Saturday, September 10, 2011


I have long been an admirer of the work of Anthony Summers, one of the world’s great investigative journalists.

His biographical notes on J. Edgar Hoover, Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover are required reading for an understanding of how the center of American power operated for a major portion of the 20th century.

His first book on the Kennedy assassination, Conspiracy, is the greatest book ever written on that event, and it has never been surpassed for the depth of its analysis and gripping nature of its writing. Indeed, because so little new evidence of any importance has emerged since that time, it remains the definitive study.

When I read that he was publishing a book on 9/11 - an event around which swirl clouds of doubt and mystery as great as the ferocious storm of dust which swept through lower Manhattan when the World Trade Center collapsed - I was ready to devour it.

And while there is a good deal to admire in the new book, my lasting impression is one of disappointment. It simply does not measure up to what I think of as the standard of excellence set previously by Mr. Summers.

There are assumptions here I cannot accept without better evidence, much of the main thread of detailed facts contained come ultimately from American torture of countless people in the CIA’s “rendition program,” a bureaucratic euphemism for an international torture gulag, and there are important facts not even touched on.

I have never accepted notions like insider plots and false flag operations pertaining to this event, but anyone who has followed matters over the last decade knows that a great deal remains obscured and unexplained, almost certainly deliberately so by the American government.

Mr. Summers believes it is essentially for several reasons: one is to cover up the close to utter incompetence of the CIA and other agencies leading up to the event. Another is to cover up the almost criminal incompetence of the Bush administration both before and after the event. And another is to guard the long and deep and fairly secret intimate relationship America has with Saudi Arabia.

I accept all of these, but none of them comes as news to critical observers over the years and I do not believe they add up to an explanation of what happened on 9/11.

The CIA has flopped countless times – failing to correctly read the Soviet Union’s economic and military power, failing even to predict its collapse, failing completely in either preventing or investigating Kennedy’s assassination, and being the author of countless lunatic plots like the Bay of Pigs Invasion. The agency has squandered vast amounts of money in often counterproductive schemes since its creation following World War II, so its failure with regard to 9/11 was for me the expected norm.

The same Bush administration, which gave us a world record limp and pathetic performance for a government during Hurricane Katrina, could not be expected to operate in an entirely different mode around 9/11, and it most certainly did not.

The relationship with Saudi Arabia is one of those not-much-discussed matters in America, but it is a necessity so long as America keeps building three-car garages out into the desert of the Southwest.

New facts Summers presents us with are interesting and not contemptible, but they are inadequate to our curiosity. Some of those involved in 9/11 from Saudi Arabia may well have been double or triple agents for Saudi intelligence. Osama bin Laden was paid handsomely by Saudi princes to keep his various operations off Saudi soil, thus indirectly funding 9/11. After dumbly dawdling at a school-reading photo-op, Bush was finally whisked away in Air Force One where the commander-in-chief was virtually out of the loop with remarkably faulty communications. His Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, the number two man in a wartime chain of command, was for some time wondering around the Pentagon unavailable to military commanders needing his authority.

Summers pretty well accepts the official version of 9/11, with the important proviso that the official version, the commission report, includes such matters as the fact that there was little cooperation from Bush officials during the investigation, and the CIA certainly did not explain itself adequately.

The collapse of building 7, which was not hit by an airplane and which occurred after the collapse of the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center, is attributed to debris falling from the other towers. I just don’t know, but it did bother me that Mr. Summers seemed to go out of his way to poke fun at some of the scientists or engineers who doubt that.

The large effort of Israeli spies around 9/11 is not even mentioned in the book, and I found that a disturbing omission.

There was a group of five Israeli spies who were seen on the roof of their truck taking pictures of the explosions and then behaving in a raucous congratulatory manner, yelling and high-fiving. The police were called and they were arrested, but we know nothing of their purpose or achievements. There was another large group of Mossad agents posing as art students who travelled around the country apparently following some or all of the 9/11 plotters. They, too, were arrested and later deported, but we know nothing of them.

