Live and Let Die: The West’s Perennial Error of Picking Sides

By Sam Vaknin
Author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited

Rather than letting rabid militant Islamists slaughter each other to oblivion, the West keeps choosing sides and getting itself entangled in the internecine quagmire that is the Middle East. A policy of “live and let die” which would allow for the mutually-assured decimation of the fractious factions of these nether-lands would have had numerous advantages:

  1. Weakened by the attritive infighting, whichever the winner is, it would be compelled to collaborate with the West in order to survive. There is no substitute to the depth, innovativeness, and stability of the West’s capital, its markets, and its technology;
  2. The West would have conserved its resources while its ostensible and professed adversaries bled themselves to literal death;
  3. The neutrality of the West would have preserved its powerful and lucrative position as an arbiter and mediator of last resort;
  4. The denizens of the West would be spared the onslaught of all-pervasive terrorism that they are now forced to endure.

Islamist murderous and obscurantist thugs are not the first to benefit from the West’s curious habit of siding with one deranged assassin against another. Consider Hitler, for example.

Hitler and Nazism are often portrayed as an apocalyptic and seismic break with European history. Yet the truth is that they were the culmination and reification of European (and American) history in the 19th century. Europe’s (and the United States’) annals of colonialism have prepared it for the range of phenomena associated with the Nazi regime: from industrial-scale murder to racial theories, from slave labour to the forcible annexation of territory.

Germany was a colonial power no different to murderous Belgium or Britain or the United States. What set it apart is that it directed its colonial attentions at the heartland of Europe – rather than at Africa or Asia or Latin and Central America. Both World Wars were colonial wars fought on European soil.

Moreover, Nazi Germany innovated by applying prevailing racial theories (usually reserved to non-whites) to the white race itself. It started with the Jews – a non-controversial proposition – but then expanded them to include “east European” whites, such as the Poles and the Russians.

Still, Hitler was right to have been shocked by the failure of his wager: that the British Empire will side with him against the equally murderous Bolshevik Stalin. Hitler and Stalin were two of a kind: mass murderers, bent on an expansionist-imperialist agenda, promoters of ideologies that placed the state way ahead of individual life and freedoms. It made eminent sense for the Western powers to leverage Germany to get rid of Communism and prevent the rise of a lamentable and vile Stalinist Empire at the very heart of Europe. The peoples of Central and Eastern Europe have paid with four lost decades for the West’s erroneous choice of Stalin over Hitler. In hindsight, allowing Hitler and Stalin to decimate each other would have been far preferable.

Even more so since Germany was not alone in its malignant nationalism. The far right in France was as pernicious. Nazism – and Fascism – were world ideologies, adopted enthusiastically in places as diverse as Iraq, Egypt, Norway, Latin America, and Britain. At the end of the 1930’s, liberal capitalism, communism, and fascism (and its mutations) were locked in mortal battle of ideologies. Hitler’s mistake was to delusionally believe in the affinity between capitalism and Nazism – an affinity enhanced, to his mind, by Germany’s corporatism and by the existence of a common enemy: global communism.


Author Bio

Sam Vaknin ( ) is the author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain – How the West Lost the East, as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, international affairs, and award-winning short fiction.
He is the Editor-in-Chief of Global Politician and served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.
Visit Sam’s Web site at


Israel in 2025

“On the one-year anniversary of the independence of the Palestinian State, the newest member of the United Nations, the tension with its next-door neighbor, the State of Israel, is still there.

Sam Vaknin, an Israeli analyst answers our questions:

  1. Now, that the 2-states solution has been finally accepted and implemented by both nations, why the renewed tension between them?
  2. In order to be able to sign the Hebron Framework Agreement in February last year (which transformed the Palestinian Authority into a state recognized by Israel), Prime Minister Netanyahu was forced to make concessions to the more extreme far right. The Constitution was changed to say that the State of Israel is the Jewish home of the Jewish people, excluding 1.5 million Arabs within its pre-1967 borders and fostering the current unrest and “resistance” among them. Additionally, Israel was effectively transformed into a theocracy with enhanced powers granted to the rabbinate and to other Jewish Orthodox structures in various fields of life, including the military, education, and housing construction. This alienated the secular majority of Israelis. Fractured and weakened, Israel is in no position to make further compromises.

Palestine is in no better shape: its economy is still heavily dependent on Israel: VAT returns, food supplies, electricity, water, the Internet, trade in goods and services – everything comes from or through Israel. More than half the Palestinian budget still relies on international and Israeli handouts.

Moreover, the 2 security corridors or cordons that Israel insisted on maintaining cut across Palestinian territory and effectively bisect the new country, rendering it mutilated and dysfunctional. Roads, neighborhoods, villages, and cities are rended in half; police forces cannot engage in hot pursuit of, for instance, Israeli settlers, who are involved in terrorist activities, protesting the Hebron Agreement; goods are stuck in the border crossings and left to rot. This cannot go on for long. The Hebron Agreement foresees the elimination of these 2 arteries in 20 years, but I think it should and will be sooner than that – or Israel will face a fourth Intifada.

  1. What happened to Hamas?
  2. Hamas was totally discredited, even in the Arab street, when its close ties to certain intelligence agencies – including and especially the Israeli Mossad and Shin-Bet – were revealed. Still, it maintains its network of charities, schools, hospitals, and kitchens for the indigent throughout the Gaza Strip. Palestine right now has a technical government which is preparing all the necessary legislation, institutions, and Constitution prior to the elections in March next year. Fatah will remain in the lead, but Hamas may surprise with a comeback. The new political movement, al-Nahda, modeled after the successful party in Tunisia, may emerge as the third potent force in the territory.
  3. Five years ago, Israel was at war with Syria …
  4. Syria under al-Nusra and the remnants of ISIL was just the front. Israel was actually at war with the backers of the new Islamist regime there: Turkey, Iraq, Iran. But, in hindsight, this war was a “good” thing: it brought all the moderates in the region to their senses and made the Hebron Framework Agreement possible. The region was on the verge of nuclear war. It was a Cuba crisis moment. No one wants to see it happening again.
  5. Finally, how do Israelis feel about the Palestinian State on their doorstep?
  6. they are skeptical. Israel and the Palestinians experimented with dozens of solutions over the decades. Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza 2005. It built a wall around the Palestinian territories in the West Bank to isolate itself. It agreed to a Palestinian autonomy and the establishment of a state-like Authority. In 2000, Israel offered to the Palestinians 95% of all their territories and half of Jerusalem. Arafat rejected the offer. An Israeli politician once said: “The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”. The Palestinian State may be no exception. It may end up embroiled in war from within (civil war, like in Lebanon 1975-1990) and without, with Israel and Egypt.

Israel, on the other hand, has never learned how to properly administer the territories it occupied. Its administration was illegal, mean-spirited, violent, harsh, and short-sighted. It has been paying the price ever since.

10 Predictions for the Coming Decade

By Sam Vaknin
Author of “
Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited

  1. Italy, the euro, and the US dollar

On November 24, 2010, I published (in Global Politician and elsewhere) an article titled “Italy will Kill the Euro”. Six months later, credit rating agencies have downgraded Italy’s outlook from “stable” to “negative”. Italy has never really recovered. It has endured another downgrade in December 2014. Like Greece, it is in worse shape than most members of the European Union (EU): at 3% of GDP, it has an ostensibly sustainable budget deficit, but its external debt (now close to 170% of GDP) is higher, in constant dollars, than that of the most egregious wastrels in the bloc, Greece and Ireland included. Italy’s banking sector is over-exposed to borrowers in Central and Eastern Europe, a region habitually pendulating between recovery and economic calamity. If Italy goes Greece’s and Ireland’s way, the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – already over-extended by serial bailouts and with Greece on the brink of a second crisis – will be unable to stem the red tide. Italy may actually effectively default and, in the process, ruin the euro and restore the US dollar to its erstwhile glory.

  1. Korean Unification

By late 2010, a succession war was simmering in North Korea. His panoply of suddenly-bestowed senior political and military posts notwithstanding, the generals and military establishment are less than happy and impressed with Kim Jong-un, the younger son of the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il. Each side flexes muscles in an attempt to burnish their nationalist and martial credentials. The outcomes of this internecine conflict are ominous: a series of ever-escalating military skirmishes with South Korea and the ramping up of North Korea’s already burgeoning nuclear weapons and cyberwar programs (as Sony discovered to its cost.)

North Korea’s leaders are likely to try to reform their country’s economy and introduce capitalism, but this will fail. The regime in North Korea is all but dead on its feet. These are its last days. China is facing the terrifying spectacle of a crony failed state with tens of millions of starved and destitute potential refugees swarming across its porous and indefensible borders. China’s ascendance to superpowerdom and its respectability are threatened by this association with the last remaining pariah rogue state. There is only one solution to all the problems of the Korean Peninsula: unification. The parties came close to discussing it in secret talks in 2002 and then again in 2009.

  1. China’s Economy and the Second Great Depression

As I predicted in an article published on February 22, 2009 and titled “The Next 18 Months: Recession, False Recovery, Depression”, the years 2010-2011 saw a false recovery from the Great Recession of 2008-2009. Mounting sovereign debts crises in Europe and an anemic rebound in America’s economy were more than outweighed by the emergence of Asia as a global powerhouse. Yet, the warning signs were there: China’s economic “miracle” was based on unsustainable dollops of government largesse and monetary quantitative easing. This led to the formation of asset bubbles (mainly in real-estate) and to pernicious inflation. The Chinese authorities’ attempts to clamp down on rampant speculation and price gouging are too little, too late. The economy will slow down considerably and the Chinese house of cards will collapse ominously and swiftly. This will bring the entire global economic edifice into disarray with mounting imbalances and increased risk-aversion among investors. The second phase of the global crisis will resemble closely the Great Depression with massive write-offs in the values of equities and mounting, two-digit, unemployment rates everywhere.

  1. Israeli-Arab War

The Arab Spring of 2011 empowered Islamist and other anti-Israeli elements in Arab society. Israel and its allies, the reactionary Arab regimes, were long and justly perceived by the oppressed average Arab as outposts of American (and, previously, British) mercantilist neo-imperialism. The popular uprisings unseated these entrenched dictatorial elites and replaced them with military and Muslim ruling classes bent on restoring the anti-Israeli hostility and enmity that characterized the Middle-East before 1979. Phenomena like Sharia-toting ISIL have become the mainstream norm rather than the exception in large parts of Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, and even India. In time, this – and heavy Iranian meddling – will lead to an all out war between Israel and its neighbours, the outcome of which cannot be predicted with any certainty.

