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Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Juan Cole, Conspiracy Theorist

I've previously written that Prof. Juan Cole has a "blind spot about Israel." But apparently I was wrong: "goofy conspiracy theorist" would have been a more accurate label for Cole.

Cole today discusses approvingly a loopy article by conspiracy theorist Jim Lobe, which argues that the investigation of Pentagon official Lawrence Franklin for passing classified information to Israel is merely the tip of the iceberg. Cole cheers him on as Lobe recounts his belief that there is conspiracy among a half-dozen or so Jewish hawks to illegally provide intelligence and military technology to Israel, Iran, and China.

The article is mainly a laundry list of charges and facts, mostly decades old, with no apparent connection except that they all involve Jewish neoconservatives and Israel. Doug Feith is an "outspoken supporter" of Israel's Likud Party. Paul Wolfowitz once promoted Israel's export of missiles to China. Richard Perle once discussed classified information with an Israeli embassy official. Mark Zell moved to Israel. And on and on, with little apparent link between one paragraph and the next.

Lobe's article is incredibly thinly sourced, and it's amazing that anyone would take it seriously. Here is a complete list of the sources cited in the article:

"According to knowledgeable sources, who asked to not be identified"
"a lengthy investigative story by Stephen Green published by Counterpunch in February"
"these sources" [possibly a reference to sources interviewed by Green, but unclear]
"a number of published reports"
"a Washington Times story of June 2001"
"According to one source"
"according to Green's account"
"according to Green's account"
"one source with personal knowledge of Bryen's work"
"according to Green's account."
This list actually makes the article sound better than it is, since many of the allegations are entirely unsourced. It really doesn't speak well for your research when the most credible source you cite is an article in the Moonie Washington Times. The WT article is written by Jerry Seper no less, who for years was on the WT's "Clinton killed Vince Foster" beat.

Here's an excerpt from Lobe's article:
Of particular interest in that connection are derivatives of a powerful case-management software called PROMIS that was produced by INSLAW, Inc in the early 1980s and acquired by Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, which then sold its own versions to other foreign intelligence agencies in the Middle East, Asia and Eastern Europe.

PROMIS is database management software that was written for the Justice Department in 1983 by a company called Inslaw, and has since been the since been the subject of a long-running legal dispute over ownership. In the minds of conspiracy theorists such as Lobe, PROMIS has taken on a much more nefarious aspect:
But these versions were modified with a "trap door" that permitted the seller to spy on the buyers' own intelligence files, according to a number of published reports. A modified version of the software, which is used to monitor and track files on a multitude of databases, is believed to have been acquired by al-Qaeda on the black market in the late 1990s, possibly facilitating the group's global banking and money-laundering schemes, according to a Washington Times story of June 2001.
So the software Bin Laden uses to track his finances has a "trap door" accessible to the Israelis, at least according to always reliable "published reports." That's terrific! What a coup! Thanks Mossad, we owe you one!

But in the next sentence, Lobe tells us more about PROMIS's many features, as revealed to him by "one source." Apparently, the software not only manages databases, but is also a hacking tool. So we can't read Bin Laden's database, but he can read ours. Oh No!
According to one source, Pentagon investigators believe it possible that al-Qaeda used the software to spy on various U.S. agencies that could have detected or foiled the Sep. 11, 2001 attack.

If you look around on the web, you'll find lots of other bizarre theories, I mean "published reports," about the magical power of PROMIS. It allowed Bin Laden to make threatening phone calls to Bush aboard Air Force One on 9/11. It connects every database: taxes, water, phone records, credit, etc., and allows the government to make changes such as cancelling the credit cards of dissidents. PROMIS causes your computer to broadcast coded information. As Cole says, the scandal's "roots are deep."

To sum up, Cole praises a nutty article, published on a nutty web site*, and it's not the first time he's done either. It is simply bizarre that anyone, much less a professor at a prestigious university, could find this almost totally unsourced article credible.

* Lobe's article appears on LewRockwell.com. Rockwell, according to former conservative allies, is a racist and an anti-semite. Conservative journalist David Frum lumps Rockwell in with a bunch of other "paleoconservatives" like Pat Buchanan, who he says are racist, anti-semitic conspiracy theorists (to varying degrees). Rockwell's site is perhaps best known for frequently publishing strident essays defending Confederate "States' Rights" during the Civil War, and attacking Abraham Lincoln as a "dictator." Here's Rockwell on the virtues of segregation (quoted in the Frum article):
[Clarence] Thomas calls the segregation of the Old South, where he grew up, 'totalitarian.' But that's liberal nonsense. Whatever its faults, and it certainly had them, that system was far more localized, decent, and humane than the really totalitarian social engineering now wrecking the country.
I don't mean to suggest that just because the article appears on a nutty web site that it's automatically nutty too. Rockwell does post some sane stuff as well. But I do mean to suggest that a careful scholar really ought to read stuff posted on Rockwell's site with a sceptical eye.

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