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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

It now seems that Subash Gurung wasn't an evil-minded terrorist, just a ridiculous boob. At least so say the Feds. When I wrote yesterday that releasing him immediately on bond seemed pretty foolish, a number of readers wrote in that what it looked like was that the authorities were letting him go in the hopes that he might lead them to more clues or associates.

On paper that made good sense. But the Feds' subsequent rearrest of Gurung, so soon after the locals cut him loose, points pretty clearly, I think, to the original conclusion that letting him go was just a screw up, plain and simple.

Anyway, the follow-up information to Gurung's arrest provides the really pitiful details about the state of our current airline security system.

When Gurung went through the normal security check point, the security guards noticed something in his pocket, which turned out to be two knives. They confiscated those knives and waived him through. Only later in a random check at the gate by United Airlines personnel were seven more knives discovered in his carry-on luggage along with two more weapons of micro-destruction -- a stun gun and mace.

Now just in order to give the story all the dramatic punch possible, it turns out that the security company responsible for this bang-up job was Argenbright Security, the company that the federal government has already repeatedly cited for hiring various hoodlums, illegal aliens and ne'er-do-wells to do their screening for them.

Argenbright said their employees had done everything by the book, but responded with this gem, the comedic potential of which seems not yet to have been fully explored:

Effective today, any individual who has a suspicious item confiscated by security personnel ... will automatically have their carry-on bags searched as well by Argenbright personnel ...
Let's unpack this.

Under Argenbright's new ultra-draconian rules, once you are found trying to take a weapon on to a plane, all your carry-on bags will be searched. No exceptions!

Is this a joke? You know, I don't want to be too much of a hardass, but for my money, in the post-9/11 universe, if you get caught trying to bring two knives on board a plane, I'm willing to say you just can't come on the trip.

Call me heartless.

This morning all the news outlets are reporting the arrest of Subash Gurung, who tried to take a stun gun, mace and a slew of knives on to a flight leaving Chicago.

Even more troubling than the Soldier of Fortune value-pak he apparently planned to bring on board was the fact that he used a Chicago address also used by Ayub Ali Khan, one of the two 'material witnesses' arrested on an Amtrak train in Texas on September 12th, with $5,500 cash, two box-cutter knives and hair dye. (On the day of the attacks, Khan and his associate Mohamed Jaweed Azmath were on a plane which was grounded after the FAA closed American airspace.)

Perhaps there's an innocent explanation for this. Or at least a non-terrorist explanation. But here's the weird part. After being detained and processed Gurung was released on bond!

Now I'm all for civil liberties. But according to this excellent Washington Post article, the Feds are already pursuing a policy of 'disruption' in their waves of anti-terrorist arrests. We'll be saying more about the specifics and rationales behind this soon. But for the moment, let's just say that this is a policy of arrest, detain and then ask questions later. It's as much an effort to disrupt the terror network by getting a lot of folks locked up as it is an effort to charge and prosecute particular individuals for particular crimes.

Wouldn't you think the authorities would have wanted to keep Gurung on ice for a few days? Isn't this, at the very least, rather inconsistent?

Here is yet another excellent article on the baffling question of the origin of the anthrax attack. The troubling and confusing upshot of the article is that there are very good reasons to doubt both a domestic and an international culprit.

The best argument against the 'no-connection to Al Qaeda' hypothesis remains the sheer rapidity with which the attacks began. The first known letter was sent only a week after the 9/11 attacks.

On the other hand, those who argue for a connection face numerous inconsistencies, including the very non-Al Qaeda-seeming MO and the many oddities of the letters themselves. Among other things, as the Post article notes, the combination of the Arabic "Allah" and the English "is Great" seems odd. To a non-Muslim "Allah" has an exotic sound to it. But it simply means "God." According to the Middle Eastern studies prof the Post quotes, you'd expect a Muslim to either say it all in English or all in Arabic.

This really is a mystery.

Just now, on one of my morning walks, I happened by a police car stationed at an inconspicuous corner, presumably positioned there as part of the heightened -- and now indefinite -- state of alert against potential terrorist attacks. Seated in the car, slouched back and clad in a bullet proof vest, was a DC Metro police officer playing Microsoft Solitaire on his patrol car's on-board computer screen.

It'd be easy to have some fun at the guy's expense. And Lord knows, the DC Metro police have their problems.

But it seemed more than anything emblematic of the hurry-up-and-wait tempo of DC's now perpetual anti-terrorism preparedness. Perhaps we're about to be hit by a massive and catastrophic terrorist attack. On the other hand, it's a beautiful day out and would you like to go hang at Starbucks?

