Tuesday, March 24, 2009 

An improvement, but more still to be done.

Whenever the government hypes something up, you can almost guarantee that the end result will be less than the sum of its parts. So it is with the latest attempt by the Home Office to get to grips with something approaching an anti-terrorism strategy, which they have christened alliteratively pursue, prevent, protect and prepare, promoted heavily at the weekend by both Brown himself and Jacqui Smith. Using the protect word might well have taken something approaching balls: many minds still associate that with the ominous protect and survive booklets issued in the 80s, which matter of factly went through building a fallout shelter in the basement and wrapping up dead loved ones in black plastic bags, the eeriness and doom of the cartoons which accompanied the booklets still highly memorable now.

While in the past such doommongering, both from politicians and police was regular, this latest document mainly eschews scaremongering, as have the politicians promoting it. With the exception of the potentially worse than useless training of up to 60,000 people in how to act should they suddenly find themselves in the middle of a terrorist attack, which in reality amounts to an around 3 hour seminar session for business people, which only seems likely to be quickly forgotten or alternatively make all those involved even more paranoid than they may have been, and the emphasis that has been put on the threat of some variety of "dirty" attack being launched increasing, it mostly keeps things in something approaching prospective. One of the first facts it points out is that over 3,500 people died between 1969 and 1998 as a result of "Irish-related terrorism", which is something well worth pointing out the next time someone tries telling you that the threat level posed by Islamic terrorists is far beyond that the IRA did; al-Qaida has after all as yet made no attempts whatsoever to murder political figures in the West, attempts on the life of former Pakistan president Musharraf not withstanding, while the IRA came incredibly close to killing much of the Thatcher government in Brighton in 1984.

In fact, the thing that perhaps undermines the entire document the most is that the government is essentially being forced to admit that the threat level is actually diminishing. After years of telling us that things were getting worse, that the "sky was dark" and that an attack could happen at any time, back in January we had the head of MI5 admitting that al-Qaida had no semi-autonomous structure in the country at this time, and that rather than attacks being actively planned, they only had the "intention to launch an attack here". Partly this may well be down to al-Qaida having to re-examine exactly where it's going at this moment in time: with the "Islamic State of Iraq" all but defeated in that country, it being essentially flushed out of Saudi Arabia and with the only real encouraging signs for the organisation being the increased activity in places like Yemen, Algeria and Somalia, with there being a contradictory situation in Pakistan of the Pakistani Taliban increasingly in strength while the drone attacks have succeeded in killing many senior figures in the hierarchy, its supporters in Europe might well be their last concerns at the moment. The document makes clear that should things continue the way they are, it may well be possible by next year to reduce the threat level, which has stayed at severe since 7/7 and gone up to critical on two separate occasions, to substantial.

While the document then continues to claim that the main threat remains "al-Qaida central", i.e. the remnants of the original organisation now in hiding most likely in Pakistan, of increasing importance is the threat from al-Qaida's "franchises", such as the former Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, now known after pledging allegiance to bin Laden as al-Qaida in the Islamic Mahgreb. Almost mentioned is al-Qaida in the Arabian penisula, despite its effective defeat, the aforementioned ISI and al-Qaida in Yemen. Perhaps most notable though is the new importance given to "self-starting" networks, or even lone individuals, motivated by the extreme salafist takfirist jihadist ideology, but whom have no connection whatsoever to al-Qaida central, such as Nicky Reilly. Mentioned last is groups that have a similar ideology to al-Qaida, but whom have their own identity and regional agenda, perhaps thinking of the likes of Lashkar-e-Taiba.

The first part of the document is entirely given over to a narrative detailing the effective rise of international terrorism, from the initial actions of Palestinian groups and their attacks during the 70s, up to the founding of Hizbullah and finally the genesis of al-Qaida itself. Interestingly, it directly links the bombings in Istanbul in 2003 against the British consulate and a British bank to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's organisation in Iraq, before his group had become part of al-Qaida, which is either new or something I had otherwise missed. This section doesn't tell you anything you probably don't already know, but for the government to be setting it out in such a way, and doing so matter of factly, without anything approaching spin, is itself a sign of progress, even if it is very much the establishment version of events. The part on radicalisation which follows on draws heavily on the leaked MI5 document on understanding extremism in this country. This made clear that there was no single underlying cause, while at the same time dismantling the myths that had built up that it was all the work of extremist preachers. The main threat remains the small groupings which build up, often around a charismatic local leader voiced in radical Islam, whose influence on those around him is worth about 10 of any radical on the internet.

The only main parts where the document noticeably falls down is in the "principles" section and on the reasoning behind the idea that "dirty" attacks are becoming more likely. It's impossible not to snigger at the very first principle in countering international terrorism:

Our approach to national security in general and to counter-terrorism in particular is grounded in a set of core values. They include human rights, the rule of law, legitimate and accountable government, justice, freedom, tolerance and opportunity for all.

