Wednesday, August 30, 2006

NYT Blocks British Readers from Monday's Article on Alleged Liquid Bombing Plot

Paper not shipped to UK on Monday; NYT web page blocks British visitors

Monday's New York Times included a long article about the alleged "liquid bombing plot", which -- as you may recall -- was reportedly broken up by British authorities three weeks ago.

The article "claims to reveal new information", and would certainly have been of great interest to NYT readers in Great Britain.

But they couldn't read it!

From Tuesday's Guardian: UK readers blocked from NY Times terror article
The New York Times has blocked British readers from accessing an article published in the US about the alleged London bomb plot for fear of breaching the UK's contempt of court laws.

Published in the US yesterday under the headline "Details emerge in British terror case", the article claims to reveal new information about the alleged terror bomb plot that brought British airports to a standstill earlier this month.

Online access to the article from the UK has been blocked and the shipment of yesterday's paper to London was stopped. The story was also omitted from the International Herald Tribune, the NYT's European sister paper.
Today's Guardian has a bit more, including this:
For all the precautions taken by papers, legal experts agree there is little to stop bloggers and others from quickly disseminating articles around the globe via websites, messageboards and email.

Mark Stephens, a media lawyer at Finer, Stephens, Innocent, said he did not believe the article was prejudicial and blocking it would increase the likelihood of British readers reading it.

"Lawyers have a tendency to be overcautious on occasions," he said. "By not publishing it, it is almost inevitable that the information will come into the public domain in the UK. It is already being copied on to blog sites and emailed around the globe.
Mr. Stephens is certainly right about that!

The article in question is available at the NYT website, unless you live in Great Britain, in which case you have to look elsewhere: here, for instance.

Excerpts from the article follow, along with a few comments from one very cold blogger:
Hours after the police arrested the 21 suspects, police and government officials in both countries said they had intended to carry out the deadliest terrorist attack since Sept. 11.

Later that day, Paul Stephenson, deputy chief of the Metropolitan Police in London, said the goal of the people suspected of plotting the attack was “mass murder on an unimaginable scale.” On the day of the arrests, some officials estimated that as many as 10 planes were to be blown up, possibly over American cities. Michael Chertoff, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, described the suspected plot as “getting really quite close to the execution stage.”
We now know that these official statements -- from Stephenson, from Chertoff, and from many others as well -- were speculative at best, deliberate lies at worst.
British officials said the suspects still had a lot of work to do. Two of the suspects did not have passports, but had applied for expedited approval.
One official said the people suspected of leading the plot were still recruiting and radicalizing would-be bombers.
While investigators found evidence on a computer memory stick indicating that one of the men had looked up airline schedules for flights from London to cities in the United States, the suspects had neither made reservations nor purchased plane tickets, a British official said.
So they weren't ready to blow up airplanes after all. They weren't ready to do anything!

So why all the panic? Because it serves a purpose, that's why!

What purpose? Whose purpose?

Is it any wonder that these questions are never asked in the mainstream media?

And here's another important question that is hardly ever asked: Could they have done it?
Despite the charges, officials said they were still unsure of one critical question: whether any of the suspects was technically capable of assembling and detonating liquid explosives while airborne.
A chemist involved in that part of the inquiry, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was sworn to confidentiality, said HMTD, which can be prepared by combining hydrogen peroxide with other chemicals, “in theory is dangerous,” but whether the suspects “had the brights to pull it off remains to be seen.”
Your humble and nearly frozen blogger has done some research into HMTD, and has found that its synthesis is remarkably similar to that of TATP (which we discussed last week). In other words, once the chemicals are mixed, the reaction takes a long time -- several hours at least, maybe several days -- to complete, and produces an explosive compound in the form of crystals which must be filtered out before they can be used.

Among the HMTD recipes I have found, the one which seems to take the least amount of time includes the following instructions:
[K]eep stirring for 3 hours and continue to hold the temperature at 0°C [32°F]. Next, remove the beaker from the cooling bath and let it stand at room temperature for 2 hours [...] Finally, pour the solution over a filter to collect the crystals of HMTD, wash them thoroughly with water, and rinse with methyl or ethyl alcohol so they can dry faster at room temperature.
So ... even though we joined the party in progress, we were still five hours away from being able to blow anything up. Do you think the flight crew would leave us alone in the bathroom for more than five hours?

Whether anyone on earth has the "brights" to pull it off -- in the bathroom of a moving airplane and without help from the flight crew -- is extremely dubious.

But let's get back to the New York Times:
While officials and experts familiar with the case say the investigation points to a serious and determined group of plotters, they add that questions about the immediacy and difficulty of the suspected bombing plot cast doubt on the accuracy of some of the public statements made at the time.

“In retrospect,” said Michael A. Sheehan, the former deputy commissioner of counterterrorism in the New York Police Department, “there may have been too much hyperventilating going on.”
Hyperventilating? Possibly. Or maybe -- just maybe -- it was something else.

As for the timing of the arrests, you may recall that serious questions were asked almost three weeks ago, and none of them found satisfactory answers.
British officials said many of the questions about the suspected plot remained unanswered because they were forced to make the arrests before Scotland Yard was ready.

The trigger was the arrest in Pakistan of Rashid Rauf, a 25-year-old British citizen with dual Pakistani citizenship, whom Pakistani investigators have described as a “key figure” in the plot.
Several senior British officials said the Pakistanis arrested Rashid Rauf without informing them first. The arrest surprised and frustrated investigators [t]here who had wanted to monitor the suspects longer, primarily to gather more evidence and to determine whether they had identified all the people involved in the suspected plot.
But they didn't get a chance to do that.
[W]ithin hours of Mr. Rauf’s arrest on Aug. 9 in Pakistan, British officials heard from intelligence sources that someone connected to him had tried to contact some of the suspects in East London. The message was interpreted by investigators as a possible signal to move forward with the plot, officials said.
A senior British official said the message from Pakistan was not that explicit. But, nonetheless, investigators [...] had to change their strategy quickly.

“The aim was to keep this operation going for much longer,” said a senior British security official who requested anonymity because of confidentiality rules. “It ended much sooner than we had hoped.”
British investigators worried that word of Mr. Rauf’s arrest could push the London suspects to destroy evidence and to disperse, raising the possibility they would not be able to arrest them all.
And here we are left with more questions, among the most interesting of which is: Why was Rashid Rauf arrested?

A few days after the arrests were announced, NBC ran a report which said:
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.
Is this what happened?

Did the Pakistanis arrest Rashid Rauf to keep him out of the hands of Americans?

We may never know.

But surely it's becoming more and more obvious that this so-called "plot" was not what we were told it was at the time.

Therefore, it makes good sense to ask: What was it?

Stay tuned, my friends; there's more to come.


seventh in a series

Monday, August 28, 2006

The NYT 'Liquid Bombers' Article British Readers Were Not Allowed To Read

New York Times: Details Emerge In British Terror Case

LINK to original text in the New York Times


Published in USA, August 28, 2006, and Blocked From Britain!
LONDON, Aug. 27 — On Aug. 9, in a small second-floor apartment in East London, two young Muslim men recorded a video justifying what the police say was their suicide plot to blow up trans-Atlantic planes: revenge against the United States and its “accomplices,” Britain and the Jews.

“As you bomb, you will be bombed; as you kill, you will be killed,” said one of the men on a “martyrdom” videotape, whose contents were described by a senior British official and a person briefed about the case. The young man added that he hoped God would be “pleased with us and accepts our deed.”

As it happened, the police had been monitoring the apartment with hidden video and audio equipment. Not long after the tape was recorded that day, Scotland Yard decided to shut down what they suspected was a terrorist cell. That action set off a chain of events that raised the terror threat levels in Britain and the United States, barred passengers from taking liquids on airplanes and plunged air traffic into chaos around the world.

The ominous language of seven recovered martyrdom videotapes is among new details that emerged from interviews with high-ranking British, European and American officials last week, demonstrating that the suspects had made considerable progress toward planning a terrorist attack. Those details include fresh evidence from Britain’s most wide-ranging terror investigation: receipts for cash transfers from abroad, a handwritten diary that appears to sketch out elements of a plot, and, on martyrdom tapes, several suspects’ statements of their motives.

But at the same time, five senior British officials said, the suspects were not prepared to strike immediately. Instead, the reactions of Britain and the United States in the wake of the arrests of 21 people on Aug. 10 were driven less by information about a specific, imminent attack than fear that other, unknown terrorists might strike.

The suspects had been working for months out of an apartment that investigators called the “bomb factory,” where the police watched as the suspects experimented with chemicals, according to British officials and others briefed on the evidence, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity, citing British rules on confidentiality regarding criminal prosecutions.

