Terrorism or cynical propaganda? Is that dude a genius with a bomb or is he guilty of being thirsty-while-brown? For sceptics and believers alike (especially
for the latter), James K. Galbraith's "Groundhog Day
" is worth a read. Galbraith attacks the official UK presentation of the threat: where's the evidence that this plot was going to be everything-911-was-and-more? First off, where's the evidence that the accused had access to bomb components and, most importantly, that they were ready'n'able to detonate the explosives when it...er...counted?
In this case, we are told that there were no bombs; rather, the conspirators planned to bring on board the makings of a bomb: chemicals and a detonator. These would be mixed on board. Galbraith
Exactly what the chemicals were remains unclear. Nitroglycerin has been suggested, but it's too likely to go off on the way to the airport. TATP, made of acetone and peroxide, has been suggested, but there are two problems. One is that the peroxide required is highly concentrated--it's not the 3 percent solution from the drugstore. The other is that acetone is highly volatile. As anyone who flies knows, you can't open a bottle of nail polish remover on an airplane without everyone within twenty feet knowing at once. It's possible to imagine one truly dedicated and competent bomber pulling this off. But it is impossible to imagine twenty-four untrained people between the ages of 17 and 35 all getting away with the same trick at once.
[...]Arrests were made at night, catching the culprits at home. Houses have been raided, and are being searched. So far as we know at this point, no bombs have been found. No chemicals. No equipment. No labs. No testing ground. Maybe this will come out later, but it hasn't so far, even though the authorities seem anxious to tell just about everything they know.
ends by hinting that this case may dissolve and that the British will ultimately release the detained young men without charge (remember, the British can 'only' hold them for 28 days
Could this case blow up? Could it turn out to have been an overreaction, a mistake--or even a hoax? Yes, it could, and it wouldn't be the first one, either. I'm not saying it will, necessarily. I'm not accusing the British authorities of bad faith. I'm not suggesting the plot was faked--at least, not by them. But dodgy informants and jumpy politicians are an explosive mixture, easily detonated under pressure. Everyone knows that.
Galbraith is by no means the first to suggest that this is all-smoke and...er...bad metaphor. As several astute bloggers have pointed out already (e.g. Sully
), Fmr. British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray
has suggested that this was "more propaganda than plot." In addition to the patent absence of hard evidence
(passports, bombs or bomb-related-evidence, plane tickets), Murray suggested that UK authorities were using Pakistani-intel gained via torture:
Then an interrogation in Pakistan revealed the details of this amazing plot to blow up multiple planes - which, rather extraordinarily, had not turned up in a year of surveillance. Of course, the interrogators of the Pakistani dictator have their ways of making people sing like canaries. As I witnessed in Uzbekistan, you can get the most extraordinary information this way. Trouble is it always tends to give the interrogators all they might want, and more, in a desperate effort to stop or avert torture. What it doesn't give is the truth.
The gentleman being "interrogated" had fled the UK after being wanted for questioning over the murder of his uncle some years ago. That might be felt to cast some doubt on his reliability. It might also be felt that factors other than political ones might be at play within these relationships. Much is also being made of large transfers of money outside the formal economy. Not in fact too unusual in the British Muslim community, but if this activity is criminal, there are many possibilities that have nothing to do with terrorism.
If this is true, it would hardly constitute the first time such "we caught them!" ejaculations were (a) based on confessions gleaned via torture and (b) amounted to absolutely nothing. Think of al-Libi, the prisoner that claimed Iraq supported al Qaeda efforts in weapons development. As I wrote last November
, there's good evidence that al-Libi's 2002 assertion re: Iraq was obtained via torture and then quickly stovepiped for convenient use in Colin Powell's disgraceful Feb 2003 speech to the UN. According to Douglas Jehl
(NY Times, Nov 6, 2005):
A top member of Al Qaeda in American custody was identified as a likely fabricator months before the Bush administration began to use his statements as the foundation for its claims that Iraq trained Al Qaeda members to use biological and chemical weapons, according to newly declassified portions of a Defense Intelligence Agency document. The document, an intelligence report from February 2002, said it was probable that the prisoner, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, “was intentionally misleading the debriefers’’ in making claims about Iraqi support for Al Qaeda’s work with illicit weapons.
[...] Mr. Libi, who was captured in Pakistan at the end of 2001, recanted his claims in January 2004. That prompted the C.I.A., a month later, to recall all intelligence reports based on his statements, a fact recorded in a footnote to the report issued by the Sept. 11 commission.
