Contents | January/February 2003
The Atlantic Monthly | January/February 2003
Last October, just weeks before the wife of the Saudi ambassador was discovered to have given money to a Saudi woman in California that eventually made its way into the hands of two of the September 11 hijackers, the Council on Foreign Relations released a report that evaluated American efforts to impede global flows of terrorist financing. The report revealed the degree to which the al Qaeda financial network remains intact and well funded through such sources as the underground hawala system; direct gifts from wealthy Persian Gulf Arabs; misappropriations by fundamentalist clerics of zakat, the donations (at least 2.5 percent of income, according to Islamic custom) that Muslims give to charity; profits from outwardly legitimate businesses, such as the honey trade in Yemen; heroin trafficking; and simple theft and other petty crime by local cells. The report is unsparing in its criticism of Saudi Arabia:
Selections from recent reports, studies, and other documents. This month: Misplacing New Jersey; Uday Hussein's torture chamber; how al Qaeda pays its bills; the Teamsters whack the mob
Render Unto al Qaeda
Al-Qaeda differs from traditional state-sponsored terrorist groups in one critical way: it is financially robust ... Indeed, when it was headquartered in Sudan and then Afghanistan, the al-Qaeda terrorist organization provided important financial support to its host state—instead of the other way around ... It is worth stating clearly and unambiguously what official U.S. government spokespersons have not: For years, individuals and charities based in Saudi Arabia have been the most important source of funds for al-Qaeda; and for years, Saudi officials have turned a blind eye to this problem.
—"Terrorist Financing" (www.cfr.org/pubs.php?type=10)
Torture in Iraq
Great Britain's Foreign & Commonwealth Office has released a report revealing that in 2000 Saddam Hussein approved amputation of the tongue as a penalty for abusive remarks about him or his family, and that he has broadcast TV pictures of this punishment as a warning to would-be dissenters; that Saddam's son Uday maintained a private torture chamber called "the Red Room" in a building disguised as an electrical-power plant along the Tigris River; that Saddam's army retains "professional rapists"; and that inmates in the "casket prison" in Baghdad are kept "in rows of rectangular steel boxes, as found in mortuaries," which are opened for only half an hour a day until the inmates either confess to crimes or die.
—"Saddam Hussein: Crimes and Human Rights Abuses" (www.fco.gov.uk/Files/kfile/hrdossier.pdfdossier.pdf)
Project Acoustic Kitty
Included in a passel of CIA documents recently declassified through a Freedom of Information Act request was a heavily redacted memo from 1967 titled "[deleted] Views on Trained Cats [deleted] for [deleted] Use." Evidently the CIA's Directorate of Science and Technology spent several years and (supposedly) millions of dollars surgically enhancing—and then training—a cat to become an organic eavesdropping device. It didn't work. Operatives "slit the cat open, put batteries in him, wired him up," according to what Victor Marchetti, a former CIA officer, told the London Daily Telegraph not long ago. "The tail was used as an antenna ... They found he would walk off the job when he got hungry, so they put another wire in to override that." Finally, they "put him out of the van, and a taxi comes and runs him over." The memo concludes that in a "real foreign situation" the cat "would not be practical." Nevertheless,
We have satisfied ourselves that it is indeed possible [deleted]. This is in itself a remarkable scientific achievement. Knowing that cats can indeed be trained to move short distances [deleted] we see no reason to believe that a [deleted] cat can not be similarly trained to approach [deleted] ... The work done on this problem over the years reflects great credit on the personnel who guided it, particularly [deleted], whose energy and imagination could be models for scientific pioneers.
—The National Security Archive (www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB54/)
Lies and Consequences
"For as long as human beings have deceived each other, people have tried to develop techniques for detecting deception and finding truth." So begins a new report from the National Research Council, which—in the context of heightened concerns about national security—was charged with evaluating how effective lie-detector tests are at ferreting out deceptive people and security risks from government and private industry. Unfortunately, as this comprehensive report makes clear, polygraphs are not very effective. The test relies on 1920s-era technology and generates large numbers of both false positives and false negatives—that is, it identifies many truth-tellers as liars and many liars as truth-tellers. The report concludes that the polygraph's use at various federal agencies—such as the Department of Energy and the FBI, which have each tested tens of thousands of employees and job applicants—is badly flawed.
