Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Tony Blair Makes a Donation -- to a Government including an International Terrorist

Tony Blair went to Pakistan last weekend with a quarter of a billion pounds in his back pocket and high hopes of making a trade, but from the look of things he only made a donation.

'Tis the spirit, one month early, perhaps?

Blair's meeting with ex-General (now-President) Pervez Musharraf was a great success for Musharraf, but not for Blair.

Blair's visit to Pakistan was apparently part of a concerted effort to break a deadlocked struggle for an extradition treaty.

The money -- a 250-million-pound increase for "moderate Islamic madrassas" (schools which teach Islam without violence!), raising Britain's contribution from 230 to 480 million pounds (almost a billion dollars) over the next three years, must have seemed to Blair a reasonable quid-pro-quo.

To shorten a long story somewhat, the moderate madrassas of Pakistan got the money, or at least the Pakistani government did, but Tony Blair didn't get the treaty.

Merry Christmas to the moderate madrassas of Pakistan.

Pakistan and the UK have been haggling over an extradition treaty for years, especially in the three months since August 10th, when the so-called "liquid bombers" were arrested (and their alleged plot to mix so-called explosives out of common household liquids aboard a moving airplane was reportedly foiled).

The arrests were said to have been triggered by the capture in Pakistan of one Rashid Rauf, alleged ringleader and/or messenger and/or explosives expert and most certainly the suspects' al-Q'aeda connection.

According to reports from Pakistan, after (or perhaps during) (or maybe even before) his arrest, Rashid Rauf (or possibly an associate of Rashid Rauf) supposedly sent out a text message allegedly giving the so-called plotters a "green signal".

Never mind that only one of the alleged plotters had bought an airline ticket.

Never mind that some of the alleged plotters still didn't even have passports.

Green! Green Green! Go! Go! Go!

Hop aboard transatlantic flights from Heathrow to The Great Satan, mix your liquid bombs along the way, and blow those planes out of the sky in the name of Allah!

So the alleged plotters either started getting this message and the British police feared they would start the attack rolling, or else British police feared they would get the message and start running away, but in any case the alleged plotters were arrested on the night of August 9th and the following day.

And all the airports (especially Heathrow) went on red-hot-alert, vigilant against liquids and pastes and suspicious murky substances in all carry-on luggage, despite some rather awkward circumstances.

For instance,the so-called conspirators had allegedly been caught, so what were we supposedly worried about?

And then: it takes several hours -- or maybe several days -- working in carefully controlled conditions, to make explosives out of common household liquids, and the process yields crystals which must be filtered and dried before they can be used.

No "terrorists" could possibly make a bomb aboard a plane without considerable assistance from the flight crew. And we know that's never going to happen. So what's the plot?

It has been suggested that the arrests were timed with politics in mind, and it would be tough to disagree, especially given the track record of our so-called governments with such events.

Despite this alleged plot having supposedly triggered so many changes in both North America and Europe, there has been very little discussion of the workings of the alleged plot itself.

One British official was especially helpful on this point when he declared that the police were certain they were investigating "an alleged plot".

This was a considerable point in his efforts to assure all the reporters that the authorites were actually responding to an actual "alleged plot", rather than something less or more sinister.

As for the alleged plot itself, the most recent detailed status report was published by the New York Times, which then decided not to ship any papers to Britain that day, and set up special software on their server to block British visitors from reading it online, unless they looked elsewhere.

Since that report, we've almost lost sight of the plot, winding up instead with half a dozen sub-plots, one of which involves Britain's suddenly-enhanced desire to negotiate an extradition treaty with Pakistan so that Blair and associates can get their hands on Rashid Rauf.

The Pakistanis seem to be doing the best they can to shield Rashid Rauf, short of simply saying, "You can't have him." Pakistani officials didn't even admit they were holding him on charges pertaining to the alleged liquid bombing plot until late in October.

Before that, they said he was being held on two charges, one related to altered travel documents and the other not related to terrorism! They've refused (or simply ignored) a request from Rashid Rauf's family to bring him to court, and they still haven't announced the specific charges under which he is being held.

And maybe they have a good reason for not doing so.

As Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed has pointed out, there's been precious little serious discussion of any of this in the British press during the past few months, and none of course on the American side, while airports all over the so-called free world now limit each passenger to a one-liter (1 qt) clear ziplocked plastic bag containing bottles and/or jars of no more than 100ml (3 oz) each.

