Did Screenplay Foreshadow September 11?

David Marconi  | Lava Records  | Aretha Franklin   

Did Screenplay Foreshadow September 11?

Now that The Sum of All Fears hasn't set off a lot of new fears about nuclear disaster, the coast may be clear for ww3.com.

Currently lost in limbo, ww3.com is a screenplay by David Marconi, based on a May 1997 Wired magazine article by John Carlin called "A Farewell to Arms." Carlin detailed all the ways in which the United States was unprepared for a terrorist attack.

The subsequent screenplay, according to Marconi — who wrote the hit film Enemy of the State — was incredibly prescient about the events of September 11. The climax of the screenplay features a Boeing 767 crashing into a Simon & Garfunkel concert in Central Park.

"The idea was about basically turning the U.S. into Kuwait," Marconi told me recently. "It was a blueprint for disaster."

Marconi said he worked with experts from the National Security Agency, who were more than helpful in laying out situations not dissimilar from what happened at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"One of my experts there told Boeing they had trouble with their avionics," Marconi said. "He came up with scenarios. One was that a guy disguises himself as someone who works in food service in order to get on the plane. It's much more low-tech than you think."

When the events of September 11 began to unfold, Marconi said he received a call from one of his NSA experts. "He said, 'Turn on the TV, it's happening.'"

Joe Roth, then a Fox executive who'd been involved in developing the script, and now the president of Revolution Films, also called, Marconi said.

For a while before September 11, ww3.com had been on the fast track. Besides Marconi, two other writers — Jon Bokenkamp and James Robinson — worked on previous versions for Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Carlin's article, which seems to have been forgotten, paints an eerie picture of the government knowing a lot but doing little to combat potential terrorist activity.

He wrote that "people in Washington play lots of games, but none for higher stakes than The Day After. They played a version of it in the depths of the Cold War, hoping the exercise would shake loose some bright ideas for a U.S. response to nuclear attack. They're playing it again today, but the scenario has changed — now they're preparing for information war."

The game that Carlin describes ironically sounds a lot like the scenes that open The Sum of All Fears.

"The game takes 50 people, in five teams of ten. To ensure a fair and fruitful contest, each team includes a cross-section of official Washington — CIA spooks, FBI agents, foreign-policy experts, Pentagon boffins, geopoliticos from the National Security Council — not the soldiers against the cops against the spies against the geeks against the wonks."

More frightening than the game was the assertion by Carlin that the U.S. was vulnerable to attack five years ago and that nothing clear was being done about it.

"There's been a frenzy of activity, most of it little-noticed by Washington at large," Carlin wrote. "A presidential commission has been established; the FBI, the CIA and the NSA have created their own specialist I-war teams; interagency bodies, complete with newly minted acronyms like IPTF (Infrastructure Protection Task Force) and CIWG (Critical Infrastructure Working Group), have been set up; defense advisory committees have been submitting reports thick and fast, calling for bigger budgets, smarter bombs, more surveillance, still more commissions to combat the cyber peril.

"Yet, for all the bustle, there's no clear direction. For all the heat, there isn't a great deal of light. For all the talk about new threats, there's a reflexive grasp for old responses — what was good enough to beat the Soviet Union and Saddam Hussein will be good enough to beat a bunch of hackers."

Hot Lava Melting Atlantic?

It's duck-and-run at the ever-chaotic Warner Music Group.

Last week, the company pushed out Warner president Phil Quartararo, the guy who put some of their biggest acts on top of the charts.

Warner's also laid off a sizeable number of people from Atlantic Records, where there's been an ongoing problem in the executive suite for months.

The lion's share of Atlantic's hits over the last couple of years have come from Lava Records, the mini-label devised by Jason Flom. Lava has been home to Sugar Ray, Kid Rock, Uncle Kracker and a bunch of other bestsellers.

A few months ago this column reported exclusively that Warner Music Group would buy up Lava for about $40 million, giving Flom a lot of authority, even though two other guys — Val Azzoli and Craig Kallman — actually run Atlantic.

But the deal hit a snag. Flom wanted Lava to be broken out as its own label and not be an adjunct of Atlantic anymore. Fearing that their hits would be leaving, the Atlantic brass — according to my sources — started horsing around with Flom's deal.

This week, a deal should be announced making Lava a stand-alone organization. What will be most interesting is the fate of Flom, who could easily take the money and start something on his own.

I don't know if Lasik surgery corrects short-sightedness, but if it does I think record execs should start putting it into their insurance package.

Aretha's Taping Makes People

It was so great to read in People magazine this week about Aretha Franklin not flying to the U.K. for Queen Elizabeth's Jubilee. Of course it sounded familiar, because the story appeared first in this column back on May 16. Anyway, I'm glad People liked the story. We have plenty more where that came from. …

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