Summers accepts the “let’s roll” scenario for the fourth high-jacked plane which crashed in Pennsylvania, but I have always doubted it. First, the photos of the debris field certainly suggest to a non-technical person that it may have been shot down. Second, after three deliberate crashes into buildings, it seems almost unbelievable that the huge air defenses of the United States had not finally taken action. Third, on at least one occasion, Donald Rumsfeld spoke to the press inadvertently using the expression “shooting down” the plane over Pennsylvania in discussing the high-jackings. Fourth, only naturally, the United States’ government would not publicize the shooting-down of a civilian airliner because the resulting lawsuits would be colossal. I am willing to be convinced otherwise, but Mr. Summers does not succeed in doing it for me.       

Another, important fact is not mentioned in the book. An American consular official at the time was complaining in public about all the visas they were issuing in the Middle East owing to pressure from the CIA. It was not a headline story, but it was an important clue to something unusual going on.

I have always regarded it as a strong hypothesis that the high-jackers were part of a secret CIA operation which badly backfired, an operation which saw many questionable people receiving visas and being allowed to do some pilot training. Risky CIA operations have a number of times backfired, and they even have nickname for that happening, blowback.

Of course, we could see the entire matter also as blowback from the CIA’s secret war against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Fundamentalist Muslims in Afghanistan, Mujahideen, were recruited, provided training and money and sophisticated weapons to fight the Soviets. Several billion dollars were poured in. Osama bin Laden was himself part of the business, but, as Mr. Summers agrees, he later did not see the United States as any different to the Soviets when they sent troops onto the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Summers is trying to place a good deal of blame on the Saudis for their funding and secret operations, and while I regard it as an interesting observation that certain members of the royal family paid him, I do not regard that as a stunning fact. After all, Saudi Arabia’s countless billions come in good part either directly or indirectly from the United States and Osama bin Laden’s family was a very successful wealthy contractor there, so you could say in the same sense that the United States subsidized Osama’s operations. And it goes deeper than that, for Saudi business connections in the United States, including connections directly with the Bush family, go back many years.

This reader for one would like to see some hard proof of some things that Mr. Summers takes as fact. First, that bin Laden even was responsible for 9/11: the public has never been provided a shred of good evidence. Second, that bin Laden was not in fact killed in the unbelievable bombardment at Tora Bora, his death being kept hidden to prevent martyrdom. Third, that the recent assassination in Pakistan was genuine, not the effort of a president down in the polls and feeling that after ten years he could afford to make the claim.

Fourth, that there ever was an organization called al Qaeda. I know that sounds odd to people who assume everything they hear on television is true, but there are good reasons for doubting it. While Mr. Summers gives one translation for the Arabic word, people who speak Arabic have said it commonly means toilet, and surely no one running a terror organization would use such a name. Indeed, we have several very prominent people quoted in the past, including former British Foreign Minister Robin Cook, saying that al Qaeda was just a derogatory catch-all term used for various “bad guys” out there. That is a tremendously meaningful difference between the two things, but Mr. Summers does not touch the issue.

Again, I cannot stress how important it is for all decent-minded people holding to democratic values to accept neither the CIA’s international torture gulag nor the results of its dark work. Yet the bulk of Mr. Summers’ idea of events is based on evidence deriving ultimately from torture, the people being tortured never receiving the benefits of counsel, fair trial, or even opportunity to rebut.

In summary, a book worth reading, if only to get mad at, but it hardly represents a definitive effort on its subject.

Friday, September 09, 2011


The subtitle of this book, "Days and Nights in a Land under Siege," accurately describes the subject. The period covered is roughly from the first intifada, 1987, through the first election of Benjamin Netanyahu, 1996, and effectively the death of the Oslo Accords. It is not about the current situation in Gaza, but it provides valuable background material.

Of course, the misery of the people of Gaza documented here has grown only worse now that we are into the fourth year of Israel's blockade.

Ms. Hass is an Israeli journalist, living in the West Bank, who spent a great deal of time in the Gaza Strip, a situation giving her a unique perspective.

Ms. Hass has a clear journalistic style and an eye for detail, and her story is full of facts and observations you do not typically find in our press concerning Gaza and Israel. She definitely gives you a powerful sense of the frustration and pain of being a Palestinian in Gaza.