In searches during raids, the police discovered what they said were the necessary components to make a highly volatile liquid explosive known as HMTD, jihadist materials, receipts of Western Union money transfers, seven martyrdom videos made by six suspects and the last will and testament of a would-be bomber, senior British officials said. One of the suspects said on his martyrdom video that the “war against Muslims” in Iraq and Afghanistan had motivated him to act.

Investigators say they believe that one of the leaders of the group, an unemployed man in his 20’s who was living in a modest apartment on government benefits, kept the key to the alleged “bomb factory” and helped others record martyrdom videos, the officials said.

Hours after the police arrested the 21 suspects, police and government officials in both countries said they had intended to carry out the deadliest terrorist attack since Sept. 11.

Later that day, Paul Stephenson, deputy chief of the Metropolitan Police in London, said the goal of the people suspected of plotting the attack was “mass murder on an unimaginable scale.” On the day of the arrests, some officials estimated that as many as 10 planes were to be blown up, possibly over American cities. Michael Chertoff, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, described the suspected plot as “getting really quite close to the execution stage.”

But British officials said the suspects still had a lot of work to do. Two of the suspects did not have passports, but had applied for expedited approval. One official said the people suspected of leading the plot were still recruiting and radicalizing would-be bombers.

While investigators found evidence on a computer memory stick indicating that one of the men had looked up airline schedules for flights from London to cities in the United States, the suspects had neither made reservations nor purchased plane tickets, a British official said. Some of their suspected bomb-making equipment was found five days after the arrests in a suitcase buried under leaves in the woods near High Wycombe, a town 30 miles northwest of London.

Another British official stressed that martyrdom videos were often made well in advance of an attack. In fact, two and a half weeks since the inquiry became public, British investigators have still not determined whether there was a target date for the attacks or how many planes were to be involved. They say the estimate of 10 planes was speculative and exaggerated.

In his first public statement after the arrests, Peter Clarke, chief of counterterrorism for the Metropolitan Police, acknowledged that the police were still investigating the basics: “the number, destination and timing of the flights that might be attacked.”

A total of 25 people have been arrested in connection with the suspected plot. Twelve of them have been charged. Eight people were charged with conspiracy to commit murder and preparing acts of terrorism. Three people were charged with failing to disclose information that could help prevent a terrorist act, and a 17-year-old male suspect was charged with possession of articles that could be used to prepare a terrorist act. Eight people still in custody have not been charged. Five have been released. All the suspects arrested are British citizens ranging in age from 17 to 35.

Despite the charges, officials said they were still unsure of one critical question: whether any of the suspects was technically capable of assembling and detonating liquid explosives while airborne.

A chemist involved in that part of the inquiry, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was sworn to confidentiality, said HMTD, which can be prepared by combining hydrogen peroxide with other chemicals, “in theory is dangerous,” but whether the suspects “had the brights to pull it off remains to be seen.”

While officials and experts familiar with the case say the investigation points to a serious and determined group of plotters, they add that questions about the immediacy and difficulty of the suspected bombing plot cast doubt on the accuracy of some of the public statements made at the time.

“In retrospect,’’ said Michael A. Sheehan, the former deputy commissioner of counterterrorism in the New York Police Department, “there may have been too much hyperventilating going on.”

Some of the suspects came to the attention of Scotland Yard more than a year ago, shortly after four suicide bombers attacked three subway trains and a double-decker bus in London on July 7, 2005, a coordinated attack that killed 56 people and wounded more than 700. The investigation was dubbed “Operation Overt.’’

The Police Are Tipped Off

The police were apparently tipped off by informers. One former British counterterrorism official, who was working for the government at the time, said several people living in Walthamstow, a working-class neighborhood in East London, alerted the police in July 2005 about the intentions of a small group of angry young Muslim men.

Walthamstow is best known for its faded greyhound track and the borough of Waltham Forest, where more than 17,000 Pakistani immigrants live in the largest Pakistani enclave in London.

Armed with the tips, MI5, Britain’s domestic security services, began an around-the-clock surveillance operation of a dozen young men living in Walthamstow — bugging their apartments, tapping their phones, monitoring their bank transactions, eavesdropping on their Internet traffic and e-mail messages, even watching where they traveled, shopped and took their laundry, according to senior British officials.

The initial focus of the investigation was not about possible terrorism aboard planes, but an effort to see whether there were any links between the dozen men and the July 7 subway bombers, or terrorist cells in Pakistan, the officials said.

The authorities quickly learned the identity of the man believed to have been the leader of the cell, the unemployed man in his mid-20’s, who traveled at least twice within the past year to Pakistan, where his activities are still being investigated.

Last June, a 22-year-old Walthamstow resident, who is among the suspects arrested Aug. 10, paid $260,000 cash for a second-floor apartment in a house on Forest Road, according to official property records. The authorities noticed that six men were regularly visiting the second-floor apartment that came to be known as the “bomb factory,” according to a British official and the person briefed about the case.

Two of the men, who were likely the bomb-makers, were conducting a series of experiments with chemicals, said the person briefed on the case.

MI5 agents secretly installed video and audio recording equipment inside the apartment, two senior British officials said. In a secret search conducted before the Aug. 10 raids, agents had discovered that the inside of batteries had been scooped out, and that it appeared several suspects were doing chemical experiments with a sports drink named Lucozade and syringes, the person with knowledge of the case said. Investigators have said they believe that the suspects intended to bring explosive chemicals aboard planes inside sports drink bottles.

In that apartment, according to a British official, one of the leaders and a man in his late 20’s met at least twice to discuss the suspected plot, as MI5 agents secretly watched and listened. On Aug. 9, just hours before the police raids occurred in 50 locations from East London to Birmingham, the two men met again to discuss the suspected plot and record a martyrdom video.

As one of the men read from a script before a videocamera, he recited a quotation from the Koran and ticked off his reasons for the “action that I am going to undertake,” according to the person briefed on the case. The man said he was seeking revenge for the foreign policy of the United States, and “their accomplices, the U.K. and the Jews.” The man said he wanted to show that the enemies of Islam would never win this “war.”

Beseeching other Muslims to join jihad, he justified the killing of innocent civilians in America and other Western countries because they supported the war against Muslims through their tax dollars. They were too busy enjoying their Western lifestyles to protest the policies, he added. Though British officials usually release little information about continuing investigations, Scotland Yard took the unusual step of disclosing some detailed information about the investigation last Monday, when the suspects were charged.

A Trove of Evidence

“There have been 69 searches,” Mr. Clarke, the chief antiterrorist police official from Scotland Yard, said Monday. “These have been in houses, flats and business premises, vehicles and open spaces.”

Investigators also seized more than 400 computers, 200 mobile phones and 8,000 items like memory sticks, CD’s and DVD’s. “The scale is immense,” Mr. Clarke said. “Inquiries will span the globe.”

He said those searches revealed a trove of evidence, and officials and others last week provided additional details.

Four of the law firms that are defending suspects declined to comment.

When police officers knocked down the door to the second-floor apartment on Forest Road, they found a plastic bin filled with liquid, batteries, nearly a dozen empty drink bottles, rubber gloves, digital scales and a disposable camera that was leaking liquid, the person with knowledge of the case said. The camera might have been a prototype for a device to smuggle chemicals on the plane.

In the pocket of one of the suspects, the police found the computer memory stick that showed he had looked up airline schedules for flights from London to the United States, a British official said. The man is said to have had a diary that included a list that the police interpreted as a step-by-step plan for an attack. The items included batteries and Lucozade bottles. It also included a reminder to select a date.

In the homes of a number of the suspects, the police found jihadist literature and DVD’s about “genocide” in Iraq and Palestine, according to British officials. In one house searched by the police in Walthamstow, the authorities found a copy of a book called “Defense of the Muslim Lands.”

A “last will and testament” for one of the accused was said to have been found at his brother’s home. Dated Sept. 24, 2005, the will concludes, “What should I worry when I die a Muslim, in the manner in which I am to die, I go to my death for the sake of my maker.” God, he added, can if he wants “bless limbs torn away!!!”

Looking for Global Ties

In addition, the British authorities are scouring the evidence for clues to whether there is a global dimension to the suspected plot, particularly the extent to which it was planned, financed or supported in Pakistan, and whether there is a connection to remnants of Al Qaeda. They are still trying to determine who provided the cash for the apartment and the computer equipment and telephones, officials said.

Several of the suspects had traveled to Pakistan within weeks of the arrests, according to an American counterterrorism official.

At a minimum, investigators say at least one of the suspects’ inspiration was drawn from Al Qaeda. One of the suspects’ “kill-as-they-kill” martyrdom video was taken from a November 2002 fatwa by Osama bin Laden.

British officials said many of the questions about the suspected plot remained unanswered because they were forced to make the arrests before Scotland Yard was ready.

The trigger was the arrest in Pakistan of Rashid Rauf, a 25-year-old British citizen with dual Pakistani citizenship, whom Pakistani investigators have described as a “key figure” in the plot.

