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Thursday, August 17, 2006

London Terror Plot 

Besides providing someone the opportunity to make the incredibly awesome picture below,

it seems distinctly possible that this plot may end up not all its cracked up to be. Last week I pointed you to Patrick Smith's "Ask the Pilot" column in which he made it clear banning liquids on planes in no way makes us safer, and in fact this type of threat is by no means new. But now we're learning that not only was this general threat not new, the specific threat may not be all it's cracked up to be, either.

First, via Andrew Sullivan, we have this from Craig Murray, Tony Blair's former ambassador to Uzbekistan:
None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn't be a plane bomber for quite some time.

In the absence of bombs and airline tickets, and in many cases passports, it could be pretty difficult to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt that individuals intended to go through with suicide bombings, whatever rash stuff they may have bragged in internet chat rooms.

What is more, many of those arrested had been under surveillance for over a year - like thousands of other British Muslims. And not just Muslims. Like me. Nothing from that surveillance had indicated the need for early arrests.

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 ...

We then have the extraordinary question of Bush and Blair discussing the possible arrests over the weekend. Why?
Now Kevin Drum adds more skepticism:

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING BOMB PLOT....The Associated Press provides the latest news on the airline bombing plot:

Home Secretary John Reid, Britain's chief law-and-order official, acknowledged that some of the suspects would likely not be charged with major criminal offenses, but said there was mounting evidence of a "substantial nature" to back the allegations.

"Mounting" evidence? Shouldn't we already have lots of evidence after over a year of intensive surveillance? WTF is going on here? And then there's this:

Two top Pakistani intelligence agents said Wednesday that the would-be bombers wanted to carry out an al-Qaida-style attack to mark the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 strikes, but were too "inexperienced" to carry out the plot.

The two senior agents, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that if the terror cell members arrested in Pakistan and Britain had appropriate weapons and explosives training, they could have emulated massive attacks like those five years ago in New York and Washington as well as the July 7, 2005, London bombings.

Sure, and if I had an IQ of 200 and a PhD in oncology maybe I could find a cure for cancer. But since I don't, no one should stay up nights waiting for me to produce one. Likewise, there are lots of dimwit copycats who'd like to be the next Osama bin Laden, but they're not worth more than a routine roundup unless they have the serious operational capacity to do something about it. These guys, on the contrary, "had not attended terror-training camps in Pakistan or Afghanistan and had relied on information gleaned from text books on how to make bombs."

So: was this a serious conspiracy? Or was it like the plot to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge that turned out to be a mentally disturbed dude with a blowtorch? Or the financial district alert in New York City that turned out to be based on information more than three years old? Or the plot to blow up the Sears Tower that turned out to be "more aspirational than operational"? Or Jose Padilla? What news about this plot are we going to discover buried on page A13 a couple of weeks from now?

I won't pretend to know what to think about the way this has been handled. Was it about winning elections? Building public support for draconian security legislation? Plain old bureaucratic incompetence?

Or was it real?

Who knows? I assume there must have been some plot at some stage of development. But a legitimate threat? I guess time will tell as more information comes out.
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