Here are just a few of her interesting facts. According to the organization, Physicians for Human Rights, during the five years of the intifada, a Palestinian child under the age of six was shot in the head every two weeks. According to United Nations Relief records, nearly 1,100 people treated at its clinics during the first four years had been shot in the head, with about 15% of that number being women. During the four years, over sixty thousand Gazans were shot, severely beaten , or tear-gassed.

With Israel's tightening of work permits - one of the important themes of the book - Palestinian per capita income fell by 7.14 % in 1992 and by 26.53 % in 1993 - this in a poor and overcrowded place.

The truly frightening thing that emerges in the book is Israel's gradual creation of a stultifying system of electrified fences, elaborate application requirements for work permits, refusal to grant all but a small portion of the applications, and frustrating line-ups for those with permits to use them,. Even the few with work permits had to show up at the exit check-point only at specified hours, then they often waited for hours to have their permits checked. The slightest thing out of order saw them ordered to return home. The logistics of getting back and forth to their work places often are horrific - once there were large numbers of taxis but even taxis are reduced to a small number - and Palestinians are not allowed to stay over at their place of work even if their employer desires it.

It is important to appreciate that with Israel's original driving of Palestinians off their land and out of their villages - and Ms. Hass describes some of the Israeli army's tactics to drive Palestinians out - Gaza became effectively a crowded refugee camp, inadequate to sustain a modern economy, and for many in Gaza, work in Israel is their only hope for a meager livelihood. With Israel's control of borders and even the sea, it is by default the only accessible market for the products and services of Palestinian businessmen.

Even before the current blockade, Israel literally had created a stranglehold on the (now) one and half million people of Gaza. They could not visit family in the West Bank or East Jerusalem without difficult-to-obtain and restrictive permits. They could not go to hospitals without the permits, and even when the permits were received in a timely fashion, parents often were not allowed to accompany children or spouses their mates, and for people on a course of treatment, as say chemotherapy, they must obtain new permits each time. Young people also cannot attend university or technical schools without permits.

When workers do obtain permits, they are not allowed to stay overnight in Israel, even though their employers may be eager to have them do so, as when working on a rush job. After waiting since dawn at the check-point to exit Gaza, and that often for hours, they travel with difficulty to their jobs, work for wages lower than an Israeli would receive, and must return home each night - an exhausting and costly routine, yet one these impoverished people are only too glad to do if allowed.

Israel also issued permits only to certain classes of people, men under thirty not being eligible. Imagine a society in which all the young men to the age of thirty cannot work, and we must remember that with high birth rates, Palestinian society is a young society with a relatively high proportion of young people.

During the period of the Oslo Accord, Israel had wanted to see businesses created in Gaza to employ people, yet they set the conditions that ultimately made this difficult or impossible. Israel began strangling the opportunities for businessmen in Gaza - farmers and small manufacturers - to export to Israel through its great increases in restrictive security measures. Although it was advertised in Israel as a part of the period of adjustment to Oslo, the entrepreneurs in Gaza found themselves starved of markets.

Israel gradually imposed immensely complicated rules for produce and goods being transferred from Gazan trucks to Israeli trucks. Given also the requirements for inspections and the often hit-or-miss nature of other arrangements, truckloads of produce not infrequently ended up wasted. The many small businesses doing things like running sewing machine workshops for Israeli clothing firms found themselves shutting their doors, putting people out of work.

While Ms. Hass does not use the term apartheid, that is precisely what we see established here. Gaza is a Bantustan in which large numbers of people are kept penned up, separate, and with almost no hope ever of building a viable economy.

As you read these pages, you ask yourself, what possible future is there for people bottled-up in this way? And I cannot see an answer. Israel simply has created a situation which is not tenable over the long term, although for today or tomorrow the Palestinians manage to cope.

They have been artificially removed from their original homes' and all their traditional ties of work and farming have just about been severed. Ms. Hass tells us how the older Palestinians, as when traveling through Israeli territory for work, know precisely the places now demolished and/or renamed as Israeli places and just where their homes and farms were located. Severed, too, were the family connections with the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the Palestinians are people for whom extended family is quite important.

It is a bleak, go-nowhere situation, which since Israel's savage attack and blockade has become only bleaker. The book offers no prescriptions or recommendations. Ms. Hass remains throughout that fairly rare being, a truly objective journalist.