CRACKPOT DHIREN BAROT: Redacted evidence provides riches of embarrassment
In the war on terror one can reliably count on authorities and experts to exaggerate the powers and savvy of al Qaeda terrorists. Having dealt with it at length, it's accurate to say that such claims are often dependent on the public not getting a close look, or an accurate interpretation, of gathered evidence. And even when the evidence is produced for examination, the mainstream media will not look at it, prefering to rely on its interpretation by lawmen or experts who'd lose their livelihoods if they became known for conservative views on the subject.
The evidence gathered from crackpot dirty bomber Dhiren Barot
, presented as an extensive list of files on the website of the London Metropolitan Police under the heading of Operation Rhyme, provides an opportunity for a close look.
Before we travel out to that locale, however, it is worthwhile anchoring it by showing how experts use cases like Barot's to make points on how enemies are preparing to bite us again. (Here's a fairly representative piece on the mythology of Barot at CBS News.
The reader will notice it relies entirely on he said/she said reporting, not on any actual examination of Barot's jihadi files.)
In this case, now have a gander at terror expert Bruce Hoffman's op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Remember al Qaeda? They're Baaack.
With it's infantilized title taken from the old horror movie, Poltergeist II
, one conjurs images of al Qaeda staking out your living room, preparing to kidnap your kid and move the furniture around. Drubbed by critics as "elaborately pointless" and a "rehash of the first movie's story," it sort of fits many discussions in which al Qaeda is said to be coming. The writers of Op-Ed's don't assign the titles to their pieces, editors do, and this is just about the worst choice imaginable.
"...the truth is that the organization is not on the run but on the march," Hoffman writes.
Maybe it's true, maybe it's not. Toss a coin, heads they are, tails they ain't, and you might have as good a divining.
Hoffman appears to drag in Dhiren Barot, not by name, as part of reading of the tea leaves by looking at al Qaeda plots.
"Ongoing investigations increasingly suggest that recent terrorist threats and attacks — the foiled 2004 plan to stage simultaneous suicide attacks
in the United States ... " reads the article.
If one scans the rap sheet on Barot at GlobalSecurity.Org here
one immediately sees the charges on plotting to blow up US financial institutions. One also reads a US terror alert was prompted, and "...later criticized because it was several years after [Barot's] casing had taken place." Barot's videos of his NYC scouting trip are also available on the Operation Rhyme site.
In Britain, Barot is more well known for the evidence taken from files on his computer. These are compilations of public texts taken from the Internet, cut and pasted together in attempts to pitch to al Qaeda higher-ups a ludicrous dirty bomb plot employing smoke detectors and another half-baked scheme to pack limousines with gas cylinders in the hopes that they could be driven into a parking garage and detonated. In no case had Barot accumulated any actual materials. These were virtual plots and in his files the al Qaeda man reveals he hasn't even been able to secure a hand grenade.
The London Metropolitan Police posted Barot's files in its display for Operation Rhyme here.
Your friendly neighborhood GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow will be primarily dealing with the dirty bomb and gas cylinders/limousine files, the latter also containing a focus on Barot's yen for a radiological weapon. (These presentations are entitled terror65-04mas11, terror65-04mas12 and terror65-04gaslimos
Examination of them isn't something newspapers, or for that matter brief TV news shows, like to do. To understand why these documents are ludicrous, one has to show them and then perform some cross-referencing to materials from which they were derived. It's graphically intensive but, by nature, dry and dusty. It's simply not as exciting as blurting out that al Qaeda's on the march and we nabbed Dhiren Barot just in time.
If you download these files you'll see they're heavily redacted. In fact, most of the content in them is blacked out, mindlessly so, as will be demonstrated.
"Some information has been concealed," reads the website, understating it a bit. This was because the files "[contain] information regarding security measures, positions of cameras, smoke detectors, etc and other information potentially of use to those who would wish to exploit them."
In other words, one is asked to believe that a dirty bomb can be made from thousands of smoke detectors.
However, making a dirty bomb from a lorry full of the household items wasn't Barot's only wish. He also fiddled with other really stupid ideas.
One involved used exit signs as a weapon of terror. In the United States, exit signs containing a very small amount of tritium, a radioisotope of hydrogen, have been smashed in buildings and thrown into landfills for years. It's thought to be a slight hazard but no one really cares about the issue as the danger is negligible. The EPA posts a fact sheet here.
