The details of the conspiracy behind the Sept. 11 attack on New York City and Washington D.C. remain maddeningly vague. The pixels are slowly forming into a bigger picture. What is clearer is the meaning behind the words and phrases that only recently worked their way into the American lexicon—Jihad, Northern Alliance, al-Quaida, the Powell Doctrine, and, as of President George W. Bush’s Sept. 20 address to a joint session of Congress, homeland security.
Unlike Tom Ridge, the new head of the cabinet-level Office of Homeland Security, many of the people in charge of protecting the homeland from further terrorist attack are quietly working behind the scenes to safeguard our dams, power lines and public health agencies—the infrastructure that forms the foundation of our society. Across the state and the region, plans are being devised, armed guards are being put in place and worst-case scenarios are being worked out on the off-chance that Montana might someday surface without warning on a terrorist’s unpredictable radar.
The need for heightened security has officials on alert. And while alertness hasn’t given way to paranoia, not everyone will readily discuss security measures only recently undertaken. But, Montana being Montana, no one questioned whether a reporter who identifies herself over the phone really is who she says she is. Many of them, it seems, are eager to get the word out—but not too many words—that Montana remains safe and protected.
The security measures taken run the gamut from military troop deployments to employee badge checking. At the Umatilla Chemical Weapons Depot, just upwind of Missoula in Hermiston, Ore., for instance, a company of soldiers has been dispatched from Fort Lewis, Wash., and for good reason. There are 3,717 tons of chemical warfare agents stored at Umatilla, primarily mustard gas, Sarin and a close chemical cousin of Sarin, stored in earth-bermed, concrete-reinforced igloos awaiting incineration.
“We can’t tell you a lot of information about our security, but we can tell you it’s heightened,” says Jim Hackett, public affairs officer at Umatilla. When pressed, Hackett admits that the U.S. Army dispatched between 100 and 200 soldiers to the depot on Sept. 25. They’ll be there indefinitely, checking the identifications of the civilian and military workforce. “There is no specific threat against the depot,” he adds.
Nor have there been any specific threats made against the Hanford nuclear site in eastern Washington. Still, security at Hanford was increased immediately after the Sept. 11 attack, says spokesman Mike Talbot. Currently there is no military presence at the sprawling site, though a contracted security force checks the identifications of the 10,500 people who arrive for work there every day. “We increased the checking of appropriate [identification] badges, and we’ve done some other things that wouldn’t be visible.” Carpooling, previously encouraged, is now discouraged at Hanford so guards can check every person’s ID individually. Talbot says there will be extra security at Hanford as long as it remains the prudent thing to do.
Also in eastern Washington is the headquarters of Yellowstone Pipeline, which carries gas and jet fuel to various markets between refineries in Billings and its terminus in Moses Lake. Says company spokesman John Bennett, “I do know there are additional security measures, but Yellowstone Pipeline Company is not discussing them because when you do you compromise security.”
Twenty-four-hour-a-day guards are also patrolling Montana’s hydroelectric dams operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, though security measures vary from site to site, says spokeswoman Diana Cross. At the Hungry Horse Dam in Columbia Falls, the Bureau also relies on the cooperation of the local sheriff. The visitor center at Hungry Horse, which normally closes by the end of summer, was shut down a week or two earlier. Tours, visits and recreation at Canyon Ferry Dam near Helena and Buffalo Bill Dam at Cody, Wyo., also ended earlier than usual. Cross will say little else about any heightened security. “I’m not really going to discuss that,” she says.
Officials at Bonneville Power Administration, which owns and maintains 13,000 miles of power lines in the region, are also closemouthed, saying only that “steps are being taken” to protect those lines.
Public health agencies in Montana have been readying against a bioterrorism attack since the fall of 1999 when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta granted the state money to establish a health network and coordinate a state and national response to the possibility of mass casualties.
“All this time we’ve been preparing and exercising and defining protocols and developing new ones,” says Lorrie Leighton-Boster, a nurse with the state Department of Public Health and Human Services who is in charge of implementing the CDC program.
As has been oft noted since Sept. 11, health officials are concerned with the potential for the deliberate dissemination of two disease-causing organisms: anthrax and smallpox. Why these two in particular? Experts say that anthrax, primarily a disease of cattle, is comprised of hardy, airborne spores. Smallpox has been eradicated from the world, and Americans are no longer vaccinated for it. The population, therefore, is vulnerable.