At one point people may begin to ask why US Attorney Mary Jo White spent the better part of 2001 investigating the unreviewable pardons of former President Clinton and the shenanigans of Senator Bob Torricelli (two cases over which she had at best uncertain jurisdiction) when her time might have been more profitably spent cracking down on Islamic terrorist cells in New York.

But it's nice to know -- even now -- she still has time to work on the Torricelli case.

Certainly, everything looks different with post-9/11 hindsight. But it's worth beginning to talk about what a profoundly injudicious prosecutor White is, and how poorly suited she is for her job.

But she's a Clinton appointee, you say?

Who cares?

We'll be saying more about this.

Here is a column I wrote for Friday's New York Post about the lessons we can learn from the failed effort to get the Sudan to turn over Osama bin Laden back in 1996. The gist of the story is that the folks at the Clinton NSC were not so much too soft (as many are quick to assert) as too hard on the folks in question. In a critical respect they fell for the rogue state mythology they and others had helped create.

More important is this, however. I found out a few days ago that my editor at the Post, Mark Cunningham, had become the latest victim of the anthrax outbreak. Thankfully, it's only of the skin variety. And no doubt he'll be fine.

I'd kept mum about this. But the news has now been made public. So I suppose there's no problem mentioning it.

Mark's been hard at work editing the Opinion Page at the Post, editing my column among many other things, all while dealing with this anthrax stuff. So Mark's one of my heroes in this whole awful situation.

One more follow-up on this anthrax susceptibility question. Given the results of the study referenced in this post, it would be very interesting to know how many of the victims of inhalation anthrax were either smokers or had a history of occupational lung damage.

Here's an interesting article in the Post on the doubts the Pentagon has about the Northern Alliance and the apparent necessity -- at least if you listen to military analysts -- of some major introduction of American ground troops if we're to have any success in Afghanistan.

The argument, essentially, is that the Northern Alliance either isn't trustworthy or isn't up to the task. (Here's an interesting contrary take from Slate.)

One thing that sort of jumps out about this article is that a good many of the experts quoted or noted are Pakistanis; and obviously the Pakistanis have their own reasons for not wanting us to adopt a strategy which is heavily reliant on the Northern Alliance.

This article in the Times quotes fewer Pakistani military sources and isn't quite so negative on the Northern Alliance. But this surprisingly editorializing sentence ("The Northern Alliance ... has proved far more energetic in complaining about the nature of the American bombing than in planning or executing an offensive.") pretty well sums up the author's viewpoint.

Let me add one more detail here. I had a long talk today with a former American intelligence officer with long experience in Central Asia -- let's call him Mr.Y. Based largely on his insights and arguments I think I'd revise some of my very negative appraisal of the conduct of the war in Afghanistan to date. The reasons are fairly straightforward. He thinks the Taliban will crack as their military equipment breaks down and their supplies of money are cut-off. And he thinks the Pakistani regime is probably less wobbly than we imagine. So, all things considered, why sacrifice more young American men and women if we can do most of it from the air? That's his take at least.

And for what it's worth, he thinks the Saudis are getting a bum rap and that the Northern Alliance is nothing to write home about.

Following up on our earlier post about anthrax susceptibility, this NPR report has some important information from an American study of the accidental release of anthrax in the former Soviet Union in 1979. According to the study, those who came down with inhalation anthrax were all "middle-aged or older," had "occupational lung damage," and were "all heavy smokers."

Again, this seems like information we might want people to know.

P.S. Special thanks to TPM reader PB for sending along the link.

Isn't this a little indecent? Gray Davis announces that there's a credible threat against some California bridges. Then the Justice Department says Davis' information isn't as credible as the information that led to the Ashcroft announcement earlier in the week.

(Credible? You call that credible? I'll show you credible, buddy!!!)

Can't everyone get on the same team here? Is this like a credibility gap? Do we need a credibility rating system?

The Times gives Davis a bit more of a break, quoting the FBI to the effect that the threat was more 'specific' than the Ashcroft threat, and noting the fact that Davis said he had the information from "several sources, including the F.B.I."

But what does that last line mean exactly? He also got tipped off by the Golden State's own spy agency? What's the deal here?

Just reading over the transcript of Davis' announcement, I see the governor says: "The best preparation is to let the terrorists know: We know what you're up to. We're ready. It's not going to succeed ... We don't want any damage. We don't want any bloodshed. Our goal is to be prepared."

Translation: We're not lookin' for any trouble. We don't wanna have to bust anybody up. We don't wanna have to be kickin' any ass, my terrorist friends. So just chill, okay?

Who's Davis' speechwriter?

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