July 03, 2006

If Iraq had been a democracy before 9-11

SCENE: An apartment in Hamburg, Germany, near the al-Qods mosque. It is winter, 1999, and 9-11 pilots Mohammed Atta, Marwan al-Sheihi, Ziad Jurrah and Hani Hanjour are discussing the plot.

ATTA: The Emir wishes us to press forward with the mission! Death to the infidel!
AL-SHEIHI: Just a style note, Atta. Do you always have to speak in exclamation points?
ATTA: The Emir's will has been expressed! We shall cut off the head of the Serpent Satan!
AL-SHEIHI: Answers that, I guess.
HANJOUR: What, again, is the Emir's beef?
ATTA: Be not frivolous! The army of the infidel even now defiles the holy cities of Medina and Mecca, at the invitation of the corrupt rulers of Sacred Arabia! He shall be driven out!
JURRAH: And that's because we're going to...
AL-SHEIHI: Don't get him started...
ATTA: The Emir is clear!
JURRAH: Verse, yet...
ATTA: This is the year to finish our pilot training! In America!
JURRAH: Any idea what that FAA cert is worth on the open market? I know a guy...
HANJOUR: You're very unclear on the concept of this thing, Ziad.
ATTA: The Emir awaits us with The Brain in Islamabad!
Al-SHEIHI: We have to go there again?
ATTA: Final instructions before we move to realization of jihad!
HANJOUR: One thing, Mohammed...
ATTA: Yes?
HANJOUR: (clearing spit from eye) Are you aware Iraq is a democracy, kind of?
ATTA: I am aware that a pro-Iranian Shiite government has replaced Saddam, yes! I've got CNN too!
HANJOUR: Well, how's this thing supposed to work now?
Al-SHEIHI: I'm not seeing the difference, Hani. I'm from the UAE.
JURRAH: Lebanon, here.
ATTA: Egypt!
HANJOUR: Yeah, but it's a democracy, kind of, in the heart of the Arab world.
AL-SHEIHI: Heart? Where'd you learn anatomy, Baywatch?
JURRAH: Ankle, maybe.
HANJOUR: But with the swamp drained, how do we even exist?
AL-SHEIHI: You mean, how did four or five guys from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Lebanon and Yemen come to Hamburg, become radicalized by exposure to the West, then get recruited by the Kuwaiti Khallid Sheikh Mohammed and the Saudi Osama bin Laden, then arrange to get about 15 additional guys from Saudi Arabia as muscle on a hijack plot, all of which had nothing to do with Iraq? Is that your question?
HANJOUR: Yes!
AL-SHEIHI: Now you're doing it. I don't know, Hani, why don't we leave that question to the Americans.

July 02, 2006

Plato's Odyssey: A Story from the Political Nightmare Future: Chap. 2

Plato’s Odyssey: Chapter 2

Plato had simply faced unflinchingly that it was a New America which confronted the Twenty-first Century, and he was a Twenty-first Century Man. Maybe one of the very first. The extrication strategy involving Sheila, which presumably Control knew all about, might impress his handlers, who were themselves implacably New Americans.

Plato had been chosen by a top secret search engine designated “ApoCalypso®,”jointly developed by DataGen® and the Counterterrorism Unit of the Department of State® (“CUDS®”). ApoCalypso® was a drill-down type of database which sought a category of Americans termed the “√úberDeracinated®,” the most untraceable and undistinguished citizens available in the population, for top secret activities related to the ongoing War on Terror®. Plato was first notified by CUDS® in early 2013. He was given a round trip ticket to Los Angeles International Airport, then driven in an airport shuttle to an elementary school in Fullerton, California, where a meeting was held on a Saturday morning in March. None of the participants was aware of the purpose of the meeting; the calls summoning them were disguised as promotional events in which they would be given free passes to GlobalLand® in exchange for their agreement to listen to a sales pitch for a new development of condominiums in Marina Del Ray.