This would be the same government currently up to its eyeballs in claims regarding security service collusion in torture of "terrorist suspects" abroad; which completely ignored the rule of law in detaining foreign suspects indefinitely without charged; which continues to defend the permanent deprivation of liberty associated with control orders as well as ensuring that those under them cannot properly find out what they are accused of or challenge that evidence; and which only gave in over extending the detention limit to 42 days after it became clear that it had no chance of pushing it through the House of Lords. If the government has any shame over any of this, it doesn't show it.

Like the initial section of the report, the part on chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) weapons is a narrative stating the background. This mentions the Japanese underground Sarin attack, then goes on with claims on how al-Qaida has experimented with CBRN weapons, almost all rudimentary poisons. It details the alleged 2003 plot to release hydrogen cyanide on the New York underground, strangely called off by Zawahiri, and then less realistically lists good old Dhiren Barot's coke-can and smoke alarm bomb plans, which even if he could have got hold of the material involved would likely have been as effective as gas canisters to bring down buildings plan turned out in practice. For good measure it also lists the Islamic State of Iraq's experiments with including chlorine gas canisters with its suicide car/truck bombs, which is again about as rudimentary as you can get, and which they stopped doing some time ago. The three factors listed for the increased threat are "a significant increase" in the trafficking of such materials, that the internet has made information on them much more widely available, and that CBRN materials can be used for legitimate purposes, in case you didn't know. All round, this is pretty woeful stuff. As terrorist groups are incredibly unlikely to get access to enriched uranium any time soon, the main threat posed is from them combining machines from hospitals containing such materials with bombs, and letting the air do the rest of the work. The main threat from this would not be the material itself, but from the panic that would ensue and the subsequent decontamination. Even this has most likely been vastly exaggerated: even the polonium of the type which killed Alexander Litvinenko would be unlikely to kill many, if any, if used in a bomb. The document then mentions IEDs of the type constructed in Iraq and increasingly being used in Afghanistan, concerning the intent to "experiment with novel explosives". Discounting the combination of suicide bombs with chlorine, most of the explosives used in Iraq were actually old regime stockpiles which came in extremely handy, and which only in the last couple of years were exhausted, which itself has probably contributed to the drops in such attacks. The innovations have occurred in the ways in which to trigger them and to get around equipment which is meant to disarm them. Quite why it's even bringing this up is unclear: there have been no signs whatsoever that groups in this country intend to start making roadside bombs, and as the past few attacks have shown, explosives themselves are incredibly difficult to obtain, let alone to then use correctly. You have to wonder if the claims surrounding dirty bombs are ones which they know the media won't bother to investigate, and which instead turn on the horror reflex, hence the Sun's illustration to their report. With the threat diminishing, the unusual threats column is the only one remaining which they can highlight.

While the government then deserves some acclaim for setting out clearly the origins of the threat, not dismissing out of hand the fact that foreign policy clearly has a distinct influence on it, and for also admitting that if anything it's diminishing, all signs that the spin and playing politics with terrorism which flourished under Blair and which continued for a time under Brown might now have finally been decided to have been counter-productive, more work is still needed on really getting to grips with the origins of extremism, while also not denouncing but challenging those that hold views which can be seen as stepping stones towards full-blown Islamic fundamentalism. Not overreacting stupidly to a dozen protesters at a homecoming parade would be a start, but to do that they would also have to challenge the media's completely unhelpful obsession with extremists under the bed, something they have shown no intention of doing.

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Saturday, July 21, 2007 

Oh Barot, you're so fine...

Just ever so slightly odd news being relayed by the BBC in their coverage of the attack on everyone's favourite terrorist mastermind:

An al-Qaeda plotter who planned to kill thousands of people in the UK and US in "dirty bombings" has been badly injured in an attack by fellow prison inmates.

Gosh, I can just see the thousands breathing their last, the deafening siren of thousands of smoke alarms echoing in their ears as they enter that long, dark tunnel, all the result of Barot's dastardly plan to poison the population by detonating a bomb with 10,000 blaring smoke detectors packed around it.

A news blackout was imposed for the duration of his hospital stay, during which armed police were present. Barot was returned to prison on Saturday.

Well, it wasn't much of one considering this his lawyer, Mudassar Arani, appeared on Channel 4 News last Sunday and said that he'd been scarred for life as a result of having a mixture of hot oil and water thrown over him.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007 

Terrorists are gay!

Reading the reports on the sentencing of the 7 men found guilty of plotting with Dhiren Barot, whom was individually going to bring the world to an end with his evil Islamic trickery, it's far more instructive what they don't say than what they do.

