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January 31, 2007

Brit Beheading Plot
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 05:40 PM * 95 comments

In more serious anti-Terror news:

Terror raids over ‘beheading plot’

BIRMINGHAM, England (CNN) — British police have arrested nine people who they say were planning an “Iraq-style” abduction inside Britain, a senior security source told CNN.

That source said the plot was to include the torture and beheading of a British Muslim soldier.

British security sources did not identify the soldier, but said he was back in Britain after having served in Afghanistan.

The alleged plot was thwarted after a series of early morning raids conducted by the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit, the West Midlands Police and Metropolitan Police in what the Home Office called a “major counterterrorism operation.”

Here are my predictions about how all this will shake out:

  • The “plot” will turn out to have been a bunch of wankers talking big in an Internet chat room
  • At least one of whom was an agent provocateur
  • If a plot in fact existed, one of the “plotters” knew the soldier personally, and wanted to kill him over either a) a girl, b) money, or c) both, while making it look like ‘terrorism’
  • This will be used as a justification for taking away more privacy and more civil liberties
  • And as a reason to invade Iran
  • And as proof that “The Surge” will work
  • And that taxes for the rich should be cut
  • And social security should be taken away from the poor
  • And a cap put on awards to plaintiffs at civil trials.
Comments on Brit Beheading Plot:
#1 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 05:52 PM:

* And proof that multi-culturalism is a failure, and we should all go to church and have lots of kids to fight in the clash of civilizations.
* And confirms that this is not the time to worry about global warming.

#2 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 05:57 PM:

* And is definitive evidence that disparity in income and achievement between men and women is grounded irreversibly in biology

#3 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 06:04 PM:

* The entire plot will be held to be Bill Clinton's fault, because the girl in question will turn out to be named Monique. Which is a lot like Monica.
* A prominent Democratic politician will be mislabeled on CNN as being part of the plot. A correction will be published in 2 point type in an obscure newspaper in East Lansing, Michigan in six months' time.
* The subsequent admission that the Met got the wrong guy will not be trumpeted as loudly as the original arrest.

#4 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 06:09 PM:

* And that single-payer health insurance will never work.

#5 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 06:13 PM:

I really do think that the "terror plot" will turn out to be someone who was boffing that soldier's girl while he was off in Afghanistan, who wanted to make it look like random terrorism because making something look like an accident is Really Tough To Do.

#6 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 07:17 PM:

Maybe in the US, but no way would it be used as an excuse to cut taxes for the rich in the UK. Blair is on his way out and Brown (who after all sets the Budget) is facing a fiscal hole and a sceptical left-wing party and is out to *raise* taxes, not cut them --- and he's more left-wing than Blair, anyway.

(However, he might well find a fiddle to make it *sound* like taxes are coming down, probably by preannouncing some things and by announcing some other things for the fourth or fifth time as if they were new. He keeps on doing that, and people keep on being fooled.)

#7 ::: Jim Millen ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 07:58 PM:

On a slightly more serious note, this is one of the many reasons why I hate what Bush, Blair et al have done to Western society. Even if this was a perfectly genuine terror plot, the instant reaction is to assume it's been blown out of proportion or publicised for political gain.

There's a time and a place for cynicism, but it shouldn't be an instinctive response to this kind of incident. Thanks to our beloved leaders, it is. Wonderful.

#8 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 08:27 PM:

There's a time and a place for cynicism, but it shouldn't be an instinctive response to this kind of incident.

See also, The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

#9 ::: Julia Jones sees an exotic form of comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 08:47 PM:

James at #5: that would not surprise me at all, because that and similar motivations were widely considered to be behind a number of the events that took place in Northern Ireland in the 70s and 80s.

#10 ::: Julia Jones curses Firefox ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 08:51 PM:

I thought I'd deleted that text in the Name box...

#11 ::: tom s. ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 10:17 PM:

James at #8. Of course you could be right, but here in Ontario we had something similar last summer when 17 young men were arrested as part of a terror group and, as a trial now approaches, it is becoming clear that most were boys wanting a little adventure and mystique, perhaps two were serious, and one of those may have been an agent provocateur.

So while wolves do come along once in a while, most of the time I think the most reliable rule is "believe the opposite" until absolutely proven otherwise.

#12 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 10:29 PM:

Tom s., I'm unclear on what you're trying to say.

What I'm trying to say is that there isn't a terror plot, never was one, and this is pure Security Theatre.

Are you agreeing with that, or not?

#13 ::: Madison Guy ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 11:56 PM:

Jack London wrote in The Iron Heel "They sowed wind, and wind, and ever more wind; for they alone knew how to reap the whirlwind and make a profit out of it." But if we don't stop Bush, the Iran whirlwind will be so vast that even Blackwater and Halliburton will have a hard time making any profit out of it.

So far, the enablers are having a field day -- Iran seems to be responsible for everything bad. Who'll be the Iran war buildup's Judy Miller of disinformation? James Glanz seems willing. See "Iran May Have Trained Attackers That Killed 5 American Soldiers, U.S. and Iraqis Say." Because Iraqis are obviously too stupid to come up with the uniforms, credentials and inside information used in the attack on their own? No doubt the Iranians are behind the British beheading plot too.

#14 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 12:35 AM:

Do you think they were planning to use a LiteBrite in the torture segment of the plot?

From the bit of the article that Jim quoted, we get "The alleged plot was thwarted..." If the plot is alleged, shouldn't the thwarting be alleged, too?

