Their mission was to deliver body blows to the American economy prior to the nation's 226th birthday.
The "sleepers" managed to penetrate the upper reaches of corporate life and have sent encrypted e-mails back to al Qaida ("the base" in Arabic) to report an impressive string of successes -- Enron, Arthur Andersen, Tyco, Adelphia Communications, ImClone, Qwest Communications International, Dynegy, Global Crossing, WorldCom and Xerox.
The National Security Agency intercepted one of the e-mails. It was evidently from al Qaida's principal fifth columnist in the United States. The gender could not be established, but it bragged that Operation WorldCon had collapsed WorldCom and had seriously crippled the entire American military machine that is heavily dependent on the telecom giant.
The message went on to assure the terrorist powers that be, "everything is now in place to plunge the capitalist world into a global depression that will surpass the Great Depression of the 1930s." Just one more downed jumbo, the message predicted confidently, will ground the airlines and bankrupt hundreds of companies.
"Our heroic volunteers have agreed to forsake martyrdom," the top "sleeper" reported. "Instead, they have got the best lawyers money can buy so they can live to fight another day for what now can become the world's biggest transnational conglomerate -- Jihad Inc. The American climate favors our operations. Millions of Americans are reading and talking about the end of the world."
Another intercept referred to a "simple formula that overstates revenues and understates expenses and gives new meaning to a book titled 'Creative Destruction'."
The screenplay for this remake of the James Bond classic Dr. No is, of course, a flight of terror fancy. But there is no denying that Wall Street's example in financial debauchery has given new life to the image of the rapacious capitalist. The actions of a few have tarnished the image of the shining citadel on the hill that was to be emulated throughout the developing world.
"This stealing frenzy," said the head of a major international organization, "has done more harm to America around the world than several 9/11s." Speaking privately at a Washington function, he shook his head sadly and then explained, "Imagine trying to lecture the heads of government in developing countries on the need for honest accountancy and transparency. 'You mean like Wall Street,' they will answer'."
That's precisely what the ambassadors of these governments in Washington are already saying. Andrew S. Grove, the legendary chairman of Intel Corp., spoke for most corporate chiefs when he said, "I find myself embarrassed and ashamed" to be a businessman.
Bernard (Bernie) J. Ebbers, the ousted chief executive officer of WorldCom who emptied his desk still owing his company $408 million in personal loans, showed up at his church in Brookhaven, Miss., according to the Wall Street Journal, to teach Sunday school. The congregation gave him a standing ovation when he said, "I just want you to know you aren't going to church with a crook." President Bush's tongue-lashing of Wall Street won't come a moment too soon. The Bush Doctrine of preemption against those planning weapon of mass destruction skullduggery against the U.S. should start at home.
Unless corporate America cleans up its image fast, entire countries may turn away from privatization reforms and revert to the psychobabble of leftist demagoguery. Cause and effect between the 21st century robber barons of Wall Street and Latin America's growing rebellion against the "neo-liberal" model is not immediately apparent, except in Latin American editorials and TV commentaries.
Brazil's Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, the presidential candidate of the left-wing Workers' Party, is leading in the polls for next October's election. Violent protests have forced Peru and Paraguay to abandon plans to privatize. Bloody demonstrations in Buenos Aires pushed out the third central bank governor in a year. Paraguay is also at wit's end with growing public anger against the free enterprise models shopped by IMF, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.
The former communist countries of eastern Europe swung right after the implosion of the Soviet empire. Disenchanted with a decade of growing disparities between rich and poor, the pendulum is swinging back to the left.
Corporate America as a role model for the world is an integral part of the geopolitical equation. Unless we want al Qaida's radical Islam to dominate the 21st century as the Soviet Union and communism dominated the 20th, probity must recover its sacrosanct status in corporate governance.