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Hitting a Nerve
I appear to have hit a nerve with my call for a sceptical view of the alleged "bigger than 9/11" plot. 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 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?
CRAIG MURRAY served as the British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004. He can be reached at: http://www.craigmurray.co.uk/index.html