WASHINGTON — Until recently, one of my greatest fears was that, as a board member for the National Rifle Association, some overzealous airport security person would spy a copy of the American Rifleman in my briefcase as I was attempting to board a flight, and conclude I must be subversive because of the literature I elect to read.
Well, my fears have been greatly magnified. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has alerted security folks everywhere that almanacs may now be tools of the trade for terrorists plotting their dastardly deeds.
I kid you not.
According to various newspaper accounts, a recent “FBI intelligence bulletin” raises the red flag that almanacs constitute a vital link in the chain of intelligence terrorists use to plan such sophisticated operations as 9/11. The fact is, I wasn’t aware that that many people even read almanacs, much less relied on them.
My first reaction to learning of the FBI’s latest startling conclusion was, “if terrorists really depend on over-the-counter almanacs for the success of their planned actions, we’re in better shape than I imagined.” However, on careful reexamination of my initial skepticism, I concluded the guys at the FBI might really be onto something here. Maybe Ben Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanack,” which I thought had for two centuries or so been dispensing information on tides, phases of the moon and giant squash crops, really was the vehicle by which Emperor Hirohito planned the attack on Pearl Harbor. I never realized it was the almanac that provided the key intelligence leading to Saddam Hussein’s initial success in the 1991 invasion of Kuwait.
If only the subsequent economic boycott of Iraq had succeeded in stopping the massive influx of almanacs into Baghdad in the years after Saddam was driven back out of Kuwait, perhaps all the bloodshed we even now see in Iraq would have been averted. Ahhh, hindsight. Where were the boys at the FBI when we needed them?
What top-secret nuggets are even now available to terrorists around the world? Data that would be denied them if the FBI is able to yank these suspect volumes off the market? Let’s see …
A terrorist with access to the “2004 Old Farmer’s Almanac” would learn, for example on the very first page, how to cure the curse of “stunted carrots,” something every self-respecting terrorist should know. He also would learn, by virtue of an undoubtedly top secret “special report” found at page 112, the inside scoop on where and when it rains; thus enabling him to plan terrorist actions under clear skies, thereby ensuring their success.
Of course, weather being the key to any terrorist’s chances for success, the “2004 Old Farmer’s Almanac” would alert ole Osama bin Laden to the futility of launching any major attacks in California during the second week in February, because his efforts would be thwarted by unusually heavy thunderstorms.
Interestingly, however, the very volume the FBI apparently seeks to deny to terrorists provides within its pages tools with which to help our own anti-terrorist efforts.
For example, in the section cleverly mislabeled “Amusements,” our own intelligence and law enforcement operatives will learn the secrets of “face reading”; thereby enabling them to identify would-be terrorists by such telltale signs as a “noticeable bump on the bridge of the nose” or by the “flare of the nostrils.” (All this without resorting to insidious “profiling!”)
The dangers inherent in terrorists’ access to almanacs are not limited to those yellow-covered pamphlets that are the “Old Farmer’s Almanacs.” Oh no. There are many other, perhaps equally as dangerous tomes out there. The “TIME Almanac 2004,” for example. Just look at the intelligence pearls an Osama bin Laden would gather if he happened to open its colorful cover. He’d quickly learn the governor of California is a Mr. Gray Davis. Well, sometimes events move faster than publication schedules. Then again, maybe that’s a clever bit of “black (or “gray”) intelligence” planted by the CIA.
Osama might scratch his head, however, upon learning, in the section labeled “Iraq,” that Iraq’s largest trading partner in 2000 was, not France or Germany, but … the United States. So much for the embargo.
The terrorist planning an attack against U.S. interests would learn fascinating, and clearly relevant bits of information about the American devils who would be his target, by carefully studying some of the many tables contained in the “TIME Almanac 2004.” The history of “The Little Brown Jug” harness races or the winners of “Extreme Sports” in the last Olympics, for starters.
Perhaps nothing would so equip a terrorist to successfully plan an attack, as would learning the ins and outs of how to appeal a decision by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, tucked away at page 1,025.
A recent visit to a bookstore, looking for Christmas presents, caused me to realize just how fertile this venue is for potential or actual terrorists. From books as subversive as “Warplanes of the World” and “Muscle Cars of the 1960s,” to the latest “Rand McNally Road Atlas,” there is so much intelligence data contained in American bookstores, that if terrorists were really smart, they’d simply scarf up every map, almanac, how-to book and self-improvement volume they could find.
You know, the FBI really shouldn’t stop at outlawing almanacs. The only way to really deny terrorists access to the data they need, is to outlaw all books.
”’Bob Barr is a former member of the U.S. Congress from Georgia and a former U.S. attorney.”’
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