Friday, August 11, 2006

A JAUNDICED VIEW FROM ENGLAND: Thankful a terror plot was averted but skeptical over results in the war on terror

If you've relied on the US newsmedia for your information on the airplane terror plot, you've been fed the general line that British intelligence and anti-terrorism efforts have been great in the war on terror. This is not quite how it's seen in England. There, opinion is somewhat jaundiced, the news more complicated, largely because of a series of counter-terror intelligence failures which have never been well reported, if at all, by US journalists.

"The deep skepticism with which many Britons have responded to the news of an alleged plot to blow up airliners en route to the United States highlights an endemic lack of trust in the intelligence and security services," wrote Hannah K. Strange, UPI's UK correspondent on Friday.

"A series of blunders from faulty intelligence over Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction to the police killing of innocent civilian Jean Charles de Menezes has undermined the confidence of the British public both in the efficiency of the security services and their independence from political influence."

". . . Many Britons believe that ministers not only exaggerated but lied about intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to provide a basis for the 2003 invasion, an affair which has done untold damage to public trust in the government . . . The Iraq intelligence debacle was followed by a string of security and intelligence blunders, the most tragic being the police shooting of an innocent man mistaken for a suicide bomber . . . It later emerged that police had been acting on only the flimsiest of intelligence, and that a certain amount of confusion and panic among the officers involved had contributed to his death. The killing undermined confidence both in the competence of the security services and the reliability of the intelligence on which decisive actions were often taken," Strange wrote.

"Most recently, a dramatic raid on the home of a Muslim family in Forest Gate, east London, has again highlighted the fallibility of intelligence . . . [the June raid] . . . resulted in the police shooting of one of the suspects, later found to be innocent. [A] suspected chemical weapons factory was never found . . . "

However, Strange added that British security experts were "united" in their belief that a horrible plan had been nipped in the bud. She finished with the admonition that the government work to restore the public's trust by being forthcoming with substantial information.

In this, the British government has the same abysmal record as the American in informing the public on the particulars of the war on terror.

"This government's response to the real threat of terrorism has only made things worse" was the title of an opinion piece in the Guardian, also on Friday. It made points similar to those in Strange's report.

"The alleged plot to attack aircraft and passengers announced by Scotland Yard yesterday obviously concerns us all and, for the time being, we have to take it at face value, wrote Dan Plesch, a research associate at the University of London. "There have so far been some modest successes by the security services in bringing terrorists to trial. But the government's actions have also been marked by misinformation and false scares. The supposed ricin poison plot, the Forest Gate raid and the "padded jacket" Jean Charles de Menezes never wore when he was shot dead by police last year come immediately to mind."

The entirety is here.

American coverage of the same issues, that is supposedly telling readers about the British side of the war on terror, took little notice.

"British pros at foiling terrorist plans since 9-11," claimed Associated Press on Friday. The article which lamely touted alleged counter-terror successes, without listing the numerous horrible mistakes, was republished in many newspapers.

One of the "successes," according to AP:

"In January 2003, police raided a London apartment and claimed to have foiled a plot to spread the deadly toxin ricin in London. Eight men were charged; four were acquitted and the other four were not tried. No traces of ricin had been found in the apartment . . . "

No major US news organization covered the London ricin trial in 2005 in any significant way.

While some stories appeared at the end of the trial, they were notable for their lack of detail and their reliance on the passing on of police and government claims which had been dismissed by the jury. In essence, because the US newsmedia did not attend the trial, it ignored its verdicts. Dick Destiny blog, with GlobalSecurity.Org hat firmly on, was the only U.S. source to publish a significant account. (See here, here and here. )

It becomes understandable, then, to see weirdness unsupported by fact in the US newsmedia.

"But there have also been [British intelligence] successes," wrote the Wall Street Journal. "Some have been publicized, such as a foiled plot to poison Britain's food supply with ricin."

This appeared in an opinion piece trying to convey the message that "liberals" have opposed the government methods that have led to "success" against terrorists. It was entitled Mass Murder Foiled.

While the merits of the immediate domestic political arguments which erupted on release of the news of the terror plot largely escape Dick Destiny blog (if the "liberals" were in charge, the terror plot would have succeeded; if the "Bush administration" hadn't been in charge of the war on terror, less people would hate us, and by extension -- Britain, and there would be less terror), it knows frank mistakes when it sees them.

By not struggling to include the story of the ricin ring, one which was an embarrassment to British authorities, The Journal could have preserved the tenor of its argument.




In the news:

"Some have wondered if, by not immediately trying to shut down sites that post information about making bombs and poisons, authorities aren't taking a fatal risk in the name of acquiring intelligence about a bigger plan. Not to worry, says George Smith, a senior fellow at the public-policy and research organization GlobalSecurity.org. Smith dismisses the effectiveness of al-Qaeda's online training information. "The level of sophistication is equivalent to what teenagers were distributing about 10 or 15 years ago," he says . . . [he] describes the general level of Internet security maintained by al-Qaeda as 'really lousy,' and says that its sites are routinely invaded by people within U.S. borders."

I've never been much interested in jihadists on the Internet stories, so I appear -- predictably -- as one of the token nay-sayers in this one, The Man Who Put Al-Qaeda on the Web. This long and well-written article tells the tale of ihabi007, now sitting in a British high security prison.

It springs from my born-out-of-experience antipathy toward the alleged danger posed by so-called al Qaeda biochemical warfare documents passed around on jihadist websites. For recreational reading, click here in Annals of Terrorism and The Botox Shoe of Death.

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