July 6th, 2010

BBC Power of Nightmares Documentary

Here's an interesting BBC documentary called The Power of Nightmares, which traces the parallel rise of the neoconservatives in America and Al Qaeda in the Middle East. A few of the more notable claims in the film are:

* As everyone knows, in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war, the neoconservatives set up their own team of analysts because they wouldn't accept what the CIA was telling them, and their team produced the wildly inaccurate intelligence that was used to justify the war. It turns out they did the same thing back in the early '80s. Back then, the CIA was saying that the Soviet military was falling apart, but the neocons refused to accept this, and believed instead a paranoid fantasy that the Soviets were secretly controlling all terrorist groups everywhere. Their evidence, drawn from a bestselling book, was dismissed by the CIA. What made the CIA so sure? Well, all the "information" in this book had originally been fabricated by the CIA themselves as part of an anti-Soviet propaganda campaign, and they had the case files to prove it. Even this wasn't enough to dissuade the neocons, whose wacky ideas became the basis for Reagan's foreign policy.

* Osama bin Laden was never able to rally any significant number of people to his cause of global jihad. Most of the fighters he associates with are nationalists interested in bringing about revolution in their home countries, but who are indifferent to any wider struggle. In a video that shows bin Laden ringed by a throng of masked fighters, he was forced to literally hire those guys as extras for the day of filming. The reason that actual Al Qaeda terrorists seem so scarce both in Afghanistan and among the populations of secret US prisons is that there just weren't that many Al Qaeda fighters to begin with. In fact, the reason bin Laden decided to attack the US in the first place was as a desperate, last-ditch attempt to get attention, as his efforts to mobilize mass movements in Middle Eastern countries had been consistently ignored.

* Reports about terrorist "sleeper cells" operating in the US are wildly exaggerated. One group of kids was fingered by a con artist/convict in exchange for a reduced sentence. The only evidence against them was that they had filmed their trip to Disneyworld. The government argued that this tape was a cleverly disguised ploy in which the kids were casing potential targets, and that the hours of footage of them horsing around was an ingenious smokescreen. The charges were dropped. Apparently the best case the government has of a "sleeper cell" is a group of kids who did visit a terrorist training camp, but they seem to have quickly decided that this wasn't for them and they came home again. The FBI kept them under surveillance for a year afterward, and found no evidence that they were planning to do anything. Finally one of the kids traveled abroad and emailed his friends that he was getting "married" and "wouldn't be seeing them" for a while. The government interpreted this as a coded message that he was planning a suicide attack, but all indications are that actually he was just getting married and wouldn't be seeing them for a while. The government eventually charged them for visiting the training camp but not for any plot.

* After interrogating a captured Al Qaeda leader, the government issued warnings that terrorists were plotting to destroy landmarks all around Manhattan. It turns out that Al Qaeda had no such capability, and the guy was just trying to scare us. In fact, he had recently watched Godzilla (2000), and was just listing anything he could think of that had been destroyed in that movie.

* "Dirty bombs" are much less scary than they're made out to be, as the radioactive material would be widely dispersed and would be cleaned up pretty quickly. Even in the (inconceivable) event that there was no cleanup whatsoever and those in the affected area stayed put for a full year afterward, it's unlikely that anyone would die as a result. Wikipedia describes the health risks from a dirty bomb as comparable to regularly eating ice cream.

Philippine Online Chronicles Reviews Lightspeed June 2010

Here's a nice, in-depth review of the June issue of Lightspeed by Eliza Victoria for the Philippine Online Chronicles. Of my story "Cats in Victory" she says:

I tend to approach stories featuring talking animals with wariness, and, at times, lowered expectations. Stories like this tend to fall into one of two extremes--either they're genius, or a complete waste of time. Thank goodness this story was spun by the able hands of David Barr Kirtley. Whimsical, tragic, and endearing are the words I'd use to describe it.