passed unnoticed by the masses, so that no contemporary took note of it. Other Messiahs, on the contrary, fought the Romans a long time and occasionally won great victories against them, which were recorded in history. Would these Messiahs have made less of an impression? But let us assume that Jesus could not attract the masses, but that the force of his personality left ineradicable memories among his few adherents. That would explain at most why the belief in Jesus lived on in his personal friends, but not why it had propaganda power among people who had not known him and on whom his personality could not have any effect. If it had been only the personal impression made by Jesus that produced the faith in his resurrection and his divine mission, this faith would have had to grow weaker as personal memories of him faded and the ranks of those who had known him personally became thinner.

Posterity, we know, weaves no garlands for the actor; but in this as in other points the player and the parson have much in common. What is true for the actor can be said of the preacher as well, if he limits himself to preaching and works only through his personality and leaves no works behind him which outlast his person. No matter how moving or elevating his sermons may be, they cannot have the same effect on people that do not hear them and know of them only by hearsay. His person will leave them cold; it will not touch their fancy.

No one leaves the memory of his personality beyond the circles of those who knew him personally, unless he leaves some creation that is impressive apart from his personality, an art work like a building, a picture, a piece of music, or a poem; or a scientific achievement, an ordered collection of materials, a theory, an invention or discovery; or a political or social institution or organization of some kind that he called into being or in whose creation and erection he had a prominent part.

So long as such a work lasts and operates, interest in the personality of its creator will last. Indeed, if such a creation goes unnoticed in his lifetime, and grows in significance after his death, as is often the case for discoveries, inventions and organizations, it is possible for the interest in the creator of the work to begin only after his death and keep growing. The less attention was paid to him during his life, the less that is known of his personality, the more the imagination is aroused; and if his work is a powerful one, the greater the crown of anecdotes and legends that will be spun around it. Man’s need for causes, which seeks in every social event- and originally in every natural event- for an active person who brought it about, is so great that it tends to make men invent an originator for any production of great importance, or to connect it with some traditional name if the real originator is forgotten or if, as often happens, the discovery is the product of the untied powers of so many men, no one standing out beyond the others, that it would have been utterly impossible to name one definite originator.

The reason why the Messianic career of Jesus did not end in the same way as those of the Judases and Theudases and other Messiahs of the period is not his personality, but not the handiwork that is linked with his name. Fanatical confidence in the personality of the prophet, thirst for miracles, ecstasy, belief in the resurrection- all these are to be found among the adherents of the other Messiahs as well as among those of Jesus. The reason for singling out one of them cannot lie in what they all have in common. Theologians, even the most freethinking of them, are never very far from the assumption that even if we have to give up all the miracles that are related of Jesus, he himself still remains a miracle, a superman whose like the world has not seen; but we cannot accept this miracle. In that case however the only difference between Jesus and the other Messiahs is that the others did not leave anything behind in which their personalities lived on, while Jesus bequeathed an organization with institutions excellently adapted to holding his adherents together and attracting new ones.

The other Messiahs merely gathered bands together for an uprising; if defeated the bands scattered. If Jesus had not done anything more than that, his name would have disappeared without leaving a trace after he had been nailed to the cross. But Jesus was not merely a rebel, he was also the representative and champion, and perhaps the founder, of an organization that survived him and kept growing stronger and more powerful.

The traditional assumption has been that the community of Christ was not organized by the apostles until after his death. But nothing compels us to make this improbable assumption, no less an assumption than that immediately after the death of Jesus his adherents introduced something entirely new into his doctrine, something he had not considered and willed; and that people who had hitherto been unorganized entered into an organization he had never intended, and that right at the moment of a defeat that was capable of breaking up a solid organization. Judging by the analogy of similar organizations whose beginnings are better know, it would be closer to the truth to assume that communistic mutual aid societies of the poor of Jerusalem with Messianic overtones had existed before Jesus, and that a bold agitator and rebel of this name from Galilee was only their most outstanding champion and martyr.

According to John the twelve apostles had a common purse even in Jesus’ lifetime. But Jesus requires that every other disciple as well contribute all his property.

The Acts of the Apostles nowhere states that the apostles first organized the community after the death of Jesus, we find it already organized at that time, holding meetings of its members and performing its functions. The first mention of communism in the Acts of the Apostles runs as follows: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (2, verse 42). That is, they continued their previous common meals and other communistic practices. If this had been newly introduced after the death of Jesus, the version would have to be quite different.

