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The war on terror as corporate welfare...

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Here's how it went: The US government commissioned a company called VaxGen to furnish a new anthrax vaccine to the order of 75 million doses - the aim being to have something which could immunize most of the American populace. Its rival, Emergent, lobbied successfully to cast doubt on the vaccine and ruin the company. The US government cancelled Vaxgen's contract, the company fell apart and Emergent stepped in to buy the vaccine it had labored to cast doubt on.

Now the process has started again, with another company, Pharmathene, with a different vaccine, bought from a British company, trying to give Emergent the same treatment the latter had pulled on VaxGen.

The last eight years has also seen the belief that some unique combination of American technology will make everything right put to death by reality. Of course, many still cling to it. For example, many like to imagine that Predator UAVs will end the war on terror by picking al Qaeda men out of crowds at opportune moments, blowing them away with surgical missile fire, like eliminating a colored plastic toothpick from a bundle of regular wooden ones. Obviously, this has been working well in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Others prefer to believe the US military is winning a war against improvised explosive devices with robots, computer analysis, eyes in the sky and jammers, despite the regular weekend listing of the dead by roadside bomb in the Sunday newspaper.

The terror gene

In similar witless fashion, the US has been quietly shoveling DNA samples from terrorists, aka detainees, into a database, abusing a basic scientific application and common sense for the sake of a secret bureaucratic process which guarantees another interesting exercise in mislabeling and the generation of ineradicable errors. By 2005, seven thousand were already in it and ten thousand more were "inbound from Afghanistan and Iraq," according to one recent report. Anyway, the word "terrorist" is clearly spelled out in the genome, right? Imagine this one in a Guantanamo court: "Sir, if you aren't a terrorist, why does your DNA match a sample in our database of official terrorists?"

There's also been the regular use of the war on terror as an opportunity to say anything for the sake of getting noticed. The best recent example is from Bill Bratton, chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, who chose to inject himself into politics by writing an essay theorizing John McCain was Osama bin Laden's select choice for president. (Others have done this, too, but for the sake of this article's finale, we'll stick with Bratton.)

"Does our economic implosion make us a tempting target?" wondered Bratton in a New York Daily News op-ed. Perhaps bin Laden was planning to blow up an "economic target," he said.

Bratton mused that the country might expect a late October surprise, an increase in terrorism in coming weeks, and that bin Laden would be for McCain, simply because the Republican party's brand is rubbish worldwide and that's been good for recruiting. Confoundingly, this is diametrically opposite the Republican script, which has been that Barack Obama would be welcoming to terrorists.

The immediate conjecture here is that Bratton really wasn't concerned about terrorism, but he might be interested in signaling it was time to notice him for a job higher up. Head of the Department of Homeland Security, anyone? ®

George Smith is a senior fellow at GlobalSecurity.org, a defense affairs think tank and public information group. At Dick Destiny, he blogs his way through chemical, biological, and nuclear terror hysteria, often by way of the contents of neighbourhood hardware stores.

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