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Prelude to Terror – Review

by: Trento, Joseph J.

Publisher: Carroll & Graf Publishers (Avalon)

Copyright: 2005

Cover: Marc Cohen/MJCDesgin

Type: Hardcover

reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 7/8/2005

Summary: Ignore the political spin: must read.  The economics of crime and terrorism.

In reading this, yet another 9/11 scenario book, the question of where in this great nation points the “moral compass” percolates in the back on the mind. It is a cynical question befitting the seemingly cynical attitude some–emphasis upon some–in the halls of our government have for the country itself. We are talking money here and not just small money. Real money. Nickle and dime, billion dollar accumulations of tax payers type-money.

In a twice aired installment of 60 Minutes titled “Handouts For the Homeland”, we learn that the 10 billion dollars allocated over five years for America’s security is being doled out by a political formula rather than by security needs. In an April 17, 2005 article in the Chicago Tribune titled “Medicaid Loophole for Middle Class at Risk”, we learn that if you are a member of the middle class and reach a point where you need assistance from the government to stay in a nursing home, you must first give-up your middle-class status and become “poor”. And then, creeping up alongside these other thoughts in the back of your mind, the July 8th bombings in London in which the London news media refuses to call the individuals involved terrorist, but simply bombers. Would our news media be so conscientious? Make such a simple distinction? So, what does all this have to do with yet another 9/11 scenario book and the “war on terror”?

It is all about the money. The bling. The moolah.

In reading PRELUDE TO TERROR, it is not a far stretch to cull from its pages support for some seemingly far-fetched theories. That is because there are two threads of thought running through PRELUDE TO TERROR. One is overt and is the intent of author Joseph J. Trento; the other thread is simply the froth generated from the first, possibly without the author’s intent or even awareness . Toward the end of the book, he presents one seemingly far-fetched idea that has resulted in this book being labeled a Bush bashing foray. The assessment seems unfair if you read the entire work. There is so much more here.

Trento makes a very strong case that former CIA employees, George Herbert Walker Bush among them but specifically Theodore G. Shackley (who died in 2002), Edwin P. Wilson and others, used their government experience to establish a private network of businesses trading in and off national security. In another book on the same subject, author Peter Maas, in MANHUNT (TG reviewed in May 2004) paints a more sinister portrait of some of these characters, especially of Edwin Wilson, who went to jail. (Wilson’s conviction was overturned in 2003). Trento, on the other hand, broadens the scope of the inquiry and looks beyond the individuals to the cabal, the group which includes the Bush presidents-GHW, the first, and GW the second. It is this indictment of George Herbert Walker Bush and his son, George Walker Bush, that gets the most emphasis in talk about this book. However, profiting from the national security policies of the United States is not something invented by the Bush family nor the Republicans for that matter. By hitching their limited business acumen to former CIA insiders who cozy up to foreign governments for commercial sale of security services, weapons, and uniforms, the Bushes and friends are able to make lots of money. In Trento’s handling of these duplicitous circumstances, a second thread of thought is exposed which, in turn, leads to the foundation for some fantastic conspiracy theories. Just the facts themselves are fantastic enough which Trento presents with amazing detail-excruciating detail one might say.

Theodore G. Shackley had a long and outstanding CIA career before being gradually pushed out the door by President Jimmy Carter’s Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), Standfield Turner. According to Trento, Shackley had dreams of becoming the DCI himself. By 1977, when Turner took over, Shackley was well on his way to taking over the CIA business fronts established by Edwin Wilson. In gist, the business fronts were, like the fabled Air America airlines, shipping companies. Foreign governments would contract to purchase weapons, parts and supplies and these companies would do the shipping. There were also CIA influenced banks, such as the legendary BCCI. (For a partial history of BCCI, see Rachel Ehrenfeld,’s EVIL MONEY, TG reviewed in May 1995). Shackley’s dual track purpose during his last years in the CIA were to wrest control of CIA business fronts from Edwin Wilson and to become DCI. With the election of Ronald Regan as President and former DCI, George Hubert Walker Bush as Vice President in 1980, Shackely was able to achieve the first goal. The second goal was deflated when William “Bill” Casey was appointed to take over the CIA. From Trento’s handling of the history, EdwinWilson was, under the expert manipulation of events by Shackley, left to defend himself against charges of selling weapons to the terrorist state Libya without benefit of a “in the service of national security and the CIA” defense. Wilson gets a go-to-jail card. This leaves his former secret, silent partners free reign to rake in the profits from CIA front businesses and to steer benefactors to sources of profit.

Of the many auxiliary paths Trento brings into this exploration of national security and CIA business ventures, the source of American intelligence on events in the Middle East is the most fascinating. He uses the phrase “proxy intelligence operations” to describe intelligence products from both the private organizations (former CIA fronts) and other countries. Before and during the 1970s, the United States relied upon Israel and the Shah of Iran to pass along intelligence. After President Carter sought to establish a more balanced policy in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia emerged as a leading source of intelligence on Middle East affairs. They were not doing so out of charity. Trento makes the case that Saudi Arabia was pursuing a policy to appease Islamic fundamentalist while at the same time laying the foundation for its own security for the time when the Islamic atomic bomb became a reality. The bomb did become a reality. By 1987 Pakistan had developed nuclear capability with the tacit approval of the United States. By 1985, Saudi Arabia “had succeeded in drawing the United States into an Islamic morass”.

The entire theme of PRELUDE TO TERROR is that a group of corrupt, former CIA and other government employees hijacked the national security and foreign policies of the United States and the results have been 9/11, deep-seated hatred for the United States in some parts of the world and the solidification of a business empire which thrives upon war, and upon weapons and war-technology sales supporting those wars. Trento does an extremely credible job of documenting all this. He goes farther and concludes that the CIA today is essentially irrelevant. But there is the second thread running through this book which forms the foundation of, on the surface at least, outlandish conspiracy theories. One step back from those theories is the simple assessment that American foreign policy has been and continues to be ran by a bunch of people who are way-out of their league. The fact that America spent fifty-years of the last century maneuvering around a paper grizzly bear only to be attacked on its own soil by former “allies” should prompt a moment of pause if for no other reason than to figure out who the real “enemy” is here.

Joseph J. Treneto has written a thought provoking book which some have chosen to see only as a swipe at President George W. Bush. While certainly not flattering either Bush president, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton also get a few knocks. The content of PRELUDE TO TERROR moves miles beyond an indictment of one man or one political party. It is an indictment of a political atmosphere in which fear is allowed to be the motivator of policy.

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