The communal organization was the link that kept Jesus’ following together even after his death and preserved the memory of their crucified champion, who had proclaimed himself to be the Messiah, according to the tradition. The more the organization grew, and the more powerful it became, the more its martyrs must have occupied the imagination of the members, and the more they must have revolted at considering the crucified Messiah as false; the more too must they have felt themselves impelled to regard him as the genuine one, despite his death, as the Messiah that would come again in all his glory; the more they inclined to believe in his resurrection, and the more did faith in the Messianic nature of the crucified one and in his resurrection become the mark of the organization, setting it apart from the believers in other Messiahs. If the belief in the resurrection of him who was crucified stemmed from the effect that his organization produced, that belief would become stronger and more luxuriant as the organization grew; and the less positive information there was about the person of Jesus, the less the imagination of his worshippers would be hampered by definite facts.

It was not belief in the resurrection of him who was crucified that created the Christian community and lent it strength, but the converse: the vitality of the community created the belief in the continued life of their Messiah.

The doctrine of the crucified and resurrected Messiah did not contain anything that was irreconcilable with Jewish thought. We have seen how it was full of resurrectionary beliefs at that time; but in addition the notion that future glory was to be purchased only by the suffering and death of the just ran all through Jewish Messianic literature, and was a natural consequence of the sorry plight of the Jews.

Belief in the crucified Messiah thus need have been only one more variation of the manifold Messianic expectations of the Judaism of that period, if the basis on which it was erected had not been one which had to develop a contradiction to Judaism. This basis, the vitality of the communistic organization of the masses, as closely linked with the special form of the Messianic expectations of the masses in Jerusalem

Thus at the end of the Passion story we still have Jewish corruption turning the honest Roman soldiers into tool of Jewish trickery and baseness, which opposes devilish rage to the noblest diving forgiveness.

All through this story the trend to servility towards the Romans and hatred toward the Jews is laid on so thick and described with such a mass of nonsense that one should think it would not have the slightest influence on thinking men. And yet we know that it was only too successful in accomplishing its ends. This tale, illuminated by the glorious light of divinity, ennobled by the martyrdom of the proud confessor of a high mission, was for many centuries one of the most effective means of arousing hatred and contempt for Jews even among very kindly spirits in Christendom.

The Encyclopedia of American Loons

Martha Trowbridge

“Birtherism” is an expression commonly used for the idea that Barack Obama was not born in the US or that his father was not a US citizen at the time and that Obama was accordingly not eligible for being elected President. But other conspiracy-theories surrounding Obama’s heritage have been pushed as well. Joel Gilbert and the WND, for instance, for a time promoted the idea that President Obama’s real father is Frank Marshall Davis, and not all adherents of that conspiracy realized that this conspiracy would, if true, at least undermine the rather central claim among birthers that Obama was ineligible for being president.

Martha Trowbridge, who presents herself as an “Investigative Researcher” and “Executive Producer And Host” of a radio show called Terrible Truth, has contributed to the conspiracy theories in the form of speculations about who Obama’s mother was: “On the lam since 1985, F.B.I. Most Wanted Fugitive Domestic Terrorist ‘Elizabeth Ann Duke’ is the living, biological mother of United States President ‘Barack Hussein Obama II’. ‘Elizabeth Duke’ is one of her multiple known identities.”

But things are of course more complicated than what is summed up in the previous sentence: “In early October 2012, Private Investigator Neil Sankey identified F.B.I. Most Wanted Fugitive Domestic Terrorist ‘Elizabeth Duke’ as likely the same person as the woman identified at Terrible Truth as Jo Ann Newman the actual – and living – mother of the man who fraudulently presents as ‘Barack Hussein Obama II’.” You still following? “Terrible Truth Investigative Report II reflects ten months of dedicated research into Ms. Duke and her interconnections with Jo Ann Newman and ‘Stanley Ann Dunham’, the synthetic mother presented by ‘Obama’ to occlude his mother’s actual identity, political posturing, and criminal history.” Yes, it’s the kind of conclusions ten months of research will give you when said research is untainted by facts, truth, coherence, reason, plausibility or non-contradiction. And who is this Dunham character? “Also known in the late 1950′s through at least the mid-1960′s as Jo Ann Newman of New York City, ‘Obama’s’ mother was the white ‘Teenage Lover’ of civil rights leader Malcolm X. ‘BHO II’ is their son.” But of course.