In 2000, Mr. Rauf’s father founded Crescent Relief London, a charity that sent money to victims of last October’s earthquake in Pakistan. Several suspects met through their involvement in the charity, a friend of one of them said. Last week, Britain froze the charity’s bank accounts and opened an investigation into possible “terrorist abuse of charitable funds.” Leaders of the charity have denied the allegations.

Several senior British officials said the Pakistanis arrested Rashid Rauf without informing them first. The arrest surprised and frustrated investigators here who had wanted to monitor the suspects longer, primarily to gather more evidence and to determine whether they had identified all the people involved in the suspected plot.

But within hours of Mr. Rauf’s arrest on Aug. 9 in Pakistan, British officials heard from intelligence sources that someone connected to him had tried to contact some of the suspects in East London. The message was interpreted by investigators as a possible signal to move forward with the plot, officials said.

“The plotters received a very short message to ‘Go now,’ ” said Franco Frattini, the European Union’s security commissioner, who was briefed by the British home secretary, John Reid, in London. “I was convinced by British authorities that this message exists.”

A senior British official said the message from Pakistan was not that explicit. But, nonetheless, investigators here had to change their strategy quickly.

“The aim was to keep this operation going for much longer,” said a senior British security official who requested anonymity because of confidentiality rules. “It ended much sooner than we had hoped.”

From then on, the British government was driven by worst-case scenarios based on a minimum-risk strategy.

British investigators worried that word of Mr. Rauf’s arrest could push the London suspects to destroy evidence and to disperse, raising the possibility they would not be able to arrest them all. But investigators also could not rule out that there could be an unknown second cell that would try to carry out a similar plan, officials said.

Mr. Clarke, as the country’s top antiterrorism police official in London with authority over police decisions, ordered the arrests.

But it was left to Mr. Reid, who has been home secretary since May and is a former defense secretary, to decide at emergency meetings of police, national security and transport leaders, what else needed to be done. Mr. Reid and Mr. Clarke declined repeated requests for interviews.

Prime Minister Tony Blair was on vacation in Barbados, where he was said to have monitored events in London; Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott did not attend the meeting.

“While the arrests were unfolding, the Home Office raised Britain’s terror alert level to “critical,” as the police continued their raids of suspects’ homes and cars. All liquids were banned from carry-on bags, and some public officials in Britain and the United States said an attack appeared to be imminent. In addition to Mr. Stephenson’s remark that the attack would have been “mass murder on an unimaginable scale,” Mr. Reid said that attacks were “highly likely” and predicted that the loss of life would have been on an “unprecedented scale.”

Two weeks later, senior officials here characterized the remarks as unfortunate. As more information was analyzed and the British government decided that the attack was not imminent, Mr. Reid sought to calm the country by backing off from his dire predictions, while defending the decision to raise the alert level to its highest level as a precaution.

In lowering the threat level from critical to severe on Aug. 14, Mr. Reid acknowledged: “Threat level assessments are intelligence-led. It is not a process where scientific precision is possible. They involve judgments.”

Reporting for this article was contributed by William J. Broad from New York, Carlotta Gall from Pakistan, David Johnston and Mark Mazzetti from Washington.


[ return to The "Liquid Bombers" Series ]

Brother of So-Called 'Ringleader' Released Without Charges in Alleged British Bombing Plot

One Other Suspect Charged; One Released; Charity Funds Frozen; more...

The Media 'Lid' Seems To Be 'On' -- But It Can't Contain That Old Familiar 'Fish Market' Aroma!

British authorities investigating the alleged "liquid bombing plot" released two more (suddenly former) suspects last Thursday, charged one person, bringing the total now charged to 12, and extended the custody limit for the remaining suspects who are still being held without charges.

One of the two people released Thursday (August 24) had previously been described as "a potentially important figure" in the alleged plot, since his brother is (or was) supposedly the ringleader.

Allo, London? We're getting mixed messages here!

But then again ... what else is new?

As you remember -- unless you don't -- the alleged plot was reportedly broken up two and a half weeks ago (August 9/10), when 24 people were arrested in England and 15 or more were arrested in Pakistan. At the time, the timing seemed more than a little bit odd, since news of the arrests was accompanied -- one might almost say "preceded" -- by a great thunderous roar from the Republican Spin-And-Noise Machine, all of them yelling "Terrah Terrah Terrah" simultaneously, except for those who were shouting "al-Q'aeda! al-Q'aeda!! al-Q'aeda!!!". Your humble and slightly frozen reporter documented the noise and the smell of that day (August 10) in a subtly-titled post called "An Avalanche of Bullshit".

It soon became obvious that the timing seemed odd for a very good reason: high-level Americans, allegedly having learned of an ongoing British-Pakistani investigation, and badly needing to change the flow of "news" on the "home front", apparently coerced Pakistani authorities to arrest Rashid Rauf, Business Man, Entreprenuer, Author and Research Analyst, the alleged ringleader of the alleged plot -- and its alleged al-Q'aeda connection. Rauf, according to authorities, sent a message saying he'd been captured, and this message was intercepted, which was why the British had made the arrests in haste, earlier than they would have preferred. In other words, this so-called "terror event", if it was an event at all, was timed and manipulated for partisan political advantage, as readers of (August 15th's) "Spin? Counter-Spin!" will remember -- unless they don't.

The following day, the New York Times revealed -- apparently accidentally -- that none of the suspects being held in Britain -- 23 at that point -- had yet been charged with a crime. Your humble blogger picked up on this aspect of the NYT's otherwise innocuous story, and blogged about it (August 16) in "NYT Beats The Terror Drums Again, But Exposes A Vital Fact!"

By the next day, the NYT had changed its story! But it was too late to fool the green-and-yellow regulars, since your cold correspondent had already quoted the vital sentence. Fortunately he had also saved a copy of the original text -- which was true, by the way; the first charges in this case were handed down five days later.

But before the charges were announced, we saw a very weird media-storm in Britain. On Thursday (August 17), word of the alleged plot was everywhere; there were hints of "al-Q'aeda connections", faint whispers about the so-called plotters' alleged intentions to "hatch" the "plot" on the fifth anniversary of 9/11, and "news" of the "discovery" of a suitcase containing a "bomb-making kit" (which was found in the woods, of course!). These stories were flying around all day. But on Friday (August 18), nothing of the sort could be seen.

Your humble blogger noticed the difference between the tone of the British and American coverage (especially the American coverage!) and the attitude of the rest of the world, which seemed quite a bit more skeptical, and wrote about it in Friday's piece: "British News Full Of Terror Revelations; World Opinion Appears Skeptical".

The first charges were announced last Monday (August 21), when eight people were charged with conspiracy to murder and another three were charged with less serious offenses. When the charges were made public, the police announced that they had collected a wide variety of so-called "evidence", including "bomb-making materials", one of which they mentioned by name: hydrogen peroxide.

Why hydrogen peroxide? For the peroxide, of course! It's a key ingredient (the "P") in TATP, otherwise known as "tri-acetone tri-peroxide", a.k.a. "acetone peroxide", a.k.a. "Mother of Satan", a.k.a. The Suicide Bombers' Weapon of Choice.

What's so special about acetone peroxide? Two qualities in particular:

  • [1] it can be made from materials that are (supposedly) fairly inexpensive and readily available, and

  • [2] it's a vicious explosive, and an unusual one: it's endothermic (all blast, no heat) and it has an explosive velocity of 5300 meters per second (nearly twelve thousand miles per hour).

  • Is that enough to blow a hole in an airplane fuselage? I should say so, provided you've got enough of it. But how much would you need? And how much could you make? And how long would it take? So many questions!

    If you were a terrorist, or a terrorist wannabe, and somebody told you that you could go into the bathroom of an airplane, mix some common household liquids together, and step back out into the passenger compartment armed with a handful of white crystals that could blow the plane out of the sky, would you be interested?

    If you said "Yes", you may now be in a most unfortunate bind. Because it turns out that making a bomb out of acetone and hydrogen peroxide is a much more difficult, hazardous and time-consuming feat than anything one could possibly do on an airplane. Last Wednesday's (August 23) piece, "To Mix The Impossible Bomb", describes in some detail just how impossible it would be to make such a bomb on a plane, and comments on illustrates the barrage of apparently meaningless (or time-managed) stories that seemed to be squeezing this particularly lurid tale out of the major British media schedule.

    Why all the pressure? Could it be because this story is falling apart?

    Maybe. But it could also be that this story is just starting to get interesting!

    Did you ever stop and think about that one?

    I did ... and the idea stuck!

    We now know beyond any doubt that something very fishy has happened here. And it seems to me we have two choices; to wit:

  • [a] we can say "Well, that was fishy. But I didn't believe the government before now, so what else is new?" and take a deep breath and "get over it" and "move on"
  • ... or ...
  • [b] we can try to find out what happened -- and why it smelled so much like rotting seafood -- and what there is to learn from all the fish we've been smelling for the last few weeks.

