Saturday, July 26, 2008

Fantastic Plots

Bruce Schneier takes issue with the Washington Post report of a terrorist plot.

"Batiste confided, somewhat fantastically, that he wanted to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago, which would then fall into a nearby prison, freeing Muslim prisoners who would become the core of his Moorish army. With them, he would establish his own country."

Most of the people who read Bruce's blog are engineers. So they think the most difficult part of the plan is dropping the Tower into the prison. Forming an army and establishing a country - those parts of the plan can't be very difficult can they?

Meanwhile, Bruce objects to the qualifier "somewhat".

"What would the Washington Post consider to be truly fantastic? A plan involving Godzilla? Clearly they have some very high standards."

But for the sake of making a point, Bruce pretends not to understand the difference between an adjective and an adverb. It is not the plot itself that the Post is describing as fantastical, but Batiste's dramatic way of confiding it. (I am working on a film script in which Batiste would be played by Johnny Depp or Russell Brand.)

And to whom was Batiste confiding? To an undercover FBI agent pretending to be a terrorist, and with money to invest in the right plot. In the belief that he was bidding for Al-Qaeda money, and with little regard for technical feasibility, Batiste invented a crazy plot. He was then "refocused" by the undercover agent, and directed towards a plot that the FBI thought would be more likely to stand up in court. So how dangerous is Batiste really?

On the Washington Post's account, it looks as if the plot emerged as a result of the active intervention and incitement of the FBI. So whose fantasy is it?

Reference to a Moorish army in the Post story indicates another element of fantasy. Batiste was associated with the Moorish Science Temple of America. If the FBI equates this organization with Wahhabi Islam, this indicates a certain degree of syncretism on the part of the FBI. Or perhaps sheer ignorance.

So what exactly is the purpose of the FBI? To incite people to produce fantastic plots? To lump disparate groups together into a single homogeneous mass of potential terrorists? Is this the best that the FBI can come up with?

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