  1. Russian Liberalism

On June 2, 2010, I published an article titled “Putin’s Last Days”. Putin is on his way out. The belligerent stance in Ukraine and the massive economic crisis that followed the West’s sanctions and the collapse in oil prices amount to Putin’s own personal Vietnam. With this clownish “strong man” gone, Russia is bound to become a far more liberal and democratic place. No matter who wins the next presidential elections or not, Russia’s oligarchs are a dying breed; the rule of law is asserting itself; property rights will be restored; a new cadre of politicians – young, educated, self-confident, and cosmopolitan (though not necessarily pro-Western) – will take Russia forward and free it from its pecuniary dependence on oil by diversifying its economy.

  1. First Cyberwar

In 2010, the Stuxnet worm delivered a paralyzing payload to Iran’s nuclear centrifuges, thus heralding the second salvo in a gathering storm of cyberwars (a Turkish pipeline was the first to have been attacked in 2008). Prior to Stuxnet, hacker networks – both government-mandated and self-assembling – attacked the Internet infrastructure of perceived enemies (the prime examples being Russian attacks on the Baltic States and on Georgia and Chinese attacks on dissidents’ accounts with Google). The resulting disruption was minimal and transient. Not so with Stuxnet which ruined the Iranian uranium enrichment infrastructure single-handedly and remotely and without a single casualty among the Israelis who launched it. Similar offensives will become common in the near future. State actors will also unleash guerrilla cyber skirmishes via hacker-teams and proxy computers (see North Korea’s humbling of Sony in December 2014).

  1. Change of Guard in International Institutions

The composition of and voting rights within the United Nations and its organs (including the World Bank) as well as other multilateral institutions (such as the IMF – International Monetary Fund) reflect the world as it was in 1946, after the Second World War. A lot has changed since then, most notably the emergence of Asia as the fastest-growing region, both economically and militarily and the relative decline of an insular Europe and depleted USA. Within the next few years, the upper echelons of the IMF and the UN will be revamped to reflect these gargantuan historic shifts: we will see Asians and Africans running the world.

  1. A Dictatorship in Turkey

Snubbed by the EU (European Union) and the USA alike, Turkey is re-orienting itself. Once again, it is playing the role of a regional potentate, with ties to regimes of all sorts: veteran and unsavoury; emerging and fundamentalist; terrorism-prone and peace-seeking. Turkey’s military and its secular political establishment have lost their decades-old grip on power. Moderate Islam, reified by Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan, is slowly being transformed into an authoritarian, fundamentalist, anti-Western pale imitation of Pakistan and Iran. Its erstwhile warm relationship with Israel is frayed. It surreptitiously supports terrorist organizations like ISIL against Syria’s Assad. Media freedoms and online access are curtailed and censored. Human rights are again breached and violated blatantly (especially where Kurds, intellectuals, and journalists are concerned). Turkey’s role in NATO, its special relationship with the USA, and its EU accession are all in doubt.

  1. War in Pakistan

The second war between the USA and China – directly and via proxies – will be fought on Pakistani, Indian, and Afghani soil. As an increasingly-Islamized Pakistan veers away from its frenemy, the United States, and towards its new-found ally, China, America’s vital interests in Afghanistan, India, Japan, and South Korea are at stake. Skirmishes will evolve into a full-fledged conflict, with a slate of nuclear powers as adversaries: Pakistan, India, China, Russia (who will back China), and the USA/NATO .

  1. Vatican in Conflict: An Assassinated Pope?

The job – and possibly life – of any Pope attempting to truly reform the Vatican is in jeopardy. The top echelons of the Catholic Church are in a deep crisis, faced with a reputation tattered by decades of unrelenting, egregious scandals, an ossified corporate culture, interpersonal relationships strained to the breaking point, and dwindling finances. The next few years will witness a titanic battle over the soul of this dysfunctional, secretive, and criminalized organization. A lot of money and power are at stake. People have been assassinated for less.

In general, the next decade will see a resurgence of political assassinations. Obama’s policies – lately on Cuba (remember Kennedy?) – put him at growing risk. ISIL may target one or more leaders of the European Union. An enraged and frustrated Palestinian may do away with an Israeli politician. The list of targets is long and growing by the day.

Atrocities are Good, Massacres are even Better!

By Sam Vaknin
Author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited” 

In 1979, during my first year of compulsory service in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), I was assigned to a unit of the much-dreaded “Golani” division. The unit’s remit encompassed a few villages in the West Bank. Jimmy Carter was visiting the region and we were tasked with suppressing any sign of overt dissent among the cowed populace. I was delighted to discover that a good friend of mine (we grew up together), SG, ended up in the same outfit. Otherwise, the company was comprised of social rejects, primary school dropouts, and worse.

The commanders of this tightly-knit camaraderie correctly interpreted their orders from highest up: they were to embark on a spree of torture and gruesome murder. One day, when they dispensed with an elderly villager by feeding him jam till his guts burst open, SG and I decided to maintain a coded diary of all events and to inform the military authorities of the unfolding atrocities.

Finally, at a serious risk to our lives, we both testified against the murderers and torturers in a closed session of a military court. The evidence was overwhelming, incontrovertible, and impeccable. Yet, the sentences were laughably lenient: the commander of the company, who murdered at least one Palestinian with his own hands, got six months in jail. Others were reprimanded.

As far as the military is concerned, atrocities and massacres have their good sides. Such misdeeds and abuse serve important strategic goals. They boost the morale of the troops and let them blow off steam; they deter would-be insurgents; they teach the Natives who is boss. The signal that such atrocities send is that the soldiery will stop at nothing and will observe no law when it is out to subdue a hostile population. This is why perpetrators of such deeds – if they belong to a victorious army – are never punished properly and proportionately.

A Kosovo Case Study

“You can’t blame the whole army. But why did they allow such a soldier to come here?”
“We believe he also has a mother an father and we cannot speak good or ill of him.”
Hamdi Shabiu, father of Merita, the sexually molested, forcibly sodomized and murdered child

“Sex offenders typically have a history, but if the guy was raised here, and went to school here, is there any evidence of it at all?”

“When soldiers are on a peacekeeping mission, it can be a very paranoid state. They’re not in attack mode, like they’re trained to be; they’re stuck in a neutral mode. (But…) the guy’s (Ronghi – SV) a staff sergeant. He’s been around, he’s not a rookie.”
Dr. Keith John Smedi, formerly a Mental Health Officer in the US Army

“We looked at KFOR as saviours, to save us from war and from violence… We want to see a picture of the man who did this to us.”
Remzje Shabiu, mother of Merita, the sexually molested, forcibly sodomized and murdered child

“We again trust the Americans.”
Hamdi Shabiu, father of Merita, the sexually molested, forcibly sodomized and murdered child

Staff Sergeant Frank J. Ronghi sexually molested, forcibly sodomized (“indecent acts with a child”) and then murdered an 11-years old girl in the basement of her drab building, when her father went to market to do some shopping. Then he spread flour from a UN aid package over the blood-stained floor. He wrapped the little, still warm body, in two sacks and dumped it under the staircase. He was sentenced to life in prison, without parole. It was a heinous crime which would have most certainly introduced him to the wrong end of a lethal injection in his homeland, the USA. But Staff Sergeant Ronghi was wise to have unleashed his depravity in Kosovo upon an Albanian girl. Ceteris paribus, it would seem that the going rate for dead Albanian girls is lower than for dead American ones.

There is nothing new in this supercilious attitude of the new masters of the universe. Fiercely independent, solipsistically provincial and fatuously ignorant – this nation of video clips and sound bites has imposed its narcissistic “culture” upon a world exhausted by wars hot and cold. Never averse to exploiting the global institutions to its ends – it often refrains from providing them with means. It still owes in excess of 160 million US dollars to the poorer nations of the world – its arrears to the UN peacekeeping operations. It refuses to subject itself to the judgements of the World Criminal Court, to the inspectors of the Chemical Weapons Convention, to the sanctions of the (anti) land mines treaty and to the provisions of the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty. In short, it is a bully – making its own laws as it goes, twisting arms and breaking bones when faced with opposition and ignoring the very edicts it promulgated at its convenience. Its soldiers and peacekeepers, its bankers and businessmen, its traders and diplomats are its long arms, an embodiment of this potent mixture of superiority and contempt.

The case of the bestial murderer Ronghi is not an aberration. It happened before (in Japan in 1995, for instance). Nor is the double moral standard applied only by the USA. When a (most probably intoxicated) Norwegian soldier killed a Macedonian minister and his family in a car crash in August 1999 (having swerved into the wrong lane), he was rushed back to Norway to face an incredibly lenient sentence of two months in prison – unimaginable if the Minister were Norwegian and the venue Oslo. More than 60 criminal investigations against NATO soldiers by the Macedonian police (the tip of an iceberg, no doubt) ended this way. So did proceedings in more than 200 traffic accidents involving almost 20 fatalities. These are the remains of a colonial state of mind – natives come cheap, their lives dispensable, the white man’s burden must not be exacerbated by excess legalism. Western folks should stick together, you know and, above all, should never be exposed to the vagaries of primitive indigenous jurisprudence.

In the village of Vitina, in Kosovo, a wiry Hamdi Shabiu, in an upturned fur hat and evanescent nylon jacket, waves the photograph of the swollen face of his formerly beautiful daughter, Merita. Her battered body was discovered on Thursday, January 13, 2000 (no one seems to agree as to where). The 35 year old weapons squad leader from Fort Bragg, North Carolina (born in Niles, Ohio), was arrested 3 days later in a show of unprecedented investigative efficiency. He was transferred to a confinement facility (a military euphemism for prison) in Mannheim and from there to a prison in Wuerzburg, near Frankfurt, Germany.

It was the sad denouement of what started as a love affair. The American contingent of KFOR was welcomed by the Kosovars in scenes of jubilation not seen since the end of World War Two. But this exuberance was soon quelled by the liberties some soldiers took with the local girls (for instance, when “searching” their bodies for “weapons”). Complaints were lodged – and ignored (another pattern of behaviour – American soldiers are ex-territorial). Later, Americans were involved in violent and brutal clashes with local Albanians, including in Vitina. The atmosphere has soured.

The Kosovo the peacekeepers entered is a fantastic place, the outcome of a hundred years of solitude. It is teeming with disgruntled and covinous guerilla fighters, steely-eyed and ruthless mafiosi, contumacious small-time delinquents and noisome, unctuous pimps in chintzy cars. In this nebulochaotically permissive atmosphere of insidious disintegration and ludic, sinuous sex – soldiers became involved in all manner of invenial skulduggery, drug peddling and abuse, in weapons trading and white prostitution networks. Ask any Macedonian, Kosovar, Greek, Albanian, Serb, or Bulgarian and they will tell you how deep and institutionalized the involvement of KFOR soldiers is in the smuggling of cigarettes, alcohol, sugar, flour and consumer goods. The surrealistic morass that is the Balkan has digested them and enmeshed them in venality and crime. The lack of functioning law enforcement institutions and the gaping void that replaced civil society in Kosovo contributed to the general moral turpitude. The unbearable lightness of being has rendered all moral precepts remote and niggling. To these soldiers, Kosovo was an Elysium of sin, an apogee of lasciviousness and avarice, a profligate perdition.