  • I like [b], and I don't think it's too hard to follow your nose in an atmosphere such as this.

    So ... I've been sniffing into the strange saga of Rashid Rauf, whose reported capture by Pakistani police allegedly sparked the series of arrests that took place in England on August 9/10.

    We've been told that Rashid Rauf was the main suspect, the ringleader, the mastermind, a central figure, or maybe just a transmitter of messages; in any event there's hardly ever been any room for doubt that Rashid Rauf allegedly played a key role in the alleged plot, if in fact there was a plot.

    Among the various suspects, Rashid Rauf has attracted the bulk of the interest, possibly because his brother (Tayib Rauf) and his father (Abdul Rauf) have both been arrested (and released) during this investigation; or maybe because he is connected to the banned militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), unless of course he isn't!

    Or perhaps it was his ties to al-Q'aeda; or possibly his al-Q'aeda connections; or maybe it was his suspected links to al-Q'aeda militants that got everybody so interested. Who can say?

    Rashid Rauf's father, Abdul Rauf, was either arrested or simply detained for questioning in Pakistan during all this -- and released without charge very soon thereafter. They could have kept him a lot longer had they wanted to. But they let him go free.

    This despite his known connection to a Muslim charity -- Crescent Relief -- that was thought to be linked to Pakistan-based militant groups -- and whose funds have just been frozen. Hmmmm.

    We are told that Abdul Rauf co-founded the charity in 2000 but stepped down from his role in 2003. Personally, I would find this story much more convincing if I had seen a claim that Abdul Rauf had severed all his ties with Crescent Relief. But I have not heard so much as a whisper to that effect.

    As you will remember -- if you can remember all the way back to the beginning of this post -- Rashid Rauf's brother, Tayib Rauf, was one of the two suspects arrested in the initial raids (August 9/10) and released without charge on Thursday (August 24). By British law, terror suspects can be held without charge for 28 days. Tayib Rauf was held for only two weeks. They could have kept him two weeks longer, had they wanted to. Hmmmm.

    Meanwhile, Rashid Rauf is still being held in Pakistan, and the British are anxious to get their hands on him. Is Pakistan likely to cooperate? Up until a few days ago, I would have said: "Not a chance!"

    Why? Primarily because of this article:

    [Daily Mail, August 19, 2006]
    Pakistanis find no evidence against ‘terror mastermind’
    The Briton alleged to be the ‘mastermind’ behind the airline terror plot could be innocent of any significant involvement, sources close to the investigation claim.

    Rashid Rauf, whose detention in Pakistan was the trigger for the arrest of 23 suspects in Britain, has been accused of taking orders from Al Qaeda’s ‘No3’ in Afghanistan and sending money back to the UK to allow the alleged bombers to buy plane tickets.

    But after two weeks of interrogation, an inch-by-inch search of his house and analysis of his home computer, officials are now saying that his extradition is ‘a way down the track’ if it happens at all.
    It's not normally possible to extradite a person unless the country currently holding that person is amenable to the idea. And usually they want to see evidence.
    Rauf’s arrest followed a protracted surveillance operation on him and his family which, The Mail on Sunday has established, dates back to the 7/7 bomb attacks on London.

    The possible link between 7/7 and the alleged plot emerged when this newspaper spoke to Rauf’s uncle, Miam Mumtaz, in Kashmir.

    Mumtaz was approached by two members of ISI, the feared Pakistani security service, as he nervously denied any knowledge of his nephew’s alleged activities.
    Well, of course. And what about the ISI men? Did they deny everything, too?
    One ISI man said it had been monitoring all movement by Mumtaz and the rest of Rauf’s relatives since the 7/7 attacks.
    I'll bet they have! Maybe even longer, perhaps?
    It is the first official acknowledgement of any suspected link between the London bombings and the plot to blow up planes flying from Britain to America.
    So ... it's no wonder the aroma seems familiar!!
    It comes amid wider suspicions that the plot may not have been as serious, or as far advanced, as the authorities initially claimed.

    That it was not as far advanced?

    As authorities initially claimed?

    Oh, puhh-leeeeze!


    They didn't all have passports yet. They didn't even have plane tickets. And they hadn't made any bombs.

    And yet we saw this exchange on CNN [emphasis added]:
    BLITZER: How many planes, specifically, were targeted?

    CHERTOFF: You know, I don't know that I can give you a definitive answer to that. I think we're still investigating. We've uncovered a lot of material. The British have, and so it may take awhile before we get a precise picture. It's clear that the plan was multiple planes at about the same time.

    Now, whether the exact number had been decided upon or whether that was going to depend upon some factors has not yet resolved. We don't know. But it was, under any circumstances, an attack which had the potential to kill hundreds of thousands of people.
    This is our chief of homeland insecurity talking. Look at all the things he says he doesn't know. Now look at what he doesn't know, but thinks he does know. How many people would have to fit on an airplane before you could kill "hundreds of thousands" of them by knocking 10 or 12 planes into the ocean? Tens of thousands, right? And it's an easy calculation, too.

    But this Chertoff character, who allegedly wields all sorts of power, who supposedly is doing everything possible to keep us all safe, clearly has no idea what he's talking about. Or else he's a stone-cold liar.

    Either way, how could we not have suspicions?

    Quoting the August 19th Daily Mail again:
    Analysts suspect Pakistani authorities exaggerated Rauf’s role to appear ‘tough on terrorism’ and impress Britain and America.
    Well, that's what "they" always do, don't they?

    And "we" do it too, no? But still ...
    A spokesman for Pakistan’s Interior Ministry last night admitted that ‘extradition at this time is not under consideration’.
    ... which is why I would have said "The Brits won't be seeing this Rauf character in person anytime soon!"

    A couple of days ago.

    But maybe I would have been wrong.

    Here's the latest from the Times of India [emphasis added]:

    [August 26, 2006]
    Pakistan set to extradite Rauf to UK
    ISLAMABAD: Top security officials of Britain and Pakistan are negotiating the extradition of Rashid Rauf, the key suspect in the plot to blow up US-bound passenger aircraft from London, although there is no extradition treaty in place between the two countries.

    Britain is waiting expiry of the physical remand of Rauf, whose arrest was registered in Airport police station for holding tampered travelling documents, The Nation said.
    Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam confirmed the possibility of shifting Rauf to Britain where he is required in the extensive probe into the London terror plot.
    A tip-off from Rauf through a phone call is believed to have been the green signal for the plot that was foiled by the timely arrests in Pakistan and in London suburbs.

    "Timely" arrests indeed.

    And what did "the green signal" say?

    Here's my guess:
    Dudes And Dudettes Of The Crescent: Let's Roll!!!!

    Start applying for your passports now, but don't all go in together.

    Don't buy any airline tickets until you all have your passports. Doh!

    Remember what I told you about making a bomb on a plane: It's really, really easy!

    And above all, don't believe the crazy French website that says
    "Après trois jours (ou plus), il est temps de filtrer les cristaux!"
    It doesn't really mean:
    "After three days (or more), it is time to filter the crystals!"
    Honest, it doesn't! Would I lie to you?

    Ok, Good. Praise the Will of Allah!!

    And repeat after me:
    Rashid Couldn't Possibly Be An Agent Provocateur!

    Rashid Couldn't Possibly Be An Agent Provocateur!

    Rashid Couldn't Possibly Be An Agent Provocateur!
    Agent Provocateur:
    a secret agent who incites suspected persons to commit illegal acts

    sixth in a series

    Wednesday, August 23, 2006

    To Mix The Impossible Bomb: Suspects Charged, Arraigned In Alleged Bombing Plot

    An enormous investigation continues in Great Britain, where eight people were charged with conspiracy to murder on Monday and lesser charges were laid against three others. All eleven of the suspects who were charged Monday appeared in court on Tuesday.

    From Monday's account in the Mirror: 11 Charged Over Airline Bomb Plot, police described the alleged evidence as follows (with my emphasis):
    Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke said this afternoon: "First there is evidence from surveillance carried out before August 10.

    "This includes important, indeed highly significant, video and audio recordings.

    "Since August 10 we have found bomb-making equipment. There are chemicals, including hydrogen peroxide, electrical components, documents and other items.

    "We have also found a number of video recordings. These are sometimes referred to as martyrdom videos."
    As for the charges...
    Susan Hemming, head of the Crown Prosecution Service Counter Terrorism Division, said: "Eight individuals [Ahmed Abdullah Ali, Tanvir Hussain, Umar Islam, Arafat Waheed Khan, Assad Ali Sarwar, Adam Khatib, Ibrahim Savant and Waheed Aman -- WP] have been charged with two offences relating to an alleged plot to manufacture and smuggle the component parts of improvised explosive devices on to aircraft and assemble and detonate them on board.

