The London terror plot

I have no idea how reliable this article is. If people want to be influential (at least with me and I hope I’m not too alone) they should learn to conceal their political biases.

Nevertheless I wish I could say that I’m confident that it’s all rubbish. Like I said – I have no idea. The article is written by Craig Murray, British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004. Here are the highlights.

I have been reading very carefully through all the Sunday newspapers to try and analyse the truth from all the scores of pages claiming to detail the so-called bomb plot. Unlike the great herd of so-called security experts doing the media analysis, I have the advantage of having had the very highest security clearances myself, having done a huge amount of professional intelligence analysis, and having been inside the spin machine.

So this, I believe, is the true story.

None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn’t be a plane bomber for quite some time.

In the absence of bombs and airline tickets, and in many cases passports, it could be pretty difficult to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt that individuals intended to go through with suicide bombings, whatever rash stuff they may have bragged in internet chat rooms.

What is more, many of those arrested had been under surveillance for over a year – like thousands of other British Muslims. And not just Muslims. Like me. Nothing from that surveillance had indicated the need for early arrests.

Then an interrogation in Pakistan revealed the details of this amazing plot to blow up multiple planes – which, rather extraordinarily, had not turned up in a year of surveillance. Of course, the interrogators of the Pakistani dictator have their ways of making people sing like canaries.

As I witnessed in Uzbekistan, you can get the most extraordinary information this way. Trouble is it always tends to give the interrogators all they might want, and more, in a desperate effort to stop or avert torture. What it doesn’t give is the truth. The gentleman being “interrogated” had fled the UK after being wanted for questioning over the murder of his uncle some years ago.

That might be felt to cast some doubt on his reliability. It might also be felt that factors other than political ones might be at play within these relationships.

Much is also being made of large transfers of money outside the formal economy. Not in fact too unusual in the British Muslim community, but if this activity is criminal, there are many possibilities that have nothing to do with terrorism. . . .

The media has bought, wholesale, all the rubbish they have been shovelled. We then have the appalling political propaganda of John Reid, Home Secretary, making a speech warning us all of the dreadful evil threatening us and complaining that “Some people don’t get” the need to abandon all our traditional liberties.

He then went on, according to his own propaganda machine, to stay up all night and minutely direct the arrests. There could be no clearer evidence that our Police are now just a political tool. Like all the best nasty regimes, the knock on the door came in the middle of the night, at 2.30am. Those arrested included a mother with a six week old baby.

For those who don’t know, it is worth introducing Reid. [balance of paragraph deleted for legal reasons]

We will now never know if any of those arrested would have gone on to make a bomb or buy a plane ticket. Most of them do not fit the “Loner” profile you would expect – a tiny percentage of suicide bombers have happy marriages and young children. As they were all under surveillance, and certainly would have been on airport watch lists, there could have been little danger in letting them proceed closer to maturity – that is certainly what we would have done with the IRA. . . .

Be sceptical. Be very, very sceptical.

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15 years ago

The Huffington Post, if you read the comments from 2 days ago, expressed similiar sentiments.

In addition, none of the ‘plotters’ had even applied for a visa. So the idea that one was going to do a ‘dry run’ in the immediate future was a nonsense. Yes, the US does profile and if an applicant had been a recent vistor to Pakistan and had a beard etc, and you had a number of like people making similiar applications, then the bell would ring.

INMHO, while I have no evidence, but with an eye to previous form, this ‘bust’ cannot be isolated from US domestic policy. The pressure to reveal all seems to have come from the US.

Why didn’t the British plods, for example, ‘thank’ the US intelligence for their contribution?

I am not downgrading the threat of ‘terrorism’ but if you cry ‘wolf’ once too often, the ‘chicken littles’ cause an unhealthy sceptism.

15 years ago

I did see a report somewhere (can’t find it now) that the Americans blew the whistle prematurely and went public. The British allegedly were happy to just let it chug along and see if it turned into anything real.

It is odd that none of the Continental airports instituted the same draconian measures as the British. How hard is it to get from London via ferry or chunnel to CDG or Schiphol?

Associated Press reported today, “TSA chief defends X-rays” an argument as to whether X-raying airline passengers’ shoes was or wasn’t a futile gesture. The “highly trained” TSA (“thousands standing around”) security officers that are supposed to be detect exploding shoes, according to The New York Times last weekend are paid less than $24,000 a year. Those who are supposed to read X-rays are no better paid. Furthermore last April the US Government Accountability office tried its hand at smuggling bomb components through 21 domestic airports and succeeded at all of them.