It is probably a measure of ApoCalypso’s® acuity that the come-on met with a 100% success rate. ApoCalypso® had identified ten American male finalists, and these ten males arrived at John Adams Elementary within fifteen minutes of each other. They were greeted there in Miss Simmons’s homeroom by three men in their late thirties or early forties, dressed casually in sweaters and jeans, sporting conservative haircuts and pleasant smiles, and graciously thanking each of them for agreeing to come. The leader, transparently enigmatized as “Bill Jones,” began by apologizing for the ruse, while assuring each of them that in fact the attendees would be given free passes to GlobalLand® and Knott’s Berry Farm, but that no new condominium developments had been built in Marina Del Ray for more than two decades.

Jones then got down to business. The recruited attendees, or AmeriCruits®, were chosen because they were “positioned” to give the United States a unique form of assistance in the WarOnTerror®. Because of their demonstrated intelligence, good citizenship, impeccable records (no criminal raps, no credit derogatories more than thirty days, many other parameters), lack of personal entanglements (none of the men had wives, children or surviving parents) and other desirable qualities, they could serve as “cut-outs” for a top secret mission which would be described to the survivors among them. The AmeriCruits® assumed, understandably if incorrectly, that Jones was referring to a winnowing process or competition among them for the five jobs available.

The truth was somewhat otherwise. ApoCalypso® was compiled through a crash joint effort by the private and “public” sectors, beginning in late 2001, while the heat of Ground Zero was still gradually dissipating in New York’s early winter. It was, as operatives within the Department of Defense were fond of saying, the Mother of All Databases, the database of databases, designed to run on a network of superfast Crawfish Computers®, which crunched billions of data bytes about every American who had ever surfaced sufficiently to attract any form of attention by the human race. Thus, prior to “augmentation” through an analysis of subjective data, ApoCalypso® churned at relativistic speeds through personal data such as birth certificates, report cards, high school diplomas, religious affiliation, military records, high school and college transcripts, voting registration, vehicle license and registration records, driving records, any purchases ever made on the Internet, any registration ever made on any Website, credit reports from all reporting agencies, records of all bank accounts, all tax returns ever filed, Social Security accounts, professional licensing and discipline records, any appearance on any customer list ever sold in commerce (this tended to multiply exponentially all other data points culled from all other sources, since many of the customer tendency databases resembled a lower-level ApoCalypso® search), all records of marriage and divorce, court records, any land records in any County Recorder’s office, all hotel registrations domestic and abroad, any petitions ever signed regarding any issue, passport records, all books ever purchased or checked out of any public library, visa records, credit card statements, brokerage account statements, utility bills, telephone bills, wiretap records, clandestine surveillance tapes (visual and audio), any request ever made under the now-abolished Freedom of Information Act regarding anything, all letters to Congress or to the editor of any newspaper, all travel arrangements and itineraries ever undertaken, and a catchall category called “idiosyncratic behavior.” This massive data “snapshot” of all subject Americans was subjected to a secondary analysis by a subsidiary application called “ApoCoSorter®” which used weighted values for various data points in an effort to optimize the “InnocoScale®” (short for “innocuousness scale”) and to be certain that the population of this subcategory was comprised solely of the most unremarkable, faceless, anonymous and undistinguished American males between the ages of forty and fifty-five then extant in America.

There were two hundred and fifty semi-finalists in this preliminary cohort. 98% of them were Republicans (affiliates of the Incumbent), 75% of them were members of a social or business club (such as the Optimists or American Pioneers), 83% of them played golf, 97% were football fans, 97% were somewhat overweight, 86% percent of them read Tom Clancy novels, 73% were graduates of a four year university, 3% had been to graduate school, 83% had served in the military, 4% had been to Vietnam, and 0% of them appeared in any Google® match.

The initial cohort was then studied manually by CUDS® operatives, who undertook an exhaustive subanalysis to discover what were termed indistinguishing secondary characterists or ISC® index. The ISC® was then given a logarithmically derived scalar value of 1 to 10, with 1 representing one or two mentions in a local daily newspaper before the age of thirty (such as a wedding announcement or agate-type boxscore for interscholastic sports) and 10 signifying what was termed a “borderline fictitious existence.” Each of the finalists in Ms. Simmons’s homeroom had ISC index ratings between 9.5 and 10.0. Plato’s ranking was 9.7, exceeded only by a balding forty-eight year old from Nebraska, about fifteen pounds overweight, brown hair, brown eyes, brown polyester pants, plaid orange and blue shirt, blue windbreaker, black work shoes and white socks. Names were not used during the orientation session, but the ISC rankings were explained and given for each of the finalists.