The state’s program as it applies to bioterrorism is complex, and given its sensitive nature Leighton-Boster is reluctant to get too specific. “I’ll be a little bit vague with this because I think it’s the appropriate thing to do at this point. Certainly, if there was an event of any kind we’d be working with all our state partners,” including the CDC, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, law enforcement, local and state Disaster and Emergency Services, among others. “It would be a very collaborative effort,” she says.
Among other efforts, the state has been working on a disease-surveillance system so that unusual health symptoms can be identified quickly without waiting weeks for the lab results. State health officials are also learning how to access the national pharmaceutical stockpiles of intravenous supplies, vaccines, dressings and the other tools doctors would need to treat large numbers of casualties. The locations of the pharmaceutical stockpiles are not well publicized—Leighton-Boster doesn’t even know where they are—but she says that in a public health emergency health officials could access them quickly.
The state already has a system for handling lower-level health threats like pertussis (whooping cough) or hepatitis outbreaks, says Jim Murphy, the state’s communicable disease health specialist.
What the state is trying to do now, he says, is build on that system to respond to a greater public health crisis.
Murphy isn’t too concerned about deliberate dissemination of anthrax or smallpox for several reasons: Montana, with its small, scattered population, would make a poor target; weather conditions would have to be right for its success; and large quantities would have to be inhaled to cause disease in just one person. “It’s one thing to make this stuff,” says Murphy. “It’s another thing to put it into play.”
But on the other hand, he adds, no one suspected that terrorists would fly planeloads of people into buildings, nor did anyone think to check Montana for the Unabomber. And, a large bioterrorism release in a nearby urban center like Portland or Seattle could surface quickly in Montana.
Both Leighton-Boster and Murphy caution people to remain alert but not fearful; be watchful for the unusual in your environment and don’t hesitate to report your suspicions to the police. Stay mindful of the fact that cigarettes, heart disease and obesity will likely kill more Montanans than bioterrorism attacks. “There is a real danger of paranoia,” says Murphy.
In short, local experts recommend that the public stay calm but alert and prepare for the worst, just in case.
What’s in a name when a war is at stake
America’s answer to Sept. 11 has finally arrived, and it now has a name: “Operation Enduring Freedom.” Wars have a tendency to generate their own institutional shorthand—lines in the sand, as it were—and in the last month we’ve seen a few blunders: “Infinite Justice,” which angered some Muslims, who argued that only Allah can dispense infinite justice, and President Bush’s description of this war as “a crusade,” which conjured up images of 11th century European Christians laying siege to the Islamic world. But now that “Enduring Freedom” appears to be the first military campaign in what the administration promises will be an ongoing “War on Terrorism,” it’s safe to ask: Are such in-quotation terms intended to help Americans understand this latest conflict, or simply rally their support behind it?
This is more than an academic debate over semantics. It goes without saying that the overwhelming majority of news that Montanans will consume about this war will come from national mainstream news sources. And since much of this war is likely to be clandestine in nature or else fought in places without independent media outlets that can confirm or deny official government claims, news organizations will be relying heavily—as they did during the Gulf War—on the U.S. military for the bulk of their information. Thus, the images and lingo the media choose to adopt from government and military sources can serve as barometers of the relationship between the military and the media, reflecting just how aggressively or passively the media is doing its job.
“About 80 percent of this war is going to be political and about 20 percent is going to be military,” predicts Brig. Gen. Dale Stovall, now retired from the U.S. Air Force. Stovall, who left the military in 1993 after serving as deputy commanding general of the Joint Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C., now lives in Missoula and spoke with the Independent last week.
Among the lessons taken from the Vietnam War, says Stovall, is what’s commonly known as the “Powell Doctrine.” Named after Colin Powell, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Gulf War, the Powell Doctrine says that before the U.S. military gets involved in a conflict, it looks to satisfy three conditions: First, the operation must have the support of the American people. Second, the military objective must be clear. Third, the military must have a mandate to win.
Since popular support for a military action is crucial to its success, but also the variable most likely to fluctuate over time—especially if American casualties mount or if images of injured or dead civilians become commonplace on the nightly news—Stovall was asked if the media is ever used as a weapon.
