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Points de vue  >  US: the conspiracy that wasn’t




Alexander Cockburn, Le Monde diplomatique, Paris, December 2006 (excerpts)

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US: the conspiracy that wasn’t


Five years after the attacks, 9/11 “conspiracism” has penetrated deep into the left in the US. It is also widespread on the libertarian and populist right, which is scarcely surprising since the United States populist right instinctively mistrusts government to a far greater degree than the left, and matches conspiracies to its demon of preference, whether the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the United Nations’ black helicopters[1] or the Jews.

These days a dwindling number of leftists learn their political economy from Marx. Into the theoretical and strategic void has crept a diffuse, peripatetic conspiracist view of the world that tends to locate ruling class devilry not in the crises of capital accumulation, the falling rate of profit, or inter-imperial competition, but in locale - the Bohemian Grove, Bilderberg, Ditchley, Davos[2] - or supposedly “rogue” agencies, with the CIA still at the head of the list. The 9/11 “conspiracy” is the summa of all this foolishness.

You trip over a fundamental idiocy of the 9/11 conspiracists in the first paragraph of a book by one of their high priests, David Ray Griffin: "In many respects," Griffin writes, "the strongest evidence provided by critics of the official account involves the events of 9/11 itself [...] In light of standard procedures for dealing with hijacked airplanes [...] not one of these planes should have reached its target, let alone all three of them"[3].

A preposterous belief

The operative word here is “should”. A central characteristic of the conspiracists is that they have a devout, preposterous belief in US efficiency. Many of them start with the racist premise, frequently voiced in as many words in their writings, that “Arabs in caves” weren’t capable of the mission. They believe that military systems should work the way Pentagon press flacks and aerospace salesmen say they should work. They believe that at 8.14am, when AA flight 11 switched off its radio and transponder, an FAA flight controller should have called the National Military Command centre and Norad. To quote Griffin, they believe, citing reverently "the US Air Force’s own website", that an F-15 could have intercepted AA flight 11 "by 8.24, and certainly no later than 8.30".

They appear to have read no military history, which is too bad because if they had they would know that minutely planned operations, let alone by-the-book responses to an unprecedented emergency, screw up with monotonous regularity by reason of stupidity, cowardice, venality and all the other failings, including sudden changes in the weather.

According to the minutely prepared plans of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), an impending Soviet attack would have prompted missile silos in north Dakota to open, and their ICBMs to arc towards Moscow and kindred targets. However, the four test launches attempted all failed, whereupon the SAC gave up testing. Was it badly designed equipment, human incompetence, defence contractor venality or... conspiracy?

Did President Jimmy Carter’s April 1980 effort to rescue hostages taken in the US embassy in Tehran fail because a sandstorm disabled three of the eight helicopters or because the helicopters were poorly made or because agents of Ronald Reagan and the Republican National Committee (seven months before the US presidential elections) poured sugar into their gas tanks in a conspiracy? Does Mr Cohen in his store at the end of the block hike his prices because he wants to make a buck or because his rent went up or because the Jews want to take over the world?


But to what end? To prove that Bush and Cheney are capable of almost anything? Even though they haven’t shown the slightest degree of competence in anything? They couldn’t even manufacture “weapons of mass destruction” after US troops had invaded Iraq, when any box labelled WMD would have been happily photographed by the embedded press as conclusive testimony of the existence of WMDs.

The Democrats’ victory in the midterm US elections may help to remind the left that Bush and Cheney are not that much different from the politicians and overlords of US foreign policy who preceded them or will follow them. There was already a bipartisan consensus about Israel and Iraq. What the 9/11 conspiracists want us to believe is that the Bush/Cheney gang represent a new breed of evil, which might be the most dangerous deception of all, for it fosters the fantasy that a new administration, a Hillary Clinton or Al Gore administration, would pursue more humane policies.


There are plenty of real conspiracies in the US. Why make up fake ones? Every few years, property tsars and the city government in New York conspire to withhold fire company responses so that enough of a neighbourhood burns down for the poor to quit and profitable gentrification to ensue. That is a conspiracy to commit ethnic cleansing, and also murder. It is happening today in Brooklyn, even as similar ethnic cleansing and gentrification is scheduled in San Francisco, where Bayview Hunters Point is the last large black community in the Bay Area, sitting on beautiful waterfront property: so now is the time to move the black folks out.

The conspiracy virus is not new. Let me recall. The Russians couldn’t possibly have built an A-bomb without Commie traitors. Hitler was a victim of treachery, otherwise he couldn’t have been defeated by the Red Army marching across eastern Europe and half Germany. JFK couldn’t have been shot by Lee Harvey Oswald, it had to be the CIA. There is no end to examples seeking to prove that Russians, Arabs, Viet Cong, Japanese, whoever, couldn’t possibly match the brilliance and cunning of secret cabals of white Christians.

Some discover a silver lining in 9/11 conspiracism. A politically sophisticated leftist in Washington DC wrote to me agreeing with my ridicule of the inside job scenarios but adding: "To me the most interesting thing (in the US) is how many people are willing to believe that Bush either masterminded it [the 9/11 attacks] or knew in advance and let it happen. If that number or anything close to that is true, that’s a huge base of people that are more than deeply cynical about their elected officials. That would be the real news story that the media is missing, and it’s a big one."

"I’m not sure I see the silver lining about cynicism re government," I answered. "It seems to demobilise people from useful political activity." For the conspiracism stems from despair and political infantilism. There’s no worthwhile energy to transfer from such kookery.

Richard Aldrich’s book on British intelligence[4] describes how a report for the Pentagon on declassification recommended that "interesting declassified material" such as information about the JFK assassination "could be released and even posted on the internet, as a diversion" and used to "reduce the unrestrained public appetite for secrets by providing good faith distraction material". He added: "If investigative journalists and contemporary historians were absorbed with the vexatious, but rather tired, debates over the grassy knoll, they would not be busy probing into areas where they were unwelcome."







[1]. In a 1987 television series the Russians, disguised as UN forces, were to occupy the US within 10 years.

[2]. Bohemian Grove, name of the select club close to San Francisco where Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr, Clinton and Tony Blair all met; the annual Bilderburg group meeting, from the name of its first venue in 1954 in the Hotel de Bilderberg in the Netherlands; Ditchley, an Anglo-American foundation named after its original English country house home; and Davos, home of the annual World Economic Forum.

[3]. David Ray Griffin, The New Pearl Harbor, Olive Branch Press, Northampton, Mass. 2004.

[4]. Richard J Aldrich, The Hidden Hand, Overlook Press, New York, 2002.