Excerpt: 'Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden?'

"Supersize Me" filmmaker Morgan Spurlock sets his sights on terrorist leader.

ByABC News via logo
February 9, 2009, 9:00 PM

April 16, 2008 — -- Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Morgan Spurlock first tackled the fast food industry and the country's expanding waistline, but now the producer is on the hunt for America's public enemy No.1 -- Osama bin Laden.

His new book's title says it simply, "Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?"

He has a movie by the same name scheduled to hit theaters Friday. The father-to-be wonders why the United States can't catch bin Laden if he is behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and other chaos worldwide.

Spurlock bones up on his bin Laden, Islam and the War on Terror knowledge before zigzagging the globe in hopes of finding the elusive one.

Read an excerpt of his book below.


Ever since I was a kid, seems like every time I turn on the TV it tells me that I'm supposed to be afraid of something. Growing up in the waning years of the Cold War, it was the Russkies with their great big bombs and funny marching and their hatred of the American way. By the time I was old enough to notice, nobody seriously worried anymore about "nucular combat toe to toe with the Rooskies," as Major "King" Kong put it in Dr. Strangelove. Still, when the Soviet Union fell apart in 1990, I thought we were in the clear.

But it wasn't just the crazy freedom-hating Russians that we were told to be afraid of. They topped the hit parade for years, but in my lifetime we've been told to panic about all kinds of things. Here are some of them, in no particular order:

Soviet nukes, North Korean nukes, suitcase nukes, nuclear power plants, dirty bombs, shoe bombs, guns, assault rifles, semiautomatic weapons, sarin, anthrax, Ebola, E. coli, Lyme disease, Legionnaires' disease, smallpox, salmonella, dengue fever, Asian flu, bird flu, swine flu, yuppie flu, West Nile virus, the pesticides sprayed on the mosquitoes that spread West Nile virus, breast implants, AIDS, SARS, SIDS, ADD, ADHD, PTSD, TB, Y2K, EMP, WMD, illegal aliens, drunk drivers, road rage, asbestos, mercury, lead, oil shortages, the national debt, inflation, stagflation, hurricanes, twisters, tsunamis, asteroids, earthquakes, killer bees, killer canines, mad cows, global warming, the hole in the ozone, flesh-eating bacteria, stem-cell research, Frankenfood, Halloween, poisoned Tylenol, sex addiction, identity theft, secondhand smoke, Crips, Bloods, neo-Nazis, Satanists, pagans, cults, serial killers, postal workers, Catholic priests, heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine, methamphetamines, club drugs, ecstasy, Special K, day-care centers, retirement homes, hospitals, an epidemic of obesity, an epidemic of teen drug abuse, an epidemic of teen murders, an epidemic of teen suicides, an epidemic of teen gambling, an epidemic of teens having sex, an epidemic of teens having babies, an epidemic of child pornography, missing children, workplace violence, violence against seniors, violence on TV, violence in movies, violent video games, rap videos, rap music, heavy-metal music, Dungeons & Dragons, snuff films, Internet porn, high-voltage power lines, cell phones that explode, cell phones that cause brain cancer, drivers on cell phones, pedophiles on MySpace, the air, water, soil, eggs, ham, fish, peanuts, spinach, and dog food.

And in 2001 fear got a new mascot?a glorious rebranding featuring the godfather of fear, the hardest-working man in terrorism: Osama bin Laden. The attacks of September 11 ramped us up to levels of fear and paranoia I'd never felt in my life. Some of it was justified; I mean, it was the first time since Pearl Harbor that outside aggressors had attacked us on our own soil. But all the media-fanned panics that followed were even scarier than the actual event.

The odd thing is that when you look past the terror of the headlines Americans actually live longer, healthier, safer lives than ever before. Our average life expectancy is 60 percent greater than it was at the start of the twentieth century. Medical science has conquered all sorts of diseases that were once common killers. Violent crime has plummeted in every major city. We're safer in our homes, in our cars, on planes, trains, and bicycles than ever before. And globally, since the end of the Cold War no great military power has really threatened us. As shocking as 9/11 was, it wasn't nuclear war.

But we don't feel safer, do we? In poll after poll, we express our belief that times are more frightening now than they used to be, that people are more dangerous and the world is more violent, that we're so close to the apocalypse that you can smell the brimstone. We're afraid of strangers, we're afraid of our own teenagers, we're afraid of insects, we're afraid of the food we eat and the water we drink and the air we breathe, we're afraid of TV and movies and the Internet, we're afraid of the weather, and we're afraid the earth itself is dying.

Fear is a biological survival mechanism. But there's rational, useful fear, and then there are phobias?illogical, unwarranted fears of imagined or highly exaggerated threats. Take the fear of flying. Flying is a much, much safer form of transportation than, say, driving. In 2004, a representative year, almost 43,000 Americans died in car accidents. That same year, only 600 Americans died in aircraft crashes. Your chances of dying in an aircraft are around one in 10 million, versus one in 7,000 in a car. Statistically, you're far safer during your flight than you are driving to and from the airport. (Your luggage, however, is another story.)