Plato had mixed feelings about his inclusion, of course. He knew he was quiet, was aware he didn’t believe in “rocking the boat,” and was peripatetic in his romantic life precisely because he did not like the complications which seemed inevitable with “commitment,” such as shared finances, co-ownership, mutual friends and intimate secrets. All of this simply appeared wise to Plato in the second decade of 21st Century America. It did not mean he did not have a mind of his own.

For example, after ApoCalypso® was preliminarily explained by Jones, Plato, thinking to himself, was aware of certain logical fallacies and elisions in its design. Plato was actually well-read and as informed as an average American could be in 2014. He made use of the extensive law and general library available at City Hall, but was careful not to check books out, as a rule, although occasionally he would break this pattern so as not to arouse too much suspicion through holding an underused library card. When a new number was published by Karl Manrove or Deborah Jousting or one of their numerous imitators who had achieved fame since the Ascendancy of the Incumbent, Plato checked the book out or at least placed his name on the computerized waiting list. He knew that this practice must have improved critical subcategory values within his overall ISC®, although he did not know by how much.

Plato’s Internet use was similarly misleading, since he always signed on using Mae Wan’s handle and password, which he’d gotten from her during their brief period of physical and “emotional” intimacy, covering his acquisition with his occasional need to sign-on while hanging out at her Inner Richmond District flat on rainy Saturday mornings. He then used the remote function of her ISP to sign on at City Hall’s computer research room, and from there he could acquire the foreign press, opinion journals from European Union capitals and dissident websites hoisted by Americans exported during the period since the Incumbency began. Plato imagined, with a twinkle, what sort of ISC® Mae Han must have been tagged with by ApoCalypso®. The mind reeled. All those hours logged on to anti-American sites, the late night perusal of articles written by exiled American investigative journalists; not a pretty picture and not a salutary index. Mae Han might find herself eating Hunan in its place of origin.

So despite his impressive ISC®, Plato was something of a pretender, someone who, despite outlandishly adverse odds, had apparently outsmarted the system. He found it difficult to credit that viewpoint, however. Increasingly, the Administration of the Incumbent left absolutely nothing to chance. Which was probably the reason for this written examination which Plato found himself enduring in the early afternoon in Ms. Simmons’s homeroom, his knees jammed under the little hinged top of the laminated desk, sitting on a hard blond laminated chair, the helical flourescent lights above humming and crackling. The test did not seem designed to test the power of the intellect. It seemed cast more toward a personality multiphasic, but with a weird orientation toward “American values,” including questions such as:

“1. Does the United States have any history of supporting dictators abroad?

“2. Does freedom of speech extend to battlefields during wartime?

“3. Does the United States owe any obligation to explain its foreign policy to any international body?”

Plato suspected that some sort of Game Theory was at work here. There were only two columns of dashed spaces to blacken with his No. 2 pencil: “Yes” and “No.” To answer “No” to all three questions, which seemed like the safe approach under the Regime® looked suspiciously like pandering. To answer “Yes” to one or more might prove disastrous. Plato resolved the conundrum by answering “No” to Questions 1 and 2 and “Yes” to Question 3, reasoning that the qualifier “any” to the harsh word “obligation” to engage in an action as noncommital as“explaining” was fairly benign and did not signify any sort of impermissible intrusion on American autonomy, which had been raised over the last fourteen years to the status of a religious tenet.

Yet at base, Plato was profoundly uneasy about this entire exercise, the selection by ApoCalypso®, the trip to Los Angeles, the vague references to “serving” the country in a unique capacity. With the broad shroud of secrecy cast over every governmental action during the past decade, it was certainly possible (and no credible means existed to refute this possibility) that the Government used the ruse of honor as a cover to lure dissidents (or “traitors,” as they were termed by the Administration) into just such a self-revealing exercise as this Multiphasic he was now second-guessing his way through. Still, there was no way out of the exercise, and he completed the questionnaire, listened to a few more of Jones’s remarks regarding future contacts, received his free passes to GlobalLand®, and left quietly with the other AmeriCruits®.