    "Those individuals have been charged with conspiracy to murder and the new offence of preparing acts of terrorism contrary to Section 5 of the Terrorism Act 2006.

    "In addition, three have been charged with other offences under the Terrorism Act 2000.

    "One has been charged with possession of articles useful to a person preparing an act of terrorism and two with failing to disclose information of material assistance in preventing an act of terrorism."
    Tuesday's news reports concerned the arraignment. From the New York Times British Plot Suspects Are Arraigned in Court:
    A British court today began arraigning the people who have been arrested and charged in connection with a suspected plot to blow up United States-bound airliners.

    Eleven of the 23 people arrested in the case were charged on Monday; the first four of them to appear before a judge today were all ordered held in custody. Prosecutors expect to arraign the rest of the 11 before the end of the day.
    So far, Mr. Clarke said, the police have found bomb-making chemicals, including hydrogen peroxide and electrical components, recalling earlier British and American accounts that there was a plan to mix liquids into an explosive cocktail once they had been carried aboard airliners heading for American cities.

    Mr. Clarke went on to say: “We have also found a number of video recordings — these are sometimes referred to as martyrdom videos. This has all given us a clearer picture of the alleged plot.”
    The NYT offers some additional details:
    The 11 suspects who were charged Monday seemed to be mostly British Muslims of Pakistani descent, but one was identified as Umar Islam, also known as Brian Young, a convert to Islam. Another was Ibrahim Savant, also a convert.

    The eight people charged with conspiracy to murder were also charged with planning “to smuggle the component parts of improvised explosive devices onto aircraft and assemble them and detonate them on board.”
    Why hydrogen peroxide? It's a key ingredient (the "P") in TATP, which is short for "Tri-Acetone Tri-Peroxide", also known as "Acetone Peroxide". It's the explosive the accused would-be bombers were allegedly trying to mix and detonate aboard airlplanes.

    According to Global Security dot Org:
    A new terrorist explosive, triacetone triperoxide (TATP), has recently appeared as a weapon in the Middle East. TATP has been used by suicide bombers in Israel, and was chosen as a detonator in 2001 by the thwarted "shoe bomber" Richard Reid. It can be as or more powerful than military analogs. TATP is one of the most sensitive explosives known, being extremely sensitive to impact, temperature change and friction.
    TATP can be easily prepared in a basement lab using commercially available starting materials obtained from, e.g., hardware stores, pharmacies, and stores selling cosmetics. TATP is a fairly easy explosive to make, as far as explosives manufacturing goes. All it takes is acetone, hydrogen peroxide (3% medicinal peroxide is not concentrated enough), and a strong acid like hydrochloric or sulfuric acid. I don't recommended mixing up a batch for Independence Day celebrations because it's easy to blow yourself up when you make it.
    The graphic at the top of this post shows the chemical structure of TATP. It's probably a familiar diagram to some of our British friends, because last summer -- in July of 2005 -- TATP was allegedly used in the London subway bombings.

    Philippe Naughton, writing last summer for Times Online, told us TATP is suicide bombers' weapon of choice:
    In the occupied Palestinian territories, you can tell who the 'engineers' are: they are the ones covered in burn marks who might be missing fingers, or even a whole hand.

    The engineers are the bomb-makers for the young suicide bombers sent to kill Israelis by the Islamic militant organisations such as Hamas. And their explosive of choice, triacetone triperoxide or TATP - named today as an explosive used in last week's London bombings - is the reason for their disfigurement.
    as the Palestinian bomb-makers will attest - 40 Palestinians are thought to have been killed making or handling the explosive - it is highly unstable and sensitive to heat and friction. Not for nothing is it known as "Mother of Satan".

    As one British explosives expert said today of the news that TATP was involved in the four London blasts: "Frankly, I wouldn't like to be wandering around with 10lb of TATP on my back."
    Thomas Greene in The Register asks: Mass murder in the skies: was the plot feasible?
    First, you've got to get adequately concentrated hydrogen peroxide. This is hard to come by, so a large quantity of the three per cent solution sold in pharmacies might have to be concentrated by boiling off the water. Only this is risky, and can lead to mission failure by means of burning down your makeshift lab before a single infidel has been harmed.

    But let's assume that you can obtain it in the required concentration, or cook it from a dilute solution without ruining your operation. Fine. The remaining ingredients, acetone and sulfuric acid, are far easier to obtain, and we can assume that you've got them on hand.

    Now for the fun part. Take your hydrogen peroxide, acetone, and sulfuric acid, measure them very carefully, and put them into drinks bottles for convenient smuggling onto a plane. It's all right to mix the peroxide and acetone in one container, so long as it remains cool. Don't forget to bring several frozen gel-packs (preferably in a Styrofoam chiller deceptively marked "perishable foods"), a thermometer, a large beaker, a stirring rod, and a medicine dropper. You're going to need them.

    It's best to fly first class and order Champagne. The bucket full of ice water, which the airline ought to supply, might possibly be adequate - especially if you have those cold gel-packs handy to supplement the ice, and the Styrofoam chiller handy for insulation - to get you through the cookery without starting a fire in the lavvie.
    Once the plane is over the ocean, very discreetly bring all of your gear into the toilet. You might need to make several trips to avoid drawing attention. Once your kit is in place, put a beaker containing the peroxide / acetone mixture into the ice water bath (Champagne bucket), and start adding the acid, drop by drop, while stirring constantly. Watch the reaction temperature carefully. The mixture will heat, and if it gets too hot, you'll end up with a weak explosive. In fact, if it gets really hot, you'll get a premature explosion possibly sufficient to kill you, but probably no one else.

    After a few hours - assuming, by some miracle, that the fumes haven't overcome you or alerted passengers or the flight crew to your activities - you'll have a quantity of TATP with which to carry out your mission. Now all you need to do is dry it for an hour or two.
    Edgar J. Steele has more on the feasibility angle:
    A friend with a doctorate in chemistry sent me the following:
    "According to the official government story, TATP (triacetone triperoxide) was the explosive these conspirators were planning to manufacture aboard the airliners.

    This story is not plausible for a number of reasons, but let's take a quick look at just enough of the science so as not to provide anybody with a guide to making an actual bomb: TATP is made from hydrogen peroxide solution, acetone and sulfuric acid. The reaction can be carried out with just about any concentration, but is best done with concentrated solutions of both peroxide and acetone.

    The peroxide and acetone can be pre-mixed, but the acid must be added, a drop at a time, to the solution, all the while continuously stirring it and keeping it continuously chilled. This step of the process will take several hours, during which the fumes given off will be substantial and quite overpowering, thus a lab-quality air evacuation system is required. (ES: right here, the whole idea of a TATP bomb becomes ludicrous. Difficult in a lab, but impossible in an airplane due to the environment - the toilet - and the time requirement.)

    "One then must let the resulting solution stand for an extended period at temperatures above the freezing point, but definitely below 10 Celsius (50 Fahrenheit). Above 10 Celsius, the TATP does not form; instead, diperoxide forms, which is so unstable it cannot be worked with. The time required for the reaction to go to completion is at least 24 hours and often several days.

    Once the TATP forms, it crystallizes as snowflakes from the solution and must be harvested by filtration and the liquid discarded. The TATP then is dried and carefully stored until needed. It must be stored below 10 Celsius or it converts spontaneously to the unstable diperoxide.

    There is neither the time, the workspace nor the other materials required to make TATP on an airliner. The time required, the temperatures required, the workspace required and the need to dry the chemical prior to use preclude this story being reasonable. This chemical process is much more sensitive than making, for example, nitroglycerin."
    The technically proficient reading this will recognize that a necessary step has been omitted and some others have been altered in critical ways. None of these purposeful camouflages alter the ingredients or the time, care and equipment required. Nor will I describe how TATP can be fabricated beforehand and then detonated aboard an airliner in flight. After all, though we want to demonstrate the impossibility of what has been claimed, we don't want anybody actually trying this at home...
    What can we conclude from this report, if it's true?

    Steele has some ideas:
    [i]t's impossible to make TATP as claimed, yet still they confiscate liquids from us, including sodas and baby formula, not to mention toothpaste and, even, lipsticks? Even if possible to make TATP as claimed, the individual smells of peroxide, acetone and sulfuric acid are obvious enough to preclude people having to be shaken down and terrorized by the airport Gestapo in this fashion. You have to wonder: Just exactly what is going on?
    Steele apparently thinks it means there was no plot and Bush and Blair are lying. I'm not about to vouch for their truth-telling skills, but I beg to point out that there are several possibilities at this point. And they seem to fall into three main categories:

    [1] There was no plot: Bush and Blair are lying.

    [2] There was indeed a plot but we don't know much -- or anything -- about it because Bush and Blair and many other people are lying.