"The alleged plot was allegedly thwarted..."

#15 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 01:13 AM:

I don't know whether this was a serious plot or not. What I know is that the persons arrested are innocent until proven guilty before a jury of their peers in open court. Conspiracy to murder is certainly conceptually possible, and I would call it a crime. I am content to leave the question of whether it occurred to the jury, after they have heard all the evidence, and assuming a competent defence.

#16 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 01:56 AM:

#15 - I don't think contentment is enough here. In today's political climate, with Blair still giving Bush telephone blow jobs daily, the chance of these people getting a fair trial under England's system seems pretty slim. To assume that the suspects will have a "competent defense" and that the system will work in a fair and unbiased manner plays right into Bush/Blair's hands. Only devout skepticism and consistent critical observation followed up with loud public outcry when abuses are seen will help obtain the suspects a fair trial.

#17 ::: Pete Darby ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 05:06 AM:

I couldn't take the ITN ("all tabloid TV, all the time") coverage of this last night:

"Well, Trevor, it seems that what they probably wanted was to outrage the general public, cause a vast public act of outrage which would polarise communities, and widen divisions in society, causing non-muslims to treat muslims with suspicion and, of course vice versa".

To which the only sane response would be "Well, that's enough about MI5 and the media, what were the young muslim guys planning?"

Personally, I think that they are easily as dangerous as this group of terrorists

#18 ::: Jim Millen ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 05:13 AM:

#15 - Dave:

...the persons arrested are innocent until proven guilty...

Sorry to be nit-picky, but that's not quite right. The persons charged are to be presumed innocent until the matter has been resolved in court. A small but significant difference!

#19 ::: BritBeat ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 05:22 AM:

Once this all gets to trial, it will turn out that at least 5 of the alleged gang were under Terrorism House Arrest and were supposed to be reporting into a police station every day at sundown. Only no one had seen them for a few weeks so the police assumed they'd just gone on holiday for a bit (Terrorism House Arrest can be stressful).

The remaining gang members were under surveillance by MI5, who were keeping tabs on anyone with brown skin and facial hair, but who only became really concerned when they bought large black capes and twirly moustaches.

Needless to say, all of the accused will turn out to be immigrants from a former Colony and are therefore Dirty Johnny Foreigners who should never have been allowed to set foot in our green and pleasant land with their Filthy Other Ways.

#20 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 05:54 AM:

What I hate about all this War of Terror business is how it has overwhelmed the multi-cultural joy of Her Majesty's Jubilee celebration. We do have our own racial extremism, and it does sometimes seem to get support from politicians and media outlets, but when the people, in general, do get the chance to play whack-a-mole, these things do get thoroughly whacked.

Most recently, Celebrity Big Brother.

#21 ::: Pete Darby ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 06:15 AM:

Suggested charges for those arrested;

Being asian in a built up area after the hours of darkness
Loitering with intent to use a pedestrian crossing
looking at me in a funny way
possession of an offensive wife

(apologies to John Loyd)

#22 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 06:23 AM:

You appear to have already made up your minds that this prosecution is an abuse, worthless or at least trivial, unwarranted, and racist in nature. These allegations would be damning indeed, if they were true.

#23 ::: Dave Hutchinson ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 07:37 AM:

#17 - Pete: ("all tabloid TV, all the time.") Couldn't agree more.

BBC News 24 presenter (waiting for the delayed start of the police press conference) "And there you can see the room where the press conference will be taking place...and the table...and the wires leading to the microphones on the table..."

The father of one of the suspects, quoted by a friend of the family in interview on Sky News:
"When my son is cleared of this, will the media come here and report it?"

#24 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 07:37 AM:

Edward Oleander -- I see no evidence they won't get a fair trial. Things aren't as bad as that, there's a lot of inertia in the system and it works for things like that.

#25 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 08:11 AM:

Yes, the trial and all will be fair, but after it the home office minister will decide all of the people found not guilty will still need to be a) expelled from the country or b) kept under prolonged house arrest or c) both.

Meanwhile the propaganda will have worked again.

Have you noticed how often these terror alerts happen in the UK? Once every quarter at least and usually when Blair's in trouble again (case in point...)

#26 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 08:18 AM:

#22 Dave Luckett, see #8 James D. Macdonald. Given the track record of such arrests and prosecutions here in the US, odds are favorable that this is was a bunch of wankers talking tough.

Plus, really, if this was a real terrorist threat, do you think we would be hearing so much about it? Or would they have been wisked away for interogration with as much hush-hush as conceivably possible.

#27 ::: Pete Darby ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 08:19 AM:

Gee, are you saying I may be cynical about what seems to be a muffed attempt to draw attention away from the police interviewing the prime minister for a second time?

What could make me think this? Perhpas the bizarre way that the security forces very publicly announced as many details as posible for the raid, which is at the very least deeply prejudicial for any prosecution. I don't think they woul dhave done this if they believed that any prosecution would go ahead.

I'll give odds on that, if no terrorism charges arrive, then at least one of the "plotters" will be found to have illicit material on a PC, be it race hate amterial or kiddy porn or a pirated copy of "planets funniest animals 3: cats gone wild"

In short, what makes me doubt the authenticity or competence of the raid? Only the past record of the folks involved.

#28 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 08:35 AM:

Dave, remember those Asian terror suspects from a few months back, where police stormed a building, bashed in the front door without warning and shot one terrorist in the course of the operation? At the time, the BBC reported:

Police said "specific intelligence" prompted them to raid the house, looking for a chemical device - which they have yet to find, although documents and computers have been removed for analysis.

