Monday, August 14, 2006

Was Timing of Arrests Last Week Politically Motivated To The Detriment of Fighting Terrorism?

Was the very terrorist plot used to blunt Ned Lamont's victory and support attacks against him revealed prematurely, sacrificing real gains in the war on terrorism for partisan political advantage?

That charge was made on Ian Masters' Background Briefing yesterday (audio file not yet available), and received supporting evidence from NBC News today, in a story headlined, "Source: U.S., U.K. at odds over timing of arrests / British wanted to continue surveillance on terror suspects, official says". Masters is a BBC-trained journalist, severely critical of conspiracy theories. NBC does not go anywhere near speculating, much less reporting on political motives, focusing instead on US jumpiness and lack of patience since 9/11. But given the history and SOP of the Bush Administratio, it seems highly probable that once again--as in the outing of Valerie Plame--real security has been cynically sacrificed for short-term partisan political advantage. And, of course, that advantage consists of building a case that blames Bush opponents for not being serious about fighting terrorism.

NBC Reports:
LONDON - NBC News has learned that U.S. and British authorities had a significant disagreement over when to move in on the suspects in the alleged plot to bring down trans-Atlantic airliners bound for the United States.

British officials knowledgeable about the case said British police were planning to continue to run surveillance for at least another week to try to obtain more evidence, while American officials pressured them to arrest the suspects sooner. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the case.

In contrast to previous reports, one senior British official suggested an attack was not imminent, saying the suspects had not yet purchased any airline tickets. In fact, some did not even have passports.

The sources did say, however, that police believe one U.K.-based suspect was ready to conduct a "dry run." British authorities had wanted to let him go forward with part of the plan, but the Americans balked.

At the White House, a top aide to President Bush denied the account.
We already know that the rushed operation resulted in some suspects getting away--top operatives according to some reports. But Masters' program raised the spectre that ongoing investigations into other plots may have been undermined as well.

Britain remains on a hightened level of alert and The Independent is reporting that "Bomb plot 'just the tip of the iceberg' of UK al-Qa'ida activity." Jason Bennetto and Nigel Morris write:
MI5 and the police are investigating "dozens and dozens" of possible al-Qa'ida-inspired plots to cause mass murder in Britain, counter-terrorism sources have disclosed.

The alleged plot to destroy up to 10 transatlantic airliners, which police say they foiled last week, was believed to be just one of about 12 similar terrorist plans that are currently being investigated.

Discussing the threat, the Home Secretary, John Reid, defended his decision to leave the nation's terror alert level at "critical", although late last night the Government announced that it had been downgraded to "severe", meaning that the threat of attack was still "highly likely", but not "imminent".
In the US, things have returned to normal. But, as The Independent reports, things are not normal. The level of al Qaeda activity alleged in Britain is dramatically higher than anything seen in the past, and is indicative of intense blowback from the failed neocon politices in the Middle East. The understory of last week's terrorist plot foiling appears to be highly damaging to the Bush Administration, and is only beginning to be glimpsed.

In another story, The Independent reported:
Target Britain: Wave of attacks planned, say investigators
Terrorists in UK still possess huge arsenal of bombs and weapons. Country remains under 'very severe' threat, security sources warn

By Raymond Whitaker, Paul Lashmar, Sophie Goodchild and Severin Carrell
Published: 13 August 2006

Suspected terrorists were planning to unleash a wave of "apocalyptic" attacks on land and air, using an arsenal of bombs and weaponry, including firearms, investigators have discovered.

Police and intelligence sources have indicated that the alleged plot which was thwarted last week was targeted at the UK, as well as at airliners heading for the US, and could have caused devastating loss of life and destruction on the British mainland. One Whitehall source said "many dozens" of plots were under investigation, involving "hundreds" of suspects.

According to one report last night, al-Qa'ida's leader in Britain could have been held in the raids. But security sources estimate that as many as 1,200 people here are actively involved with terrorism, and that the country is still under "very severe" threat from other potential terrorist plots. This, they added, explained why there were no immediate plans to lower the current national threat assessment from "critical", its highest level.
Of course, the level has now been dialed down a notch. More evidence of political meddling?

We already have the evidence of the Downing Street Memos. We know that neither the US nor the UK governments can be trusted at the highest levels. This should not be the basis for wild speculation. But intense scrutiny, and total skepticism toward Bush and Blair's pronouncements are certainly in order. The real story of what happened last week, and why is far from being publicly told.

[UPDATE] A couple of Dkos commentators in a related DKos diary by Phoenix Woman remind us of another precedent--which was also mentioned on the Ian Masters show as well, btw--the premature public outing of Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan by Tom Ridge to disrupt positive impetus for Kerry from the DNC:
Hayat, the Pakistani Interior Minister, was furious. He said Khan was the kind of asset that could have led to bin Laden himself, had he not been outed.