“Using the press as an instrument of war isn’t good policy, not for a democratic nation,” he says. “The press needs to not be manipulated because it takes away from the value of that particular freedom.” While he explains that disinformation is a potent weapon for the military—included under Stovall’s command was a “psychological operations” unit—he stresses that it is long-held policy that the military does not lie to the media.
“We don’t tell lies. We don’t have to. The truth works. Because sooner or later, people find out about it and you don’t have any credibility,” Stovall says. “If you’re going to lie to the media, you’re putting your career at risk.”
There are, however, some military observers who believe otherwise. Last month Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post wrote a piece in which he quoted a Pentagon source who claimed that in the past the military has released false stories to the press in order to deceive the enemy.
“You have to start with the assumption that just because something is said by the U.S. government, particularly if it’s attributed to unnamed sources in the U.S. government, it’s not necessarily so,” says Jim Naureckas, editor of Extra!, a publication of the media watchdog group, FAIR, or Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.
In fact, a report published back in 1991 by the Center for Public Integrity entitled, “Under Fire: U.S. Military Restrictions on the Media From Grenada to the Persian Gulf,” found “a disturbing pattern of escalating control over media access to information on and off the battlefield. The evidence shows that, increasingly, information about Defense Department activities is being restricted or manipulated not for national security purposes, but for political purposes—to protect the image and priorities of the Defense Department and its civilian leaders, including the president, who is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.”
The result, the report concluded, “was a defeat for the First Amendment guarantee of press freedom and the public’s right to information about the political decisions that can lead to U.S. military involvement abroad, and the ramifications of such involvement.” But while the report was critical of both the White House and the Pentagon, it also blamed the media themselves for their passive acceptance of wartime restrictions.
“Instead of developing a respectful but adversarial relationship with the Pentagon, many members of the press have become dependent on the military for visuals and information,” the report reads. “The sad truth is that while reporters and editors complained about media restrictions, in the end many of them presented precisely the data and images that the White House and the Defense Department wanted the press to pass along to the American people.”
“That war was an unreported war. We will never know what happened,” says Deni Elliott, director of the Practical Ethics Center at the University of Montana. Elliott says that during the Gulf War the media “were kept backstage from the theater of operations” and largely became cheerleaders for the operation, a disturbing trend that she sees unfolding today. The job of the press, she argues, is not to parrot the outrage of citizens or repeat the government’s lingo, but to serve in what she calls “the Greek chorus role,” questioning not just the facts but the very language of the discussion itself.
“I think journalism has an obligation to help create new language for people and government to talk about this stuff,” she says.
For example, “‘War on Terrorism’” she says, “is a problematic phrase.” Metaphorically speaking, the expression makes sense, like speaking about the War on Poverty or the War on Drugs. But taken literally, a war declared on terrorism is meaningless and obscures the truth that real people will die.
“This ‘War on Terrorism’ is really a war against Afghanistan,” says Elliott. “That’s where the bombs are going to be dropped, those are the people who are going to be killed. If we’re just going after terrorists, what about the Palestinian terrorists? Does that mean we bomb Lebanon? Does it mean we bomb Syria? Does it mean we bomb the West Bank? Of course not.”
Unfortunately, she says, when the mainstream media parrot the language of the administration, they allow it to set the parameters of the debate, and thus the parameters of the war itself.
“A patriotic reporter is one that aggressively reports the news, because that is the function of the media in a democracy,” says FAIR’s Naureckas. “You serve your country best as a reporter by giving the public all the facts and letting them make an informed decision. … Really, war is about the most serious thing a state can do, and it’s a time when we need more democracy, not less.”
Montana’s survivalists gear up and hunker down
John Trochmann was sitting at his desk in his office in Noxon the morning of Sept. 11. He was drafting a speech to deliver in California the following week when he learned of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
After getting the news, did he make any special preparations? Stupid question to ask the head of the Militia of Montana.
“We didn’t take any,” Trochmann says. “We’re always prepared.”
The Militia of Montana, which has drawn plenty of national attention in the last decade for being at the forefront of the independent militia movement, fielded hundreds of calls in the wake of the attack.
“The first calls came in from New York,” Trochmann says. “One was an emergency worker at the site who wanted emergency supplies for his family.”
The man had heard the Militia of Montana “vilified in the mainstream media,” Trochmann says. “But then he went to our Web site and saw what we are really about.”
