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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Swallowing the Official Line

On Sept. 11, the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks that shook the world, the television networks will once more broadcast footage of the two airliners crashing into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. We will watch the buildings collapse. We will see the clouds of smoke and dust over New York. This nightmare has become a part of history; it has entered our culture and taken root in the collective memory.

But in the past year we have made very little progress in understanding the essence of what happened. The discussion of terrorism and the war on terrorism has turned mundane, a series of stock phrases whose real significance no longer concerns even those who mouth them day after day.

U.S. authorities very quickly came up with an official version of events and they have stuck to it, dismissing the doubters, the awkward questions and unexplained facts. The more holes and contradictions there are in the official story, the more the story becomes overgrown with myths. Most Americans accept the explanation given by Washington: Osama bin Laden and his terrorist organization, al-Qaida, are to blame.

A small number of Americans have been writing to newspapers and phoning television stations, claiming that the U.S. government itself blew up the World Trade Center, that the buildings were mined in advance, and so on. These conspiracy theories quickly turn into paranoid ramblings, but the basic questions they raise have never been addressed.

In Europe and the Arab world, people have their own take on Sept. 11. In France, Thierry Meyssan has claimed that certain figures in the U.S. military-industrial complex were behind the attacks. Meyssan's book on the subject became a bestseller. Theories like this attract all sorts of conspiracy theory junkies. The broader public regards such theories with skepticism, and rightly so. There is nothing more naive than attempts to explain momentous events as backstage intrigues. But in this case, the conspiracy theorists are justified in the sense that a major terrorist attack could not be organized without a conspiracy.

The most troubling revelation of the past year was the admission that U.S. intelligence had a huge amount of information concerning the planned terrorist acts but did nothing to stop them. This doesn't add up to a conspiracy in Washington, of course. The inability to see the big picture based on a mass of details could result not from an evil design but simple stupidity. And Washington is no more immune to this than Moscow.

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After demonstrating its incompetence on the eve of the attacks, U.S. law enforcement demonstrated amazing efficiency in the days that followed, compiling a complete account of what had happened, naming the terrorists and revealing how they had operated. In the intervening 12 months Washington has not strayed from that version of events and has devoted its efforts to proving that the official line is correct. From this conviction Washington derived the right to bomb Afghanistan, to invade Iraq, and more.

The problem is that during the past year the "global terrorist network" has not behaved as it was supposed to. The terrorists haven't managed to carry out a single serious attack against Americans. They did not respond to the bombing and occupation of Afghanistan. You get the impression that these people spent their entire lives preparing for a single terrorist attack, and that in executing it they exhausted their resources and imagination.

And then there's the Saudi connection. Bin Laden is the scion of a prominent family in Saudi Arabia. Saudis also figured prominently among the terrorists. It's no secret that Saudi money bankrolls many radical Muslim groups. But Washington began its retaliation for the attacks in Afghanistan, not in Saudi Arabia. Now it's threatening to attack Iraq. And information about the terrorists' links to Saudi Arabia has been ignored. Saudi Arabia is a strategic partner of the United States. The Saudi elite is closely tied with America, especially with those circles that run the show in President George W. Bush's administration. Big oil, which financed the Republicans at the last elections, does a lot of business in Saudi Arabia. Saudi intelligence has always cooperated with its American colleagues.

If the investigation ever expands to include Saudi Arabia, it could, sooner or later, prove very compromising for influential people in the United States. It's much easier just to pin everything on bin Laden. In a pinch blame Saddam Hussein, too.

Boris Kagarlitsky is a Moscow-based sociologist.