They actually arrested the guy they shot for making kiddie porn on the PC they seized. No charges were ever brought, and the shooting was judged by an internal police investigation to be an "accidental discharge".

Given a history of bullshit like this, why should anyone trust the police story?

#29 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 08:38 AM:

Does anyone else recall John Reid a couple of months ago telling us to look out for a terrorist incident to occur around Christmas? And that the security services knew of a couple of dozen ongoing plots? Must be handy to have so many on hand whenever a government figure is charged with corrupting the course of justice. Must have been spoilt for choice.

#30 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 08:43 AM:

What's interesting is that the second interview of the Prime Minister took place last week, was not publicised at the time, was followed by the arrest of Lord Levy, and has only been revealed when when this terrorism case is grabbing the headline.

Cover up? You might say that but I couldn't possibly comment.

#31 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 08:49 AM:

What ever happened to those guys in Florida, the ones who wanted to buy al Qaeda uniforms and boots?

#32 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 09:13 AM:

I wouldn't be at all surprised if the timing is contrived, and I'm well aware how having something happen to keep people afraid is important, and Jim could be right about the motivation or it could all me made up from whole cloth -- but it's important also that those young men will either be quietly released or will have a fair trial.

Once you start saying that things are worse than they are, for one thing you're giving them the victory in your mind, and for another, it's easy for them or their mouthpieces to refute you. Besides, we're in a bad enough place without any need for exaggeration.

#33 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 09:28 AM:

I hate to be a contrarian (really do) but let's remember that:
1) We (including the UK) are fighting Islamic extremists in Afganistan. Many of said extremists are based in and citizens of Pakistan.
2) This plot required nothing more then a stout stick, a kitchen knife and the trunk of a car.
3) If you think civil liberties are curtailed now, and there's racial tension in the UK, consider how much worse it would be if Britons woke up one morning to watch one of their troopers getting his head cut off behind a fish-and-chips shop.

Yes, I agree we need to make sure these kids get a fair trial, and are presumed innocent. But "presumed innocent" is not the same as "actually innocent."

#35 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 09:55 AM:

Sure, Chris, many are based in and citizens of Pakistan. How's that relevant to the current plot, where the alleged plotters are citizens of, and based in, Britain?

#36 ::: Pete Darby ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 09:55 AM:

Chris at #33:

1) I remember that we were for many years under threat from folks based in a country a three hour ferry trip away from us, who regularly actually bombed us. It didn't make it okay to arrest Joe Random Irishman then, it doesn't make arresting random muslim guys at politically conventinent times okay now.

2) if that's all that was required, how come it was stopped? unless, you know, they hadn't actually planned to really do any of that shit.

3) But the media coverage was starting to do this already. In fact, the act of releasing this much information about an alleged plot before a trial is doing as much.

It's looking like Forest Gate all over again: yes, I could be wrong, but recent history is on the side of the doubters.

#37 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 10:10 AM:

Let's also remember Jean Charles de Menezes, Brazilian electrician, who was not wearing a bulky jacket, did not leap a ticket barrier when challenged, did not run from police, and was not in the country illegally.

Police issued all of that bullshit to the press in their excuses after restraining him and then shooting him in the head seven times.

The police tell a lot of lies. We know this.

#38 ::: Pete Darby ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 10:23 AM:

And yes, presumed innocent does mean actually innocent unless and until proved otherwise.

Under suspicion means just that: it's not just a polite legal fiction. Unless anyone here has personal knowledge of the case, all of us are going on what the media is reporting, and they're reporting what the security services have told them. Just like with Menenzes, Forest Gate...

If we want to remember a bit further back than the last few years, doesn't the West Midlands police in Birmingham have at least six good reasons not to shout about catching terrorists?

Those who don't learn from history, etc etc

#39 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 10:26 AM:

More recent history in Britain's War On Terror.

So, are these actions intended to radicalize young Muslims, or is that just an accidental side effect?

#40 ::: BritBeat ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 10:31 AM:

#33 Chris, you mention "fair trials". At the height of The Troubles, so-called Diplock courts were used to try terrorist suspects, such courts sat without juries owing to the perceived problem of jury intimidation. Our beloved Labour Government think it's worthwhile investigating whether similar style courts should be used in terrorism cases and they've already been used to convict an Al Qaeda sympathiser in Northern Ireland who was found to have downloaded material on how to blow up a passenger plane.

Civil rights in the UK are at their lowest point since Magna Carta. Fundamental principles of the common law system (e.g. double jeopardy) have been reversed, and if you get arrested for almost any offence then the police can take your DNA and store it in their computer to cross-reference against as they like, even if you haven't been found guilty of a crime.

#41 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 10:44 AM:

I've commented before here on Making Light about the contrast between the current War On Terror in the UK and the IRA campaigns which went on for most of my life.

I was once in a long, many-sided, drunken argument about the IRA, the UK, and Irish nationalism in the bar of the Grand Hotel in Brighton after they rebuilt it following the IRA attack on Thatcher and her government. No-one was arrested, or dragged out and shot, nor accused by the authorities of being a child pornographer.

I think the current security freak out is mostly a grab for power by Police, Government and the Suspicious Services, but I can't avoid the conclusion that the reason they are getting away with it today while they didn't even try when the Irish were the big threat is that we're white and the new baddies are wogs.