Ronghi set impassively through the reading of his verdict on July 30th. He offered the grieving family a convoluted apology: “I don’t know what went wrong that day”. Pathological Narcissists are characterized by alloplastic defences. They blame the world, destiny, the Universe, fate, or other people for their behaviour and for its (usually deleterious) outcomes. Faulty maps were blamed on the demolition of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. The unfortunate event of the downing of an Iranian airliner was attributed to “human error”. An American pilot violated his flight instructions, killing vacationers in Italy in the process – and was exculpated. Ronghi, described as a wholesome American phenomenon by friends, family and commanders, blamed the day: “I don’t know what went wrong that day”, he said. He might as well have been discussing a scorched omelette. Devoid of all emotion or compunction, he added stolidly, reading from a crumpled piece of paper his lines of what evidently was, to him, merely a bad script. “I apologize from the bottom of my heart to the family. I ask them for my forgiveness” [sic! How Freudian!]. He added: “I never did anything wrong before. I know what I did was very wrong. That’s why I pleaded guilty.” In other words: I am a good and upright man, who can tell right from wrong and who assumes responsibility for his wrongful acts. The brutal rape and thrashing to death of a pre-adolescent girl is the exception in an otherwise commendable life and virtuous conduct.

But Ronghi was unfazed by what he did. To bury Merita’s body, ensconced in two UN flour sacks, under the staircase in the basement, Ronghi took with him another soldier, a private, who finally turned him in. He told him: “(it was) easy to get away with something like this in a Third World country”. Sergeant Christopher Rice, who was on duty the night Ronghi murdered the child, added: “He knew because he’d done it before in the desert (in operation ‘Desert Storm’ in Iraq – SV).”

If Rice knew this about Ronghi – why didn’t he turn him in? If the Army knew this about Ronghi – why did they send him on a peacekeeping mission involving contact with civilian population? Is it true that peacekeeping operations are the dumping grounds of mercenaries and military misfits, drug addicts and the criminally-inclined? That the selection criteria and procedures are less than rigorous is an open secret. Peacekeepers are notoriously culturally insensitive, undressing publicly (in Kumanovo), getting embroiled in inebriated brawls (in restaurants and bars), raping and thieving, smuggling and trading, playing with pistols during the famous Struga poetry festival. This has come to be expected of them. But not murder and, perhaps, not the rape of a pre-pubescent girl.

So many under-estimated the pernicious effects of promiscuousness and disdain combined. Many more have turned a blind eye to the convergence of the armed presence of Albanian thugs of all political hues and their counterparts in KFOR. To many soldiers, the citizens of Kosovo, both Albanian and Serb, were but sub-humans – a view shared by the Albanian predators that confiscated their apartments and killed them by the hundreds. This confluence of jaded scorn, this somnolent sadism and condescending malfeasance, this propinquity of criminal and law – made Kosovo the Dantesque netherland it has become. It killed Merita. It had the face of Ronghi but the number of the beast.

Affiliation and Morality

The Anglo-Saxon members of the motley “Coalition of the Willing” were proud of their aircraft’s and missiles’ “surgical” precision. The legal (and moral) imperative to spare the lives of innocent civilians was well observed, they bragged. “Collateral damage” was minimized. They were lucky to have confronted a dilapidated enemy. Precision bombing is expensive, in terms of lives – of fighter pilots. Military planners are well aware that there is a hushed trade-off between civilian and combatant casualties.

This dilemma is both ethical and practical. It is often “resolved” by applying – explicitly or implicitly – the principle of “over-riding affiliation”. As usual, Judaism was there first, agonizing over similar moral conflicts. Two Jewish sayings amount to a reluctant admission of the relativity of moral calculus: “One is close to oneself” and “Your city’s poor denizens come first (with regards to charity)”.

This is also known as “moral hypocrisy”. The moral hypocrite feels self-righteous even when he engages in acts and behaves in ways that he roundly condemns in others. Two psychologists, Piercarlo Valdesolo and David DeSteno, have demonstrated that, in the words of DeSteno:

“Anyone who is on ‘our team’ is excused for moral transgressions. The importance of group cohesion, of any type, simply extends our moral radius for lenience. Basically, it’s a form of one person’s patriot is another’s terrorist … The question here is whether we’re designed at heart to be fair or selfish.” (New-York Times, July 6, 2008).

Dr. Valdesolo added:

“Hypocrisy is driven by mental processes over which we have volitional control.. Our gut seems to be equally sensitive to our own and others’ transgressions, suggesting that we just need to find ways to better translate our moral feelings into moral actions.”

One’s proper conduct, in other words, is decided by one’s self-interest and by one’s affiliations with the ingroups one belongs to. Affiliation (to a community, or a fraternity), in turn, is determined by one’s positions and, to some extent, by one’s oppositions to various outgroups.

What are these “positions” (ingroups) and “oppositions” (outgroups)?

The most fundamental position – from which all others are derived – is the positive statement “I am a human being”. Belonging to the human race is an immutable and inalienable position. Denying this leads to horrors such as the Holocaust. The Nazis did not regard as humans the Jews, the Slavs, homosexuals, and other minorities – so they sought to exterminate them.

All other, synthetic, positions are made of couples of positive and negative statements with the structure “I am and I am not”.

But there is an important asymmetry at the heart of this neat arrangement.

The negative statements in each couple are fully derived from – and thus are entirely dependent on and implied by – the positive statements. Not so the positive statements. They cannot be derived from, or be implied by, the negative one.

Lest we get distractingly abstract, let us consider an example.

Study the couple “I am an Israeli” and “I am not a Syrian”.

Assuming that there are 220 countries and territories, the positive statement “I am an Israeli” implies about 220 certain (true) negative statements. You can derive each and every one of these negative statements from the positive statement. You can thus create 220 perfectly valid couples.

“I am an Israeli …”


“I am not … (a citizen of country X, which is not Israel)”.

You can safely derive the true statement “I am not a Syrian” from the statement “I am an Israeli”.

Can I derive the statement “I am an Israeli” from the statement “I am not a Syrian”?

Not with any certainty.

The negative statement “I am not a Syrian” implies 220 possible positive statements of the type “I am … (a citizen of country X, which is not India)”, including the statement “I am an Israeli”. “I am not a Syrian and I am a citizen of … (220 possibilities)”

Negative statements can be derived with certainty from any positive statement.

Negative statements as well as positive statements cannot be derived with certainty from any negative statement.

This formal-logical trait reflects a deep psychological reality with unsettling consequences.

A positive statement about one’s affiliation (“I am an Israeli”) immediately generates 220 certain negative statements (such as “I am not a Syrian”).

One’s positive self-definition automatically excludes all others by assigning to them negative values. “I am” always goes with “I am not”.

The positive self-definitions of others, in turn, negate one’s self-definition.

Statements about one’s affiliation are inevitably exclusionary.

It is possible for many people to share the same positive self-definition. About 6 million people can truly say “I am an Israeli”.

Affiliation – to a community, fraternity, nation, state, religion, or team – is really a positive statement of self-definition (“I am an Israeli”, for instance) shared by all the affiliated members (the affiliates).

One’s moral obligations towards one’s affiliates override and supersede one’s moral obligations towards non-affiliated humans. Ingroup bias carries the weight of a moral principle.

Thus, an American’s moral obligation to safeguard the lives of American fighter pilots overrides and supersedes (subordinates) his moral obligation to save the lives of innocent civilians, however numerous, if they are not Americans.

The larger the number of positive self-definitions I share with someone (i.e., the more affiliations we have in common) , the larger and more overriding is my moral obligation to him or her.


I have moral obligations towards all other humans because I share with them my affiliation to the human species.

But my moral obligations towards my countrymen supersede these obligation. I share with my compatriots two affiliations rather than one. We are all members of the human race – but we are also citizens of the same state.

This patriotism, in turn, is superseded by my moral obligation towards the members of my family. With them I share a third affiliation – we are all members of the same clan.

I owe the utmost to myself. With myself I share all the aforementioned affiliations plus one: the affiliation to the one member club that is me.

But this scheme raises some difficulties.

We postulated that the strength of one’s moral obligations towards other people is determined by the number of positive self-definitions (“affiliations”) he shares with them.

Moral obligations are, therefore, contingent. They are, indeed, the outcomes of interactions with others – but not in the immediate sense, as the personalist philosopher Emmanuel Levinas suggested.

Rather, ethical principles, rights, and obligations are merely the solutions yielded by a moral calculus of shared affiliations. Think about them as matrices with specific moral values and obligations attached to the numerical strengths of one’s affiliations.

Some moral obligations are universal and are the outcomes of one’s organic position as a human being (the “basic affiliation”). These are the “transcendent moral values”.

Other moral values and obligations arise only as the number of shared affiliations increases. These are the “derivative moral values”.

Moreover, it would wrong to say that moral values and obligations “accumulate”, or that the more fundamental ones are the strongest.

On the very contrary. The universal ethical principles – the ones related to one’s position as a human being – are the weakest. They are subordinate to derivative moral values and obligations yielded by one’s affiliations.

The universal imperative “thou shall not kill (another human being)” is easily over-ruled by the moral obligation to kill for one’s country. The imperative “though shall not steal” is superseded by one’s moral obligation to spy for one’s nation. Treason is when we prefer universal ethical principles to derivatives ones, dictated by our affiliation (citizenship).

This leads to another startling conclusion:

There is no such thing as a self-consistent moral system. Moral values and obligations often contradict and conflict with each other.

In the examples above, killing (for one’s country) and stealing (for one’s nation) are moral obligations, the outcomes of the application of derivative moral values. Yet, they contradict the universal moral value of the sanctity of life and property and the universal moral obligation not to kill.

Hence, killing the non-affiliated (civilians of another country) to defend one’s own (fighter pilots) is morally justified. It violates some fundamental principles – but upholds higher moral obligations, to one’s kin and kith.

Note – The Exclusionary Conscience

The self-identity of most nation-states is exclusionary and oppositional: to generate solidarity, a sense of shared community, and consensus, an ill-defined “we” is unfavorably contrasted with a fuzzy “they”. While hate speech has been largely outlawed the world over, these often counterfactual dichotomies between “us” and “them” still reign supreme.

In extreme – though surprisingly frequent – cases, whole groups (typically minorities) are excluded from the nation’s moral universe and from the ambit of civil society. Thus, they are rendered “invisible”, “subhuman”, and unprotected by laws, institutions, and ethics. This process of distancing and dehumanization I call “exclusionary conscience”.

