I appear to have hit a nerve with my call for a sceptical view of the alleged “bigger than 9/11” plot. Over 50,000 people so far have read the item on my own blog, and it has been quoted and reposted all over the web.
In the UK, at least, the more serious wing of the mainstream media is beginning to catch up with the idea that all is not well here.
Still, after eight days of detention, nobody has been charged with any crime. For there to be no clear evidence yet on something that was “imminent” and “Mass murder on an unbelievable scale” is, to say the least, rather peculiar. The 24th person, who was arrested amid much fanfare yesterday, has been quietly released without charge today. Breaking news, another “suspect” has just been released too.
The drip, drip of information to the media from the security services has rather dried-up. The last item of any significance was that they had found a handgun and a rifle – neither of which could have been in any use in the alleged plot. If you were smuggling undetectable liquid explosive onto a plane, you would be unlikely to give the game away by tucking a rifle into your hand baggage.
As with the murder some years ago of the uncle of the suspect held in Pakistan, it remains a possibility that there could be some criminal activity here involving a few of the suspects, which is not terrorist linked.
As the Police immediately told the press about the guns, it is a reasonable deduction that it remains true that they still have found no bombs or detonators, or they would have told us, particularly as they haven’t charged anyone yet. They must be getting pretty desperate to announce some actual evidence by now.
This brings us to one particuarly sinister aspect of the allegations – that the bombs were to be made on the plane.
The idea that high explosive can be made quickly in a plane toilet by mixing at room temperature some nail polish remover, bleach, and Red Bull and giving it a quick stir, is nonsense. Yes, liquid explosives exist and are highly dangerous and yes, airports are ill equipped to detect them at present. Yes, it is true they have been used on planes before by terrorists. But can they be quickly manufactured on the plane? No.
The sinister aspect is not that this is a real new threat. It is that the allegation may have been concocted in order to prepare us for arresting people without any actual bombs.
Let me fess up here. I have just checked, and our flat contains nail polish remover, sports drinks, and a variety of household cleaning products. Also MP3 players and mobile phones. So the authorities could announce – as they have whispered to the media in this case – that potential ingredients of a liquid bomb, and potential timing devices, have been discovered. It rather lowers the bar, doesn’t it?
This has a peculiar resonance for me. I spoke at the annual Stop the War conference a couple of months ago. I referred to the famous ricin plot. For those outside the UK, this generated the same degree of hype here two years ago. It was alleged that a flat in North London inhabited by Muslims was a “Ricin” factory, manufacturing the deadly toxin which could kill “hundreds of thousands of people”. Police tipped off the authorities that traces of ricin had been discovered. In the end, all those accused were found not guilty by the court. The “traces of ricin” were revealed to be the atmospheric norm.
The “intelligence” on that plot had been extracted under torture in Algeria – another echo here, as the “intelligence” in this current case has almost certainly been extracted under torture in Pakistan. Another police tip-off to the media was that the intelligence said that the ricin had been stored in plastic jars, and they had indeed found plastic jars containing a suspicious substance. It turned out the containers in question were two Brylcreem tubs. What was in them? In the first, paper clips. In the second, Brylcreem.
I told the story in my speech, and concluded with a ringing “So we must congratulate the government for saving us from a dastardly Islamic plot to take over the World using hair styling products.”
I fear the government may have taken me seriously!
I do not discount the possibility that there is a germ of something behind the current alleged plot. Will it be anything like the hype? No.
The hype scarcely lowers. On the flagship ten o’clock news last night, the BBC reported breathlessly on the United flight diverted from Washington to Boston last night, and its fighter escort. We had very earnest besuited security experts terrifying us about the dangers.
The extraordinary thing was that, by this stage, we knew definitely that this was a 60 year old woman with claustrophobia, who had a few loose matches and some Vaseline intensive care hand lotion in the bottom of her handbag. The facts reported were totally at odds with the whole manner of the “be terrified” report and the analysis being built on it. But that didn’t stop them.
It has, of course, worked. When did you last see Iraq on the news? Where is Liebermann’s defeat now on the news agenda?
A blog like this is much too small a player to affect the public mood. What it can do is tap into it. The extraordinary response to these posts shows that there is a very significant section of the public not prepared to buy more Bush/Blair propaganda.
In August 2002 Craig Murray set off to Uzbekistan as HM Ambassador. For those of us a bit vague about the aftermath of the USSR, it’s bordered by Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kirghizstan, Kazakhstan, and what’s left of the Aral Sea after the appalling ecological impact of its massive cotton industry. Alongside cotton it produces natural gas, vast amounts of minerals, and tobacco. It’s a country full of resounding place names, among them what were once called the Oxus and the Jaxartes rivers and the cities of Tashkent and Samarkand.
Murray had not been an ambassador before but he had been a diplomat for some 20 years, including a spell as head of the economics section of the British Embassy in Warsaw and most recently as Deputy High Commissioner of Ghana. He did not come from the typical FCO background: a Scot, he went to a state school and Dundee University. His staff in Tashkent was tiny: few other western nations even had an embassy there at the time.
It will be no surprise to anyone who reads Murray’s site that his book is in part a sustained attack on UK foreign policy over the last few years. Murray soon began to come to the conclusion that Karimov’s regime in Uzbekistan were a brutal band of corrupt thugs, running a country where show-trials relying on ‘evidence’ obtained by torture were routine. The US and UK were backing the regime, in part as an element of the ‘War on Terror’, and pouring money into it, because it was opposed to Islamic fundamentalism, and because Uzbekistan is in a useful position for Rumsfeld’s ‘lily pad’ strategy (lots of permanent major US bases scattered over the middle east for rapid reaction), and also happen to be sitting on a lot of valuable natural resources and potential pipeline routes etc. He also argues that our Governments are, or at least were, labouring under a fundamental misapprehension: that Karimov’s regime is part and parcel with other Soviet successor regimes in eastern Europe: Walesa, Havel, and the like. It isn’t: Karimov and his ilk are the old local Communist leaders under new colours. These are men who were not at all impressed with Gorbachev.
Murray decided that one of the themes of his embassy would be standing up on human rights: in later correspondence with the FCO he was to write:
‘I think that outrage is absolutely the correct emotion at learning that someone has been tortured to death with boiling water. If your reaction at seeing photos of this is not to be outraged but to wonder precisely which UN Convention contains provision against torture by boiling water, then I am sorry. I see the head of ODIHR has called it in public ‘horrid’. I presume you think he is being a bit strong. [‘] PS I don’t know if you have noticed but I have a slight speech defect. I really can’t call anything ‘howwid’.’