Evidence on the public record doesn’t disagree with Craig Murray’s claims.

Definitive proof that Murray is right depends of course on John Bolton getting up to address the United Nations with a PowerPoint pack that proves Murray wrong.

Next instalment:

The Pentagon reveals a new class of weapons of mass destruction that are so tiny that they can be hidden under one’s fingernails. Surgical extraction of fingernails ordered for all aliens wishing to visit the United States. I don’t think we have seen anything like this since the Salem witch trials.

15 years ago

Andrew Sullivan blogs:

So far, no one has been charged in the alleged terror plot to blow up several airplanes across the Atlantic. No evidence has been produced supporting the contention that such a plot was indeed imminent. Forgive me if my skepticism just ratcheted up a little notch. Under a law that the Tories helped weaken, the suspects can be held without charges for up to 28 days. Those days are ticking by…

I wonder if this story is going to get more interesting. I wonder if Lieberman’s defeat, the resilience of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the emergence of a Hezbollah-style government in Iraq had any bearing on the decision by Bush and Blair to pre-empt the British police and order this alleged plot disabled. I wish I didn’t find these questions popping into my head. But the alternative is to trust the Bush administration.

Been there. Done that. Learned my lesson.

Tony Harris
Tony Harris(@tony-harris)
15 years ago

So how does a Stalinist thug get to be the Home Secretary of a western democracy?

In that situation anything could happen.

Keep us posted Nicholas.

Richard Tonkin
15 years ago

It has the ring of truth to it.. and it’s ringing out danger.

Too many of us believe the London “near miss” is a beat-up, but one that could provoke an actual event. If everything we’re reading is stagecraft
, why else fan the flames on the fifth birthday cake-candles unless you’re sending out invitations for the real party?

It will be good when the next few weeks are over

15 years ago

I will admit to being skeptical about it. I am prepared to wait til more information comes out before making up my mind. The ones arrested in Florida weren’t a threat, and the NSW/Vic arrests were similar. Government has too much to gain in these scenarios.

So yeh, I am skeptical.

15 years ago

Craig Murray seems to be an interesting character. I’ve only read a review of his book “Murder in Samarkand: A British Ambassador’s Controversial Defiance of Tyranny in the War on Terror” in the Spectator of 29 July 2006, some of which is here:

The rest is behind a great wall of pay.

According to the review, he seems to have been sacked for revealing that MI6 were using info obtained through torture from Uzbek intelligence “services” via the CIA

15 years ago

What if they gave a terrorist plot and no one came? The anti terror guys really have to be more circumspect, but with America riding shotgun and mid terms coming up, everyone falls in line to wag the dog.

Mike Waller
Mike Waller(@mike-waller)
15 years ago

Murray probably is pushing his own barrow but, as always, a little bit of historical context helps. The British security services have form – remember the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six? Under pressure to get results, generally sane and reasonable people can easily misinterpret behaviour/events and over react. At best this can exaggerate a threat; at worst the result is a gross miscarriage of justice. And don’t forget the Met have already shot dead a Brazilian and wounded a UK Muslim citizen going about their honest endeavours. Let’s see how many of the current crop of arrests results in charges/convictions.

15 years ago

Here is the full text of Justin Marozzi’s review that I alluded to above. He generally writes good, fair and informative book reviews.

“Murray, formerly Our Man in Tashkent, was not your average ambassador. He put the wind up the Uzbeks with his uncompromising position on President Islam Karimov’s unspeakably grisly human rights record. This is the country that infamously boiled a dissident to death and then sentenced his mother to six years of hard labour when she had the temerity to complain about it. It is thanks to Murray’s efforts that the case was publicly aired in the first place and that the unfortunate mother’s sentence was subsequently commuted to a fine.

“Upsetting Uzbekistan is one thing. The problem was that all this business was going on from 2002-4, when Washington, historically a little careless about choosing its friends around the world, was cosying up to one of its nastiest regimes. Karimov was a new-found ally in President Bush’s war on terror, providing an important airbase from which the Taleban regime in Afghanistan was defeated. Washington wasn’t happy about Britain’s man in Uzbekistan ruffling feathers. So he had to go. Britain, having mislaid its independent foreign policy, shamefully did America’s bidding.