It may seem extreme but it's better (for the passengers) than the red-hot-alert constraints, where passengers couldn't carry-on any liquid, cream or gel except for mother's milk, and then only if they had a baby with them and then only if the mother tasted the milk before boarding (to show the security guards it was really milk and not acetone or hydrogen peroxide or sulfuric acid!)

In one telling episode, William Blum wrote about a friend who had been prevented from carrying ice cream onto a plane, on the grounds that the ice cream might melt and become a liquid!

And even though Rashid Rauf's name hasn't appeared much in the western press, the Pakistani press has been mentioning him once a week or so, and with more or less the same story-line almost every week, buried amongst other news of the day:

A Pakistani official, asked about the status of extradition treaty negotiations and the prospects of Rashid Rauf being extradited, gives a more-or-less standard non-commital answer which somehow seems to imply that even though there's no extradition treaty, Rashid Rauf may soon be extradited.

And sometimes we see hints that a treaty is in the works or that his extradition is being considered. But so far nothing of the sort has happened.

Perhaps it's because of a lack of evidence?

Meanwhile, it's not just airport security that has changed. Authorities on both sides of the ocean have used the so-called plot to generate tremendous fear and to support a whole new wave of terror alerts, all of which have proved to be bogus or premature or overblown or all of the above.

And in the meantime, habeas corpus has been shredded in the US (not just for foreign terrorists but potentially for any law-abiding American), and Europe has been "harmonising security arrangements", slip-slidin' away to a place marked "continental police state".

So, for instance, there have been long lines and big delays at the airport in Cyprus because each passenger there is entitled to carry-on only a single one-liter clear ziplocked plastic bag containing an unlimited number of bottles and/or jars, each of no more than 100ml.

These restrictions, I must say, make it very difficult for "terrorists" to mix a bomb out of liquid explosives aboard a plane.

By my calculations, if you had...

  • a litre of the right liquids, in the right proportions, and sufficient ice (for the reactants must be kept cold),

  • enough glassware (lab-quality, unless you wish to blow yourself up prematurely without hurting anyone else),

  • enough time (at least six to eight hours, more likely three to four days),

  • proper ventilation (these are strong acids you're working with, and the smell of acetone is not exactly subtle),

  • and a proper filtering system (although an aircraft-quality serviette might do in a pinch -- at any rate this is the least of your technical problems),

  • could possibly create (now pay attention, because this is important!) up to eight grams (a quarter of an ounce) of explosive crystals!

    (You'll excuse me, I hope, if I don't link to the bomb recipe from which I'm borrowing these numbers; I don't want to encourage anyone. I found a page whose owner was ecstatic over getting 8.3 grams of explosive crystals from a batch made in a one-litre flask, and since that was the largest yield I ever saw reported anywhere, 8 grams of crystals per batch seems like a generous estimate.)

    According to experts in the field, if you had a shaped charge, properly packed, and properly placed, you could conceivably knock a hole in the fuselage of a commercial aircraft using only 250 grams (half a pound) of explosive crystals.

    This means it could take as few as 32 passengers, all on the same flight, each carrying-on a litre of the right liquids, in the right proportions, each willing and able to find a separate private area in which to work undisturbed for at least six to eight hours, possibly three or four days.

    They couldn't all work together, of course, because if they pooled their resources and mixed all their liquids together, somebody would probably notice -- and it would smack of conspiracy!

    But if 32 passengers, acting independently, somehow fashioned a shaped charge containing roughly 250 grams of explosive crystals, without actually working together, it wouldn't really be a conspiracy, would it?

    So they might -- just might! -- be able to pull it off. Be very afraid.

    They would probably need only another 50 or 60 passengers in support, carrying-on the required glassware and ice (hopefully in insulated carry-on coolers).

    In other words, it would only take about 80 or 90 terrorists, working together but separately for six or eight hours, or maybe three or four days, to bring down a commercial aircraft using a bomb made from explosive liquids.

    As all can plainly see, the danger is certainly clear and present, the threat will obviously last at least a generation, and this is clearly a good enough reason to shred some fundamental legal rights, such as habeas corpus; we might as well legislate some immunity for war crimes already committed, while we're at it.

    So ... that's the reason for the plastic bags, and all the little bottles and jars, and the warnings about how al-Q'aeda terrorists might revive the liquid bombing plan in order to wreak havoc on unsuspecting intercontinental travelers this holiday season.

