Fear and Flying


Loathe as I am to quote hippies, especially hippie dinosaurs, for the past 30 hours (or so) I can’t get Buffalo Springfield’s “For What it’s Worth” out of my head, like I’m living a bad, 4th-rate, Oliver Stone, made-for-television movie:

There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

Because, you see, Michael Chertoff was on the news all of yesterday (and today, too), and when Michael Chertoff holds a press conference, you can be sure of three things:

  1. As Chertoff is the head of Homeland Security, an appointee of the Bush White House, and keeping in mind the events of the past six years, everything which follows must be treated with a rather healthy degree of skepticism
  2. As Chertoff is the head of Homeland Security, an appointee of the Bush White House, and keeping in mind the events of the past six years, everything which follows will inevitably be couched in language that reeks of plausible deniability, in the event that the truth reveals itself and backpedaling ensues
  3. As Chertoff is the head of Homeland Security, an appointee of the Bush White House, and keeping in mind the events of the past six years, it is entirely possible that something is happening here, and it ain’t necessarily what Chertoff is talking about.


I’m not in any way suggesting that the recent discovery (by UK intelligence) of a terrorist plot to assemble explosive materials from items carried on board UK-to-US flights is not real and not urgent (or terrifying). I’m not in any way suggesting that the swift and drastic measures adopted in the wake of the discovery is inappropriate in scope or execution. Let me repeat: I absolutely believe that there was a threat to the safety of hundreds of air travellers by terrorists, and that the worldwide response is appropriate and necessary for the moment.


It’s the collateral effects of the announcement of security countermeasures which interests. According to the regulations, you can’t take liquids or gels of any kind on a flight, nor can you bring a computer, an iPod or a cell phone on a flight from Britain to the US. And so on. And I understand all this, believe me, I do. It’s necessary for the moment.

But it occurrs that… over the past six years there’s been a gradual, permanent erosion of freedoms which we’ve taken in stride and absorbed into our normal routines. A gradual erosion marked with sudden leaps, like the passing of the Patriot Act, and like the severe measures announced yesterday (which are, apparently, being instituted even on domestic flights within Canada). These are prohibitions which, individually, may not cause anything more than mere annoyance. But taken collectively, the unease from these restrictions becomes dis-ease.

These sudden withdrawals of freedoms have predictable results: the obvious, and obviously-desirable consequence being tighter security and reduced threat. But… I can’t help feeling that incremental increases in worry and fear, never quite alleviated because the diminished freedoms are never restored, helped along by a mass media eager to keep us slavishly chained to their “news” stream, lay the groundwork for something unanticipated.

And, in the same way that we watched an unsurprised Bush being told of the air attack while reading My Pet Goat with those kids on that nightmare day almost five years ago, thinking “that fucker knew!”, it’s worrisome that, like a skillful (or merely competent) magician, Chertoff’s press conference (and subsequent breathless, nonstop, media coverage), followed by the sudden increase in government-initiated fear, is a classic misdirect.

Remember after 9/11, when a nation’s fears following the attack became a foundation for war? And how, in the fullness of time, the whole terrorist thing seems less likely a reason for the invasion of Iraq than corporate and personal greed? That the “imminent threat” of WMDs, delivered in a press conference exactly like yesterday’s, is now laughable?

In the coming days, will it be revealed that the UK conspirators used the internet to research, plan and assemble their plot? How does this relate to the ongoing wrangling concerning net neutrality (and the vast corporate profits to be made at the expense of net users’ freedoms)? Will the events of this week further bolster arguments for increased surveillance of net usage by intelligence organizations?

What it is ain’t exactly clear. It’s not like you weren’t already thinking this, anyway, right?

One Response to “Fear and Flying”

  1. 1 analysis

    I will point out that SOMEONE gave the order to NOT shoot down the jets when they changed course and lost their transponders.

    Who was it? Well, since the tapes have been shredded… but I know one thing: it was not an Air Force general, because Air Force generals are intelligent, experienced men who know better. My logic and experience tells me it was a civilian leader from the White House taking Commander in Chief authority.

    After all, who was killed? By neocon logic, just a bunch of liberals – because that’s who lives in NYC (yes, I know that’s a gross oversimplification, but we’re talking about people who control the media and still say liberals control the media.) People they could do without. And what could they gain by 9/11? Just re-election, war-profiteering wealth beyond measure, the ability to break any laws they wanted, to violate the Constitution, declare martial law (that is, hold people without hearings, trials, or lawyers; suspend free speech; and spy without restriction), and start their precious war in Iraq.

    What have we lost? Iran is running amuck, sponsoring terrorism to a degree Saddam Hussein never even wanted to (his bag was local terrorism not international), and gaining nuclear weapons; the wrong Korea is getting nuclear weapons; and the US enjoys nice single-digit approval ratings in most of the world. At the same time our projected surplus is now the largest deficit in history and we can NEVER PAY IT BACK.


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