Part of what the Militia is really about is selling gear. Their catalog sells mostly books, audio tapes, and videos, but also boots, gloves, radiological meters, compasses, sleeping bag cocoons, and more. A hot item is “survival tabs,” which are complete meals in tiny tablet form.
But the fastest moving commodities right now, of course, are gas masks and chemical suits.
“New York ran us out of gas masks in the first week. We thought we had a lifetime supply,” Trochmann says. “We were pretty fortunate to find more chem suits so we can continue to ship them to folks all over the country.”
In Missoula, the Army & Navy Economy Store on Higgins Avenue sold out of gas masks and chemical suits right away.
“Gas masks are gone, we can’t even get them from the distributors,” says store manager Dave McKenna. One lady called the store from Pennsylvania, he says, after calling stores all over the country that were all sold out of gas masks.
“The worst part is, it’s a false hope,” McKenna says. “We tell them it’s for tear gas and not for a chemical attack. If something does drop it won’t do anything, it just makes them feel better.”
After the events of Sept. 11, and with officials continuing to warn of domestic threats, it’s no surprise that people would want something to cling to. Even if that something is a vintage German gas mask. “Bioterrorism remains a significant threat to our nation,” says U.S. Sen. Bill Frist (R–Tenn.) in a statement two weeks ago calling for a billion dollars in bioterrorism prevention money.
While the government spends millions and possibly billions, individuals can put together a complete survival preparedness kit for relatively cheap. Or they can buy one pre-made.
Twelve bucks buys the “Survival Kit-In-A-Can” from Coghlan’s Limited. The low-end survival kit seals dozens of basic supplies—from signal whistles to bullion cubes to a razor blade to a compass—into a sardine can. On the higher end is the “Global Survival Kit” from Adventure Tools, which costs $60. The contents are much the same but expanded, particularly with more medicine.
As for the bioterrorism protection gear, the Militia of Montana sells most chemical suits for $40. They describe the chemical suit as “a two-piece, two-layer, charcoal lined overgarment that will protect you from chemical agent vapors, aerosols, droplets of liquid, biological agents, toxins, and radioactive alpha and beta particles.”
The Militia sells Israeli gas masks for $20 each, German masks for $12. German children’s gas masks for $8. Replacement filters cost $8 each. The filters “last approximately 20 minutes in a heavy chemical/biological environment,” according to the Web site. The site also notes that the masks frequently go for as much as $45.
“With the mask, suit and accessories, you will be completely outfitted for protection in a chemical environment,” the Militia Web site says.
The Army & Navy Economy Store sells its gas masks for $20, McKenna says, even the precious few they got in last week.
“We kept our flags the same price, too,” McKenna says. After gas masks and chemical suits, American flags were the next best seller after the attack, McKenna says. Water purifiers and meals-ready-to-eat went quickly, too.
“People says they had their guns loaded and they’re ready to head up into the hills if they have to,” McKenna says.
Some have said that the nuclear arsenal at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls makes Montana a possible terrorist target. Missoula is in a valley and so it would be sensitive to a chemical attack or a toxic spill from a train derailment, McKenna says. But he remains skeptical.
“I’ve talked to military people, and it’s population that they’re going for,” he says.
Trochmann also thinks the threat is greatest in more populous areas.
“My heart goes out to those people in the cities,” he says. “I sure wouldn’t want to be them now.”
Still, Trochmann traveled to California to give his speech. He updated it to incorporate the terrorist attack on America, and opened by showing a photo of the World Trade Center with a target on one of the towers right near where one of the planes hit. The photo, he says, came from a 1997 Federal Emergency Management Agency manual. Trochmann has much to say about the attacks, and at times his positions sound like those of some unlikely allies. Talking about civil liberties, his stance echoes those of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“RNO Bush, that stands for Republican in Name Only, picked up on homeland defense and the national ID card, too,” Trochmann says. “They’re nationalizing security at the airports, taking away our state identification in lieu of federal, I have real problems with that.” Talking about possible U.S. retaliation, the positions sound like those of the peace movement.
Osama bin-Laden is “a convenient villain to take off the shelf as they need to.”
Attacking Afghanistan would be “like going after Minnesota or Florida for providing the training for those who flew the airplanes.”
Trochmann pauses and takes a breath. “So the beat goes on.”