No Stone Unturned?

June 23, 2002

By John K. Bates

One of the Bush administration’s persistent themes in our so-called “war on terror” has been that “no stone will be left unturned” in hunting down those who either have done or propose to do grave harm to these United States. Whether in the U.S. or abroad, we will be tireless in our pursuit of terrorists, their sponsors, and even their sympathizers. It’s good policy, though it is unrealistic at its core and therefore more of a cheap political home run than a useful policy. Who would, after all, advocate leaving any “stone” unturned or any investigative avenue unexplored in preventing terror?

It turns out, perhaps not surprisingly, that our very own federal government is doing just that. In a day and age where we are to be ever vigilant and where we look for al Qaeda members not only in countries as far-flung as Afghanistan, the Philippines, and Columbia but also in Granny’s carry-on baggage, we are incredulously leaving a significant angle unexamined here in this country: The link between “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla and Oklahoma City mystery bomber “John Doe #2.”

Now this space and this writer are not usually prone to jump on conspiracy bandwagons, and when I first ran across the story of how some were suggesting the two men were one and the same, I was skeptical. After all, the government never did find “John Doe #2,” and the perpetrator of the Murrah bombing has been convicted and executed. But after studying the picture of Mr. Padilla and the sketch of Mr. Doe, it is hard to argue that the possibility does not exist. The two men are strikingly similar in appearance, from their eyebrows to their ears to their noses. While Mr. Padilla is a convicted gangster from Chicago, apparently he was out of jail in 1995 when the Murrah building was bombed. Timothy McVeigh’s attorney long believed that the supposed militia member did not act alone, and several witnesses put him in the company of the man who became known as “John Doe #2” just days before the bombing.

So far, the government has (perhaps understandably) dismissed the possibility of a connection. After all, the feds cannot go chasing every single conspiracy nut’s whim, and there are plenty of whims out there, as once-respected journalist Pierre Salinger found to his dismay. But they might want to consider making an exception here. Consider for a moment what it would mean if there was a connection. What would be the repercussions if Jose Padilla, would-be radiological bomber, were actually the man who was in cahoots with the (now executed) perpetrator of the then-largest act of terror in American history?

First off, it would give credence and support to those in the Bush administration and elsewhere who would seek to truncate the rights and freedom that some, including this columnist, would rather die protecting than give up. If Oklahoma City was the result of al Qaeda, it means that the organization was active in this country long before September 11. An organization active in the U.S. for 10 years now would be more of a clear and present danger than one that presumably worked outside our borders while sending an occasional incursion of agents to perform a terror act every eight years. Such an organization would be inherently more dangerous and more insidious. And since it obviously could recruit American citizens such as McVeigh, Padilla, and Terry Nichols, it would be that much harder to combat.

This is not to say that Americans should in that case surrender their freedoms to the federal government in a trade for security. If al Qaeda has been running around in our country for 10 years, either the feds are Keystone Kops or they are liars. Either way, for Americans to surrender even an iota of freedom to their government would be akin to asking Barney Fife to protect oneself from the recently-departed John Gotti. Trust would erode; those of us who think the government mostly honest but capable and willing to lie would wonder how often such lying occurs. Rather than moving people to embrace government as guarantor of safety, such a revelation would shatter people’s faith in government. Which may not be a bad thing. But what would be bad is that our institutions - which we pay for and ultimately control through our taxes and our votes - will have lost any shred of confidence we would give them and hence any shred of effectiveness. The government simply will have lost our confidence and trust, and it is unlikely the people would be very willing to believe them for a long time to come.

This erosion of trust would also give life to every conspiracy theory from the JFK assassination to the Flight 800 “missile attack.” This might pass, but it might not and the cost of investigating countless nonsensical things from Ron Brown’s alleged bullet wound to Vince Foster’s alleged murder to Elvis’ alleged death would probably require massive tax increases. OK, maybe not, but like with the battered accounting profession these days, there has to be some measure of fundamental trust in what government declares.

Which leads to the question: Should the government investigate a possible link between Jose Padilla and “John Doe #2?” Will giving in to the conspiracy whackos on this one issue open a flood of investigations into UFOs, black helicopters, and the Loch Ness monster? Perhaps. But in off-handedly dismissing the issue, as the government has done so far, Washington risks the possibility that the issue will simmer for years. And while some conspiracy theories never do get put to bed despite numerous reports (JFK immediately comes to mind), this one will be much worse if nothing is done. The physical similarities between the two men is simply too close to dismiss with words. And the danger of a modern-day Woodward/Bernstein combination discovering not only a link but also a massive cover-up is too great to sweep the issue under the rug. As we learned in Watergate, incompetence pales in comparison to lying when it comes to confidence in government. For its own reputation, and for the country’s peace of mind, and this time only, the feds should give in to the conspiracy crowd, vigorously investigate the possibility that Jose Padilla is John Doe #2, and report the findings to the American people.

Just in case.


John K. Bates is a part-time freelance writer who works in the energy engineering field and lives in the Denver, Colorado area. He enjoys many outdoor pursuits and the company of his family of three cats. His columns can also be seen on

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For more of John's articles, visit his archives.

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