Wednesday, August 30, 2006

NYT Blocks British Readers from Monday's Article on Alleged Liquid Bombing Plot

Paper not shipped to UK on Monday; NYT web page blocks British visitors

Monday's New York Times included a long article about the alleged "liquid bombing plot", which -- as you may recall -- was reportedly broken up by British authorities three weeks ago.

The article "claims to reveal new information", and would certainly have been of great interest to NYT readers in Great Britain.

But they couldn't read it!

From Tuesday's Guardian: UK readers blocked from NY Times terror article
The New York Times has blocked British readers from accessing an article published in the US about the alleged London bomb plot for fear of breaching the UK's contempt of court laws.

Published in the US yesterday under the headline "Details emerge in British terror case", the article claims to reveal new information about the alleged terror bomb plot that brought British airports to a standstill earlier this month.

Online access to the article from the UK has been blocked and the shipment of yesterday's paper to London was stopped. The story was also omitted from the International Herald Tribune, the NYT's European sister paper.
Today's Guardian has a bit more, including this:
For all the precautions taken by papers, legal experts agree there is little to stop bloggers and others from quickly disseminating articles around the globe via websites, messageboards and email.

Mark Stephens, a media lawyer at Finer, Stephens, Innocent, said he did not believe the article was prejudicial and blocking it would increase the likelihood of British readers reading it.

"Lawyers have a tendency to be overcautious on occasions," he said. "By not publishing it, it is almost inevitable that the information will come into the public domain in the UK. It is already being copied on to blog sites and emailed around the globe.
Mr. Stephens is certainly right about that!

The article in question is available at the NYT website, unless you live in Great Britain, in which case you have to look elsewhere: here, for instance.

Excerpts from the article follow, along with a few comments from one very cold blogger:
Hours after the police arrested the 21 suspects, police and government officials in both countries said they had intended to carry out the deadliest terrorist attack since Sept. 11.

Later that day, Paul Stephenson, deputy chief of the Metropolitan Police in London, said the goal of the people suspected of plotting the attack was “mass murder on an unimaginable scale.” On the day of the arrests, some officials estimated that as many as 10 planes were to be blown up, possibly over American cities. Michael Chertoff, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, described the suspected plot as “getting really quite close to the execution stage.”
We now know that these official statements -- from Stephenson, from Chertoff, and from many others as well -- were speculative at best, deliberate lies at worst.
British officials said the suspects still had a lot of work to do. Two of the suspects did not have passports, but had applied for expedited approval.
One official said the people suspected of leading the plot were still recruiting and radicalizing would-be bombers.
While investigators found evidence on a computer memory stick indicating that one of the men had looked up airline schedules for flights from London to cities in the United States, the suspects had neither made reservations nor purchased plane tickets, a British official said.
So they weren't ready to blow up airplanes after all. They weren't ready to do anything!

So why all the panic? Because it serves a purpose, that's why!

What purpose? Whose purpose?

Is it any wonder that these questions are never asked in the mainstream media?

And here's another important question that is hardly ever asked: Could they have done it?
Despite the charges, officials said they were still unsure of one critical question: whether any of the suspects was technically capable of assembling and detonating liquid explosives while airborne.
A chemist involved in that part of the inquiry, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was sworn to confidentiality, said HMTD, which can be prepared by combining hydrogen peroxide with other chemicals, “in theory is dangerous,” but whether the suspects “had the brights to pull it off remains to be seen.”
Your humble and nearly frozen blogger has done some research into HMTD, and has found that its synthesis is remarkably similar to that of TATP (which we discussed last week). In other words, once the chemicals are mixed, the reaction takes a long time -- several hours at least, maybe several days -- to complete, and produces an explosive compound in the form of crystals which must be filtered out before they can be used.

Among the HMTD recipes I have found, the one which seems to take the least amount of time includes the following instructions:
[K]eep stirring for 3 hours and continue to hold the temperature at 0°C [32°F]. Next, remove the beaker from the cooling bath and let it stand at room temperature for 2 hours [...] Finally, pour the solution over a filter to collect the crystals of HMTD, wash them thoroughly with water, and rinse with methyl or ethyl alcohol so they can dry faster at room temperature.
So ... even though we joined the party in progress, we were still five hours away from being able to blow anything up. Do you think the flight crew would leave us alone in the bathroom for more than five hours?

Whether anyone on earth has the "brights" to pull it off -- in the bathroom of a moving airplane and without help from the flight crew -- is extremely dubious.

But let's get back to the New York Times:
While officials and experts familiar with the case say the investigation points to a serious and determined group of plotters, they add that questions about the immediacy and difficulty of the suspected bombing plot cast doubt on the accuracy of some of the public statements made at the time.

“In retrospect,” said Michael A. Sheehan, the former deputy commissioner of counterterrorism in the New York Police Department, “there may have been too much hyperventilating going on.”
Hyperventilating? Possibly. Or maybe -- just maybe -- it was something else.

As for the timing of the arrests, you may recall that serious questions were asked almost three weeks ago, and none of them found satisfactory answers.
British officials said many of the questions about the suspected plot remained unanswered because they were forced to make the arrests before Scotland Yard was ready.

The trigger was the arrest in Pakistan of Rashid Rauf, a 25-year-old British citizen with dual Pakistani citizenship, whom Pakistani investigators have described as a “key figure” in the plot.
Several senior British officials said the Pakistanis arrested Rashid Rauf without informing them first. The arrest surprised and frustrated investigators [t]here who had wanted to monitor the suspects longer, primarily to gather more evidence and to determine whether they had identified all the people involved in the suspected plot.
But they didn't get a chance to do that.
[W]ithin hours of Mr. Rauf’s arrest on Aug. 9 in Pakistan, British officials heard from intelligence sources that someone connected to him had tried to contact some of the suspects in East London. The message was interpreted by investigators as a possible signal to move forward with the plot, officials said.
A senior British official said the message from Pakistan was not that explicit. But, nonetheless, investigators [...] had to change their strategy quickly.

“The aim was to keep this operation going for much longer,” said a senior British security official who requested anonymity because of confidentiality rules. “It ended much sooner than we had hoped.”
British investigators worried that word of Mr. Rauf’s arrest could push the London suspects to destroy evidence and to disperse, raising the possibility they would not be able to arrest them all.
And here we are left with more questions, among the most interesting of which is: Why was Rashid Rauf arrested?

A few days after the arrests were announced, NBC ran a report which said:
One senior British official said the Americans also argued over the timing of the arrest of suspected ringleader Rashid Rauf in Pakistan, warning that if he was not taken into custody immediately, the United States would "render" him or pressure the Pakistani government to arrest him.
Is this what happened?

Did the Pakistanis arrest Rashid Rauf to keep him out of the hands of Americans?

We may never know.

But surely it's becoming more and more obvious that this so-called "plot" was not what we were told it was at the time.

Therefore, it makes good sense to ask: What was it?

Stay tuned, my friends; there's more to come.


seventh in a series