Musings Aroused by Triple Cross
Here are some musings that were aroused in me by the book by Peter Lance, Triple Cross: How Bin Laden’s Master Spy Penetrated the CIA, the Green Berets, and the FBI.
Basic question: Why did the FBI, for example, have such a difficult time “connecting the dots” regarding al Qaeda, bin Laden, and Ali Mohamed? Because the FBI created those “dots” in the first place. Creating “dots” was how the FBI did its job and, of course, as dots, they are disconnected, as intended. Why create disconnected dots? Because that’s how the FBI as a bureaucracy operates. It creates “cases” which are in fact abstractions that consist of some facts. Turning Ali Mohamed into “a case file” requires abstracting from the “real,” or a more complete Mohamed. His true significance is easily lost sight of once he has been turned into “a case.” And his connections to others, his connections to al Qaeda tend to disappear or be overlooked.
The FBI made, for example, Martin Luther King, Jr. into a case. It did that in order to be able to keep eyes on him, to watch him, and catalogue his actions. Of course, King’s relationship to American society and American history, and especially to the black community, disappeared or was lost sight of by proceeding this way. He became “a dot,” and though attempts were made to connect this “dot” to his social and political context, that is, to find out if he was a communist, those dots were never successfully connected. Once dots are created, it is difficult then to connect them, primarily because the dots were created to be disconnected so they may be seen more clearly.
Further, the purpose of creating “cases” is to solve them, which usually means to use them to arrest people and then convict them. When this happens, success is declared, which is what one FBI agent declared upon the conviction of those involved in the Bojinka trial. FBI special agent Pellegrino declared: “It’s over. We won!” The FBI had been successful. But apparently, Pellegrino didn’t appreciate that the FBI had actually “won” very little because other members of al Qaeda, other “dots,” would replace those who had been convicted and the war against the United States would go on. Just as, of course, it did in Kenya, Tanzania, Yemen, and eventually on 9/11. What Pellegrino lost sight of, because in his mind he was dealing with “dots” and “cases,” was that those “dots” that were successfully dealt with in “a case" were connected to an organization. That is, they weren’t just dots, and the case was an abstraction that actually helped hide “real reality.” By winning the case, the United States was not any closer to winning the war against al Qaeda. In other words, the US could win its cases but still lose the war to al Qaeda, just as the US could win battle after battle in Iraq, and still not win the war.