#42 ::: Pete Darby ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 11:05 AM:

Niall:

Not only that, this time the US can support us in this one without losing too many New York / Chicago voters

#43 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 11:23 AM:

These allegations would be damning indeed, if they were true.

Sir, I congratulate you on Unintentionally Funniest Comment of the Month award. And only one day into February, too!

#44 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 11:49 AM:

My points are:
1) I don't know that these recently arrested folks were serious - and the other posters here don't know that they're not. That's why we have judges and juries.
2) Unlike a technically-difficult plot to blow up an airliner, this plot is a lot easier to pull off, and harder to summarily dismiss.
3) Didn't a bunch of British citizens (2nd generation Pakistani) blow up a few buses over there last year?

In short, there are real people who are really trying to kill us because we don't worship God in the way they want us to. The problem is sorting out the wannabees from the really-ares.

#45 ::: Brand Robins ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 12:08 PM:

Well I don't know so much about Britain, but over here in the Americas we do have people who use terror to get their way, and sometimes blow the fuck out of buildings and kill innocent people.

They look like this.

But while I was in India, once every month a plane would be turned around because there was a scary brown person on it. Going to India, where we all know brown people have no place.

Although, it is possible some fucks wanted to actually do this. We live in a fucked up world. It's also possible that if there is a conspiracy on the governement's behalf it isn't that they're making it up, its that they're choosing to haul it out now. Really, who knows how long they've been watching this and what the actual evidence is.

#46 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 12:15 PM:

Chris:

1) £10 says this never gets to a judge and jury.

2) I summarily dismiss it thus.

3) Yes, so let's arrest all the brown people we haven't shot yet.

#47 ::: Iain Coleman ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 12:15 PM:

In short, there are real people who are really trying to kill us because we don't worship God in the way they want us to.

No, there are real people who are really trying to kill us because they don't like our governments' foreign policies. See, for example, Robert Pape's research into suicide terrorism, or the final video statement of Mohammad Sidique Khan, who blew himself and a lot of other people up in London on 7 July 2005:

"Your democratically elected governments continuously perpetrate atrocities against my people all over the world.

"Until we feel security, you will be our targets. And until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people we will not stop this fight."

If we're going to put an end to this kind of thing, we'd do well not to misconceive the motivation of the perpetrators.

#48 ::: Jim Millen ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 12:25 PM:

Pete #38:

And yes, presumed innocent does mean actually innocent unless and until proved otherwise.

In that case, why are people charged with a crime either kept in jail until their trial or allowed freedom conditional on a bail bond? Surely if they were considered actually innocent it would be safe just to let them go home? After all, if they're innocent they're bound to turn up in court on time.

#49 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 12:40 PM:

Actually, I suspect this isn't a diversion for the second Blair police interview. That would require the Home Office to be coordinating rather tightly with Number Ten.

However, in other news, John Reid bids to extend detention-without-charge period beyond the current 28 days.

Yup, this has the noisome stench of a Home Office power play all right ...

#50 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 12:48 PM:

Iain @ 47 - the only folks that have used gas recently were Muslims (like Saddam) on other Muslims (like Kurds and Iranians). That's a quibble, although I note NATO intervention on behalf of Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo doesn't seem to be appreciated.

Osama Bin Laden specifically was upset at "the West" because we kicked Muslims out of Spain in 1492. I watched his video broadcast after 9/11.

I hear repeated statements from Muslims wanting to impose Sharia (Islamic law) in the UK - see the Sharia Council of the UK. The Taliban, NATO's adversary in Afganistan, was imposing Sharia on its people - to include stoning for adultery, etc.

Thus, if somebody wants to kidnap a British soldier because he served in Afganistan, I have to assume they are Islamic fundamentalists and support those goals. Goals which have nothing to do with our activities in Iraq (right or wrong) and everything to do with imposing a religious dictatorship.

(For the record, I restate that since this is an alleged plot, all suspects are innocent until proven guilty.)

#51 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 12:53 PM:

I hear repeated statements from Muslims wanting to impose Sharia (Islamic law) in the UK

On everyone, or just other Muslims? (This is not a trivial point.)

Also, you seem to be assuming that all Muslims are fundamentalist fanatics, which is false. (I would not consider fundy fanatics to be genuinely members of any of the religions they loudly claim to be practicing.)

#52 ::: Jim Millen ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 01:01 PM:

How I find myself on this side of the discussion I'm not really sure, and I'll probably have cause to regret it, but what the hell...

IF (< Huge, big, screaming IF here) this turns out to be totally genuine, what will the reactions be of everyone's who's feared the worst here? Jim, will you post a new message here admitting that, on this occasion you were mistaken? Will everyone else also admit that, this time, they were wrong?

God knows that neither of our political establishments has done much to earn our faith, and I can't blame any of you for being so cynical about it. But how does it help to climb all over it like this? What wrong with just ensuring we all keep a close eye on the news then, once the facts are known, making our judgements then?

Possibly I'm being a little naive, but surely there's enough polarisation and bitterness rolling around without adding more. Of course we have to do everything we can to keep our elected officials and police in line and maintain civil liberties, but I wish there was a better way.

#53 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 01:04 PM:

Have any of the Liquid Bombers been brought to trial, or, indeed, charged with any crimes?

Meanwhile I stand by my evaluation (based purely on the publicly available information) that this, if there was anything to it at all, was about a woman or money, not about religion.