Trowbridge is not alone. The suggestion that Malcolm X was Obama’s father has also been championed by e.g. Stephen Pidgeon (Trowbridge’s show named Pidgeon “Person of the Year” of 2015). Meanwhile, Trowbridge’s show “Dream Candidate, Nightmare Politician: The Political Narcissist And The Political Sociopath” was apparently hailed by Jack Cashill as “scarily on target”. That would be this Jack Cashill.

Oh, but she isn’t done! Did you ever consider to ask who Stanley Ann Dunham really was? And have you “been wondering why America Under A.k.a. Obama increasing resembles Hitler’s Reign of Terror over the German people” or noticed “how the American Government is swiftly assuming the ugly shape of Third Reich National Socialism”? Well, isn’t it obvious? The woman known as “Stanley Ann Dunham” is really “Baby Girl Braun-Hitler,” daughter of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun. Which makes Obama Hitler’s grandson.

And I think we are done here. (Trowbridge is not, but we’ll leave it to interested readers to delve further.)

Diagnosis: Some might consider it wrong to laugh and point at people like Martha Trowbridge, but heck: we’ll keep her responsible for her words and actions. Totally off the hinges.

 David Tate, Clint Mitchell et al.

Old news, perhaps, but still worth mentioning, insofar as creationists are still tirelessly pushing for getting creationism – or at least anti-evolution talking points – on the science syllabus in public schools. And it is, perhaps not much of a surprise that Louisiana is particularly susceptible to religiously motivated pseudoscience. In 2010, for instance, the Livingston Parish School Board decided to explore the possibility of incorporating the teaching of creationism in the public school system’s science classes, with the director of curriculum for the district, Jan Benton, (falsely) telling the board that, under the Louisiana Science Education Act, schools are allowed to present “critical thinking and creationism” in science classes, to the enthusiastic response of the school board (none of whom, of course, really associate “critical thinking” with critical thinking): Member David Tate asked: “We let them teach evolution to our children, but I think all of us sitting up here on this School Board believe in creationism. Why can’t we get someone with religious beliefs to teach creationism?” (i.e. someone else, a preacher or creation society member, should come in to give the lecture to ensure that there is no meddling or objections from critical teachers). Clint Mitchell, meanwhile, added that “I agree … you don’t have to be afraid to point out some of the fallacies with the theory of evolution. Teachers should have the freedom to look at creationism and find a way to get it into the classroom,” and even the president of the board, Keith Martin, agreed: “Maybe it’s time that we look at this,” and proposed the formation of a committee to study the possibility – apparently dimly aware of potential legal issues, he added that “The American Civil Liberties Union and even some of our principals would not be pleased with us, but we shouldn’t worry about the ACLU. It’s more important that we do the correct thing for the children we educate.”

After receiving some attention the board did back down a little, but still asked School Board staff “to look at the issue for possible future action.” David Tate said that “we don’t want litigation, but why not take a stand for Jesus and risk litigation,” thereby of course undermining any chance of winning said litigation by revealing to everyone that the whole point of their efforts was to get religion into public schools.

Diagnosis: No, attempts to maintain that the point is to teach students critical evaluation, and that it is all about science, don’t tend to last long. We are, after all, dealing with creationists here, and you don’t have to excite them much before their attempts to mimick reason start unravelling. Now, this particular Louisiana initiative is presumably dead, but similar attempts will be made again and again.

Refael Szmerla

Rabbi Refael Szmerla (Rafael/Rephoel Schmerla) is a a Dayan in Lakewood, New Jersey, unhingedly deranged fundamentalist and advocate for various types of quackery, including, perhaps most obviously, anti-vaccine conspiracy theories. And given his position, his views on quackery and vaccines have to some extent been met with recognition in certain circles in which it is considered uncouth to criticize an authority figure like him, a situation that reflects what is, of course, a familiar recipe for disaster.