The most recent examples are the massacre of the Tutsis in Rwanda, the Holocaust of the Jews in Nazi Germany’s Third Reich, and the Armenian Genocide in Turkey. Radical Islamists are now advocating the mass slaughter of Westerners, particularly of Americans and Israelis, regardless of age, gender, and alleged culpability. But the phenomenon of exclusionary conscience far predates these horrendous events. In the Bible, the ancient Hebrews are instructed to exterminate all Amalekites, men, women, and children.

In her book, “The Nazi Conscience”, Claudia Koontz quotes from Freud’s “Civilization and its Discontents”:

“If (the Golden Rule of morality) commanded ‘Love thy neighbor as thy neighbor loves thee’, I should not take exception to it. If he is a stranger to me … it will be hard for me to love him.” (p. 5)

Note – The Rule of Law, Discrimination, and Morality

In an article titled “Places Far Away, Places Very near – Mauthausen, the Camps of the Shoah, and the Bystanders” (published in Michael Berenbaum and Abraham J. Peck (eds.) – The Holocaust and History: The Known, the Unknown, the Disputed, and the Reexamined – Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1998), the author, Gordon J. Horwitz, describes how the denizens of the picturesque towns surrounding the infaous death camp were drawn into its economic and immoral ambit.

Why did these law-abiding citizens turn a blind eye towards the murder and mayhem that they had witnessed daily in the enclosure literally on their doorstep? Because morality is a transaction. As Rabbi Hillel, the Talmudic Jewish sage, and Jesus of Nazareth put it: do not do unto others that which you don’t want them to do to you (to apply a utilitarian slant to their words).

When people believe and are assured by the authorities that an immoral law or practice will never apply to them, they don’t mind its application to others. Immoral acts inevitably devolve from guaranteed impunity. The Rule of Law does not preclude exclusionary or discriminatory or even evil praxis.

The only way to make sure that agents behave ethically is by providing equal treatment to all subjects, regardless of race, sex, religious beliefs, sexual preferences, or age. “Don’t do unto others what you fear might be done to you” is a potent deterrent but it has a corollary: “Feel free to do unto them what, in all probability, will never be done to you.”

Nazi atrocities throughout conquered Europe were not a-historical eruptions. They took place within the framework of a morally corrupt, permissive and promiscuous environment. Events such as Dir Yassin, My Lai, and Rwanda prove that genocide can and will be repeated everywhere and at all times given the right circumstances.

The State of Israel (Dir Yassin) and the United States (My Lai) strictly prohibit crimes against humanity and explicitly protect civilians during military operations. Hence the rarity of genocidal actions by their armed forces. Rwanda and Nazi Germany openly condoned, encouraged, abetted, and logistically supported genocide.

Had the roles been reversed, would Israelis and Americans have committed genocide? Undoubtedly, they would have. Had the USA and Israel promulgated genocidal policies, their policemen, secret agents, and soldiers would have mercilessly massacred men, women, and children by the millions. It is human nature. What prevents genocide from becoming a daily occurrence is the fact that the vast majority of nations subscribe to what Adolf Hitler derisively termed “Judeo-Christian morality.”

Israel and Turkey: The Impossible Alliance

In June 2010, Turkey voted against the UN Security Council resolution that imposed a fourth round of sanctions on Iran for its enrichment of uranium. Earlier in 2010, Turkey and Brazil have struck a deal with Iran to have two thirds of its nuclear fuel shipped outside its territory to be treated. Iran’s outspoken President Ahmadinejad and a bevy of lesser officials have visited Turkey multiply, cementing the NATO member’s tilt towards the West’s traditional enemies as well as its renewed focus on the Turkic peoples of Central Asia.

Earlier in the same month, various Turkish officials, from the Prime Minister down, have lashed at Israel’s “murderous piracy” when the latter’s special forces have raided a flotilla of ships intended to break through to the blockaded Gaza Strip. This followed bitter recriminations on previous occasions: upon Israel’s re-invasion of the Gaza Strip and an apparent disrespect shown to the Turkish Ambassador by high-level Israeli civil servants.

Prior to 2008, it has been a common – and misleading – truism that relations between Turkey and Israel have never been better. The former is ruled by yet another Islamic government, though somewhat constrained by secular-minded generals. The latter is increasingly nationalistic-Messianic and theocratic, though it is ruled by former army generals who cobble together largely secular coalition governments.

Throughout the last 10 years, behind the scenes, Israel’s only steadfast allies in Turkey were the military and extreme secularists, both on the receiving end of the judicial and economic wrath of an increasingly-Islamized government, a faithful mirror of a Muslim-fundamentalist populace.

Geopolitical ranting for internal and external consumption aside, economic relations are still healthy.

Each year, more than 300,000 Israelis spend their vacation – and more than a quarter of a billion dollars – in scenic and affordable Turkish resorts. A drought-stricken Israel revived a decade-old plan to buy from Turkey up to 400 million cubic meters a year, instead of expensively desalinating sea water.

Israeli land use, hydrological and agricultural experts roam the Texas-sized country. The parties – with a combined gross domestic product of $300 billion – have inked close to thirty agreements and protocols since 1991. Everything, from double taxation to joint development and manufacturing of missiles, has been covered.

Buoyed by a free trade agreement in force since 1997, bilateral trade exceeded $1.5 billion at its peak (2002), excluding clandestine sales of arms and weapons technologies. According to the Turkish Ambassador to the United States, “Turkish exports to Israel consist mainly of manufactured goods, foodstuffs and grain, while Israel’s main export items to Turkey are chemical products, plastics, computers and irrigation and telecommunications systems technologies.”

A sizable portion of Turkey’s $3-5 billion in annual spending on the modernization of its armed forces is rumored to end in Israeli pockets. This is part of a 25-year plan launched in 1997 and estimated to be worth a total of $150 billion. Israeli contractors are refurbishing ageing Turkish fighter planes and other weapons systems at a total cost exceeding $2 billion hitherto.

In May 2002, the Israeli Military Industries and Elbit secured a $688 million contract to upgrade 170 M-60A1 tanks. There are at least another 800 pieces in the pipeline. Small arms, unmanned aerial vehicles and rockets originating in Israel make only part of a long shopping list. Israeli pilots regularly train in Turkey. Joint military exercises and intelligence sharing are frequent. The Israeli backdoor allows friendly American administrations to circumvent a rarely Turkophile Congress.

The American-Israel Public Action Committee (AIPAC), the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and, more generally, the almighty Jewish lobby in Washington, often support Turkish causes on the Hill. In 2000, for example, Jews helped quash a resolution commemorating the Armenian genocide perpetrated by Turkish forces during the First World War. There was no repeat performance in 2010, though: Israel felt piqued by Turkey’s constant hectoring on human rights violations perpetrated by the Jewish state.

This exercise in hypocrisy did not endear the Jewish community or Israel to either Armenians or to European Union cardholding Greeks who have long permitted Palestinian terrorists to operate from the Greek part of Cyprus with impunity. The friend of my enemy is my enemy and Israel is clearly Turkey’s Jewish friend.

But Israeli hopes that Turkey will reciprocate by serving as a conduit to Arab regimes in the Middle East proved to be ill-founded. Only one tenth of Turkish trade is with its neighbors near and far. Turkey’s leverage is further limited by its chronic economic distress and its offensive designs to monopolize waterways shared by adjacent countries.

Though Muslim, like the Iranians, Turkey is not an Arab nation. It counts Syria, Iraq and Iran as potential enemies and competitors for scarce water resources as does Israel. The rebuff by its parliament of America’s request to station troops on Turkish soil prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 notwithstanding, the country is defiantly pro-American against a backdrop of anti-Western virulence.

Turkey aspires to join the European Union because it regards itself as an island of civilization in an ocean of backwardness and destitution. This counter-regional orientation is another thing it has in common with the Jewish state. In an effort to differentiate themselves, both polities were early adopters of economic trends such as deregulation, equities, venture capital, entrepreneurship, privatization and hi-tech.

Turkey was the first Moslem state to recognize an ominously isolated Israel in 1949. Both Israel and Turkey are democracies though they are implicated in systemic human rights violations on a massive scale. The political class of both is incestuously enmeshed with the military even to this very day.

The two countries face terrorism on a daily basis and feel threatened by the rise of militant Islam, by the spread of weapons of mass destruction – though Israel is hitherto the only regional nuclear power – and by global networks like al-Qaida.

In his travelogue, “Eastward to Tartary”, published in 2001, Robert Kaplan notes:

“Turkey’s more friendly position toward Israel was the result of several factors. (Turkey) became tired of diplomatic initiatives that failed to induce the Arabs to end their support of the Kurdish Workers’ party, which was responsible for the insurgency in southeastern Turkey. The Turks felt, too, that the Jews could help them with their Greek problem (via the Jewish lobby) … (The Turks realized) they might never gain full admittance to the European Union. Thus, they required another alliance.”

This confluence of interests and predicaments does not render Israel the darling of the Turkish street, though. Turks, addicted to conspiracy theories, fully believe that the second Iraq war has been instigated by the Israelis (or, at the very least, the Jews). They also decry the way Israel manhandles the Palestinian uprising. Flag-burning demonstrations are common occurrences in Ankara and Istanbul. Suleyman Demirel, Turkey’s former president, nearly paid with his life for the entente cordiale when a deranged pharmacist tried to assassinate him in 1996.

Turkey’s erstwhile power behind the throne and current and future prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, called Israel’s Ariel Sharon a terrorist. The previous prime minister called Israel’s behavior in the occupied territories “genocide”, hastening to reverse himself when faced with the possible consequences of his Freudian slip.

Indeed, the conflict in Iraq has proven to be the watershed of the Turkish-Israeli love fest. Turkey is growing increasingly religious and more pro-Arab by the year. The further the United States – Israel’s sponsor and unwavering ally – pushes into the region, the less aligned are its interests with Turkey’s.

Consider the Kurdish question. Turkey is committed to preventing, if need be by force of arms, the emergence of independent Kurdish polity in Iraq. It would also wish to secure oil-rich northern Iraq as a Turkish protectorate. But the Kurds – America’s long-standing and long-suffering collaborators – are the United States’ “Northern Alliance” in Iraq. It cannot abandon them for both military and moral considerations.

But even in the absence of such blatant conflicts of interests, Turkey’s shift is inevitable, a matter of geography as destiny.

Turkey continues to ignore the Arab world at its peril. Regional conflicts fail to respect international borders as the country is discovering, faced with the damaging Iraqi spillover. Until 1998, Syria, another restive neighbor, actively aided and abetted the rebellious Kurds. It may yet resume its meddling if Israel, its bitter enemy, is neutered through a peace accord. The dispute over precious water sources is embedded in Turkish-Syrian topography and is, therefore, permanent.

