Americans cherish nothing more than a good conspiracy thriller — especially when the leader of the free world is fingered as the prime suspect in the crime. But to read and believe that our own bumbling Dubya conspired with others to attack his own country on 9-11 is, for most Americans, a lot to swallow.
As throngs of conspiracy theorists race to get books into stores by the 9-11 anniversary, the writer stealing much of the attention this summer is leftist Frenchman Thierry Meyssan, whose September 11, 2001: The Big Lie makes the far-fetched contentions that the jetliners were steered into the World Trade Center by remote control as part of a secret U.S. military coup, and that the Pentagon was struck not by plane but by a U.S. missile. The French creamed over Meyssan’s fanciful report, putting the book onto their bestseller lists for weeks.
One of the more persuasive strategists, at least on this side of the Atlantic, is Len Bracken. By day, he’s a humble copy editor in Washington; by night, a novelist, biographer, amateur historian, translator, and underground essayist treasured in conspiracy circles, a man who never shows his face to his readers. His latest endeavor, Shadow Government, is a poorly titled but highly illuminating, no-nonsense piece of seditious history — that is, if you’re willing to digest some backwoods sourcing.
In Shadow, Bracken attempts to explain, in prose by turns elegant and overwrought, why Bush White House and Pentagon officials plotted to kill thousands in an “indirect defense attack” on September 11 — and how they plan to profit off such monstrous self-sabotage: a potential $15 billion in insider stock trades (the SEC, Bracken notes, has refused to reveal the names of those who made windfalls on that Tuesday); the expected construction of a lucrative, Houston-sponsored pipeline across Afghanistan; and the passage of pro-policing bills like the USA Patriot Act, among other nefarious objectives.
Proof? “We don’t have proof of anything,” Bracken tells the Voice, “only circumstantial evidence.” To build his case, he draws on a range of sources — some specious, like home-brewed website Unansweredquestions.org, others more reliable, like The New York Times — and attempts to connect the mysterious dots linking big business and Bush to the 9-11 crime scene. Some highlights:
• The Vanishing bin Ladens. When U.S. airspace was closed shortly after the attacks, how did members of the Saudi bin Laden family manage to fly out of the U.S. on private jets, as The Washington Post reported? Not all of them were believed to have cut ties with the “black sheep,” as reported by the BBC’s Greg Palast.
• Mohammed Atta’s flying passport. Bracken wonders: How did Atta, emcee of terror, usher a jumbo jet into one of the tallest buildings in the world, reduce it to a pile of dust, then have his passport land unscathed in the ruins of the towers, to be conveniently found later by investigators? It’s a puzzler, but Bracken’s claim may not be entirely true. A passport was found near the towers on September 15 (according to various news reports), but Atta’s passport, at least his Saudi one, was found in a rental car — in Boston.
• Amerithrax. In efforts to prevent terrorism after 9-11, GOP hard-liners tried to pass the draconian Patriot Act. Why then, at the same time, did the two top agenda-setting Democratic senators, Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy, receive envelopes filled with the highest grades of “amerithrax”?
• The Enron-Bush-CIA-bin Laden Connection. Bracken suggests that Enron, the Bush family’s biggest donor, was secretly employing more than 20 CIA agents to pay off Taliban and bin Laden operatives to keep an oil pipeline project in Afghanistan alive. That’s a sinister connection to establish, and Bracken cites on-the-record quotes from an anonymous FBI source; too bad he got the quotes from The National Enquirer.
Speculation? Hogwash? Bona fide conspiracy? “Clues were left behind like a child’s game of hide-and-seek, which were to be followed,” Bracken quotes Andreas Von Bülow, a former German secretary of defense, as saying. Von Bülow, the author of an exposé of the CIA’s criminal activities, is convinced 9-11 was an inside job.
Unlike most speculators who present a conspiracy as the consequence of a lone smoking gun, Bracken attempts to protect himself against skeptics by coating his theories with an academic veneer. He centers his hypothesis around a classic sociohistorical argument: namely, that all societies and governments have used terrorism to unite splintered populations — by instigating war, instilling fear, or both. “The history of humanity is a history of covert operations,” Bracken says. “To ignore such evidence is naive.” He cites Herodotus, Plutarch, Machiavelli, Churchill, Hitler, and assorted despots, offering brief accounts of their questionable aggressions throughout history. Junior’s war on terrorism, he argues, follows a similar logic: In the absence of the Cold War, the current administration has created a new scapegoat — the Terrorist — which it can use to rally the public around the flag and covertly accomplish its militant goals.
Bracken cites Sun Tzu: “He who wishes to snatch advantage takes a devious and distant route.” In doing so, he attempts to connect the 2000-year-old strategy to that of Bush’s war hawks. Sun Tzu continues, “He turns misfortune to his advantage. He deceives and fools the enemy to make him dilatory and lax, and then marches on speedily.” In the case of 9-11, the real enemy, Bracken contends, is the American people who’ve been fleeced by such tactical play.
However, if we’re talking war tactics, it’s important to note that Bracken’s indictment of the Bushies for mass murder could self-destruct. By fingering Dubya and his corporate flunkies as his enemy, Bracken fails to convert readers who aren’t already bad-to-the-bone Bush whackers; ultimately, in an ironic twist, Bracken himself becomes the Conspirator, offering unorthodox sources like the Enquirer to prove his version of history true.
The problem with conspiracy theories is that most of them are wrong. Still, if the turbulent, age-old story of statesmen conspiring to use terrorism to control their own populations can be believed, as Bracken successfully argues, then Shadow‘s thesis raises more chilling questions than it answers. Why should 9-11 be anomalous? As Twain once remarked, history never repeats itself — but it does rhyme.