Of all the reports in the "quality" press (Telegraph) (Times) (Indie), only the Guardian's points out that err, no explosives and no bomb-making equipment were ever found. Barot, alleged to be an "al-Qaida general" by the prosecution, was the one who came up with the plans, which he is supposed to have presented to superiors further up the al-Qaida chain in command in Pakistan, only to be arrested on his return. The judge, when passing sentence, additionally mentioned that it was quite possible that the plans put together by Barot would never have been carried out.

Put simply, we're never going to find out in full what Barot's plans were, for obvious reasons. The ones we have learned of, however, suggest that like many other jihadists, Barot was more interested in the spectacular and incredibly difficult to pull off than he was in the practicality of attacks that really would have "killed hundreds if not thousands".

Take for instance his plans for a so-called "dirty" bomb, of which not a single newspaper bothered to explain in full apart from playing up the notion. According to the Telegraph on the day previously, he wrote that:

A few grams of cobalt 60 with several pounds of explosives are enough to close an area the size of Manhattan.

And he's right, it probably would. Interestingly, it seems quite possible that he might have plagiarised some of his ideas and research on "dirty bombs" from the testimony of Dr Henry Kelly to the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, which examined the threat that radiological attacks would pose to the United States. The evidence to me, especially considering the way the threat posed by dirty bombs has since been played down, and how other investigations have come to very different conclusions, seems rather over-the-top and close to hysterical in claiming that even if a tiny amount of a radiological substance was exploded it might mean demolishing much of the surrounding area. The reality is that Barot had no chance of obtaining cobalt 60, and he knew it. He was far more interested in Americium.

Americium, as Kelly's evidence also states, is found in smoke detectors. Barot's plan was to somehow either harvest the minute quantities of it from smoke alarms, or if that proved too difficult, to somehow acquire 10,000 of them, then either set them alight, or place all 10,000 of them on top of an "explosive device", all without anyone noticing this tottering tower of beeping annoyances. He worked out that it would cost around £50,000 to obtain the smoke alarms, and another £20,000 to store them, all money which he didn't have. As Tom on BlairWatch wrote at the time:

15cm * 15cm * 4cm = volume of 900 cubic centimetres
10000 of those is 9000000 cubic cm or 9 cubic metres. So we're talking of someone spending £50,000 he didn't have piling up a stack of smoke alarms into a tower 1m square and 9m tall, then setting fire to it, in the middle of a city, without anyone noticing, releasing a total of 0.002 grams of a slightly radioactive substance which is only dangerous in gram quantities. Scared yet?

Fucking petrified. This is the so-called dirty bomb which Peter Clarke described would:

have caused fear, panic and widespread disruption

but only as a result of the police themselves panicking, not because of what Barot might have been able to do.

Barot's other plans were similarly doomed to failure. The stretch limos which were to be filled with gas cylinders were meant to be used in attempts to bring down buildings with underground car parks, which as any architect will tell you, would be incredibly difficult to achieve. His other idea in the same vein was to blast a hole through the incredibly thick walls of the Underground where it's near to the Thames in order to flood the tube, which would have required a bomb far, far more powerful than those which were detonated by the suicide bombers on 7/7, something which Barot himself acknowledged would be difficult to obtain, which was why he had suggested using gas cylinders in the limo attacks.

None of this is to deny that Barot was a clearly dedicated and intelligent terrorist, far more versed and interested in exact planning and research than many of his ilk, but it still stands that his conclusions, rather than just one sentence references to his overall aims ought to have been disseminated in order to show just how (un)likely his plans were to succeed.

Still, why bother doing any of that when you can just call him gay? The Sun's set their "chief investigative reporter", aka "chief embellisher and bullshitter" on the case:

SEVEN terrorists were caged for a total of 136 years – as it was revealed their al-Qaeda ringleader is suspected of being a closet GAY.

The suspicions about Prince fan Dhiren Barot were harboured by at least one trusted lieutenant and a woman who knew him.

Conclusive proof then.

And homosexuality carries the DEATH PENALTY in strict Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia.

Err, and your point is? Barot isn't from Saudi Arabia: he originated from India then came to live here, and if he was closeted rather than "practicing" it wouldn't have made any difference.

As his cell members were jailed over their role in his plot, suspicions of Barot’s sexuality emerged.

A barrister for Nadeem Tarmohamed said during their trial at Woolwich Crown Court in London: “It became apparent that Barot decided to surround himself with younger, impressionable men.”

Christ, really? That wouldn't be anything to do with him attempting to indoctrinate or mold them in his image, would it?

Lawyer Matthew Ryder said one woman who knew Barot had said: “He was always asking questions about beards and music like Prince, so much so that she questioned his sexuality. There were many others who did.”

About beards?! Clearly this shows the working of the homosexual mind; what heterosexual person would care about their beard? As for Prince, well, who doesn't like Purple Rain? In any case, Prince is supposedly a Jehovah's Witness, something which Barot would likely look down on.

Terrorist mastermind and queer, the British press has spoken.

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