It is a week since news broke in London about an alleged plot to blow up nine commercial jetliners and there are emerging indicators that Bush and Blair exaggerated the truth about the actual readiness of the so-called plot. And yes, I mean so-called plot. Why would Bush and Blair hype a terrorist threat? A very simple answer. The White House was on notice that Seymour Hersh's story that the Bush Administration encouraged Israel to invade Lebanon as part of a broader scheme to set the stage for war with Iran. Tony Blair, Bush's enabler, went along with the ruse.
The initial story out of London gave the average traveler the clear impression that Muslim terrorists were thwarted at the last minute from planting bombs made of liquid explosives on board aircraft. Since then, the facts about the story shifted significantly. It is true that some of the people in the custody of British and Pakistani security forces had thought about bombing airplanes. But there is substantial evidence that the plot was far from implementation.
First, no evidence has emerged that the plotters had in hand a functioning prototype of the device they wanted to take on board a plane. That's an important point. The Bojinka plot of 1994--when Ramsi Yousef, Khalid Sheikh Mohamad, Walid Khan, and Hakim Murad planned to blow up 12 jumbo jets in the Pacific--was preceded by Ramsi Yousef's December 1994 success in testing a bomb that exploded on a Philippine Air flight and killed a Japanese man. Yousef, Mohamad, and Murad are in jail. Walid Khan is dead. No one from that group is around to provide technical advice on the amount of explosive required to down a plane.
There is a press report from Pakistan that monitoring of one of the plotters, a fellow named Rauf, revealed that:
the plotters had tested the explosive liquid mixture they planned to use at a location outside Britain. NBC News has previously reported that the explosive mixture was tested in Pakistan. The source said the suspects in Britain had obtained at least some of the materials for the explosive but had not yet actually prepared or mixed it.
We'll say it again--the plotters had not yet actually prepared or mixed a potential explosive. More importantly, they did not have a working prototype of a viable explosive charge that would pass muster at a screening checkpoint. The British plotters reportedly did have hydrogen peroxide. Big deal. Go to your local drug store and you too can buy some. Hydrogen peroxide is not an explosive and there is no easy, safe way to make an explosive with it. The plotters in Britain still had a lot of work to do in order to carry out their plot.
I'm also struck by the fact that more then twenty people were allegedly involved in this plot. The Al Qaeda of Ramsi Yousef's day had a viable plan for blowing up 12 planes using only 5 people. Now we learn that the radical Islamic copycats need 20 folks for at least 6 planes. Is this evidence of Al Qaeda's degraded capability?
Second, no evidence has emerged that the group had purchased tickets or even had passports that would allow them to board a plane to the United States. How exactly were they supposed to bomb planes that they could not even board.
Third, British police are still scrambling to come up with evidence to keep these guys in jail. If the plot was well advanced that would not be a problem. If they had tickets, passports, and explosives in hand that would be, shall we say it. . . A SLAM DUNK!
Fourth, there is the curious response of the Bush Administration to this news. Instead of coming to the White House Briefing Room to announce new initiatives to develop technology to detect liquid explosives at passenger screening checkpoints or to close loopholes posed by unscreened cargo, the Bush White House attacked Democrats for making America vulnerable to terrorists. Last I checked, Howard Dean was not in London trying to put a bomb on an airplane. And Dick Cheney is still on the campaign trail playing the fear card.
I have no doubt that British intelligence had succeeded in penetrating a group of Muslim extremists who had big dreams about hurting the United States but they lacked a viable terrorist plan ready for execution. We also know that the Bush Administration, who was being regularly briefed by the Brits about the plot, pushed London to act prematurely. What is particularly galling is that no one at the Bush White House apparently felt compelled to look for ways to boost aviation security in the United States. Instead, they sought to create a firestorm of fear in order to distract public attention from the devastating article written by Sy Hersh. One of Sy's key points:
The Bush Administration, however, was closely involved in the planning of Israel's retaliatory attacks. President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney were convinced, current and former intelligence and diplomatic officials told me, that a successful Israeli Air Force bombing campaign against Hezbollah's heavily fortified underground-missile and command-and-control complexes in Lebanon could ease Israel's security concerns and also serve as a prelude to a potential American preëmptive attack to destroy Iran's nuclear installations, some of which are also buried deep underground.
That is the kind of news the White House would like to bury, particularly as a ceasefire took hold in Lebanon that left Hizbullah standing ten feet tall. As Keith Olberman showed the other night, the Bush Administration has been zealous about trotting out bogus threats when there is political bad news afoot. If I'm right about this latest incident, Keith Olberman has a new item to add to his list of ten.
-- No Quarter