Our man in Bananastan

By Jeff Huber

Truth is truly stranger than fiction. Graham Greene’s 1958 spy novel Our Man in Havana told a tragicomic tale of false intelligence crafted to suit the needs of a political agenda. John le Carre’s 1996 The Tailor of Panama repeated the theme.

Ahmed Chalabi was Dick Cheney’s real life man of the hour when it came time to shake and bake the intelligence on Iraq, and the Dark Lord and his neocon chamberlains are still trying to fabricate a casus belli for Iran. The Persian Ploy may be running up against a term limit, but there’s all the time in the world left to slip on the Bananastan peel. Heck, western superpowers have been flinging themselves down that slope for centuries.

At this point in the American experiment, U.S. intelligence is to intelligence what Kenny G is to jazz. After nearly a decade of getting gang-buggered over the kitchen table by the minions of the Office of the Vice President, our spy agencies have no more credibility than our sacked and pillaged mainstream press. In fact, the lines between intelligence and news and popular entertainment have virtually vanished. As evidence of this, witness Exhibit A: “Plans of Attack,” by intelligence analyst, counterterrorism expert, news commentator and novelist Richard A. Clarke.


The bare bones reality of the terrorist attack on Mumbai, India was incredible to begin with: 10 kids in their twenties managed to hold the law enforcement and military establishment of a nuclear power at bay for days. The Indians have their own Hindu terrorist cells, but it would be embarrassing to admit they got their pants pulled down by a gang of homegrown yahooligans, so they immediately accused Pakistani yahooligans. If it turns out they blamed Muslim evildoers for doing evil that Hindu evildoers did, that’s okay. They did the same thing in September and got away with it.

America’s newspaper of record, the New York Times, did everything it could to prop up India’s accusations. A December 8 story said that unnamed Pakistani authorities, under pressure from unspecified sources in India and the U.S., raided a camp run by Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group suspected of carrying out the Mumbai attack, and arrested Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi, who “masterminded the attack.” This information came from an unnamed State Department official in Washington, who was repeating what unnamed American and Pakistani authorities had apparently told him. But, the unnamed State official said, unnamed American Embassy officials wouldn’t verify the story, nor would unnamed Pakistani officials in Islamabad, who were presumably different unnamed Pakistani officials from the unnamed Pakistani authorities who told the story to the unnamed State official in the first place.

On December 9, the NYT noted that “Mr. Lakhvi has been described as the mastermind of the Mumbai attacks,” but didn’t say who has described him as the mastermind or why. NYT also said that unnamed American counterterrorism officials in Washington “wanted to see proof that Mr. Lakhvi was actually in custody,” but it made no mention of American officials wanting to see any proof that Mr. Lakhvi actually had anything to do with the Mumbai attacks.


I had to look to the BBC to discover the source of the accusations against Pakistan: “Indian authorities.” Mumbai police are the ones who say the attackers were Lashkar-e-Taiba, but “They did not say how this was known.”

One of the attackers survived and was questioned. “Some media reports have suggested that truth serum may be used as part of his interrogation,” the BBC said. It sounds like ventriloquism might have been part of the interrogation too; photographs of the dead bodies of the other nine guys were “too graphic to show.” The guy they took the rubber hose to must have been in lovely shape.

So, the “news” story we got from the NYT was a double secret anonymous hearsay rumor based on alleged testimony taken from a coerced deathbed confession that may or may not have been post dated. Don’t get mad at the NYT though. Their scum baggage was nothing compared to the stunt the Washington Post pulled.

The Hunt for Red Herring

WaPo had the good grace to put Clarke’s “analysis” of the Mumbai massacre in the opinion section, but it belonged in the book section plainly labeled as bad fiction. It was screed of incontinent narrative interrupted by tumescent dialogue that sounded like something out of a badly dubbed foreign film. I kept expecting one of the characters to strike a belligerent pose and bark, “Our kung fu is stronger than your tai chi!”

“The network” of terrorists groups, Clarke warns, “is approaching 2009 with a specific agenda. So, too, is the incoming leadership of the network’s chief enemy, the United States.” To understand how the two sides think, we must “imagine two hypothetical meetings in which each side plots its terrorism agenda for 2009.”

Jesus, Larry and Curly; to understand what’s really going on, we have to make stuff up?

“A half-dozen bearded and robed men are sitting on rugs in a circle,” Clarke writes. “As the titular leader of the movement, Osama bin Laden opens the meeting.”

Aha! I wondered how long it would take before al Qaeda became the culprit in the Mumbai incident.

“‘I recall well how you often met with me in Afghanistan during the war against the godless Soviets,’ bin Laden says. ‘I remember how you helped us set up our training camps there in the 1990s, and how you provided us with safe haven here in Pakistan when we left Afghanistan after our ‘planes operation’ brought down the towers in 2001.'”

Ahmed, your son, the doctor who became a terrorist after the infidels dropped bombs on his wedding, is at the door.

It goes on like that, and Muhammad Omar of the Taliban is at the meeting, and Hakimullah Mehsud of the other Taliban is there too, as is a representative from Pakistani intelligence, and bin Laden’s “short, squat” (as opposed to “tall, squat”) lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahiri, who says, “Soon, the Pakistani army will leave the Afghan border. Thanks be to God, and to Lashkar-e-Taiba.”

Great. Caesar’s. Ghost.

The scenario Clarke paints in the situation room of the West Wing is equally purple. High-level hobnobgoblins sit around and go hamana hamana until somebody from the National Counterterrorism Center says: “We could see al-Qaeda attacks in 2009 on the Arabian Peninsula, in Europe, even here at home. But of course, we have no actionable intelligence pointing to a specific plot.”

We could see flying pigs repair the Hubble telescope in 2009. We could see a lot of things, but the thing we won’t likely see is any coherent intelligence analysis on the terrorists. Sure, Clarke is the biggest flake in the cereal bowl, but keep in mind that he was one of the top guys in his field for decades. He’s retired now, but think how many of the folks still at the wheel are just like him.

There’s a chance that Clarke and the rumor mill press are right about the Mumbai incident and its probable fallout, but so what? Jeane Dixon predicted thousands of things every year; the odds were certain that one them would come true.

Soothsaying is fine as a checkout line amusement, but it’s a heck of a thing to shape foreign policy around.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword . Jeff’s novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America’s rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Also catch Scott Horton’s interview with Jeff at Antiwar Radio.

7 replies »

  1. Jeff, I love the way you parse those double-secret anonymice. The NYT and WashPo have been hiding behind them since the dawn of time.

    Thanks for the terrific read.

  2. Outstanding. The pacing. The language. The humor. And praise to Allah, calling out the “analysis” process for the airport fiction that it too often resembles.