One of Dhiren Barot's dirty bomb plots proposed the throwing of exist signs into the middle of rooms.
Barot also dallied with getting tritium for a dirty bomb from wristwatches.
"Two types of radioactive materials I did not investigate are Uranium and Plutonium," Barot writes. "Not available off the shelf I decided to leave these radioactive materials out of this research."
Throughout his files, Barot returns to the idea that his terror weapons should be made from off the shelf items, and that -- Allah willing, inshallah -- his plans will come true. In this quest, he cast around aimlessly on the Internet, cobbling together files on radiological hazards from common public sources. It is work on the lines of what a high school student might be able to accomplish over a weekend.
Barot is, in other words, dumb as dirt. His files reveal him to be a wishful man with no capacity for critical thinking and absolutely no acumen in science or demolitions. If he is an example of al Qaeda tutoring, it is difficult to come to the conclusion from fairly judging him that such training was worth anything.
" . . . home smoke detectors would not pose a security risk but smoke detector factories could," writes Barot, in one his files. At this point, he apparently starts to develop his plan for a dirty bomb made from lots and lots and lots of smoke detectors.
Smoke detectors contain a vanishingly small amount of americium-241, a man-made radioactive element indicated as radioactive ammunition for potential dirty bombs.
However, a smoke detector contains only about 1 millionth of a Curie of the element.
That figure is a merciless barrier with regards to terror planning, one Barot ignored because he is a stupid man. He would have had to buy ten million smoke detectors. That's ten, followed by six zeros, to make the small dirty bomb payload envisioned in dirty bomb analyses furnished by physicists.
Next up, here are the excerpts from Barot's journal files. These segments are not redacted, probably because they were necessary to make the case against him.
Note the "inshallah" invocation. God willing, we will make smoke detectors into a dirty bomb.
However, another interesting feature of Barot's files is their use of common articles which most scientists and reasonably educated people wouldn't bat an eye at. They contain no information that is immediately helpful to dirty-bombing terrorists. Instead, they are forthright discussions on various aspects of radiological hazard, necessary to public understanding of the subject.
These portions are all heavily redacted. However, since DD is familiar with the literature, moreso than the Brit anti-terror men who did the redacting, some of the blacked-out parts will be reconstructed for purposes of this discussion.
A great deal of Barot's presentations are taken from a Monterey Institute publication, Commercial Radioactive Sources: Surveying the Security Risks
, by Charles Ferguson, Tahseen Kazi and Judith Perera. It is here.
In Barot's files, we see the Brits have blacked out the following flow chart. Could it be a very dangerous terror plan?
Nothing of the sort! It's Barot's almost exact copy of an illustration from the Monterey paper. Mindless!
If that was not sufficiently perplexing, here is another meaninglessly redacted excerpt from Barot.
In this instance, the police have blacked-out the figures from a publicly available table on the health effects of ionizing radiation. For his journals, Barot put it in upside down. Here is the original.
It comes from Dr. Rosalie Bertell's, "No Immediate Danger, Prognosis for a Radioactive Earth" and it's here.
And for a more sufficiently absurd redaction, please to look at the following.
Here, the Metropolitan Police redact the name of physicist Steven E. Koonin and a brief discussion by him, published in the letters section of the journal of the American Physical Society in 2002. It's here.
DD could go on but believes the reader gets the picture. The dissection of Barot's journals show that the man, while deserving of jail for his scheming and wishful thinking, was not the type of person who can easily be used to make the case that al Qaeda is on the march. If their marchers are all like him, one might be moved to come up with a different assessment of the terrorist organization's powers.
Is al Qaeda on the march? DD doesn't know. He knows Dhiren Barot was a malicious crackpot with busy and ridiculous plans. Barot was not a breathe-a-sigh-of-relief victory in the war on terror but, more accurately, a piece of detritus rightly swept off the street.
However, this discussion shows once again that public perceptions about terrorism rely on their symbolic interpretation by mass media and experts.
In this particular case, it's still a mystery why so much of Barot's files were ridiculously blacked-out by British counter-terror men. Could it be because the true nature of them is somewhat less than fear-inspiring? Possibly. But one supposes bureaucratic ignorance, the embracing of the abundance-of-caution mantra and stupidity are as good an explanation as any.
If you enjoyed this analysis, you'll find -- Dhiren Barot and the Will of Allah
-- equally fascinating.