Now, take terrorism. Since 9/11 we've been kept on a constant state of alert?i.e., anxiety?about terrorists. Depending on who's doing the math, the average American civilian's chances of being a victim of a terrorist attack are minuscule?about one in 9 million, according to one estimate. According to the National Safety Council, you have an equal, if not greater, chance of being struck and killed by lightning (6,188,298 to 1) or of being bitten to death by a dog (9,089,063 to 1). Yet the National Weather Service doesn't make you leave your golf clubs at the door when it starts raining, and the NSPCA doesn't have color-coded threat levels for German shepherds.

Despite the infinitesimal chance that the average American will be the victim of a terrorist attack, Osama bin Laden, "the terrorist threat," and the Global War on Terror have turned our entire society upside down and inside out. We've started two wars that we can't seem to end, in which thousands and thousands of people are dying. The United States has committed what many see as war crimes and human rights abuses. We've made a lot more enemies around the world than friends, and by the fall of 2006 more Americans had died fighting the War on Terror in Afghanistan and Iraq than were killed by terrorists from 1995 to 2005.

So why, if the threat is so exaggerated, do we feel so much dread? Partly because we're told to, over and over and over. We live in what sociologists call a "culture of fear," in which the media, the government, and various special-interest groups keep us in a constant state of anxiety about wave after wave of supposed new threats to our health and well-being. Since Machiavelli's time politicians have known how to use fear to keep people distracted, cowed, and obedient. Bureaucrats use it to justify their budgets and their jobs, TV newspeople use fear as a way to keep our eyes glued to the screen, and special-interest groups use it to keep our donations pouring in.

But since September 11, the government hasn't just kept us in a panic; the government itself has been in a panic. In 2002, the Bush administration created the Department of Homeland Security, whose very name invokes insecurity, not to mention the odd sound of that word "Homeland." Maybe it should have been called the Department of We Hate You, Osama, and You'll Never Catch Us with Our Pants Down Again! Because the DHS is nothing but a massive restructuring of the same old federal bureaucracy. It's an interdepartmental Frankenstein stitched together from existing agencies, including Customs, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, FEMA, and various parts of the FBI, the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, and the departments of Defense, Transportation, Energy, and Agriculture.

With an annual budget upward of $40 billion, the DHS defends us from terrorists, illegal aliens, drug smugglers, hurricanes, earthquakes, and epidemics. It guards our seaports and coastlines, our farms and reservoirs, and protects us in cyberspace. See, it really is the Department of Disaster Movie Plotlines. It's the DHS that issues those colorcoded threat-level advisories and makes us take our shoes off at the airport.And the DHS is charged with ladling out hundreds of millions of dollars every year in antiterrorism grants to the states. Having few legitimate terrorist targets in their districts but knowing pork when they smell it, many local bureaucrats have gotten very creative. On the list of 77,069 potential terrorism sites nationwide were "1,305 casinos, 163 water parks, 159 cruise ships, 244 jails, 3,773 malls, 718 mortuaries and 571 nursing homes." Specific targets included "the Old MacDonald's Petting Zoo near Huntsville, Ala., a bourbon festival, a bean festival and the Kangaroo Conservation Center in Dawsonville, Ga. . . . the Amish Country Popcorn factory, the Mule Day Parade, the Sweetwater Flea Market and an unspecified 'Beach at End of a Street.' " Ice-cream parlors, check-cashing joints, and tackle shops also made the list.

Meanwhile, the DHS spends about $5 billion a year screening us at airports. But the reality, as The Atlantic Monthly noted, is that it's "largely for show. . . . 'The inspection process is mostly security theater, to make people feel safe about flying,' says John Mueller, a political scientist at Ohio State."

Only it doesn't make us feel safer, does it? Take off your shoes! Empty that baby bottle! At Dulles Airport, security personnel ordered a woman to peel her banana. Banana bombs! When fruit and baby formula become potential WMDs, what's next? And who really feels safe? That nursing mother and her child in the seat next to you could be terrorists. She could be carrying liquid explosives in her breasts. How do you know she isn't? Don't rough her up when you arrest her?she might explode.

You think I'm joking? I met a woman who was ordered by an inspector at Newark International Airport to remove the gel inserts from her push-up bra! Just because she's a member of the IBTC (that's the Itty Bitty Titty Committee, for those of you who aren't or don't act like you're twelve), she's a terrorist threat. You'd never see Pamela Anderson getting stopped. Why? Because Pamela Anderson loves freedom, 36D times more than that other girl.

These were the thoughts that were running through my head as I sat in front of the TV in January 2006. I flipped through the news channels, hearing all about the dread and despair, thinking about how unsafe everyone felt (a few weeks before this friends of mine canceled a trip to New York because they had heard about potential New Year's plots onNew York City), and about how I got cheated out of the relief I felt entitled to when the Cold War ended. Who was to blame for all this fear? Whom could I confront and say, "Enough already. We get it. The world's a scary place. Leave us all alone." Whom did I have to smack to get some peace around here?