It may have been in recognition of these facts that Abdullah Gul, Turkey’s previous prime minister, embarked on a tour of Arab capitals in January 2003. Simultaneously, then Turkish Trade Minister, Korsad Touzman, led a delegation of 150 businessmen in a two day visit to Baghdad to discuss trade issues. Turkey claims to have sustained damages in excess of $30 billion in the 1991 Gulf War – a measure of its regional integration.

Turkey has also recently begun considering the sale of water in the framework of the “Manavgat Project for Peace” to Egypt, Jordan and even Libya. Turkey’s then foreign minister, Bashar Yakis, is a Turkish diplomat who knows Arabic and had served in Damascus, Riyadh and Cairo.

Turkey’s Occidental orientation has proven to be counterproductive. As the European Union grows more fractured and indecisive and the United States more overweening and unilaterally belligerent, Turkey will have to give up its fantasies – bred by the country’s post-Ottoman founding father, Kemal Ataturk – of becoming an inalienable part of Western civilization.

Both Turkey and Israel will, in due time, be forced to accept – however reluctantly – that they are barely mid-sized, mostly Asiatic, regional powers and that their future – geopolitical and military, if not economic – lies in the Middle East, not in the Midwest. Turkey could then serve as a goodwill mediator between erstwhile enemies and Israel as a regional engine of growth.

Until they do, both countries are major founts of regional instability, often deliberately and gleefully so.

Israeli engineering firms, for instance, are heavily involved in the design and implementation of the regionally controversial Southeast Anatolian Project (GAP), intended to block Turkish water from reaching Syria and Iraq. Additionally, protestations to the contrary aside, the thrust of Israel’s burgeoning military cooperation with Turkey is, plausibly, anti-Arab.

Turkish security officials confirmed to the English-language daily, Turkish Daily News, in March 2002, that Turkey worked with Israel to counter the Hezbollah in Lebanon. As early as 1998, Turkey threatened war with Syria – and mobilized troops to back up its warnings – explicitly relying on the always-present Israeli “second front”. The Egyptian government’s mouthpiece, the daily al-Ahram, called this emerging de-facto alliance “the true axis of evil”.

Israel’s massive army, its nuclear weapons, its policies in the West Bank and Gaza, and its influence on right-wing American decision-makers and legislators provoke the very same threats they are intended to forestall, including terrorism, the coalescence of hostile axes and alliances and the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction by regional thugs.

Turkey’s disdain for everything Arab, its diversion of the Tigris, Asi and Euphrates rivers, its arms race, its suppression of the Kurds and its military-tainted democracy have led it, more than once, to the verge of open warfare. Such a conflict may not be containable. In 1995, Syria granted Greece the right to use its air bases and air space, thus explicitly dragging NATO and the European Union into the fray.

It is, therefore, the interest of the West to disabuse Turkey of its grandiosity and to convince Israel to choose peace. As September 11 and its aftermath have painfully demonstrated, no conflict in the Middle East is merely regional.

Also Read:

The Emerging Water Wars

Iran between Reform and Mayhem

Turkey’s Troubled Water

Israel’s Hi, Tech – Bye, Tech

Syria’s Sunshine Policy

Israel’s Economic Intifada

Saddam’s Thousand Nights

The Iraqi and the Madman

God’s Diplomacy and Human Conflicts

The Economies of the Middle East

What Really Happened on September 11?

On September 11, I entertained a couple of house guests, senior journalists from Scandinavia. I remember watching in horror and disbelief the unfolding drama, as the United States was being subjected to multiple deadly attacks on-screen. I turned to the international affairs editor of a major Danish paper and told her “This could not have been done by al-Qaida.” I am an Israeli and, as such, I have a fair “sixth sense” as to the capabilities of terrorists and their potential reach.

Enter David Ray Griffin. I was introduced to him by a mutual acquaintance. He is emeritus professor of philosophy of religion and theology at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University. He has published over 30 books, including eight about 9/11, the best known of which is “The New Pearl Harbor Revisited: 9/11, the Cover-Up, and the Exposé.”

On the face of it, his credentials with regards to intelligence analysis are hardly relevant, let alone impressive. But, to underestimate him would be a grave error. Being a philosopher, he is highly trained and utterly qualified to assess the credibility of data; the validity and consistency of theories (including conspiracy theories); and the rationality and logic of hypotheses. These qualifications made him arguably the most visible and senior member of what came to be known as the 9/11 Truth Movement.

In our exchange, he proved to be tolerant of dissenting views, open to debate, and invariably possessed of rigorous thinking. Still, while the 9/11 Truth Movement has succeeded to cast doubts on the official version of the events of September 11 (correctly labeled by Griffin: “the official conspiracy theory”), it failed, in my view, to present a compelling case in support of the alternative conspiracy theory much favored by many of its members: that the Bush administration was behind the attacks, one way or the other. Judge for yourselves.

The Incompetence Theory

A. This administration demonstrated incredible incompetence with Hurricane Katrina, the governing of occupied Iraq, and the subprime mortgage crisis. Why should September 11 and the months leading to that fateful day be any exception?

DRG: It was not an exception: The planning and the execution were terribly flawed, resulting in so many problems in the official story, including both internal contradictions and the obvious contravening of basic laws of physics, that if Congress and the press had carried out even the most superficial investigation, the fact that 9/11 was an inside job would have been quickly exposed. I will give nine examples (in giving these, I cite places in my books where the issues are discussed more fully):  

First, President Bush was in a classroom in Florida when the second of the Twin Towers was struck. Although the first strike had been dismissed as an accident, this second one was taken as evidence that America was “under attack,” as Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff, reportedly whispered in his ear. Back in the White House, the Secret Service took Vice President Cheney down to the bunker under the White House. But the Secret Service agents with Bush allowed him to stay in the classroom for another 10 minutes, as shown by a video that was included in Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11.” If the attacks had really been, as they seemed, surprise attacks by terrorists going after high-value targets, the Secret Service agents would have feared that a hijacked airliner was bearing down on the school at that very minute. Their failure to hustle Bush away thereby implied that they knew that Bush was in no danger because they knew who was in control of the planes. The White House’s apparently belated recognition of this implication was manifested a year later (before the video had emerged on the Internet), when it started telling a different story, claiming that Bush left the classroom within seconds after being told about the second strike on the Twin Towers (“9/11 Contradictions,” Ch. 1).

Second, the White House and the Pentagon also later found it necessary to distort the truth about where Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and General Richard Myers were between 9 and 10 AM that morning. Richard Clarke reported in his book, “Against All Enemies” that Myers and Rumsfeld were in the Pentagon’s teleconferencing studio participating in his White House video conference, but Myers and Rumsfeld both claimed that they were elsewhere. Although Clarke and Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta reported that Cheney was down in the bunker before 9:20, the 9/11 Commission claimed that he didn’t enter it until almost 10:00 (20 minutes after the attack on the Pentagon and just before the crash of Flight 93). And although Clarke reported that he received the shootdown order from Cheney by 9:50 (at least 13 minutes before Flight 93 went down), the Commission claimed that Cheney did not issue this authorization until after 10:15 (“9/11 Contradictions,” Chs. 2-7).

Third, much of the evidence that the planes had been hijacked was provided by people who reported that they had received cell phone calls from relatives or crew members on board the planes. About a dozen cell phone calls were reported from Flight 93 alone. But after the 9/11 Truth Movement publicized the fact that cell phone calls from high-altitude airliners had not been technologically possible in 2001, the FBI changed its report, saying that the only cell phone calls from any of the four airliners were two that occurred when Flight 93 had descended to 5,000 feet (at which altitude they would have been at least arguably possible). This change of story meant, among other things, that the FBI, having stated in an affidavit in 2001 that American 11 flight attendant Amy Sweeney had made a 12-minute cell phone call, needed to fabricate a very implausible tale to support its revised claim that she had actually used an onboard phone (“The New Pearl Harbor Revisited” [henceforth NPHR], Chs. 3 & 6). 

Fourth, the military’s original explanation as to why it was unable to intercept the first three flights before they hit their targets was so obviously problematic that it needed to be changed. Members of the 9/11 Truth Movement had shown that, even if the FAA had been as slow in notifying the military as NORAD claimed in 2001, there had still been sufficient time for the flights to have been intercepted, especially Flights 175 and 77. So the 9/11 Commission in 2004 simply created a new timeline, claiming, wholly implausibly, that the FAA had not notified the military at all about those two flights (“9/11 Contradictions,” Chs. 10 & 11).

Fifth, after considerable evidence was publicized by the 9/11 Truth Movement that Flight 93 had been shot down, the 9/11 Commission created a completely new story about it. Although the military had stated that the FAA had notified it about this flight and even that fighter jets were tracking it, the 9/11 Commission claimed that the FAA had not notified the military about Flight 93 until after it had crashed. Also, as I pointed out above, the 9/11 Commission claimed that Cheney did not issue the shootdown order until about 10:15, even though Richard Clarke reported that he had received this order at about 9:50 (“9/11 Contradictions,” Chs 12-13).

Sixth, the FBI first told reporters that proof of al-Qaeda’s responsibility for the attacks was incriminating material, including Mohamed Atta’s last will and testament, that was found in a Mitsubishi rented by Atta and left in the parking lot at the Boston airport. The FBI also reported that two other members of al-Qaeda who were on Flight 11, Adnan and Ameer Bukhari, drove a rented Nissan on September 10 from Boston to Portland, where they stayed overnight and then took a commuter flight back to Boston the next morning in time to catch Flight 11. On September 13, however, the FBI realized that neither of the Bukhari brothers had died on 9/11: one was still alive and the other had died the year before. So the FBI simply changed the story, saying that Atta and another al-Qaeda operative, Abdul al-Omari, had driven the Nissan to Portland. The incriminating materials were now said not to have been found in the Mitsubishi in the parking lot but in Atta’s luggage, which had failed to make the transfer from the commuter plane to Flight 11. One problem with this new story, besides the fact that it did not get fully formed until September 16, is that it made no sense, because it implied that Atta had planned to take his will on a plane that he intended to fly into the World Trade Center (“9/11 Contradictions,” Ch. 16). 

Seventh, the official story about the attack on the Pentagon said that the pilot of Flight 77, which was a Boeing 757, executed an amazing maneuver in order to strike the first floor of Wedge 1. But the authorities also claimed that this pilot was Hani Hanjour, who could not, as was reported by several stories in the mainstream press, safely fly even a single-engine plane. The identification of the incompetent Hanjour as the pilot was evidently a last-minute decision, because his name was even not on the FBI’s first list of al-Qaeda operatives on Flight 77 (NPHR Chs. 2 & 6).

Eighth, eyewitness accounts by journalists and Pentagon employees, along with photographs and videos taken right after the attack on the Pentagon, reveal that there was no sign that the Pentagon had been hit by a giant airliner. Although about 30 people claimed to see an airliner strike the Pentagon, their testimonies were often in contradiction with each other and the physical facts (“NPHR Ch. 2).