#54 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 01:06 PM:

P. J. Evans @ 51 - no I do not assume all Muslims are fanatics. Whether a fanatic who would kill for their God (Christian or otherwise) is a true member of their religion or not is a debatable point. If a fanatic calls himself a "(insert religion here) fundamentalist," using that term to describe him is to be expected.

Regarding whether they want to impose Sharia on just Muslims or all Brits is irrelevant. That's like saying Pat Robertson can have a separate set of laws that apply to Christians.

#55 ::: Jae Walker ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 01:10 PM:

Abi at #3
A correction will be published in 2 point type in an obscure newspaper in East Lansing, Michigan in six months' time.

The State News (our student newspaper) is the obscure local paper in East Lansing Michigan. Or the Towne Courier, which is weekly and so obscure it doesn't have a web site. If you want the obscure local paper in Lansing, Michigan, it's the Lansing State Journal.

Just a public service announcement from the frozen wasteland.

#56 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 01:19 PM:

Jae 55: When I went to school at MSU, The State News was commonly called the S'News (pronounced snooze). It richly deserved this appellation. Is it any better today? I can't believe the Towne Courier has survived to the present day.

And no, I'm pretty sure abi meant East Lansing. The Journal isn't nearly obscure enough!

#57 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 01:22 PM:

Oh, if this turns out to have been a genuine terrorist plot by a genuine terrorist cell, I'll post a big entry to that effect.

But I'll bet money that it isn't.

I've been wrong before -- I genuinely thought that Bush would have us in a shooting war with Iran a year ago. I'm happy to have been wrong about that (though it wasn't from lack of Bush's trying, and he may yet succeed).

But I was right when I said that there weren't any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and that the appearance of death squads meant Iraq was in a civil war.

The trouble with funding and training Elite Anti-Terrorism Units is that if they don't go out and find any Elite Terrorists, that folks might wonder why they're drawing paychecks. So off to find terrorists they go, and if they can't find any terrorists they make some up, so it won't look like they're just wasting time and money.

#58 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 01:23 PM:

Jim #52:

If this turns out to be genuine, I'll certainly admit I'm wrong, right here. You may point and laugh.

If I'm right, will the papers print that story in the same typeface as the EVIL MUSLIM PLOT headlines they are running now? The ones based on information deliberately leaked by the police, who have been proven to lie about these War on Terror cases over and over again?

Will any official be held accountable? Resign? Be arrested?

No. We already have multiple examples, up to and including outright murder of innocents by the police, where the official story is just 'Move along, nothing to see here...'

#59 ::: Jim Millen ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 01:41 PM:

#57 and #58 - well, that's more than fair enough, I wouldn't ask for any better. I hasten to add I'm certainly not saying you're wrong, and I won't be laughing if you are either.

#60 ::: tom s. ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 01:48 PM:

James way back at #12 - I misread your comment. I thought you were saying "sometimes it really is a wolf" - the opposite of what you were actually saying. My bad.

#61 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 01:52 PM:

I just thought of a possible reason why the Powers That Be didn't seize on the IRA as an excuse to grab power in the same way they have seized on Al Qaeda.

If you made up shit about the IRA and the papers printed it, and they didn't like it, they might come around and kill you.

#62 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 02:27 PM:

I think it's worth mentioning that, looked at from the UK, the way that details of criminal cases are released, before the trial, in some parts of the USA, seem wildly prejudicial.

We have quite strict rules here. And the amount of information that is being released in this, and other, incidents of alleged terrorist plotting, is startling.

It does feel, to this non-lawyer, to make it difficult to hold a trial which will meet due-process standards here. How can one find an unbiased jury.

I get the same feeling from the BBC Panorama programme which covered the poisoning of Aleksandr Litvinenko, broadcast a couple of weeks ago. It presented a detailed body of circumstantial evidence pointing to named individuals, now in Russia.

The Liquid Explosive case was like that, and the supposed method, in all the news reports, didn't match the known use of liquid explosive, which the security measures would have incidentally foiled. Was that a genuine plot, or just bad reporting?

So, yes, I'm sceptical about the underlying reality of these very public stories, and the motives of the people spreading them.

#63 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 02:37 PM:

In case Dave at #62 was too subtle for anyone: the people leaking these stories to the press know that they are destroying any possibility of convicting anyone for anything connected to the story.

So either this is a real plot and the people leaking the stories are idiots (in which case they'll have been fired for gross incompetence by now) or ...

there is no security issue, nobody was ever going to be brought to trial, and the only purpose of the exercise was put SCARY MUSLIMS in the newspaper headlines.

#64 ::: Iain Coleman ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 04:25 PM:

Chris,

Some unnamed Muslims talking about how much they would like Sharia law imposed in the UK is not something that anyone should lose any sleep over. It's not as if there's a cat in hell's chance of them getting their wish.

Meanwhile the actual, individual Muslims who go about blowing up themselves and other people - who are a genuine worry, obviously - state that their motivation is to oppose the occupation by a foreign democracy of a country they identify with - which just happens to be the motivation of every other suicide terrorist in modern times, whether Muslim or not.

It's terribly thrilling to think we're locked in a winner-takes-all ideological struggle to preserve all that we hold dear, but really, we aren't. It's an issue of the price we're willing to pay to maintain a particular foreign policy position, that's all.

#65 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 04:38 PM:

Iain writes:

It's an issue of the price we're willing to pay to maintain a particular foreign policy position, that's all.

One particular foreign policy position: a racist, no-win, blood-soaked, criminal, mass-murdering, useless, pointless position. But terrorists want us to stop, so we must continue.