How was al-Libi treated? Not so quaintly
, according to The New Yorker's Jane Mayer
The C.I.A. agents, however, felt that [al-Libi] was lying to them, and needed tougher interrogation. To [FBI officer] Cloonan’s dismay, the C.I.A. reportedly rendered Libi to Egypt. He was seen boarding a plane in Afghanistan, restrained by handcuffs and ankle cuffs, his mouth covered by duct tape. [...] [ex-FBI agent] Dan Coleman was disgusted when he heard about Libi’s false confession. “It was ridiculous for interrogators to think Libi would have known anything about Iraq,” he said. “I could have told them that. He ran a training camp. He wouldn’t have had anything to do with Iraq. Administration officials were always pushing us to come up with links, but there weren’t any. The reason they got bad information is that they beat it out of him. You never get good information from someone that way.”
So here we go again. Instead of Egypt doing the "wet" work (those liquids again...), we have Pakistan. Perhaps.
But then why make a big public stink about something on such thin evidence? Ok, stop laughing...I know, I know, this is Blair & BushCo we're talking about. Let me try this again with a straight face....
What evidence is there that Pakistan fed the Brits ill-gotten confessions? Think back a week or so to this NBC News report by Lisa Myers
: "U.S., U.K. at odds over timing of arrests: British wanted to continue surveillance on terror suspects, official says"
One senior British official said the Americans also argued over the timing of the arrest of suspected ringleader Rashid Rauf in Pakistan, warning that if he was not taken into custody immediately, the United States would "render" him or pressure the Pakistani government to arrest him. British security was concerned that Rauf be taken into custody "in circumstances where there was due process," according to the official, so that he could be tried in British courts. Ultimately, this official says, Rauf was arrested over the objections of the British.
Yes, "render him." Or, as those of us in polite society might call it: kidnapping. What about torture? From Aug 14 Guardian UK
Reports in Pakistani newspapers yesterday that Mr Rauf had "broken" under interrogation were described by a Pakistani human rights group as confirmation that he had been tortured. Asma Jehangir, of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said that it was obvious how the information had been obtained. "I don't deduce, I know - torture," she said. "There is simply no doubt about that, no doubt at all."
And from the Aug 13 issue of a Pakistani
english daily (Dawn.com):
“When they interrogated Rauf he broke. He told them what we believe was not even in the knowledge of the US and the British — that they were actually planning to blow up airliners,” one of the [British] officials said. “When they had finished interrogating him for three or four days then they coordinated this information with the British authorities and they carried out the arrests in Britain,” the official added.
As for the kind of evil-mastermind required to conceive this "plot" (with or without prompting or, as it were, torture): the idea of blowing up planes is so
1995. Remember Ramzi Yousef?
You think his Bojinka plans went unstudied for >10 yrs? I'm sure more than a few guys burnt their eyebrows off practising in their bachelor pads. No "failure of imagination" here.
This isn't even the 2nd or 3rd or 10th time since 9/11 that Bush and Co. have stooped to scaring the collective shit** out of everyone for their own craven ends. Did you see Keith Olbermann's piece "The Nexus of Politics and Terror
"? Did you watch The Power of Nightmares
If the choice is between living one's life and perennially soiling one's pants**
, I think it's a pretty easy one. In the words of Canada's own Gwynne Dyer
Maybe it's cynical, but there are strong grounds for suspecting that this is all a charade. If they infiltrated these terrorist cells many months ago and have now have arrested most of the members, then why would they institute drastic new security measures on flights at this point? And did they really only realise in the last few days that explosives come in liquid form as well?
[...] This is all hype, designed to frighten the British and American publics into supporting the wars of their deeply unpopular governments (and the war of their Israeli ally as well). Or am I being too cynical? Maybe they're just stupid. I really don't know any more.
Me neither, Gwynne. Me neither. Sigh...well, before I go, I'll leave you with Galbraith's opening lines from "Groundhog Day
Let's see... It's August. Bush is in Crawford on a "working vacation." His polls are in the tank. Congress is in revolt. The economy is going soft. The next elections don't look good. Cheney is off in Wyoming, or wherever he goes. It's 2001. No, it's 2006. Update [Aug 20, 12:20 PM]:
In The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Marx reports that "Hegel writes somewhere" that the great events of history tend to occur twice, first as tragedy and then as farce.
Mike has a great post over at Rational Reasons
(thanks, Mike!). He links to an important article by security analyst Bruce Schneier
. Schneier strongly doubts the plausibility of the liquid bomb also. It's been 10 yrs since my last organic chem course but I kind of
understand what he's saying.**Little known fact: the original working title for CNN's "Security Watch" segments was "Everybody Poops"