Archive for March 7th, 2012

You expect amazing stupidity from conspiracy theorists, who use bullying tactics to get you to believe that they are smarter than you and tell you that you’re programmed if you don’t let them program you. But rarely do they push news organizations into such amazing blunders.

At least a couple of different online news sites, the Mirror and the Daily Mail Online, are reporting today that Osama Bin Laden was not, after all, dumped in the Indian Ocean after his ignominious end at the hands of Navy SEALs last May. Instead, according to internal e-mails stolen from Austin, Texas security firm Stratfor by hackers, bin Laden’s body was taken to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Bethesda, Maryland for examination and cremation. Stratfor, which does security work for the United States government, is called by detractors the shadow CIA. The firm supposedly has extensive knowledge about U.S. internal security and handles accounts for some of the largest U.S. corporations doing business overseas and thus stands at the nexus of commerce and power, say its foes.

According to the e-mails, which appeared on Wikileaks.org, a Stratfor executive named Fred Burton posted in an e-mail subject line, “Body bound for Dover, DE on CIA Plane” when referring to bin Laden’s corpse, which would then be sent onward to Bethesda. That e-mail came at 5:51:12 on May 5, 2011. This elicits the response from George Friedman, the company’s president, that the sea burial was an unlikely account. It sounded to him like the disposition of Adolf Eichmann’s body:

“Eichmann was seen alive for many months on trial before being sentenced to death and executed. No one wanted a monument to him so they cremated him. But i dont know anyone who claimed he wasnt eicjhman [sic]. No comparison with suddenly burying him at sea without any chance to view him, which i doubt happened.” The FBI wouldn’t let that happen, he opines.

The Mail goes on to show pictures of the supposed aircraft carrier next to the supposed pathology institute, and top if off with a nice post-prandial sorbet: a sidebar explaining who Adolf Eichmann was.

Problem is, a later Stratfor cable the news organizations didn’t bother to read says, “Never mind.”

I first read this story after seeing a thread on The New York Times Web site about a bunch of hackers being arrested who were vaguely linked to the same large Anonymous movement that has targeted firms like Stratfor. One commenter said that the Bin Laden cremation story had appeared all around the world “except in America, due to the heavily censored government/corporate media.” There’s no telling why the Times would gain from burying this story, since the paper has regularly published Wikileaks material. Supposedly the Times, Dow Chemical, Stratfor and Barack Obama are now all in cahoots.

Smart readers probably already knew the story was a hoax when they read Friedman only “doubted” that the bin Laden burial at sea was true. That means the alternative Bethesda cremation story was simply conjecture by the Stratfor guys, a bunch of armchair analysts obviously outside the loop or still gathering information. But if that wasn’t enough to convince conspiracy theorists or gullible newspaper reporters hot for copy, then certainly this memo should have been:

“Down & dirty done, He already sleeps with the fish….” ** Fred’s Note: Although I don’t really give a rats ass, it seems to me
that by dropping the corpse in the ocean, the body will come back to haunt us….gotta be violating some sort of obscure heathen religious rule that will inflame islam? I was sleeping thru that class at Langley.”

The time code on this: 15:11:03, May 5, 2011. Well after the first two e-mails.

So, Stratfor concedes in the later memo, Osama bin Laden, was indeed thrown into the sea. How did they know? They probably heard it on the god damn news.

You can debate all day whether it was important for hackers to target Stratfor, which seems to have as many conspiracy theories about Julian Assange as he does about them. Reading the links is sometimes less like reading John Le Carre and more like listening to “Dueling Banjos.” When you read through Stratfor e-mails, you hear a mix of braggadocio and paranoia that is likely the proper cocktail of people who work in the spook business, but what you don’t hear are the voices of powerful people who control our daily lives. Sometimes they seem just as out of the loop as anybody (“Look here! Everything we need to know about our hacker enemies I found in this issue of Wired!”) The hackers who broke into the company regard it schizophrenically as an evil perpetrator of black ops standing at the nexus of power but then disdainfully as a company too drag ass to even protect its own computers from attack.

I wrote extensively about Assange last year, noting that even though information is always a good thing, his motivations are nutty. Of course, why should I care about that if the leaks are substantial? Well, in this case, much of the information was stolen by people who also stole credit card information from companies, assuming all companies are part of the complex. It so happens I write about finance, and perhaps part of my paycheck comes from advertising money doled out by a hated industry. Does that make me part of the complex? Does that make my credit card worth stealing?

I only worry about that because conspiracy theorists lump everybody into plots, damning innocent and guilty alike, and what’s more, especially in this case, THEY DON’T KNOW HOW TO READ OR TELL TIME. And yet their conviction is such that they will not be moved, they bully dumb reporters into stories like these, and finally, their extremism promotes criminality. If what they find in their hacking promotes the greater good, like the Pentagon Papers, I’m ready to defend them. And Stratfor seems to be full of nutty right wing conspiracy theorists itself. But there’s the rub. Conspiracy theorists are usually notable only by their infantile feelings of helplessness and their need to be in the know. And often, on both sides of the debate, they can impress us only in being smug, self-satisfied and wrong. In this case, the firm’s detractors seem as unlikable as the firm they invaded.

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