Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

“In order to bring a nation to support the burdens of maintaining great military
establishments, it is necessary to create an emotional state akin to war
psychology. There must be the portrayal of external menace.”

—Secretary of State John Foster Dulles

Debunking the terror industry

What I have said on this matter in many previous essays is illustrated neatly in the chart below: Far from being an “existential threat” to the United States, terrorism represents a risk somewhat less than that of drowning in one’s bathtub. If we want to address preventable causes of death that actually kill Americans at an appalling rate, a war on cancer or reckless driving would seem a better use of our purportedly scarce funds than lavishing them on such apparatus as the Transportation Security Administration and related paranocracies.

Animation: Fatality risks compared

Fatality risks compared: You should probably avoid wars and cars.

Why, then, do I think it vanishingly improbable that our spending priorities will change?

There are two reasons for this. One is pecuniary, the other political.

As an adjunct to the existing military-industrial complex, a vast, nebulous and highly profitable terror industry has grown up in the U.S. since 2001. In addition to the TSA — with all of its expensive technologies introduced on the absurd premise that Al-Qaida plans to use the same means of attack twice — the Department of Homeland Security to which it belongs has spawned countless sub-bureaucracies and private contractors, all putatively in the business of preventing terrorist assaults. Former DHS chief Michael Chertoff’s company, which sells backscatter X-ray machines to the TSA, is one well-known example of such a contractor. Needless to say, this business turns a handsome profit, and the industry is lucrative and growing.

The terror industry flies mostly in stealth mode, presenting its agonistes as “expert analysts” on matters of national security, “defense,” terrorism, Sharia, Islamic extremism and jihad. They appear on television, make speeches in venues throughout America and Europe, publish books, run news and other media outlets, and operate anti-Islam websites; they also find sundry other means to scare money out of people by disinforming them. And of course their efforts yield reciprocal benefits when they hire themselves to persuade Congress to lay out still more funds for the so-called defense industry, or successfully lobby for a war that further fattens that industry’s wallets.

Of course, in an internet-linked world of instant communication and unprecedented investigative resources, such a confederacy of profiteers cannot long remain secret. Other observers, such as Richard Silverstein, also call it what it is:

Norman Finkelstein coined the phrase the “Holocaust industry” in his book of the same name, to describe the nexus of Jewish groups, lawyers, politicians, and communal leaders who enrich their power and pocketbook by trumpeting the anti-Semitism threat and causing anxiety and paranoia among world Jewry as a result. As a result of Finkelstein’s acute analysis, he’s earned outrage and scorn from those in the Jewish community who he has skewered.

For the past decade or more, since the 1990s demise of the Communist “menace” and its accompanying gravy train, neocons have turned to terror as their new bogeyman. A new Terror Industry [emphasis added] has sprung up and it is populated with the usual retired generals (William Boykin), former government officials (Bolton, Gaffney), corporate opportunists (Aubrey Chernick), ideologues and intellectual heavy-lifters (Pipes, Horowitz, Podhoretz, Peretz, Kristol). Just as the Jefferson’s tree of liberty needed to be fed with the blood of tyrants, so the Terror apparatus needs to be fed with new political fodder.

Conservative and anti-Muslim politicians and pundits have also prospered by keeping the needle of public attention firmly fixed in the “9/11” groove, and they will continue to play that song until it ceases to produce its desired effect: spellbinding voters with panic entirely disproportionate to any real threat.

Meanwhile, the spell has been an effective one: Ultraconservative causes and the “Patriot” movement have all gained enormous new followings, as this Southern Poverty Law Center report demonstrates, while the Tea Party and other right-wing groups have successfully elected many members and sympathizers to Congress. And under cover of all the “terrorism” panic, corruption has flourished, liberties have been whittled away chip by tiny chip, and our federal government has become the property of a handful of corporate kleptoplutocrats.

How to break the spell? Just do what the terrorcrats don’t want you to: Look behind the curtain, and see what wizened gnome is making all the thunder and flashes of light that have overawed so many.

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