Ninth, WTC 7 was evidently supposed to come down at about 10:45 in the morning, shortly after the collapses of the Twin Towers. A massive explosion occurred in the basement at about 9:15, which would have been 90 minutes before the explosions that were supposed to bring the building down (which would have been the same time-interval as that between the 8:46 explosion in the basement of the North Tower, as reported by janitor William Rodriguez, and the explosions that brought the building down at 10:28). But evidently most of the explosives that were supposed to go off at 10:45 failed to do so. As a result, the building did not come down until late in the afternoon, at which time the collapse was captured on several videos, which show the collapse to have been identical to typical implosions caused by pre-set explosives. This fact necessitated trying to keep most people in the dark about the collapse of WTC 7 as long as possible: Videos of WTC 7’s collapse were never again (after 9/11 itself) shown on mainstream television; the 9/11 Commission did not even mention this collapse; and the National Institute of Standards and Technology repeatedly delayed its report on this building, finally issuing it only late in 2008, shortly before the Bush administration was to leave office.

As shown by these and many other problems, almost every aspect of the 9/11 operation revealed incompetence. If any of the resulting problems had been pursued by Congress or the press, the 9/11 hoax would have been quickly exposed.


Q: Did the US Government possess in-house the expertise necessary to control-demolish WTC 7? Surely they didn’t sub-contract or farm out the demolition?

DRG: Apart from an investigation, we have no way to know for certain. But the planners probably did hire someone: As explained by, true implosions, which cause a building to come straight down into its own footprint (as WTC 7 clearly did), are “by far the trickiest type of explosive project, and there are only a handful of blasting companies in the world that possess enough experience . . . to perform these true building implosions” (“Debunking 9/11 Debunking,” Ch. 3). If the point of your statement that they “surely” would not have farmed out the demolition is that they would have feared that doing so would result in someone spilling the beans, this is an unrealistic assumption. No one would have been brought into the operation who could not be trusted to keep quiet. And why would someone confess to having participated in a project that killed thousands of fellow citizens?

Q: Why didn’t the conspirators wait until a few hours after the attacks and then publicly demolish all three buildings as hazards to the public and for public safety reasons?

DRG: Again, apart from an investigation, in which people are induced to talk by subpoenas and threats of prison, we cannot know why they made the various decisions they made. We can, however, make reasonable guesses in some cases. In this case, the desire to demolish these particular buildings was surely a secondary motive, important to only a few of the conspirators. The main purpose was surely to create a traumatizing spectacle—the planes hitting the buildings and then the buildings coming down shortly thereafter, killing thousands of people—in order to get the American people and Congress psychologically prepared to support attacks on Muslim countries, starting with Afghanistan (against which a war had already been planned), and to accept restrictions on our constitutional rights (the PATRIOT Act). This spectacle could then be replayed endlessly on television to reinforce the public’s fury and readiness to support the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” which could be morphed to attack Iraq (a war against which had also been planned in advance) and, assuming that the wars in those first two countries would go well, some of the other countries on the administration’s “hit list,” which has been reported by General Wesley Clark and neocon Michael Ledeen (NPHR Ch. 7). 

Q: Why was WTC7 targeted and not other WTC buildings which suffered worse damage from debris and fires?

DRG: Again, we could learn the answer to this question easily enough through a genuine investigation, in which the usual types of inducements are used to get people to talk. Because that has not happened, some people have offered theories. One theory is that the building contained records that some authorities wanted destroyed. Another theory is that Giuliani’s Emergency Operations Center on the 23rd floor had equipment for drawing the two planes into the Twin Towers, which meant that the building needed to be totally demolished in order to destroy all the evidence. I myself do not speculate about this, as I do not try to develop a complete theory as to what happened that day. I concentrate instead on the various types of evidence that the official story is false, which is all that is needed to point out that another—a real—investigation is in order.

United 93

Q: The conspiracy at the government level, according to the 9/11 Truth Movement, involved a stand-down order: an instruction to the military not to interfere with the hijacked aircraft and to allow them to crash into their targets. If so, why was UA 93 the exception? Why was it shot down (according to the Truth Movement)?

DRG: Let me begin by correcting your first statement. Many, perhaps most, people in the 9/11 Truth Movement do not believe there were any hijackers on board and hence do not believe that there were any “hijacked aircraft” that were simply “allowed” strike their targets. I at least do not believe this (I’ve explained why at great length in NPHR) and assume, instead, that the whole operation was carried out by the White House and the Pentagon, with Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Myers being three of the central figures.

As to what happened to Flight 93, we will probably never know unless there is an investigation. There is indeed strong evidence that a plane was shot down near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. And this could have been the original plan, in order to have a basis for fabricating the story about the heroic passengers foiling the intention of the evil Arab Muslims to strike another target (such as the White House or the US Capitol building), so that this story could be used by Bush as the beginning of the “war on terror,” in which the American victims would strike back against the Muslim terrorists and “the countries that harbor them.” But we have no way of knowing for sure.

We can, however, say one thing with certainty: that the official story—according to which there was no wreckage at the site because the plane, headed down at 580 miles per hour, buried itself completely in the ground, although a red headband (like those allegedly worn by the hijackers) and the passport of the al-Qaeda pilot were found on the ground—is not true. For one thing, that description of the plane’s descent does not fit what any of the eyewitnesses reported. Also, different eyewitnesses of an airliner flying over the area reported it as going in two different directions, and then two crash sites were cordoned off. From the evidence, therefore, it’s very hard to figure out much beyond the fact that the official story is a lie (NPHR Ch. 3).

Q: In your book, “9/11 Contradictions”, you accept a purported phone call from the aircraft to a fixed line as a fact (pp. 116-7). Why, then, do you reject the veracity and existence of the other phone calls, allegedly made from other aircraft?

DRG: Actually, you misunderstood. I did not accept the purported call from Tom Burnett as a fact. What I accepted is that Deena Burnett “received a phone call that she believed to be from” her husband, Tom Burnett. The passage to which you refer is from Chapter 12 of “9/11 Contradictions.” If you look at Chapter 17, you’ll see that I used the calls received by Deena Burnett as a central part of the evidence that the calls were faked. Here’s why: She reported that she was certain that the calls were from Tom, because she had recognized his cell phone number on her Caller ID. But when the FBI changed its story to get rid of all claims about high-altitude cell phone calls, it said that the calls from Tom Burnett were made on an onboard phone (even though the FBI report written on 9/11 had cited Deena’s assertion that Tom had used his cell phone to make the calls). If one accepts this new FBI report (which was presented at the Moussaoui trial in 2006), how does one explain the fact that Deena reported seeing his cell phone number on her caller ID? Surely, given the fact that she reported this to the FBI that very day, we cannot assume that she was mistaken. And surely we cannot accuse her of lying. But an explanation becomes possible once we become aware of technology that can fake people’s phone numbers as well as their voices. The conclusion that these calls were faked is also supported by internal problems in the statements purportedly made by Tom Burnett.

Once we realize that the cell phone calls were faked, moreover, we must assume that calls reportedly made using onboard phones were also faked: If hijackers really surprised everyone by taking over the planes, why would have people been ready to make fake cell phone calls reporting the existence of hijackers on the planes? (NPHR Chs. 3 & 6).

Al-Qaida and Atta

Q: Why would the FBI and the 9/11 Commission endorse a fallacious timeline regarding Atta’s whereabouts and activities throughout 2001? They admit that they cannot explain his movements. They do not use this timeline to support the official history.

DRG: I explained above that the FBI did have a reason for giving a false account of Atta’s movements on September 10 and 11: The story about two Flight 11 hijackers having driven a Nissan to Portland had become so well known that, when the FBI discovered that the Bukharis had not died on 9/11, it evidently felt that the best solution was to say that Atta had taken the Nissan to Portland. This revised account did become part of the official story.

With regard to the FBI’s timeline for Atta in the early months of 2001, part of the motive for saying that he had left Venice, Florida, never to return, was evidently to cover up the fact that during March and April of 2001 he had lived with a stripper, Amanda Keller, which many people in Venice knew (especially the people who rented the apartment to them). Another motive, suggested by investigative reporter Daniel Hopsicker, is that Atta—who, according to Keller, took cocaine, which he would obtain from Huffman Aviation, where he was supposedly taking flight lessons (although Keller reported that he was already an expert pilot)—was perhaps involved in a drug-smuggling operation headquartered at Huffman. In these respects, therefore, the denial that Atta was in Venice in 2001 evidently did serve to support the official story.

In NPHR, incidentally, I reported still more evidence that the FBI timeline on Atta is false. Although this timeline claimed that Atta first arrived in the United States in June 2000, several credible individuals, including a Justice Department official, reported that Atta was in the country much earlier in 2000, as did the military intelligence operation known as Able Danger. It was clearly very important to the authorities to maintain otherwise, as shown by the fact that the Pentagon’s inspector general went to great lengths to get Able Danger members to change their stories or, when they would not, to defame them (NPHR Ch. 6). But why it was so important, I do not know. Perhaps the FBI and Pentagon simply felt that, having strongly insisted that Atta did not arrive in the United States until June 3, 2000, they had to stick with it. But it may have also been motivated by the concern to keep his real activities during that period secret.

Q: If al-Qaida were not involved, how do you explain Project Bojinka as well as multiple warnings (by the foreign minister of Afghanistan, various agents, and the intelligence services of countries from Russia to Israel), all of them pointing the finger at Usama bin-Laden? How do you account for multiple intercepted communications that clearly point the finger at al-Qaida and bin-Laden?

DRG: I have never claimed that al-Qaeda was “not involved” at all. I claim only that there is no evidence that al-Qaeda operatives hijacked the planes. They appear to have been involved as paid assets to provide plausible people on whom to blame the “hijackings.” The White House and the 9/11 Commission, for example, went to great lengths to cover up the fact that both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia funneled money to them (NPHR Chs. 6, 8). 

Q: Everyone al-Qaida operative Abu Zubaydah mentioned in his testimony had died shortly thereafter. Why has Abu Zubaydah survived? How come he hasn’t been liquidated as well?

DRG: I would not presume to know. And perhaps this is a good time to respond explicitly to your apparent assumption that, to challenge the official conspiracy theory, one must have an alternative theory of equal specificity, with answers to all the questions that could conceivably be raised about it. But this is not true. Let’s say that you were accused by the authorities of murdering Bill Jones. You would assume that, to get the case dismissed, all you and your lawyer had to do was to prove that you could not possibly have killed Jones. But imagine that, after you had done so, the judge then declared: “Sorry, that’s not good enough. You must also tell us who did kill Jones, how the murder was committed, and why.” You would surely consider that unreasonable. By analogy, the 9/11 Truth Movement has provided abundant evidence that the 9/11 attacks could not have been carried out by al-Qaeda terrorists. We need not also specify exactly who did organize and carry out the attacks, all their motives, and why they handled each part of the operation and the cover-up as they did. So there is simply no need for us to try to explain why Zubaydah was not liquidated.
Q: The removal of Mahmoud Ahmad from office (as head of Pakistan’s ISI) – ostensibly in order to silence him – could have actually provoked him to spill the beans and reveal what he knows. Alternatively, if he were being punished, at the behest of the CIA, for his collaboration with the 9/11 hijackers, this would seem to prove that the Bush Administration has not been complicit in the attacks.

