From West Texas To Kafka

by lizard

The blast registered as a 2.1-magnitude tremor. The death toll is up to 15 people, mostly first responders, with over 200 people injured. The cause is still unknown.

It’s been pointed out over the last few days that stuff which kills Americans on a regular basis gets much less attention than a hyper-sentionalized bombing. From the link:

The number of workplace deaths across the U.S. continues to rise, something it has done every year since 2004. AFL-CIO released its annual report Wednesday—Death in the Workplace: The Toll of Neglect—which covered 2010. The report notes that the number of deaths in 2010 was up 149 over 2009, to a recent high of 4,690—meaning an average of 13 workers die on the job every day in the U.S. On top of that, an estimated 50,000 additional workers died in 2010 because of occupational diseases. More than 3.8 million work-related injuries and illnesses were also reported, but it is estimated that the real number is much higher, between 7.6 million and 11.4 million annually.

Instead of trying to examine the dynamics behind why OSHA has only 2,200 inspectors for roughly 8 million work places, the media is consumed with dissecting the bomb brothers.

How the older brother, Tamerlan, was radicalized has become THE BIG QUESTION, and one answer the media is gravitating toward is this: conspiracy theories.

The AP keeps digging into the dead bombing suspect’s past and finds him endorsing, at some point, not just a cocktail but a Long Island Iced Tea of conspiracy theories. His inspiration, the mysterious “Misha,” reportedly turned him onto radical Islam that was disconnected from the larger, more strategic terror organizations that the U.S. considers itself at war with.

The AP article Slate references tells a bizarre story that leaves a reader with lots of questions, like who the hell is this “Misha” character?

This is how the article opens:

WASHINGTON (AP) — In the years before the Boston Marathon bombings, Tamerlan Tsarnaev fell under the influence of a new friend, a Muslim convert who steered the religiously apathetic young man toward a strict strain of Islam, family members said.

Under the tutelage of a friend known to the Tsarnaev family only as Misha, Tamerlan gave up boxing and stopped studying music, his family said. He began opposing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He turned to websites and literature claiming that the CIA was behind the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and Jews controlled the world.

Here is another snippet:

Tamerlan took an interest in Infowars, a conspiracy theory website. Khozhugov said Tamerlan was interested in finding a copy of the book “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the classic anti-Semitic hoax, first published in Russia in 1903, that claims a Jewish plot to take over the world.

The FBI is getting all kinds of heat right now for “dropping the ball.” Spinning this as incompetence is not a difficult sell, considering stories like this:

After the Boston Marathon bombings, the FBI acknowledged that in 2011 agents had interviewed the 26-year-old Tsarnaev and scrutinized his internet history, at the request of Russian officials. Yet, despite the Russians’ concerns about Tsarnaev’s potential links to militant separatist groups in Chechnya, the FBI determined he was not a threat.

Meanwhile, in an unrelated case, the bureau vigorously pursued Rezwan Ferdaus, a Northeastern University graduate who was born in Massachusetts and lived with his parents in a Boston suburb. Ferdaus came to the FBI’s attention through an informant posing as an Al Qaeda operative—a man who was paid $50,000 by the FBI for his efforts, while hiding a heroin addiction from his handlers.

According to court records, Ferdaus told the informant that he wanted to destroy the gold dome of the US Capitol building using a remote-controlled model airplane loaded with grenades. If that plot was far-fetched, so was the possibility that Ferdaus could even attempt it: He did not have weapons, and even if he had known where to buy explosives, Ferdaus was broke, according to court records.

Through the informant, the FBI encouraged Ferdaus to move forward with his idea to attack the US Capitol. They dedicated significant resources to the operation, giving him $4,000 to purchase an F-86 Sabre remote-controlled airplane and providing him with “explosives”—25 pounds of fake C-4 and three inert grenades. In May 2011, Ferdaus traveled to Washington, DC, to scout out locations from which to launch his weapon—all while being secretly recorded by FBI agents. Finally, on September 28, 2011, after a nine-month sting operation, FBI agents arrested Ferdaus, charging him with, among other offenses, attempting to destroy a federal building and providing material support to terrorists.

Ferdaus pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 17 years in prison, though no evidence indicated that he could have built and launched a weapon were it not for the FBI providing the money and materials.

I ended my last post with an epistemological look at the phrase Theatre of the Absurd.

For this post, I think maybe Kafkaesque is appropriate:

: of, relating to, or suggestive of Franz Kafka or his writings; especially : having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality

From that last link, as the FBI fixates on plots of its own creation, there have been some big screw ups:

Since the 9/11 attacks, the FBI has arrested more than 175 alleged terrorists using operations like the one in Boston that nabbed Ferdaus. In these expensive and elaborate stings, the targets often are men on the fringes of Muslim communities; many are economically desperate and some are mentally ill, and they are easily manipulated by paid informants and undercover agents.

But in the years since 9/11, several operational terrorists in the United States have gone unnoticed or have been overlooked by the FBI.

Faisal Shahzad, a 33-year-old naturalized US citizen from Pakistan, delivered a car bomb to Times Square on May 1, 2010. Shahzad wasn’t on the FBI’s radar until that day, after a street vendor reported the suspicious vehicle. Fortunately, the explosives he’d assembled failed to go off.

Nidal Hasan, a US Army Medical Corps officer, shot and killed 13 people at Fort Hood on November 5, 2009, even after the FBI investigated 18 emails he’d sent to Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born Al Qaeda propagandist who was killed in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen. The FBI didn’t realize Hasan was a threat until it was too late.

And despite the FBI’s initial interest in Tsarnaev, the same became true with him and his younger brother in Boston.

The price tag for the FBI’s counterterrorism efforts, according to the above article, is 3.3 billion dollars. I don’t think it would be very easy to argue that’s money well spent right about now.

Perversely, the failure of the FBI will ultimately result in more money thrown at counterterrorism, whether inter-agency, or somewhere else.

  1. Big Swede

    You’re right. Workplaces are deathtraps.

    We should all hang out on welfare.

    Like Tamerlan.

  2. lizard19

    Maddow did some conspiracy theory bashing on her show tonight.

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