    [3] There was indeed a plot and it was exactly as described in the charges, but the alleged plotters were too clueless about TATP to realize that their plan couldn't possibly work ... not for one plane, not for one in a dozen, certainly not for a dozen planes simultaneously.

    If I were investigating this, I would want to look much more closely before I said very much more.

    But of course there's no need for me to investigate this, because ... because ... because ... did you hear about the mutiny??

    Daily Mail [Sunday, August 20]
    Mutiny as passengers refuse to fly until Asians are removed:
    Passengers refuse to allow holiday jet to take off until two Asian men are thrown off plane

    British holidaymakers staged an unprecedented mutiny - refusing to allow their flight to take off until two men they feared were terrorists were forcibly removed.

    The extraordinary scenes happened after some of the 150 passengers on a Malaga-Manchester flight overheard two men of Asian appearance apparently talking Arabic.

    Passengers told cabin crew they feared for their safety and demanded police action. Some stormed off the Monarch Airlines Airbus A320 minutes before it was due to leave the Costa del Sol at 3am. Others waiting for Flight ZB 613 in the departure lounge refused to board it.

    The incident fuels the row over airport security following the arrest of more than 20 people allegedly planning the suicide-bombing of transatlantic jets from the UK to America. It comes amid growing demands for passenger-profiling and selective security checks.

    It also raised fears that more travellers will take the law into their own hands - effectively conducting their own 'passenger profiles'.
    The trouble in Malaga flared last Wednesday as two British citizens in their 20s waited in the departure lounge to board the pre-dawn flight and were heard talking what passengers took to be Arabic. Worries spread after a female passenger said she had heard something that alarmed her.

    Passengers noticed that, despite the heat, the pair were wearing leather jackets and thick jumpers and were regularly checking their watches.

    Initially, six passengers refused to board the flight. On board the aircraft, word reached one family. To the astonishment of cabin crew, they stood up and walked off, followed quickly by others.
    [BBC: Sunday, August 20]
    Passengers explain pair's removal:
    Passengers on a Manchester-bound flight have described how two men were removed from the plane because other travellers thought they were speaking Arabic.

    Heath Schofield, a passenger on the flight from Malaga, described it as being a "bit like Chinese whispers".

    Monarch Airlines said passengers had demanded the men were removed because they were acting suspiciously.

    Birmingham MP Khalid Mahmood said it was disgraceful the pair seemed to have been judged on their skin colour.

    The men - reported to be of Asian or Middle Eastern appearance - were taken from Wednesday's flight ZB 613 and questioned but were allowed to fly back to the UK later in the week.
    [Mirror: Monday, August 21]
    Wearing a Coat Doesn't Make You a Terrorist:
    MUSLIM leaders yesterday blasted British passengers who staged a mutiny on a holiday jet after accusing two innocent Asian men of being terrorists.

    The packed flight from Malaga to Manchester was delayed more than three hours after worried trippers stormed off and refused to fly until the British-born Muslims were removed.

    The pair - later cleared by police - aroused suspicions by speaking Arabic and wearing heavy overcoats in the Mediterranean heat.

    But yesterday angry Muslim elders slammed airline chiefs for over-reacting. Muslim Association of Britain spokesman Ismail Farhat said: "Wearing a coat in summer doesn't make someone a terrorist. It's absolutely disgraceful.
    [Telegraph: Monday, August 21]
    Jet scare over Asian men 'helps terrorists':
    An airline yesterday stood by its decision to remove two Asian men from a holiday jet bound for Britain despite criticism from a Muslim group.

    The two passengers were asked to leave Monarch flight ZB613 from Malaga to Manchester, apparently because other passengers became alarmed that the men were wearing heavy clothing and kept checking their watches. Cabin crew informed the Spanish authorities of the passengers' fears and the men were taken off the flight.

    One of the passengers told a Sunday newspaper: "Some of the older children, who had seen the terror alert on television, were starting to mutter things like 'Those two look like they are bombers'. Some of the passengers were in tears."

    After security checks the men boarded a later flight.
    Patrick Mercer, the Conservative homeland security spokesman, described the incident as a victory for terrorists.

    "These people on the flight have been terrorised into behaving irrationally. For those unfortunate two men to be victimised because of the colour of their skin is just nonsense."
    [National Ledger: Sunday, August 20]
    Passengers on a Plane:
    A Tory Homeland Security spokesman Patrick Mercer blasted the passengers’ actions with: “This is a victory for terrorists. These people on the flight have been terrorized into behaving irrationally!” But, was their behavior irrational?
    [H]ow are passengers supposed to protect themselves and their loved ones from the radical Islamic terrorist menace? Apparently, the head-in-the-sand syndrome has even spread to this most currently vulnerable airline industry. It appears that if “we the flying public” are going to be safe, no one but ourselves is going to save us. The hell with political correctness! We need more mutinies of this nature. It’s our money paying for these trips and, ultimately, our lives that are in jeopardy. If the airlines and our “PC” brethren don’t like it, I say “Then follow your own rules!”

    I now doubt that anything will bring the so-called “moderate Muslims” out from their hiding places, in order to speak against their suicidal and homicidal brethren. But, at least a few, or many, more of these mutinies might just get the airlines to step up and listen. Contrary to politically-correct opinion, profiling is a good thing—at least if you want to have your best chance of remaining alive.
    It's clear that this story is much more interesting than the detailed analysis concerning the conditions under which TATP can be mixed, and its prominence in the British press is entirely understandable -- especially since the "mutiny" was largely ignored when it happened on Wednesday, with most of the press coverage coming along several days later. But even the Mutiny of the Airline Passengers became old news very quickly, nudged aside not so much by the charges laid Monday but by something else that happened between England and Pakistan: something much more important. So important, even the New York Times couldn't fail to notice:

    Cricket Imbroglio Offers Diversion in Britain:
    For anyone who considers the laws of English cricket to be incomprehensible, or, indeed, for anyone who thought the mildly outraged term “it’s just not cricket” might imply a certain decorum, think again.

    On Sunday, an umpire presiding at a high-profile game between England and Pakistan, ruled that, in his belief, Pakistani players had been tampering with the ball and he told Pakistani players of his suspicion, awarding England five bonus runs, or points.

    By way of protest, the Pakistanis refused to leave their dressing room after a scheduled break for tea. The Australian umpire, Darrell Hair, a person known for contentious rulings against some Asian teams, then removed the “bails” — those little wooden bits that fit horizontally across the top of the larger wooden stakes called stumps — denoting that Pakistan had forfeited the game.

    The Pakistan team, nonetheless, walked back onto the field of play. But by this time the umpires had walked off, having ruled that Pakistan’s no-show constituted a terminal offense. Game to England — the first time in 129 years of so-called Test matches between national teams that a game had been forfeited in this way.

    After days of worry here about the role of Pakistan and Britons of Pakistani descent in Britain’s latest terrorism alert, the cricketing imbroglio offered something of a diversion. It covered the front pages of newspapers in England and Pakistan — where cricket took root during the colonial era of the Raj — banishing such competitors for attention as the Lebanon crisis or the airliner bomb plot.
    I certainly have to admit that the NYT got that last bit right, even though I could quibble about some of the rest of their piece. But why bother? Let's get closer to the source:

    England v Pakistan 4th Test:
    England 173 & 298-4 v Pakistan 504
    Pakistan forfeit match

    Pakistan have forfeited the fourth Test against England after play on day four was sensationally abandoned after a ball-tampering row.

    The umpires ruled Pakistan were guilty of doctoring the match ball and awarded England five penalty runs and let them choose a replacement ball.

    The day's play finished early when Pakistan stayed in their dressing room after tea in protest.

    Although they did briefly return, they later had to forfeit the match.
    Fascinating, isn't it? I can't get enough of it, myself. I've been thanking my lucky stars that I was able to find a live-blogged report of the fourth day of the match, Day four: How the controversy unfolded, which says:
    1414: WICKET Cook lbw bowled Gul 83
    Cook's luck runs out at last as Gul's inswinging yorker traps him plumb in front. He looks absolutely gutted. That's a big blow for England - that partnership was looking tasty. In comes Collingwood.

    1420: Pietersen flays Kaneria through cover for four as the leggie finally tires of his leg-stump line. There's a heavy burden on his shoulders now - and you can bet that he fancies it.

    1426: Collingwood plunges forward to Kaneria and gets a big inside edge onto his pad - but the ball flies wide of Faisal Iqbal at short square leg. Iqbal turns up the volume on the chat.

    1430: Gul's getting a bit of reverse swing here. Collingwood pushes him for two into the off-side.
    Did you catch that? A bit of "reverse swing"? What's happening here?
    1434: Inzi's not happy about this - the umpires have picked up the ball and are examining it closely.
    "Inzy" is Pakistan's captain, Inzamam-ul-Haq.
    They call Trevor Jesty on with the box of spare balls, and we could have a diplomatic incident here. They're changing the ball, and that can mean only one thing - the umpires think the Pakistan team have tampered with the ball.