    And that's also why Tony Blair wants Rashid Rauf, but of course there's no extradition treaty between Pakistan and the UK, and that's why Tony Blair has just been visiting Pakistan looking for one. He hasn't been successful, not yet anyway.

    But he may not need it right away, as British authorities have announced the trial of the alleged liquid bombers will not begin until 2008 -- probably not until after Easter. So Blair still has time to work on a deal before the "speedy" trial begins. It might cost him another billion, and then again he still might not get it; we can only wait and see.

    If Tony Blair is wondering why he's been having so much trouble with Pakistan, supposedly a key ally in the war against terror, he might pause to consider what may have happened had he arrived in Pakistan three days earlier than he did.

    Had he landed on Tuesday rather than Friday, he could have enjoyed reading about Tanvir Hussain, the retired Pakistani army major, now a member of the Pakistani parliament and in fact the parliamentary Secretary of Defense, who declared on that day in a parliamentary debate that he had been a member of the banned terrorist group, Lashkar-e-Taiba (aka LeT) (aka LT).

    LeT is "the military wing of the Markaz-ud-Dawa-wal-Irshad (MDI), an Islamic fundamentalist organisation which advocates a fully Islamic India, and whose military wing has been involved in bombing attacks against India since 1990", according to Wikipedia.

    India and Pakistan have been at odds for a lifetime, having fought three wars against each other in the past sixty years. And they've just recently begun talking again after a horrific July 11 bombing attack against passenger trains in Mumbai.

    LeT are suspected of involvement in those bombings, as well as many other large and extremely violent attacks, including the Delhi train bombings of October 29, 2005, and the London train bombings of July 7, 2005.

    So this was probably a bad time for a Pakistani MP to say he had been a member of LeT.

    Initially I got the impression he was saying he was a former member. But is that really what he meant when he said "I have been a member of LeT"? Is he a "former member"? Well, not quite.

    According to more detailed accounts, published in India and Australia but not in Pakistan, Tanvir Hussain went on to explain that he is still associated with LeT, he goes to their conventions, he makes speeches for them there, and he gives them additional help when they ask for it.

    He claims he's a jihadi, not a terrorist, and I don't think anyone can argue with him on this point, since everyone knows one man's terrorist is another man's jihadi.

    Anyway, a Pakistani spokesman reportedly said we shouldn't worry about it, that we should focus "on what governments do and not on what individuals say". I'd find his advice easier to take if the individual in question were not part of the government, but nonetheless...

    Plus c'est la meme chose, plus c'est la meme chose.

    In other words, the status is still quo, for the most part. Tanvir Hussain is still an MP and the parliamentary secretary of defense. Nobody in Pakistan is screaming for his resignation, or even for a retraction. They probably just want him to stop talking.

    In the global game of foot-in-mouth, John Kerry's got nothin' on Tanvir Hussain.

    Meanwhile, Tony Blair still doesn't have an extradition treaty, and Rashid Rauf is still in Pakistan, looking more and more unlikely to face extradition. The only substantial difference is the money.

    Tony Blair just gave Pervez Musharraf an additional 250 million pounds for what appears to be three more years of more of the same.

    We're told we're at war against a network, not a country. We're told it's the elusive nature of the terrorist organizations -- networks of small and mostly independent "cells", with operational knowledge shared on a need-to-know basis -- that makes them so difficult to counter.

    Without hinting at how closely this form of organization follows standard CIA tradecraft, I can't avoid mentioning that the way to trace connections in such a network is to "follow the money".

    In this case the money -- an additional 250 million pounds sterling, nearly half a billion more dollars -- went from the government of a country which is said to be fighting terrorism, to the government of another country which is also said to be fighting terrorism, but whose parliamentary secretary of defense is closely affiliated with a notoriously violent terrorist -- oops! notoriously violent jihadi -- organization.

    Does this implicate Tony Blair in international terrorism? Is the UK money-laundering hundreds of millions through Pakistan to known terrorists? Was it simply a misguidedly hoped-for deal that didn't quite work out? Or does Blair sincerely believe that giving millions of pounds to Pakistan to promote non-violent schooling will give him the edge in the phony war on phony terror?

    Who can say? Tony Blair says we're finally fighting terrorism properly, so I guess we're bound to win sooner or later. Whatever that means.


    eighth in a series