What I call the Weird Factor, for lack of a better name, seems to have become a permanent feature of our post-9/11 world, a dark and sinister leitmotif that plays in the background. On 9/11, of course, the Factor was on full display as a whole string of unusual events and unexplained phenomena were visited on us. The 9/11 Commission did little to clear these matters up, for the most part because they didn’t address them. Just a few for the record: Bush reading My Pet Goat to schoolchildren after being told of the attacks, the sudden appearance of the "Israeli art students" – and their buddies, the "laughing Israelis" – in the months and weeks leading up to the attacks, and the apparent passivity of US air defenses on that fateful day.
I mean, how is it possible that the terrorists actually hit the Pentagon, the symbolic fortress of America’s alleged military supremacy? After spending untold trillions on "defense" over the years, a sum that never declines in real terms, and driving ourselves into near-bankruptcy on account of it, how in the name of all that’s holy did nineteen men armed with box-cutters manage to drive Don Rumsfeld stumbling into the street, literally running for his life?
The Weird Factor seems to intensify whenever there is some significant event in our ongoing "war on terrorism," or whatever they’re calling it these days. My longtime readers will be familiar with my theory of how this works. Briefly: on Sept. 11, 2001, the impact of those airliners as they hit the Twin Towers sent us careening into an alternative dimension where up is down, right is left, and torture is the American Way – in short we landed in Bizarro World, where we have been trapped ever since. The post-9/11 cognitive shift that heralded our entry into this alternate dimension is amplified around these incidents, and certainly the most recent – the midair antics of the Undie Bomber – underscores the Weird Factor at its absolute weirdest.
The official narrative has been in flux, due in part to the political firestorm that surrounds the event: President Obama’s characterization of the Undie Bomber as an "isolated" individual, unconnected to a larger network, began to fall apart almost before it was uttered. As the links between Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab and the specter of "al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula" surfaced – along with the incredible story of how Mutallab’s father, a prominent Nigerian banker, personally reported his son to the US embassy and the CIA – the official story had to be amended. Now it’s "the buck stops here," an admission of failure, and the inevitable calls for making everyone’s flying experience more problematic and unendurable than ever.
Also inevitable was the way the Republicans leapt on the incident to somehow prove the President and his party are "soft" on terrorism, a strangely empty critique that doesn’t seem to consist of anything more substantial than a highly arguable perception of "softness" in the President’s rhetoric. GOPers complained that the President didn’t use the word "terrorism" enough, that his tone lacked the requisite harshness , but when it comes to substantial differences over policy – or over the specifics of this case – the Republican critics come up empty. I won’t be the first to point out that the Bush administration’s response to the Richard Reid/Shoe Bomber incident was nearly identical to the Obamaites’ on this very similar occasion. Team Bush raised the threat level, imposed all sorts of new regulations and restrictions to make air travel decidedly more unpleasant, and were somewhat less self-critical than their successors.
In all of this politicized brouhaha, however, we hear not one word about the various anomalies clustered around al-Qaeda’s latest – and most successful – post-9/11 attempt to sow fear and confusion in the West. I count three:
1) The well-dressed "Indian" man seen accompanying Mutallab at Amsterdam’s Schnipol airport. Michigan attorney Kurt Haskell, a passenger on the flight, was playing cards with his wife in front of the ticket desk when he saw what he considered to be a bit of an odd couple approach the desk and engage in a conversation with the attendant. Mutallab, who looked to Haskell as if he might be a teenager, was dressed somewhat shabbily, and was accompanied by an older "well-dressed" man who looked and sounded like he might be a native of India. When they approached the desk, the Indian did all the talking, explaining that Mutallab didn’t have a passport but needed to get on the flight. The attendant replied that everyone on the flight had to have a passport, to which the Indian retorted that his companion was a Sudanese refugee, and "we do this all the time." Well, then you’ll have to speak to my supervisor, said the attendant, and the odd couple went down a hallway: the next time Haskell saw this "refugee," he was setting his underpants on fire in an attempt to down the plane.
Dutch security is now denying Haskell’s eyewitness report, on the basis of having reviewed 200 hours of surveillance video. Haskell, however, is sticking with his story, and has located another passenger who (he says) corroborates his account, but this witness is afraid to step forward out of fear of being in the spotlight. Haskell also asks a reasonable question: why don’t they release the surveillance video, just like the US authorities released video of that idiot in New Jersey who snuck through security?