His views on medicine – Szmerla doesn’t have the faintest trace of expertise or qualifications in science or medicine, of course – are laid out in his book Ki Ani Hashem Rof’echa, in Hebrew, which goes through auras, chi, reiki, energy healing, distance healing, meridians, acupuncture, applied kinesiology, emotional freedom techniques, dowsing, homeopathy, radionics, crystal healing, geopathic stress, feng shui, iridology, reflexology, and other forms of quackery. And Szmerla endorses them all (except feng shui) by finding sources in the Gemara or Rishonim that, with a liberal dose of motivated reasoning and shoehorning, might be interpreted as discussing them. And (imaginary) support from religious texts is, of course, all he needs: the practices mentioned can therefore neither be religiously misguided nor ineffective. (He also backs up his conclusions with some quotation from various quacks and conspiracy theorists.) Meanwhile, those who argue against such practices, claims Szmerla, have been influenced by “Greek philosophy” and will end up as heretics – of course, scientific evidence for whether or not the practices in fact work is very far from Szmerla’s radar – and accepting the quackery is, as he sees it, an essential part of Jewish identity – indeed, using radionics instead of real medicine helps cement our faith in the Sages, who were ostensibly scientifically far beyond modern medicine.

And like many books of quackery, Szmerla’s ends with a direct attack on modern medicine: sickness is important since it turns man toward God in prayer, whereas modern medicine’s “arrogant doctors” turn people away from God with a philosophy that “stands in complete contradiction to Torah values” – as opposed to alternative medicine, which is largely based on mystical energies and spirituality. At least he recognizes that the practices he recommends are not science-based – indeed, he explicitly states that requiring double-blind testing and rejecting anecdotal evidence due to the placebo effect stands in direct contradiction to Chazal, who ostensibly only required that a treatment appear to work on three occasions to declare it effective [no idea] – so he can, in fact, not be accused of pseudoscience. But for Szmerla contradicting science is a good thing. (Of course, it also means that the defense he provides might not be quite what more mainstream promoters of quackery really would have wished for.)

The antirationalist position (young-earth creationism, dinosaur-denialism, global warming denialism etc.) Szmerla espouses is relatively common in charedi communities, which is surely part of the reason for the low vaccination rates in some of them – even someone considered among these groups to be “moderate”, Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky, has endorsed antivaccine conspiracy theories, stated that “the best doctors go to Hell” because of their arrogance, and written that we have to silence those who insist upon empirical evidence whereas altmed quacks are divinely-placed forces that should be recruited to heal people. And Szmerla himself is of course firmly antivaccine. He is part of The Vaccine Coalition, a Coalition of Non-Vaccinating Parents in Lakewood, New Jersey, founded by Szmerla, Malkiel Kotler and Shmuel Meir Katz, and supported e.g. by Elya Ber Wachtfogel of South Fallsberg, who is apparently something of a powerful figure in local charedi communities. We haven’t even bothered to check what kind of information these unhinged kooks promote to people in their communities. Given his comments on doctors and medicine in general (the “sickness brings you closer to God through prayer” part), it seems not too far-fetched to suspect that Szmerla wants children in his community to suffer from vaccine-preventable and potentially deadly diseases.

Diagnosis: So, ok. You may be inclined to just point and laugh at this silly fundie character. The problem, though, is that Szmerla, as mentioned, wields some authority in certain communities, and his recommendations have real, bad consequences for real people. Dangerous.

Michael Symonette

A.k.a. Maurice Woodside

A.k.a. Mikael Israel

A.k.a. Michael the Black Man

Michael Symonette is a Florida-based political … “figure”. Symonette is an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump, and best known for appearing at Trump’s rallies both before and after the 2016 election holding a “Blacks for Trump” sign. But Symonette has had a long and colorful career in various other cults and conspiracy groups (often with a different name) as well.

For instance, in the 1980s Symonette was a prominent member of the Yahweh Ben Yahweh cult, which was known for promoting the idea that blacks are the true Israelites (thus part of the Black Hebrew Israelites movement) and that Hulon Mitchell was a messiah sent to free black people from “white devils”, but even better known for committing multiple murders and mutilations, primarily of former members and victims of an initiation rite that involved killing a white person and giving one of their ears to Mitchell. The group is still active, insisting that there was no evidence of the crimes and referring to Mitchell’s arrest as “the crucifixion” and part of “a 25-year FBI practice of disrupting and discrediting black organizations” – indeed, Symonette himself has (apparently) written the article “Maurice/Michael explains Yahweh Ben Yahweh is Innocent and was Persecuted by Arab, East Indian, Ishmaelites. & U.S. Prosecutor Richard Shruggs was an Ishmaelite Arab Jew. who Prosecuted Yahweh Ben Yahweh” to prove it.