Polygraph screening protocols that can identify a large fraction of serious security violators can be expected to incorrectly implicate at least hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of innocent employees for each spy or other serious security violator correctly identified ... Polygraph testing yields an unacceptable choice for DOE employee security screening between too many loyal employees falsely judged deceptive and too many major security threats left undetected.
—"The Polygraph and Lie Detection" (www4.nas.edu/news.nsf/isbn/0309084369?OpenDocument)
No Longer Cosa Nostra
It took 641 pages, but a recent report prepared by a blue-ribbon panel of former prosecutors, former FBI agents, and labor leaders has pronounced the International Brotherhood of Teamsters finally free—or almost free—of mob corruption. In this lengthy account the former federal prosecutor Edwin Stier and his team declare that the Teamsters can be taken out of what was, in effect, moral receivership. The report makes compelling reading—think Mario Puzo as bureaucrat. It reviews the history of Mafia involvement in the union and details what made the Teamsters so susceptible to corruption. Factors include the growing national influence of the Cosa Nostra crime syndicate through the middle part of the century, low profit margins in trucking, rising economic pressures on semi-skilled workers, the autonomy of Teamster locals, and laziness and corruption in both local businesses and local government. No word on where Jimmy Hoffa is buried.
—"The Teamsters: Perception and Reality, An Investigative Study of Organized Crime Influence in the Union"
The lawyer Johnnie Cochran, ever in search of the spotlight and a racial cause to champion, found both this past fall when he and another lawyer, Cyrus Mehri, issued their report on black coaches in the National Football League. Drawing on the assistance of Janice Madden, a labor economist at the University of Pennsylvania, Cochran and Mehri studied whether the under-representation of African-Americans in coaching and the front office (especially relative to their numbers among NFL players) could be explained as the result of poor performance by African-Americans. The answer, perhaps not unexpectedly, was no.
Dr. Madden determined that: the black coaches [over the last fifteen years] averaged 1.1 more wins per [sixteen-game] season than the white coaches; the black coaches led their teams to the playoffs 67% of the time versus 39% of the time for the white coaches; in their first season, black coaches averaged 2.7 more wins than the white coaches in their first season; in their final season, terminated black coaches win an average of 1.3 more games than terminated white coaches.
—"Black Coaches in the National Football League: Superior Perform-ance, Inferior Opportunities" (www.findjustice.com/ms/nfl/index text.html)
In 1988 the National Geographic Society conducted an extensive survey to determine what Americans knew about geography. Not much, as it turned out. Last year National Geographic (in conjunction with the market-research firm RoperASW) conducted a follow-up study to see if Americans' geographic literacy had improved over the intervening fourteen years. Unsurprisingly, it hadn't. Despite recent events fewer than one in five Americans aged eighteen to twenty-four could locate Afghanistan on a world map, and only one in seven could locate Iraq on a map of the Middle East and Asia. Nor did Americans have much success in identifying U.S. states: barely half could find New York, and only a third could find New Jersey. Worst of all, 10 percent of Americans could not find the United States on a world map. And although it provides little solace to consider some of the strange lacunae in Europeans' knowledge (for instance, despite the 355-mile border between Germany and the Netherlands, nearly a third of Germans couldn't identify the latter—which they seemed to locate just fine in 1940), Americans can take heart from this: more than a third of young adults in the United States were able to place the island used for the fourth season of the television series Survivor in the South Pacific.
—National Geographic-Roper 2002 Global Geographic Literacy Survey
Your Ad Here
According to a new report by a professor of education policy at Arizona State University, there were four and a half times more commercial incursions into schools in 2001-2002 than there were in 1990-1991. Some examples from the report: In Brooklawn, New Jersey, the school superintendent not only has agreed to put the name of a supermarket, ShopRite, on a new school gym for $100,000 but also has appointed a "Director of Corporate Development" and "assigned him to sell naming rights for everything from baseball field foul lines to the school's proposed new library"; Home Team Marketing, a sports marketing company near Cleveland, has created a network of Ohio schools that it is planning to market as a single block to corporations seeking to advertise; a company called Field Trip Factory will provide free trips for students to commercial establishments such as pet stores "in the name of teaching about academic subjects such as 'animal welfare'"; and a school district in Omaha, Nebraska, plans to rip up the floor of its high school gym and replace it with a new floor covered with up to ten corporate logos, each of which will be sold for $10,000.
—"What's in a Name? The Corporate Branding of America's Schools" (
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Copyright © 2003 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; January/February 2003; Primary Sources; Volume 291, No. 1; 38-40.