Additionally, there are all sorts of other questions that arise when we consider how the Dutch handled security at Schiphol in this instance: for example, all passengers at Schnipol are interviewed, an innovation introduced by the Israeli companies that provide security services there. No doubt these interviews are videotaped, or at least there must be some account of the interview, either from interviewer or his notes: let’s see them. I refuse to believe that Mutallab, being interviewed and sitting there with a bomb in his underpants, wasn’t sweating bullets at the very least. How did he explain himself? What did the interviewer ask? These are questions that won’t be answered until and unless the Dutch are more forthcoming – and the media start getting more aggressive when it comes to uncovering questions of simple fact.
2) The "man in orange" arrested at the Detroit airport, who was on the same flight. As Haskell tells it:
"Ever since I got off of Flight 253 I have been repeating what I saw in US Customs. Specifically, 1 hour after we left the plane, bomb sniffing dogs arrived. Up to this point, all of the passengers on Flight 253 stood in a small area in an evacuated luggage claim area of an airport terminal. During this time period, all of the passengers had their carry on bags with them. When the bomb sniffing dogs arrived,[one]1 dog found something in a carry on bag of a 30-ish Indian man. This is not the so called ‘Sharp Dressed” man.’ I will refer to this man as ‘The man in orange.’
"The man in orange, who stood some 20 feet away from me the entire time until he was taken away, was immediately taken away to be searched and interrogated in a nearby room. At this time he was not handcuffed. When he emerged from the room, he was then handcuffed and taken away. At this time an FBI agent came up to the rest of the passengers and said the following (approximate quote) ‘You all are being moved to another area because this area is not safe. I am sure many of you saw what just happened (Referring to the man in orange) and are smart enough to read between the lines and figure it out.’ We were then marched out of the baggage claim area and into a long hallway."
This account is backed up by Daniel Huisinga, an American from Tennessee, who was also on the flight and saw the "man in orange" being handcuffed and led away.
As Haskell points out, the explanation offered by US government officials has gone through a few different versions, from it never happened to it had nothing to do with terrorism. So what’s the real story? Our government isn’t saying – and our media isn’t asking.
3) The man who videotaped the entire flight. Charlie and Patricia Keepman, of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, who were sitting 20 rows behind Mutallab on the flight "said another passenger" sitting right in front of them "videotaped the entire flight, including the attempted detonation of explosives," according to this news report:
"’This person actually was videotaping it,’ Mr. Keepman told the Detroit News. Mrs. Keepman told 620WTMJ’s Wisconsin’s Morning News: ‘He sat up and videotaped the entire thing, very calmly. We do know that the FBI is looking for him intensely. Since then, we’ve heard nothing about it.’"
The Keepmans’ account is backed up by another passenger, Beau Taylor:
"Taylor was in seat 29A of the plane, and was about 10 rows back from
Abdulmutallab when he allegedly attempted to stage an attack. In the midst
of passengers trying to subdue Abdulmutallab and flight attendants working
to put out the fire, Taylor says he looked behind him and saw a man filming
the situation about two to five rows back.
“‘I looked behind me as the flight attendant ran through, and I looked and there was a guy with a camera,’ Taylor says.
"Taylor says he notified the FBI of what he saw, in hopes of helping them to obtain footage of the foiled attack.
"’There’s definitely footage from the time it was mission critical, to the time they hauled (Abdulmutallab) to the front,’ Taylor says. ‘I told them 100 percent there was a guy filming.’"
In recording the entire flight, was the mystery cameraman inspired by Andy Warhol’s film, Empire, an 8-hour movie in which the unmoving camera was simply trained on the Empire State Building – or was a more sinister motive involved?
See what I mean by the Weird Factor?
All this is aside from the incompetence and missed signals that allowed the Undie Bomber to even get on a plane. Our government officials aren’t addressing any of these other questions, nor are their Republican critics – who only want to know why the President doesn’t launch an immediate invasion of Yemen. None of the issues raised by these oddities are being addressed by anyone – except a very few ordinary Americans, like the Haskells and the Keepmans, who witnessed the Weird Factor in action.
I have no hypothesis to submit to my readers as to the meaning of the above: all I can say, at this point, is that there is a lot more to the Christmas Day incident than our government is letting on. We don’t yet have all the facts, but it is weird indeed that these particular facts are being steadfastly ignored.
What we do know is this: the bare bones scenario, aired by the President in his earliest remarks, is incorrect. What we don’t know – yet – is how much broader was the conspiracy to down flight 253. If the eyewitnesses are right, then the activities of Mutallab’s well-dressed companion certainly point to a pro-terrorist auxiliary, of some sort, providing Mutallab with invaluable assistance. This scenario is also implied by the "man in orange," whose identity and whereabouts are a complete mystery at this point. As for the person who videotaped the entire proceedings – I have no idea what to make of it. It’s the Weird Factor – and it’s pretty strange, even considering how far down this particular rabbit hole we have gone.