To quote Tony Blair:

I am in blood
Stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o'er

#66 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 05:31 PM:

Niall, #61: If you made up shit about the IRA and the papers printed it, and they didn't like it, they might come around and kill you.
If you told the truth abut the IRA, they might come round and kill you too, like they did to Ross McWhirter.

#67 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 05:41 PM:

Niall's point at #65 is a good one: we're so wrapped up in not "negotiating with terrorists" that we'll keep doing anything any given terrorist wants us to stop, no matter what. Incidentally, this is a good way to be controlled by terrorists, or anyone (governments?) pretending to be terrorists.

And in response to those saying, "This could be real, why don't we wait for the facts to come out," sure, it could very easily have been a real plot. But we'll never know for sure. When we've got governments who've given themselves the power to lock anyone up, secretly, for as long as they like, without charging them, and when we've got a mainstream media intent on keeping those governments happy, and when investigative journalism appears to have died off entirely outside of the world of entertainment news, we can never know with any certainty what's really going on around us.

#68 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 05:50 PM:

Iain and Niall - obviously we hold completely irreconcilable worldviews, so this will be my last post in this thread.

A quick Google search (or just average diligence in following the news) will pop up plenty of names of people who think Sharia law would be wonderful for the UK.

Kevin's post @ 66 is valid. If the IRA didn't like something, they'd take violent action. But since the IRA's goals were limited (rule all of Ireland) they were not as severe a threat as that posed by Al Qaida. And by the way, the threat from Al Qaida does not justify giving up our civil liberties.

However, last time I checked, kidnapping and murder were felonies. If these guys were actually plotting such (for any reason), then the arrests were justified.

#69 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 06:12 PM:

If these guys were actually plotting such (for any reason), then the arrests were justified.

However, it isn't necessarily terrorism, which is what the initial reports make it out to be. That's what we're getting at: that a lot of incidents are reported, very loudly and for some time, as terrorism, then quietly and invisibly turn into quite mundane non-terrorist crimes, and that a lot of people have egos invested in keeping it that way.

#70 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 06:15 PM:

Chris, I don't do irreconcilable. In worldviews, there's True and False.

Sometimes it's hard to tell which is which, and lots of people live in a kind of Limbo, but not you: Your worldview is false.


#71 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 07:01 PM:

Jim Millen @52: IF ( Huge, big, screaming IF here) this turns out to be totally genuine,

How would we ever know? (That's not a rhetorical question.)

#72 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 07:03 PM:

I think the point about the IRA was that they had a certain self-image, and contradicting that could be very bad for your health, whether that contradiction was the truth or some wild exaggeration.

And the IRA was (is?) organised. They had things like a chain of command. In comparison, Al Qaeda is more like a political idea. Which, I suspect, means that we can't do a deal in anything like the way we did a deal with the Provisional IRA.

Al Qaeda inspires action; it doesn't command action. I'm tempted to build a complicated botanical analogy around unexpected weeds. Best just to remind people that bullshit is a fertiliser.

#73 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 07:16 PM:

Niall @ 70:

There is true and false in worldviews, certainly: it is true that the Earth is an oblate spheroid, approximately 6378 km in radius. It is true that the United States holds presidential elections every four years, and that Britain holds parliamentary elections on an irregular schedule. Those are checkable facts; someone who asserted that the earth is flat, or that it was a hollow shell 1000 km in diameter, would simply be wrong.

But there are lots of places where "irreconcilable" seems like a reasonable description of the differences between worldviews. Most of those places involve words like "should" or "must not." The moment you say that one of those systems of elections is better than the other, you're in trickier territory.

Physics doesn't say "you must not travel faster than light"; if things aren't possible, there's no need to preach against them. I'm comfortable with, and reasonably confident of, my worldview, which includes (for example) the axiom that people should be allowed to make their own decisions, so long as it's only our own lives or happiness we're risking. Other people are equally confident of worldviews that say that they have the right to make us live in ways that they think will be more fulfilling, now or in a hypothetical afterlife. They aren't swayed by my pointing out that they can't prove that their proscriptions would make me happier, nor yet that there is any sort of afterlife.

In a relationship, that could be labeled "irreconcilable differences." (The problem wouldn't be different metaphysics or theology, it would be if someone wanted to make me practice their religion, or I insisted that they stop doing so.)

#74 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 07:19 PM:

inge asks: How would we ever know?

Well, the first milestone would be if a case was actually brought to court against anyone. All the 'taken into custody' or 'questioned by police' rhetoric means less than nothing in court.

So, the biggie would be what exactly is he (or she) charged with? Murder? A good chance that they know what the fuck they are doing. Creation of child pornography? Bad sign. They seized his PC during an antiterrorism raid, and all they found is nudie pictures.

Nothing? Zero? Released without charge?

That's where the presumption of innocence is supposed to come in. You could be arrested and released without charge, so could I.

In theory.

#75 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 07:20 PM:

Vicki 73: someone who asserted that the earth is...a hollow shell

"For the world is hollow, and I have touched the sky!"

#76 ::: Iain Coleman ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 07:22 PM:

A quick Google search (or just average diligence in following the news) will pop up plenty of names of people who think Sharia law would be wonderful for the UK.

I have absolutely no doubt that it would. And a quick reading of the research that people helpfully link to on comments threads that you are involved in would tell you a lot more about causes of, motivations for, and potential counteractions to suicide terrorism.