    Lordy - Inzamam's furious. To him this is tantamount to being called a cheat. A five-run penalty has been given against Pakistan, and this one's going to run and run.

    1439: It's all booting off. Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer has marched straight into the match referee's office, and he didn't look happy. Good luck Mike Procter...
    Mike Procter is a former great player for Gloucestershire and South Africa, currently a test referee, and in charge of this match.
    Out on the pitch, Pietersen cracks the new 'old' ball off the back foot for four to move on to 73.

    1445: Up in the match referee's office, Mike Procter is frantically leafing through what looks like a rule-book. Woolmer has now marched off, and is back on the Pakistan dressing-room balcony, scratching another ball while talking animatedly with bowling coach Waqar Younis.

    1452: Pietersen plays a lovely late cut off Kaneria to move to 80, and the drinks come on. Behind the scenes, the tampering row is only just beginning...

    1502: Asif has replaced Gul. Read into that what you will. Collingwood, possibly wearing Cook's lucky box, jabs down late on an inswinger and watches in horror as the ball bounces down behind him and misses the stumps by a bail's thickness.
    and so on...

    So many questions remain unanswered:

  • Who, if anyone, told those suspects that they could mix TATP on a plane? And why?
  • Who were the two suspicious men in Malaga and why were they acting so suspiciously?
  • Or were all the stories about two suspicious men simply fiction?
  • Was Gul in fact caught doctoring the ball?
  • Did the suspects pull a fast one, pretending that they were going to try to mix TATP on a plane when in fact they were planning to do something else?
  • And if so, why would they do this?
  • What would you do if you were on an airplane, or about to board one, and you saw some Middle-Eastern men acting strangely?
  • Would you get on that plane?
  • Was Inzamam-ul-Haq protesting too much because he knew they were caught red-handed?
  • Or was he furious because he felt Pakistan was unfairly penalized?
  • And why was Gul replaced immediately?
  • Was he righteously ticked and too steamed to bowl well, or was he feeling humiliated after his foul deed was exposed?
  • And perhaps most importantly: What will this do to the tour?

  • Pakistan put tour match in doubt:
    Pakistan players may skip Thursday's match against Middlesex at Uxbridge, on the day before skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq's disciplinary hearing.

    But coach Bob Woolmer has moved to quell fears the one-day series against England could be in danger.

    Woolmer stopped short of guaranteeing the series would go ahead if Inzamam is banned for all or part of it.

    "We are all trying to get our heads around what has happened but we are keen to play cricket," he said.
    A sad sign of the times: you can't tell the cricket coaches from the politicians...
    "We need the one-day series to prepare for the World Cup.

    "We need to get rid of this polarisation and we want to bring the two parties [Pakistan and England] together again."
    Speaking of politicians ...

    Are you still wondering about that TATP? So am I.

    I'm still wondering about a few other things too, and you know what that means: We have not yet heard the last word about the people who allegedly plotted To Mix The Impossible Bomb.


    fifth in a series

    Friday, August 18, 2006

    British News Full Of Terror Revelations; World Opinion Appears Skeptical

    An overview of the most recent fallout from the thwarted alleged British-Pakistani simultaneous airplane bombing plot

    ALSO: Have our British friends gone Mad?

    I did quite a bit of reading yesterday (British time) and I want to share some of the highlights (and lowlights) with you.

    On the British news scene, everyone seemed to have new and different revelations, all from unnamed sources, and all presented in a manner which (if you'll pardon my French) exuded an aroma reminiscent of a seafood market.

    BBC: Terror detectives 'find bomb kit'
    Police probing an alleged plot to bring down flights have found a suitcase containing items which could be used to construct a bomb, the BBC has learned.

    Officers have been searching a piece of land called King's Wood in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.

    A police source told the BBC the case contained "everything you would need to make an improvised device".

    Other officers have confirmed only that a suitcase was found. Scotland Yard has not officially commented on any finds.
    Personally I cannot imagine a terror investigator searching the woods near the place where one or more suspects lived, and coming out with a suitcase full of bomb-making materials, unless one -- or maybe even all -- of the suspects were personally responsible for the contents and location of that suitcase. Can you?

    I mean, these investigators are not under any pressure to find anything, are they?

    Ben Taylor and Stephen Wright / Daily Mail: 'Jet terror plot was to mark 9/11 anniversary'
    The airline terror plot to blow up at least seven transatlantic jets was intended to mark the fifth anniversary of September 11, intelligence sources have revealed.

    But it was not executed because its alleged conspirators were too 'inexperienced' to carry it out.
    Ohhh! Very convincing, don't you think? Let's take in some more details, shall we?

    A highly placed source said: 'Look at their ages ... their faces, you will hardly believe that they are terrorists, but the fact is that they were motivated and had a plan to carry out attacks.'

    'I don't know how close they were from executing the attacks, but I personally believe that they wanted to do it to mark the (5th anniversary of) 9/11 attacks.

    'I personally think they would have carried out the attacks if they had been experienced enough.'
    What about: "if they hadn't been arrested"? Or am I missing something?

    And it's my emphasis, by the way, above and below.

    Guardian Unlimited: Al Qaida 'sanctioned terror plot'
    The alleged terror plot to blow up US-bound planes was probably sanctioned by al Qaida No.2 leader Ayman al-Zawahri, a senior Pakistani intelligence official said.

    The latest investigations by Pakistan also indicate that a British national arrested in Pakistan, Rashid Rauf, was the planner of the attacks who recruited people to take part in the plot, the official said.

    "We have reason to believe that it was al Qaida-sanctioned and was probably cleared by al-Zawahri."
    Oooh! That's a good one, isn't it? So good, it travelled all the way across the ocean in almost no time at all!

    CBS: Qaeda No. 2 Behind U.K. Terror Plot?
    A Briton identified by Pakistan as a key suspect in the London airliner terror plot has links with an outlawed Pakistani militant group, and interrogations of those in custody indicate al Qaeda's leadership sanctioned the foiled plan, intelligence officials said Thursday.

    Questioning of some of the up to 17 suspects detained in Pakistan over the alleged plot revealed that al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri likely approved the plan to blow up passenger jets flying from London to the United States, a senior Pakistani intelligence official told The Associated Press.
    I definitely cannot imagine a senior Pakistani intelligence official telling a little white lie. Can you? Certainly not one decked out in fine raiment such as "probably" and "likely". And neither can you. Right??

    In my opinion, some of the reaction has been predictable, understandable, even inevitable.

    Fahad Ansari / Black Information Link: British Values under Threat
    Almost every day now we are all compelled to engage in a debate about the compatibility of Islamic and British values, whether it is possible for the two to co-exist or whether loyalty to one set must signal the death knell of the other.

    There are some values which cross the Islam-West divide, a crossing which signifies their importance in terms of human values. One of these common values is the presumption of innocence; that no individual shall be considered guilty until convicted in a court of law.

    So fundamental is this right to the administration of criminal law that it has been explicitly stated in almost every legal code and constitution around the world from as far back as Ancient Greece, as well as being laid down in the Shari’ah and the Old Testament.

    Despite its foundational value to a fair and honourable criminal justice system, the presumption of innocence has been suspended throughout the course of the ‘War on Terror’, and most recently in the current coverage of the alleged transatlantic bomb plot.

    Even now, not one of the 24 individuals arrested on suspicion of involvement in the plot has been charged with any offence whatsoever. In fact, one man has been released without charge. Only time will tell whether there is any substantial evidence to charge, try and convict the remaining 23.
    This is an excellent essay in my slightly frozen opinion and I wish you would read it all.

    M K Bhadrakumar / Asia Times: Be skeptical ... be very skeptical
    One of the significant contributions to the "war on terror" by Britain's home secretary David Blunkett before his abrupt departure from the Tony Blair cabinet last year was his statement on terrorism in the House of Commons that specifically flagged the possibility of a "dirty bomb" being planted in Britain by terrorists.

    That was in November 2002, when preparations were already in an advanced stage for the march to Baghdad. We are still waiting for the dirty bomb and its lethal radiation.
    That was a "significant contribution indeed", don't you think?
    Reports have appeared that the British security agencies were feeling increasingly uncomfortable that their American counterparts rushed to make out that the alleged plot was linked to al-Qaeda. More importantly, it appears that sources in London have begun distancing themselves from the plot by claiming that the British side was pressured from Washington to go public with the plot despite a lack of evidence and clear and convincing facts whether any conspiracy in fact existed at all.