DRG: I do not find it plausible that because Ahmad was removed, he would have been likely to spill the beans. People, especially long-time professionals like Ahmad, usually do not, out of spite, confess to participation in mass murder. And he was probably rewarded handsomely to resign quietly.

Government and Other Institutions

Q: Americans are prone to distrust their government and to attribute to it the worst motives, intentions, and conduct (consider, for instance, the conspiracy theories whirling around the Kennedy Assassination). Isn’t the Truth Movement another instance of this brand of “anti-establishment” paranoia?

DRG: Like other a priori charges against the 9/11 Truth Movement, this one fails to fit the facts. If this characterization, according to which we joined the movement because we suspected the worst of the Bush administration (rather than because we became convinced by good evidence), were true, most of us would have started calling 9/11 an inside job the very first week. But if you look at the histories of most of the leading members of the movement, they joined much later. I myself first heard the inside-job theory near the end of 2002 and, when the advocate of this theory sent me what he considered good evidence, I did not find it convincing. It was not until I learned of Paul Thompson’s “9/11 Timeline” in March 2003 that I started moving in that direction. To give two more examples, Steven Jones, our leading physicist, did not become involved until 2005, and Richard Gage, who started Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, until 2006.

Another consideration is that paranoid people are usually not very good at weighing evidence carefully. If you look at the writings of people such as Kevin Ryan (a chemist formerly employed at Underwriters Laboratories), Rob Balsamo (founder of Pilots for 9/11 Truth), A. K. Dewdney (former columnist for Scientific American), Robert Bowman (former head of the “Star Wars” program), as well as Jones and Gage, you will see that they exemplify careful, empirical observations, not paranoid thinking. The claim that the leading members of the 9/11 Truth Movement are paranoid is a purely a priori charge, not supported by empirical observation. 

Q: Previous false flag operations did not take place on American soil and involved a minimal number of casualties. Not so September 11. Why the change in MO? Wouldn’t the mere destruction of the Twin Towers (at night, let’s say and with explosives) been enough? Why the enormous – and easily avoidable – toll in lives (for instance, in the Pentagon)?

DRG: My answer to this would be much the same as my response to your second question under the WTC 7 (which actually dealt with the Twin Towers as well), namely, that the spectacle of the planes hitting the buildings and then the buildings collapsing (which would be replayed endlessly on television), along with the toll in lives, was surely considered essential to get the American people, and our representatives in Congress, fired up to give the administration carte blanche to do as it wanted. 

With regard to your observation that no previous false-flag operation had taken place on American soil, that is true only because President Kennedy vetoed Operation Northwoods. The Pentagon’s joint chiefs of staff all signed off on plans to kill American citizens in 1962 in order to have a pretext for a war to regain control of Cuba (“The New Pearl Harbor,” Ch. 7).

Q: If not al-Qaida operatives, then who flew the planes? Who were the suicide pilots? Surely not Americans?

DRG: I doubt if anyone was flying the planes that struck the Twin Towers and whatever it was that hit the Pentagon. They were most likely all flown remotely. The evidence suggests that the Pentagon, besides having bombs go off inside, was struck by a missile or some small airplane (which could have been flown by remote control). And the planes that hit the Twin Towers might have been taken out of the pilots’ control by means of a technological override. Or, more likely, drones may have been substituted for them when their transponders went off near the Air Force base at Rome, New York (hence exemplifying one of the scenarios suggested in Operation Northwoods). In any case, I do not assume that there were any American pilots who volunteered to commit suicide.

Q: If a missile hit the Pentagon, then where is or was flight 77?

DRG: I have never argued that a missile hit the Pentagon. I reported in my first book (The New Pearl Harbor) that Thierry Meyssan argued this case. But I also mentioned that his main point was that there is no good evidence that a Boeing 757 hit the Pentagon and some evidence that it was a missile or a small military plane. That still leaves, of course, your question: If Flight 77 did not hit the Pentagon, what happened to it?

I never cease being amazed at how many people think that, unless those who deny that Flight 77 hit the Pentagon can answer this question, our claim is discredited. But that is simply the most prevalent example of the assumption that, to provide a convincing argument against the official theory, one must provide a fully detailed alternative theory—in this case explaining what happened to Flight 77. But that does not follow. There are many possible things that could have happened to it. It might, for example, have been the airliner that reportedly crashed on the Ohio-Kentucky border; or it could have been taken to a US Air Force base. But apart from an investigation, there is no way for those of us not involved in the operation to know what really did happen to it. And there is no need for us to have an answer, just as you, to prove you didn’t kill Bill Jones, would not have to be able to say who did it and how.

We do, I might add, have strong evidence that the government used deception to convince us that Flight 77 hit the Pentagon. US Solicitor General Ted Olson—who had been instrumental in putting the Bush administration in power by successfully arguing that the US Supreme Court should stop the 2000 vote count in Florida—claimed on 9/11 that he had received two phone calls from his wife, TV commentator Barbara Olson, from Flight 77 shortly before the Pentagon was hit, during which she reported that the flight had been taken over by hijackers armed with knives and boxcutters. This was used as evidence that Flight 77 had been hijacked and that it had not crashed in the Mid-West. When the FBI presented its evidence about phone calls from the planes at the Moussaoui trial in 2006, however, it said this about Barbara Olson: She attempted one call, which was “unconnected,” and hence lasted “O seconds.” Accordingly, although the FBI is part of the Department of Justice, its report indicates that the story told by Ted Olson, the DOJ’s former solicitor general, was untrue—which implies either that Olson lied or that he was duped. In either case, the claim that Barbara Olson gave information about Flight 77 was based on deception. And such deception is one more piece of evidence that the whole story about Flight 77 and the attack on the Pentagon is false (NPHR Ch. 2).
Q. Can you please comment on the role of terrorist attacks in domestic politics in the US?

DRG: Clearly the 9/11 attacks played a major role in the elections of 2002 and 2004, helping the Republicans gain control of the Congress and the White House. This role was not, to be sure, sufficient to keep Bush and Cheney in the White House in 2004, as the Republicans also had to resort to distorting John Kerry’s war record and also to stealing the election through various means, most clearly in Ohio (see Mark Crispin Miller, Fooled Again). But there seems to be little doubt that the use of 9/11 to scare people into voting for Republicans played a role (even if irrationally, because the 9/11 attacks, if not either orchestrated or deliberately allowed by the Bush administration, were allowed by its incompetence).

By 2006, the 9/11-based appeal to fear had little effect, and thus far it is still weaker in 2008. This fact has not, however, prevented the Republicans from trying to use it one more time to scare people into voting for them, as the addresses to the Republican convention by Bush, Giuliani, and McCain illustrated.

Many people in the 9/11 community, however, fear that another false-flag attack, perhaps this time employing a nuclear weapon, will come before the 2008 elections, whether to help McCain win or, more fatefully, as a pretext for Bush to declare martial law and cancel the elections, allowing him, by the power he gave to himself in Presidential Directive 51, to assume unilateral control of the federal government. I am not saying that I expect this to happen. But I do not consider the fear unrealistic.

Q. In the days prior to September 11, the volume of put options on the stocks of firms involved in the attacks (mainly airlines and companies whose headquarters were in the WTC) soared. Do we know who bought these options and was it a case of insider trading?

DRG: It does appear to have been a case of insider trading (as I reported in “The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions,” citing the careful study by Allen Poteshman, who teaches finance at the University of Illinois).

But the 9/11 Commission, while assuring us that it was not a case of insider trading, refused to tell us who bought the extraordinary numbers of put options on these companies. In illustrating its purported evidence that all the purchases were innocent, it said that “[a] single U.S.-based institutional investor with no conceivable ties to al Qaeda purchased 95 percent of the UAL puts.” The Commission thereby employed circular logic. Beginning with the assumption that the attacks were planned and carried out entirely by al-Qaeda, with nobody else knowing about the plans, it argued that unless the put option purchasers were connected to al-Qaeda, the purchaser could not have had any inside information. But that argument begs the basic question at issue, which is precisely whether the attacks were planned by al-Qaeda, with no one else knowing about the plans (NPHR Ch. 5).

By not telling us who the investors were, the 9/11 Commission made it impossible for us to confirm its assurance that the purchases did not reflect insider information. We must simply take it on faith—which is difficult to do, given the dozens of lies of omission and distortion within the Commission’s report (“The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions”). 

Sam, thanks for your questions, which have perhaps allowed me to reach a new audience with evidence that the official story about 9/11 is a lie. This evidence—only a small portion of which I have mentioned here—means that the policies that have been based on the assumption that America was attacked by Muslims on 9/11 need to be reversed. This point is especially germane in the light of Barack Obama’s argument that one reason to wind down our involvement in Iraq is to have the troops and resources to “go after the people in Afghanistan who attacked us on 9/11.” His position, which was stated repeatedly by speakers at the Democratic convention, is also reflected by the New York Times, which refers to the US attack on Iraq as a “war of choice” but the attack on Afghanistan as a “war of necessity,” and by Time magazine, which has dubbed the latter “the right war.” If we were not really attacked by Muslims on 9/11, these two wars were equally unjustified (as well as equally illegal under international law).

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Macedonia to the Macedonians!

The Black Hand

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The Army of Liberation

Selling Arms to Rogue States

Terrorism as a Psychodynamic Phenomenon

Maritime Piracy- Treasure Island Revisited

The rumors concerning the demise of maritime piracy back in the 19th century were a tad premature. The scourge has so resurged that the International Maritime Board (IMB), founded by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in 1981, is forced to broadcast daily piracy reports to all shipping companies by satellite from its Kuala Lumpur Piracy Reporting Center, established in 1992 and partly funded by maritime insurers. The reports carry this alarming disclaimer:

“For statistical purposes, the IMB defines piracy and armed robbery as: An act of boarding or attempting to board any ship with the apparent intent to commit theft or any other crime and with the apparent intent or capability to use force in the furtherance of that act. This definition thus covers actual or attempted attacks whether the ship is berthed, at anchor or at sea. Petty thefts are excluded, unless the thieves are armed.”

The 1994 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea defines piracy as “any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed by individuals (borne aboard a pirate vessel) for private ends against a private ship or aircraft (the victim vessel)”. When no “pirate vessel” is involved – for instance, when criminals embark on a ship and capture it – the legal term is hijacking.