It's probably unfair to put a question to you, since you've said you won't be responding, but here goes anyway: why do you place so much importance on the public statements of people who do not carry out suicide bombings, and so little on the public statements of people who do carry out suicide bombings?

#77 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 07:39 PM:

Vicki:

But there are lots of places where "irreconcilable" seems like a reasonable description of the differences between worldviews.

My world view and Chris's are irreconcilable because one of us is wrong about facts, not opinions.

Guess which one!

#78 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 04:38 AM:

Chris@50: "the only folks that have used gas recently were Muslims (like Saddam) on other Muslims (like Kurds and Iranians)." You forgot to mention who sold them the gas and who told them who their enemies were. You'll find that those people were white christian church-goers like Dick Cheney, who did it to support specific foreign-policy stances against Iran or pro-Turkey. But please don't leave the facts go in the way of good trolling.

"Osama Bin Laden specifically was upset at the West because we kicked Muslims out of Spain in 1492. I watched his video broadcast after 9/11."
Yeah sure. Nevermind that his organization was created to kick US military bases out of Saudi Arabia, and funded by one of the factions in the Saudi royal succession struggle. Please, keep believing what Osama says, like a good suicide bomber would do.

"I hear repeated statements from Muslims wanting to impose Sharia (Islamic law) in the UK - see the Sharia Council of the UK." I hear repeated statements from the BNP about kicking honest tax-paying citizens out of this country as well, but that doesn't mean it's going to happen, or that people outside Burnley actually listen to them. Also, I hear that Cristiano Ronaldo might be sold to Real Madrid, but I don't see how this is relevant.

"Goals which have nothing to do with our activities in Iraq (right or wrong) and everything to do with imposing a religious dictatorship."
So we should assume that we had loads of suicide bombers in Britain before the Iraq invasion. And unfortunately, that's not the case. But again, never mind the facts, your trolling is very appreciated.

#79 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 04:51 AM:

the only folks that have used gas recently were Muslims (like Saddam) on other Muslims (like Kurds and Iranians).

Depends on your definition of "recently". The North Vietnamese used nerve and mustard agents on Hmong villages when they invaded Laos in 1975 - which I believe was the first use of nerve gas in war.

#80 ::: Juliet E McKenna ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 06:30 AM:

Here's something else that gives me grave concerns about all this, following on from something I heard on the radio in the aftermath the Forest Gate fiasco in London.

A senior intelligence source (yes, all the usual caveats apply there ) had told a journo there was a growing suspicion the police and MI5 had been deliberately fed false information about a plot that was sufficiently plausible or worrying that they wouldn't be able to not act on it, just in case it happened to be true, by Islamist radicals (the usual caveats again).

Thus, devout, innocent muslims found themselves on the end of full-on police action, up to and including a bullet.

Which would alienate even moderate muslims while giving further grievances to the more intemperate, often youthful, elements who'd thus be more receptive to extremist propaganda

While also ratcheting up general paranoia/resentment among the rest of the population. Especially those inclined to think, ah, well, there's no smoke without fire, especially around men who pray five times a day and have big bushy beards.

And making the police look stupid/biased/incompetent - either on the basis of riding roughshod over these innocent people, or failing to make their case against obvious wrong'uns, depending on the viewpoint of the observer.

All without running the risk of actually doing anything as dangerous as making bombs etc.

Of course this idea might be an attempt by the intelligence bloke to justify the whole foul-up.

Or it might be true. Is it so different to the IRA phoning in false bomb threats, complete with codewords?

It's still something that worries me, along with a great many other aspects of these current arrests in Birmingham and the wider issue of the 'war on terror' etc.

#81 ::: Pete Darby ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 09:34 AM:

Juliet: well, that sounds plausible, given that the "sources" this morning were talking about having found a list of muslim soldier's names and addresses, and that if the point of terrorism is to spread terror, then MI5 and Sky News are certainly your boys to do that on your behalf.

And I say again: paranoia is a symptom of paying attention.

#82 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 10:33 AM:

Ajay @79, I must correct you. Nerve gas was certainly used in the first world war and, around the same years, in colonial wars. French, German and British military forces were equipped first. These weapons were banned only after WWI, and I'm not sure which legal loopholes the US military exploited in order to use similar ones in VietNam...

#83 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 01:27 PM:

Mustard and chlorine gas were used in WWI, but the first nerve agents weren't discovered until 1936. They were not used in combat during WWII.

I'd always assumed gas was not used in WWII combat in part because Hitler had suffered from gas warfare in WWI. But according to the article I've linked to, the Nazis prepared to use nerve agents, but chose not to because they assumed the Allies had also discovered them and would have retaliated in kind.

#84 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 01:33 PM:
Chris @54: Regarding whether they want to impose Sharia on just Muslims or all Brits is irrelevant. That's like saying Pat Robertson can have a separate set of laws that apply to Christians.
The question is relevant. It is always relevant not to misrepresent others' motives and intentions.

Careful, now: This is not to say that others' true motives and intentions are always less damning than the misrepresentation thereof. I doubt very much that imposing Sharia on all Muslims in the UK would or should fly. However, the conversation that needs to be had about that differs from the discussion of Muslims attempting to impose Sharia on the entire population of the UK. Nuances change.

In any case, if a faction's actual motives and intentions are damning enough, what do you gain by misrepresenting them? Or: if you must skew the facts in order to make a compelling case, how compelling can your case really be? How can we trust any form of judgment that gets its facts wrong--even if the non-facts yield the exact same judgment as the actual facts?