    Not surprisingly, the loudest voices of skepticism about the alleged plot are heard in Pakistan, where of course the public is habitually cynical over anything that goes to the credit of the establishment.
    No kidding? Why don't they tell us these things?
    [I]t is extraordinary that the mainstream media in the US could so willingly suspend their disbelief over the patchy official claims that the plot was a "real idea" of cosmic significance. Furthermore, they dutifully ran "expert opinions" by commentators on the alleged plotters' al-Qaeda connections. Not a single mainstream newspaper in the US challenged the plot theory as such - leave alone pointed out the patent gulf between the London plotters' ambition and their ability to pull it off.
    Bhadrakumar goes on to share his thoughts about the recent bombing in India and its relation to al-Qaeda, or lack of same. I want you to read this whole essay, too.

    Meanwhile, over at the Christian Science Monitor, I found that Tom Regan had written a good summary of the non-terror we've seen lately, under the heading Terrorist plots everywhere ... and nowhere:
    In the week since British police conducted a major counterterrorism operation against an alleged plot to blow up airline flights between Britain and the US, a series of false alarms has shown how tense people have become about the threat of a terrorist attack in America. While all of the events were originally described [as], or considered, possible terrorist activities, none of them has been shown to have any connection with terrorism.
    You know what? I noticed that, too!
    Seattle authorities evacuated dozens of workers and set up a half-mile perimeter around part of the city's port, after two sniffer dogs seemed to indicate that a container from Pakistan might contain explosives.
    A bomb squad that searched the containers found nothing dangerous.
    Also on Wednesday, a woman's odd behavior on a transtlantic flight from London to Dulles airport in Washington D.C. caused the pilot to make an emergency landing in Boston, accompanied by US Air Force jets. The woman was arrested, the passengers interrogated and their luggage searched. The Boston Globe reports that early media accounts on cable news channels, based on information from law enforcement officials, said the woman had a note mentioning Al Qaeda. This turned out to be false.
    [T]he local prosecutor in Caro, Mich. reluctantly dropped terrorism charges against three Palestinian-Americans from Texas. Tuscola County Prosecutor Mark E. Reene had filed the charges against the men after they had bought dozens of cell phones at a Wal-Mart in Caro last Friday.

    When the Texans were originally arrested, Mr. Reene said they had been targeting the Mackinac Bridge because they had pictures of it on their digital camera. On Monday, the FBI and state officials said the men had no relation to any terrorist group or terrorist activity, and that the photos on the camera came from "apparently wide-eyed tourists rather than would-be terrorists."
    Instead, Maruan Muhareb, 18, Adham Othman, 21, and Louai Othman, 23, all of Mesquite, Texas, now face federal charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit fraud by trafficking in counterfeit goods. They were arraigned on the new charges Wednesday in US District Court in Bay City, following a brief hearing in Caro at which a judge dismissed the state charges. The conspiracy charge is punishable by up to five years in prison. Money laundering carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
    There's plenty of jurisdictional nonsense going on as you will see if you read the entire article.

    But in the meantime: What's going on here? Is it panic ... or fabrication ... or some of each? I suppose we'll never know. Or will we? Too many questions, not enough evidence. No evidence, actually. Meanwhile, in Great Britain:

    Guardian Unlimited: 'People are definitely sceptical'

    This is a man-in-the-street interview-type piece, and there's some women-in-the-street too, but that's an awkward phrase, don't you think?
    American visitors to the capital say [... ] they are bewildered by the sceptical reaction of some Britons to what they see as a war.

    "We've been looking at your museums," says John LeClaire, from Boston, holidaying with family and friends. "In the first world war there's this blindly patriotic joining of this war that is in a sense pointless. In the second world war there is uniform support for the government once Chamberlain is got rid of. Now you have, what, about 20% of the people who think terror plots are a conspiracy? That's an extraordinary evolution."
    Notice the wording here, friends. Our Bostonian friend in London tumbles upon two politically charged words in the same breath: "conspiracy" and "evolution". Odd, no?

    Heck! That's nothing. Check the next paragraph.

    I hereby award the First Ever Winter Patriot Prize for Orwellian Double-Speak to another Bostonian:
    "It didn't cross my mind that this was a conspiracy," says Dogan Arthur, also from Boston. "It would show that terrorism is working if people think it's a conspiracy."
    That's still my emphasis, by the way. An extraordinary statement such as this one doesn't come along every day (praise the will of Allah!) and certainly deserves extraordinary highlighting.

    What's so strange is that the vast majority of other people interviewed for this article just don't buy it.
    In my opinion it is a cover-up because of what's going on in Lebanon," says Munir Khan. "When you turn on the TV you see innocent people getting killed. This [plot] distracts from that."

    A moderate Muslim who has been a member of the Labour party for nearly 20 years, Khan quit about eight months ago to join the Lib Dems. He does not trust the evidence coming out of Pakistan in relation to this latest alleged terror plot. "The Pakistan government will say anything for money," he says. "If the UK government gives them money to say something, they will say it."
    Hmmm, a "moderate Muslim" ... there's a phrase we don't hear too often on this side of the ocean.

    Well, who else is there?
    Scepticism about the plot is shared by many in the area and not just by Muslims, says Qurban Hussain, a local resident and the deputy leader of Luton borough council. "People are definitely sceptical. They are not sure whether these claims are just to clamp down on British Muslims. Is it scaremongering tactics by the government or another reason to harass more innocent people?

    "It's a perception held by a lot of my constituents of all backgrounds. When you look back on the WMD, the information was wrong. Then we have the case of Jean Charles de Menezes. We picked up the wrong person altogether. Then the raid in Forest Gate in which a man was shot. There are so many cases people can refer to. It makes them feel they cannot trust the government."
    Hmmm... cannot trust the government. You don't say?
    Jerry Thornton, from Wiltshire, is with the tourists outside Downing Street. "There is so much we don't know. It [the government] is such a secretive organisation. They are all colluding together. Some of it's for our own protection, but I believe a lot of it is spin. I accept during the investigation they can't tell the whole truth but we'd like to know exactly what happened and how it was foiled."
    We'd like to know exactly what happened about a lot of things, Jerry.
    John Jeffreys is unsure whether he trusts the government's line. "It's difficult to know. A lot of these terror alerts seem to coincide with an announcement about ID cards for instance. This time there obviously was some sort of plot but we don't know how significant it was. I don't trust the government at all. There's no doubt that Blair lied about the weapons of mass destruction before Iraq."

    "It's propaganda, isn't it?" chips in his mate, Mick Perrone, 31. "It gets the whole nation on alert."
    Oh yes, it sure does! These Brits are smart, aren't they?

    And they do some pretty good counterspin, too:
    Muslim voters say they are also angered by the government's - and George Bush's - use of the term "Islamic terrorism". "Why Islamic? Look at Northern Ireland. Who was saying 'Christians' there?" says Khan.

    By chance an Irish family on holiday from Belfast pull into the services on the M1 while I'm there. "This [plot] could be make-believe, so the government can say, 'Look what we're doing to fight the terrorists,'" says Joanne Burrows. "There must have been something to arrest 23 people, but plenty of people have done time in Northern Ireland for doing nothing".
    So I said to myself: "O Frozen One, it does appear that the people of Great Britain are much smarter than their American counterparts, and this might be a very good thing!"

    Feeling all hopeful was I when I found the following extraordinary headline:

    Toby Helm and Philip Johnston / Telegraph: Ditch US in terror war, say 80pc of Britons

    "Eighty percent of Britons," said I. "Four out of five want to ditch the US. How extraordinary!"

    According to the article, it's even more extraordinary than the headline.
    [T]he survey exposed deep-seated distrust of the foreign policies championed by Mr Bush since September 11, 2001. Only 14 per cent believed Britain should continue to align itself with America.
    They're getting it! They're getting it! Or are they?

    Well ... NO! Apparently not!
    Seventy three per cent agreed that "the West is in a global war against Islamic terrorists who threaten our way of life".

    When asked whether Britain should change its foreign policy in response to terrorism only 12 per cent said it should be more conciliatory, compared with 53 per cent who thought it should become more "aggressive" and 24 per who wanted no change.

    People were divided about the Muslim community in Britain. Fifty per cent said "most British Muslims are moderate" while 28 per cent disagreed with the statement and 22 per cent did not know.
    I still don't get this. The Brits are apparently more sceptical than Americans, by and large, and apparently they think the Bush/USA approach to terror is more or less what the Deputy Prime Minister says he didn't say, and yet they believe all the other lies! And they seem content to live with them, too!
    Some 60 per cent of people thought the war on terrorism would continue for at least 10 years, with 44 per cent of these thinking it would still be going on in 20 years' time.
    What to make of this? They see the light but they prefer the darkness? It rains too much and their brains have all gone mouldy? They're suffering side-effects from having to call soccer "football" and gasoline "petrol"? There's something in their warm dark beer that makes them psychotic? Their "embattled island" mentality insists on living forever? Or am I missing something?

    Oh, wait! Now I get it: Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way.

    Isn't it?


    fourth in a series