“What was so damaging about Murray’s speech in Tashkent on 17 October 2002? In it he observed, ‘Uzbekistan is not a functioning democracy, nor does it appear to be moving in the direction of democracy.’ He described how major political parties were banned, voiced his concern over an estimated 7,000 to 10,000 political/religious prisoners, reminded his audience of the dissident-boiling case and the general prevalence of torture in Uzbek prisons, and urged the authorities to halt the repression and start opening up. It was only embarrassing to Washington in so far as it highlighted the uncomfortable direction post-9/11 realpolitik was taking.

“Murray’s subsequent (internal) revelation that MI6 was using intelligence obtained through torture from Uzbek intelligence services via the CIA convinced his Whitehall masters to show him the door. It is worth noting that in December 2005 the Law Lords ruled that secret evidence that might have been obtained by torture was inadmissible in UK courts.

“Murray was widely regarded as a hard worker who burnt the candle at both ends. He doesn’t hide his love of drinking and women here, forever describing the figures of those he meets. One group of office workers displays ‘a terrific amount of cleavage’; another girl has ‘the most wonderful neat bum’.

“We don’t know he is definitely married until page 165 (perhaps the greatest unwitting, though highly revealing, insult to his wife) when he confesses it to a woman he has just set eyes on in a lap-dancing club. He is instantly smitten by Nadira, who is wearing ‘matching embroidered purple knickers and bra’:

“As I caught her glance, I felt she was drawing me into her very soul. Her lips shone with a liquid gloss, and they were parted in a way that was both sexy and innocent… She defied the impossible by exuding, at the same time, such ripe sexual attraction and such innocent vulnerability. Her body invited sex while her eyes screamed, ‘Save m, spare us such ambassadorial confessions of a lap-dancing aficionado. If they have to be included, you just wish they were more Nabokov than Jackie Collins. It is a shame that sex becomes a distraction in what is otherwise an important and well-told story from a frontline on the war on terror. Be that as it may, Murray stoops to conquer, though not before discovering Nadira has enthusiastically been performing oral sex on an American GI. Later, she suffers anal rape at the hands of an Uzbek policeman. Rape by the authorities is a common practice in Uzbekistan.

“Few emerge with much credit from Murray’s stinging account. He is amusingly unimpressed by New Labour ministers whom he considers ‘all haircut and presentation’. The Foreign Office he describes is a pettily procedural bully, spineless in the face of American pressure and Uzbek brutality. The way it compiles its case against him, ignoring any evidence that doesn’t fit its premeditated verdict, is unappetising. It is a measure of how the war on terror has perverted diplomacy and thoroughly corrupted our democracies that Washington and London, together with their diplomats and spies, should get into bed with the thugs in Tashkent. Murray was a loose cannon, certainly, but a principled one in the boardroom, if not the bedroom.

“Some readers might be a little put off by the ringing endorsement on the jacket. Praise from John Pilger is a dubious gift. Fortunately, the exiled Uzbek opposition leader Mohammed Salih provides more credible positive testimony. As for Jack Straw’s comment that ‘Craig Murray has been a deep embarrassment to the entire Foreign Office’, what —

derrida derider
derrida derider
15 years ago

I wouldn’t like to be in these suspect’s shoes, Mike, whether guilty or innocent. It’s a fair bet that they’ll be convicted anyway.

The real lesson of the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six is not the iniquity and/or incompetence of the coppers (sensible people know that) but how easily frightening the populace can secure court verdicts. If charges are brought, expect more leaks from “government sources”, tabloid headlines about their family and friends and yet more “threats averted”.

I hope for Murray’s sake he can back up that stuff about Reid – UK laws heavily favour plaintiffs in defamation cases.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
15 years ago

Ooh. I hadn’t noticed that paragraph. Sadly, I am going to have to delete it. Nicholas please note.

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
15 years ago

And Rafe has asked the how “a Stalinist thug gets to be the Home Secretary of a western democracy?” Indeed, where does it stop? Surely if Marozzi and the Spectator are prepared to risk it, Troppo should be safe.

Francis X Holden
15 years ago

Indeed, where does it stop? Surely if Marozzi and the Spectator are prepared to risk it,

Not necessarily – it could be where it is read – and court shopping – wasn’t that the Joe Gutnick lesson?

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
15 years ago

I know that Jehovah Joe’s success is a worrying precedent. It seems to mean that web posts, in principle at least, have to conform to the law in every country in the world. What I was suggesting though is that if the “thug”

15 years ago

Actually Chris it comes up with 50 hits. Maybe Ken should sue Google! Nah, deep pockets!