It is always relevant to ensure accuracy. Simple honesty requires it.

#85 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2007, 02:44 AM:

I am not reassured by the thought that the terrorists might be wankers. Not after all we've had to go through to protect ourselves from liquids. What if they wank enough to produce more than four ounces? Could they become Wankers of Mass Destruction? I'm not sure I want to know. I'm particularly concerned because we can't search them and confiscate their precious bodily fluids before they board a plane. They could wank at any time.

#86 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2007, 07:39 AM:

Giacomo said (#78):
Chris@50: "the only folks that have used gas recently were Muslims (like Saddam) on other Muslims (like Kurds and Iranians)." You forgot to mention who sold them the gas and who told them who their enemies were. You'll find that those people were white christian church-goers like Dick Cheney, who did it to support specific foreign-policy stances against Iran or pro-Turkey. But please don't leave the facts go in the way of good trolling.

If we're not going to let the facts go, then one should bear in mind that no one "sold them the gas" -- they manufactured it themselves. ("They" includes Iran as well as Iraq.)

There are varying degrees of outside complictity in terms of who helped them build the chemical plants (for Iraq, it was mostly Western European companies -- primarily German, French, and Austrian) and who supplied them with useful precursor chemicals (for Iraq, predominantly Singaporean, Dutch, Egyptian, and Indian companies); see here for a graphical breakdown in the case of Iraq.

As for the idea that Iraq and Iran needed the US to tell "them who their enemies were" -- well, that's kind of amusing, really, as though such countries are so infantile that they can't form their own motives based on their own regional politics.

#87 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 03:36 AM:

Hey, I never said the white church-goers are only from the US... But you gotta love how the above-linked NYT only lists "some" weapons and "forgets" to mention the role played by dozens of US-based companies, including "US Ministries of Defense, Energy, Trade and Agriculture as well as the Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories"...
See the real list of weapons suppliers to Iraq.

#88 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 09:02 PM:

Giacomo, the US doesn't have ministries. We have departments and they're not companies.

#89 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 03:55 AM:

This case is back in the news in the UK this morning. Two of the nine men arrested in connection with the plot have been released without charge.

Their solicitors have said they were not questioned about kidnapping, beheading people or about soldiers, Muslim or otherwise. When released, they still had no idea why they had been arrested.

#90 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 10:08 AM:

I don't know if Giacomo has got his fact wrong, beyond just what a part of the US Government is called, but saying no US company sold arms to Iraq would be a wonderfully economical piece of truth.

There's so many ways in which a government can say something misleading, and the way some governments have habitually lied, it's difficult to know when anyone tells the truth.

#91 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 02:48 AM:

Since that story originally appeared in a german publication, and was then picked up by the british press, the "ministry" concept probably got mis-translated at some point, and I didn't double-check. My bad.

People from the Guardian certainly translated that story better than I did.

#92 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 06:11 AM:

A report in the Guardian on one of the terror suspects released yesterday

If this is the standard for terrorism they could arrest anybody.

#93 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 06:30 AM:

Giacomo (#87):
The NYT figure I linked to is based on UN reports which publically specified amounts and countries of origin, but not individual companies; the latter information was kept classified until the German newspaper broke the story.[*] More importantly, the NYT figure dealt with chemical weapons only, while the list from the German newspaper[**] covered multiple programs. Only one of the US companies (Alcolac International) is listed as a chemical weapons supplier, so it's not surprising that the US does not show up as significant source of origin in the figure.

It's somewhat grimly amusing that Alcolac International not only supplied the precursor chemical thiodiglycol to Iraq (after Iraq and Iran had cleaned out the Japanese suppliers) -- they also suppllied it to Iran, though they got caught doing so in 1988. There's an interesting discussion of the subterfuge involved (front companies, elaborate routings, etc.) here.

[*] Though many specific cases were known earlier; for example, this NYT article from 1993 discusses international contributions to Iraq's nuclear and missile programs, and names companies involved in Iraq's Scud missile program.

[**] Note that the list Giacomo linked to can be misleading at first glance, since (as it states at the bottom) the "80 German companies" involved are not included in the list, and doesn't specify how much each company supplied.

#94 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 06:43 AM:

I remember seeing a reporter on SKY saying on Saturday, 3 days after the arrests, that none of the suspects had been questioned yet at all, but that's not in the Web report now. This response from police to questions on the subject still is:

Assistant Chief Constable David Shaw said a number of procedures had to be completed before formal interviews could take place. "Far better that we use a measured, calculated, meticulous response than rush into things," he told reporters.

This is the same force which can keep "suspects" for up to 28 days with a judges approval. They'd like the power to hold people for 90 days without charge.

#95 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2007, 04:40 AM:

Five of the men have now been charged, one is still being questioned. Details of the charges will be released at a press conference. The only information I can find so far is:

One of the men has been accused of hatching a plot to kidnap a member of the British armed forces, the Crown Prosecution Service said.

In legalese I suppose that will be some sort of conspiracy charge. Or perhaps a catch-all offence like this one:

(1) A person commits an offence if, with the intention of-(a) committing acts of terrorism, or (b) assisting another to commit such acts, he engages in any conduct in preparation for giving effect to his intention.

(2) It is irrelevant for the purposes of subsection (1) whether the intention and preparations relate to one or more particular acts of terrorism, acts of terrorism of a particular description or acts of terrorism generally.

(3) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable, on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for life.

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