Friday, May 31, 2019

.The Looming Tower


by Ben Soton

The Looming Tower (2018). Creators: Dan Futterman, Alex Gibney, Lawrence Wright. Stars: Jeff Daniels, Tahar Rahim, Wrenn Schmidt
This 10-episode mini-series shown on BBC2 covers the events leading up to the attack on the World Trade Centre on 11th September 2001. It begins with a series of bombings on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and the subsequent investigation.
A common thread of the story is the rivalry between the FBI and the CIA and their different approaches to the events. The CIA viewed the attacks as a declaration of war by Al Qaeda on the USA requiring military retaliation; whilst the FBI view it as a law enforcement problem and the culprits should be brought to justice. This raises the issue of whether it is possible for a state to go to war with an organisation rather than another state.
The series paints the CIA, in particular the head of ‘Alec Station’ (the CIA counter-terrorism unit) Martin Schmidt, rather badly. Schmidt, based on former intelligence officer Michael Scheuer, withholds important information from the FBI. He and his all-female team are ridiculed by the FBI and described as “The Family” in a reference to the Charles Manson cult. He believed that only the CIA was able to deal with the problem. As it was the CIA who armed the likes of Al Qaeda in the first place perhaps, they may have had an insight into the organisation.
Differences between the FBI and the CIA do exist. The FBI is America’s national police force; whilst the CIA, although based in the USA, is a more global organisation containing agents of numerous nationalities. It has the features of the militant religious orders of old such as the Jesuits of the 16th and 17th centuries; its aim being to spread counter-revolution and undermine social progress throughout the world. It is not surprising that such an organisation would be secretive and have strange practices.
Meanwhile the FBI headed by John O’Neil are shown in a better light. An FBI agent, of Lebanese Sunni Muslim origin, points out that the attacks in East Africa were the work of Al Qaeda not the Lebanese group Hezbollah as previously thought. The agent, Ali Soufan, is sent to London to investigate the attacks. Before his departure he is told he is being sent to the place with the highest concentration of Al Qaeda operatives on the planet. It was for this reason that during the late 1990s and early 2000s London was referred to by some quarters as Londonistan. 
O’Neil appears to have a complicated personal life however. He’s a polygamist with serious money problems. In one scene he is shown having his credit card declined in a restaurant; he is told by a much younger operative that agents with financial problems become targets for the other side. Ironically O’Neil later left the FBI to become Head of Security at the World Trade Centre, where he was killed in the 2001 attack.
The series has similarities with the Channel Four drama {Homeland} but differs in that it covers actual events. So far, I have made it one of my essential weekly viewings. This is not to say it will give you a full understanding of the events – for that you will have to read other articles in this paper.

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