Sunday, January 25, 2009

PREDATOR STATE SECURITY: Bioterror fear card on al Qaeda and plague, anonymously dealt

Another symptom of the regular function of predator state security is the dealing of rumours by anonymous sources from within the US government. These rumours are subsequently amplified by portions of the press and punditry. It then falls to others not so lacking in common sense to sort out the truth.

Today's example stems from a couple of brief stories on plague claiming the lives of al Qaeda men in Algeria. Arising in the right-wing tabloid press in the UK, the story was recently carried over in the US via UPI and the Washington Times.

"Anti-terrorism leaders say a number of al-Qaida militants in training have been killed by the 'black death,' a plague that ravaged Europe in the Middle Ages," reported UPI.

"At least 40 al-Qaida followers have died since the disease swept through a training camp in Algeria, The Sun reported Monday. The deaths became known when security forces found a body beside a road ... 'This is the deadliest weapon yet in the war against terror. Most of the terrorists do not have the basic medical supplies needed to treat the disease,' one security source told the British publication, although it wasn't reported how the deadly outbreak started. 'It spreads quickly and kills within hours. This will be really worrying al-Qaida.'"

No named sources here. None from the World Health Organization, either, the latter which generally gets around to investigating fatal cases of plague in undeveloped regions.

Now, the first place one can go to check on the outbreak of serious diseases is the Promed mailing list. None of the newspapers involved in this story did this.

Indeed, the Promed list reported plague in Algeria on January 19th as a matter of interest. But the source was UPI's story and the notice was commented as unconfirmed pneumonic plague, which is what the disease would likely have had to have been for it to have been transmitted between so many alleged al Qaeda men.

The same mailing list notice compiled actual WHO and Algeria Ministry of Health-confirmed cases of plague in remote areas of Algeria over the past few years. The occasional small outbreak has transpired, usually confined to bubonic plague and the less common septicemic form of the infection. Deaths were rare.

In the coming days, an Algerian doctor mailed the list that the story was rumor, not to be taken seriously.

"The information (rumor) about the outbreak occurred in mountainous borders between Tizi Ouzou and Bejaia was given by the daily paper in Arabic language 'Echorouk' in its on-line edition of 6 Jan 2009 ," reported the doctor. "No serious source, health professionals, even more the reference laboratory for plague in Oran (Laboratory for the Plague of the Institute Pasteur of
Algeria in Oran) or that of in Algiers (medical bacteriology) had to take seriously these rumors."

Nevertheless, a reporter from the Times and this fool, at Human Events, an organ of the far right, began spinning extravagant tales.

"An al Qaeda affiliate in Algeria closed a base earlier this month after an experiment with unconventional weapons went awry, a senior U.S. intelligence official said Monday," wrote Eli Lake at the Washington Times.

"The official, who spoke on the condition he not be named because of the sensitive nature of the issue, said he could not confirm press reports that the accident killed at least 40 al Qaeda operatives, but he said the mishap led the militant group to shut down a base in the mountains of Tizi Ouzou province in eastern Algeria.

"British authorities in January 2003 arrested seven men they accused of producing a poison from castor beans known as ricin," continued the story. "British officials said one of the suspects had visited an al Qaeda training camp. In the investigation into the case, British authorities found an undated al Qaeda manual on assassinations with a recipe for making the poison."

The old bit on ricin in London, of course, is all wrong. But that has never stopped it from being roped into numerous stories on what al Qaeda can do or will do with biological or chemical weapons.

Your host was a consultant to the original London ricin trial and reported on it extensively for GlobalSecurity.Org.

In brief, there was no ricin gang, just one sociopathic loner. A jury convicted him and acquitted everyone else. And there was no undated al Qaeda manual on assassinations. What there was were a handful of brief recipes, written on paper after look up on Internet servers belonging to Yahoo in Palo Alto, California.

Your host had access to them as well as UK government translations and put them on the web right after the trial here. Simply click on the thumbnail images to see them.

(The rest of the coverage of the case is here. DD was the only first-hand source publishing in the US. While the American media did give the trial some notice, the real news of it wasn't welcome. It reversed the received wisdom that al Qaeda had been making chemical weapons in London at a time when many in the media were still afraid to question claims from the Bush administration pertaining to the war on terror. Colin Powell had used the phony London poison cell as part of his presentation to the UN Security Council.)

"This [plague] incident provides the Obama administration the impetus to assess whether our nation is prepared for a bioterrorist attack," insisted retired Army colonel Robert Maginnis at
Human Events

Then the story was spun out.

"[Al Qaeda's] biological weapons expert, Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar, who was reportedly killed by a US missile in 2008, published a 5,000-page encyclopedia of jihad devoted to chemical biological warfare (CBW). Al-Sayid’s manual, which is available in print and on the Internet, provides instructions on how to manufacture rudimentary biological weapons ... The availability of al-Sayid’s CBW cookbook makes it possible for independent jihadist cells ... to manufacture rudimentary biological weapons. That’s why it shouldn’t be a surprise when there are attempts to manufacture agents by franchise groups such as the 2003 incident in London where six Algerians were charged with plotting to produce the poison ricin ...

This statement is quite probably also not very reliable. DD has worked extensively with terrorist documents said to confer some cookbook capability in CBW. None which I have seen, and I've seen many, confer any ability to make bioweapons. (See here and here for just a couple examples.)

"The Algerian bubonic plague incident should be a wake-up for the Obama administration to reassess its bioterrorism preparedness," continues Maginnis. "Enemies such as al Qaeda and its franchises are almost certainly producing deadly biological weapons and will use them for mass murder. America must be aggressive in defeating the bioterrorist before he attacks and should that fail our network of first responders must be prepared for a potentially catastrophic attack."

Predator state security news very often comes by way of a cracking good story, delivered with absence of rigor, healthy skepticism and critical thinking. It can be packaged with a political message, as with the Human Events piece: "Barack Obama better promptly investigate this danger and slay all the terrorists with special forces and bombs before they kill us with diseases and poisons!"

Another good summary is here at Armchair Generalist.


Blogger Michael said...

Good stuff Dick! I must suffer the most hair-brained, ridiculous, theories regarding "Tair-izm" on an hour to hour basis. It seems that every neurotic nitwit in North America has become a Tairizm expert in the years and months since 9-11.

9:50 AM  

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