Symonette apparently played “a big role in the rise and fall of the Yahweh Ben Yahweh cult”, and was himself at one point charged with (though acquitted of) one count of murder and one count of attempted murder.

Until then known as Michael Woodside, Symonette subsequently started a radio station, BOSS 104.1 FM to express his obsessive hatred for Democrats (or, as he called them, “Demon-crats” and “slave masters”), who are ostensibly aligned with the KKK (he also labeled the (black) El Portal mayor Daisy Black a “devil” and called for her to be “set on fire”), before reinventing himself as “Michael the Black Man”. He briefly received some attention in 2008 when he accused Oprah Winfrey of being the devil and Barack Obama of being endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan at one of Obama’s speeches in Coral Gables. His group also displayed a banner proclaiming, somewhat inexplicably, that “Jessie [sic] Jackson hates Obama for federal child support act” – Symonette’s group has otherwise expressed little love Jackson, calling him for instance a “house negro.” Obama, however, is “The Beast” because he is an apocalyptic figure warned of in the Bible: for one thing, Obama is, according to Symonette, a proponent of infanticide and extreme partial-birth abortion but worse: Obama has defended child support, which Symonette considers “legal slavery” (Symonette himself unsurprisingly has a backstory of owing quite a bit in child support). Indeed, at one point Symonette was convinced that Obama could bring about virtual extinction of the free black male as soon as 2012. Oprah, though, is even worse: a “devil” and “hell-bound Jezebel” – “if Obama is elected,” said Symonette in 2008, “there will be an international, insane war, and nobody will survive. And Oprah knows that! She wants everybody to die with her black ass!” He also apparently believes that “one-third of the black women is the devil.”

Renewed attention was given Symonette when he spoke to the audience at a Rick Santorum campaign rally, saying that Democrats were “the worst thing that ever happen [sic] to the black man.”

He currently runs multiple conspiracy theory-promoting websites, including Gods2.com, which he frequently promotes on his shirt at Trump rallies. If you try to access the page, you’ll be redirected to honestfact.com, a website that might even make Alex Jones look calm and reasonable. Among Symonette’s claims on the site are:

– That the Cherokee Indians were “the real KKK slave masters”, not “White Gentiles who are Black Peoples Republican Emancipators!”

– That black and white people were in the Americas before the Native Americans and must unite against the Cherokee Indians. (A display of the Confederate battle flag is captioned “Cherokee Democrat Flag”.)

– That former President Barack Obama is a “shape shifting mason who acts Black but is Cherokee.”

– That Bill Clinton and John McCain are descended from the Cherokees, and that John Hawkins, born in 1595 to British parents and pioneer of the British slave trade, was Cherokee. (And as of 2020 “nine guys in the Republican Senate are actually Mormons” and “Mormons are mostly Cherokee” – the KKK is also is made up entirely of Cherokees.)

– That Hillary Clinton is secretly plotting with ISIS to kill all black and white women in America.

– That not only is Hillary Clinton linked to the Islamic State; she is also, somehow, linked to the crime gang MS-13, as well as – of course – to the KKK. Moreover, note that “Hillary’s last name is Rodham”, which means that “their family members are Rothchilds”. It doesn’t.

Symonette’s website also sports a long list of the standard, near-incomprehensible all-caps conspiracy jumble types of headlines like


–  “PROTESTERS are PHONEY Black people & are really East Indians & Cherokees acting Black”

–  “See Hillary & Puttin say that there will be nuclear war if Hillary becomes president: HILLARY WILL START WORLD WAR 3 JUDGEMENT DAY” TO KILL WOMEN OF AMERICA”.

–  “WHITE MAN & BLACK MAN WAKE UP!! (ISHMAEL) (arabs & East Indians) are killing us (Americans BLACK & WHITE) all over the world on TV”

Apparently one factor linking things here is that all races in the world can be traced back to Noah’s sons, and whereas white people, along with Latinos, Asians, and Black people in America – but not Africa – have descended from Noah’s good sons, the descendants of Ham are evil, and include Canaanites and Cherokees. Suffice to say that the suggested linking factor, in addition to being derangedly insane, leaves some details unaccounted for.

Diagnosis: Completely deranged and probably dangerous. And he is apparently not alone either but seems to have a group of acolyte zombies following his directions. Scary stuff.


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