On July 8, 2002 seven pirates, armed with long knives attacked an officer of a cargo ship berthed in Chittagong port in Bangladesh, snatched his gold chain and watch and dislocated his arm. This was the third such attack since the ship dropped anchor in this minacious port.

Three days earlier, in Indonesia, similarly-armed pirates escaped with the crew’s valuables, having tied the hands of the duty officer. Pirates in small boats stole anodes from the stern of a bulk carrier in Bangladesh. Others, in Indonesia, absconded with a life raft.

The pirates of Guyana are either unlucky or untrained. They were consistently scared off by flares hurled at them and alarms set by vigilant hands on deck. A Colombian band, riding a high speed boat, attempted to board a container ship. Warring parties in Somalia hijacked yet another ship in June 2002.

A particularly egregious case – and signs of growing sophistication and coordinated action – is described in the July 1-8, 2002 report of the IMB:

“Six armed pirates boarded a chemical tanker from a small boat and stole ship’s stores. Another group of pirates broke in to engine room and stole spare parts. Thefts took place in spite of the ship engaging three shore security watchmen.” Piracy incidents have been reported in India, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, Nigeria, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela.

According to the ICC Year 2001 Piracy Report, more than 330 attacks on seafaring vessels were reported in 2001 – down by a quarter compared to 2000 but 10 percent higher than 1999 and four times the 1991 figure. Piracy rose 40 percent between 1998 and 1999 alone.

Sixteen ships – double the number in 2000 – were captured and taken over in 2001. Eighty seven attacks were reported during the first quarter of 2002 – up from 68 in the corresponding period the year before. Seven of these were hijackings – compared to only 1 in the first quarter of 2001. Nine of every 10 hijacked ships are ultimately recovered, often with the help of the IMB.

Many masters and shipowners do not report piracy for fear of delays due to protracted investigations, increased insurance premiums, bad publicity, and stifling red tape. The number of unreported attacks in 1999 was estimated by the World Maritime Piracy Report to be 130.

According to “The Economist”, the IMO believes that half of all incidents remain untold. Still, increased patrols and international collaboration among law enforcement agencies dented the clear upward trend in maritime crime – even in the piracy capital, Indonesia.

The number of incidents in the pirate-infested Malacca Straits dropped from 75 in 2000 to 17 in 2001 – though the number of crew “kidnap and ransom” operations, especially in Aceh, has increased. Owners usually pay the “reasonable” amounts demanded – c. $100,000 per ship. Contrary to folklore, most ships are attacked while at anchor.

Twenty one people, including passengers, were killed in 2001 – and 210 taken hostage. Assaults involving guns were up 50 percent to 73 – those involving mere knives down by a quarter to 105. Piracy seems to ebb and flow with the business cycles of the host economies. The Asian crisis, triggered by the freefall of the Thai baht in 1997-8, gave a boost to East Asian maritime robbers. So did the debt crises of Latin America a decade earlier. Drug transporters – armed with light aircraft and high speed motorboats – sometimes double as pirates during the dry season of crop growth.

Pirates endanger ship and crew. But they often cause collateral damage as well. Pirates have been known to dump noxious cargo into the sea, or tie up the crew and let an oil tanker steam ahead, its navigational aides smashed, or tamper with substances dangerous to themselves and to others, or cast crew and passengers adrift in tiny rafts with little food and water.

Many shipowners resorted to installing on-board satellite tracking systems, such as Shiploc, and aircraft-like “black boxes”. A bulletproof life vest, replete with an integral jagged edged knife, was on display in the millennium exhibition at the Millennium Dome two years ago. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is considering to compel shipowners to tag their vessels with visibly embossed numbers in compliance with the Safety of Life at Sea Convention.

The IMB also advises shipping companies to closely examine the papers of crew and masters, thousands of whom carry forged documents. In  54 maritime administrations surveyed in 2001 by the Seafarers’ International Research Centre, Cardiff University in Wales, more than 12,000 cases of forged certificates of competency were unearthed.

Many issuing authorities are either careless or venal or both. The IMB accused the Coast Guard Office of Puerto Rico for issuing 500 such “suspicious” certificates. The Chinese customs and navy – especially along the southern coast – have often been decried for working hand in glove with pirates.

False documents are an integral – and crucial – part of maritime piracy. The IMB says:

“Many of the phantom ships that set off to sea with a cargo and then disappear are sailed by crewmen with false passports and competency certificates. They usually escape detection by the port authorities. In a recent case of a vessel located and arrested in South-East Asia further to IMB investigations, it has emerged that all the senior officers had false passports. The ship’s registry documents were also false.”

As documents go electronic and integrated in proprietary or common cargo tracking systems, such forgery will wane. Bolero – an international digital bill of lading ledger – is backed by the European Union, banks, shipping and insurance companies. The IMO is a proponent of a technology to apply encrypted “digital signatures” to electronic bills of lading. Still, the industry is highly fragmented and many ships and ports don’t even possess rudimentary information technology. The protection afforded by the likes of Bolero is at least five years away.

Pirates sometimes work hand in hand with conspiring crew members (or, less often, stowaways). In many countries – in East Asia, Latin America, and Africa – Coast Guard operatives, corrupt drug agents, and other law enforcement officials, moonlight as pirates. Renegade members of British trained Indonesian anti-piracy squads are still roaming the Malacca Straits.

Pirates also enjoy the support of an insidious and vast network of suborned judges and bureaucrats. Local villagers along the coasts of Indonesia and Malaysia – and Africa – welcome pirate business and provide the perpetrators with food and shelter.

Moreover, large tankers, container ships, and cargo vessels are largely computerized and their crew members few. The value of an average vessel’s freight has increased dramatically with improvements in container and oil storage technologies. “Flag of convenience” registration has assumed monstrous proportions, allowing ship owners and managers to conceal their identity effectively. Belize, Honduras, and Panama are the most notorious, no questions asked, havens.

Piracy has matured into a branch of organized crime. Hijacking requires money, equipment, weapons, planning, experience and contacts with corrupt officials. The loot per vessel ranges from $8 million to $200 million. Pottengal Mukundan, Director of ICC’s Commercial Crime Services states in an IMB press release:

“(Piracy) typically involves a mother ship from which to launch the attacks, a supply of automatic weapons, false identity papers for the crew and vessel, fake cargo documents, and a broker network to sell the stolen goods illegally. Individual pirates don’t have these resources. Hijackings are the work of organized crime rings.”

The IMB describes the aftermath of a typical hijacking:

“The Global Mars has probably been given a new name and repainted. Armed with false registration papers and bills of lading, the pirates – or more likely the mafia bosses pulling the strings – will then try to dispose of their booty. The vessel has probably put in to a port where the false identity of vessel and cargo may escape detection. Even when identified, the gangs have been known to bribe local officials to allow them to sell the cargo and leave the port.”

Such a ship is often “recycled” a few times. It earns its operators an average of $40-50 million per “cycle”, according to “The Economist”. The pirates contract with sellers or shipping agents to load it with a legitimate consignment of goods or commodities. The sellers and agents are unaware of the true identity of the ship, or of its unsavory “owners/managers”.

The pirates invariably produce an authentic vessel registration certificate that they acquired from crooked officials – and provide the sellers or agents with a bill of lading. The payload is then sold to networks of traders in stolen merchandise or to gullible buyers in a different port of destination – and the ship is ready for yet another round.


In January 2002, the Indonesian Navy has permanently stationed six battleships in the Malacca Straits, three of them off the coast of the secessionist region of Aceh. A further 20-30 ships and 10 aircraft conduct daily patrols of the treacherous traffic lane. Some 200-600 ships cross the Straits daily. A mere 50 ships or so are boarded and searched every month.

The Greek government has gunboats patrolling the 2 miles wide Corfu Channel, where yachts frequently fall prey to Albanian pirates. Brazil has imposed an unpopular anti-piracy inspection fee on berthing vessels and used the proceeds to finance a SWAT team to protect ships and their crews while in port. Both India and Thailand have similar units.

International cooperation is also on the rise. About one third of the world’s shipping traffic goes through the South China Sea. A conference convened by Japan in March 2000 – Japanese vessels have become favored targets of piracy in the last few years – pushed for the ratification of the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) 1988 Rome Convention on the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation by Asian and ASEAN countries.

The Convention makes piracy an extraterritorial crime and, thus, removes the thorny issue of jurisdiction in cases of piracy carried in another country’s territorial waters or out on the high seas. The Comite Maritime International – the umbrella organization of national maritime law associations – promulgated a model anti-piracy law last year.

Though it rejected Japan’s offer for collaboration, in a sharp reversal of its previous policy, China started handing down death sentences against murderous pirates. The 13 marauders who seized the Cheung Son and massacred its 23 Chinese sailors were executed five years ago in the southern city of Shanwei. Another 25 people received long prison sentences. The – declared – booty amounted to a mere $300,000.

India and Iran – two emerging “pirates safe harbor” destinations – have also tightened up sentencing and port inspections. In the Alondra Rainbow hijacking, the Indian Navy captured the Indonesian culprits in a cinematic chase off Goa. They were later sentenced severely under both the Indian Penal Code and international law. Even the junta in Myanmar has taken tentative steps against compatriots with piratical predilections.

Law enforcement does not tolerate a vacuum. “The Economist” reports about two private military companies – Marine Risk Management and Satellite Protection Services (SPS) – which deploy airborne mercenaries to deal with piracy. SPS has even suggested to station 2500 former Dutch marines in Subic Bay in the Philippines – for a mere $2500 per day per combatant.

Shipowners are desperate. Quoted by “The Economist”, they “suggest that the region’s governments negotiate the right for navies to chase pirates across national boundaries: the so-called ‘right of hot pursuit’. So far, only Singapore and Indonesia have negotiated limited rights. Some suggest that the American navy should be invited into territorial waters to combat piracy, a ‘live’ exercise it might relish. At the very least, countries such as Indonesia should advertise which bits of their territorial waters at any time are patrolled and safe from pirates. No countries currently do this.”

Also Read

The Greatest Savings Crisis in History

The Typology of Financial Scandals

The Bursting Asset Bubbles

(Case Studies: The Savings and Loans Crisis, Crash of 1929, British Real Estate)

The Shadowy World of International Finance

Hawala, or the Bank that Never Was

Money Laundering in a Changed World

The Varieties of Corruption

Corruption and Transparency

Straf – Corruption in CEE

The Criminality of Transition

The Kleptocracies of the East

The Enrons of the East

Bully at Work – Interview with Tim Field

The Economics of Conspiracy Theories

The Industrious Spies

The Business of Torture

Fimaco Wouldn’t Die – Russia’s Missing Billions

Organ Trafficking in Eastern Europe

Begging Your Trust in Africa

Slush Funds