27 June 2006

Melanie Phillips: "Londonistan" - Preliminary Observations

The other day, I was unfortunate enough to purchase a copy of the book, "Londonistan: How Britain is Creating a Terror State Within", by Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips. I was, admittedly, somewhat intrigued by the promising, almost imposing, one word reviews. "Explosive" said the Observer, for example, or so we're told. I tried to find the original review, but could only locate the following passage prefaced to an Observer piece by Phillips, published in May. What the Observer actually said was: "... In this explosive extract she [Phillips] traces the impact of one disturbing episode." OK - so it's the extract that's "explosive", not the book.

Moving on, apparently the Guardian describes the book as "Penetrating". Sounds good I suppose, unless there are hidden Freudian connotations, in which case it might be disturbingly bizarre... So I google again and find the review which says: "Throughout the book there are shards of evidence and penetrating questions..." This wouldn't be too bad apart from the fact that reviewer Jackie Ashley complains: "The problem is that Phillips's hysterical tone repels frank and thoughtful argument..." I won't quote anymore you can read the rest of the review here, which is pretty hilarious.

The next resounding review is by none other than Mel P's own newspaper, the Daily Mail, which describes her book as "Well researched" and "finely written". Well I won't bother checking up on that effective piece of self-congratulation, especially after having flicked through most of the book. A preliminary skim read shows that the research behind the book is unfortunately sloppy, as are most of Mel P's arguments. And her writing is more a continuous diatribe than "fine."

One set of passages I just read now strikes me as exceptionally weird, and representative of Mel P's contradictory state of mind. On p. 28, she says: "Britain... has effectively allowed itself to be taken hostage by militant gays, feminists or 'antiracists' who used weapons such as public vilification, moral blackmail and threats to peoples' livelihoods to force the majority to give in to their demands. And these demands were identical to those made by the Islamists..."

Wait a minute... am I reading correctly?

At this point I felt like nominating Mel P for this year's British Comedy Award, except that after reading a bit more the inclination to laugh gets replaced by a sense of disbelief, confusion, incredulity, and nausea.

How can you take seriously someone who believes that:

1) The United Kingdom has been taken hostage by gays, no, not just gays, militant gays (gays with guns?, what the hell is that supposed to mean???), feminists and antiracists, no wait we have to put that in inverted commas, "antiracists". Is she trying to describe the Blair Cabinet?

2) These illegitimate "minorities" have "forced the majority to give in to their demands". OK people: let's be frank here, you can open your heart when you leave your blog comments... when you wake up in the morning, do you feel that you've been subjugated by a scary group of gays, feminists and antiracists who've just taken over your country and are now threatening to take your job too?

3) The demands of this scary group are "identical" to the demands of "Islamists", and by Islamists, Mel P means, basically terrorists.

The logical implications of this totally bizarre set of axioms is that gays, feminists and antiracists are in the same boat as al-Qaeda terrorists.

Are you getting that laughing feeling now? Or have you passed into the nausea phase (or have you just passed out...?)

Well the comedy and tragedy does, unfortunately, continue along the same lines on the next page (29), where the process Mel P outlines above with some elaboration in between "has produced", she says, "the extraordinary phenomenon of radical Islam - which denies female equality and preaches death to gays..." But I thought gays, feminists and Islamist terrorists are making "identical" demands on "the majority"?

Suffice it to say, this book really is a bit bizarre. That's not to say that Mel P doesn't touch on some interesting truths and half-decent questions. The problem is that most of the book is invested in engaging in an extended paranoid diatribe with no connection to reality. I'm going to dissect the arguments in this book as I continue reading, as it seems a lot of people are reading it, and I'm genuinely concerned about the impact such a book might have in the UK, by increasing racial and religious hatred, particularly against Muslim communities.

26 June 2006

7/7 Official Narrative in Shreds

The news is brimming with tidbits of information that fundamentally undermine the government's account of the intelligence background to the London bombings. The bombers, we've been told, were 'clean skins'. They hadn't even been identified prior to 7th July 2005, and had surfaced only on the periphery of other investigations.

Last week, we found out from the investigations of Ron Suskind, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist, that the CIA was so worried about Mohamed Sidique Khan, he had been banned from flying to the USA in 2003. Suskind's source is Dan Coleman, who headed the FBI's al-Qaeda investigations. Now the FBI, still reeling, is denying the revelations.

But Suskind insists: "There is no doubt, from the many sources that I interviewed in the US for my book ... this incident involved Mohammad Sidique Khan."

Now we learn that Special Branch had been monitoring Khan so closely, they had a tracking device on his car.

The chorus of denial is almost deafening. “We don’t discuss matters of surveillance or intelligence,” said a Metropolitican police spokesman. Yes, well, that's why we need an independent public inquiry, because authorities like to keep things secret, especially when they screw-up, or perhaps worse, systematically fail and then lie about it.

We also learn that an IT expert who worked with some of the bombers in Leeds alerted police to Sidique Khan and Shahzad Tanweer, who were, he says, involved in disturbing extremist activities conducive to terrorism.

But the West Yorkshire police, it seems, did nothing. And are still doing so. “We do not discuss intelligence matters and therefore we can’t comment on specific actions.” Hmmm. I don't think most of the British public will be very excited by this sort of blase dismissal of the issue.

As 7/7 survivor Rachel North told the Times, “The bombers were allegedly working alone and not part of any radicalised group. Yet it now appears they were part of a wider network of terrorism and had been known to Special Branch and the security services prior to July 7, for some years in fact."

That's precisely the conclusion I draw in The London Bombings: An Independent Inquiry based on a review of the evidence available in the public record. In fact, we already knew even before the recent revelations that Khan and Tanweer were being bugged by MI5, which had listened into their conversations about "jihad", along with their plans to construct a device and flee the country.

We also know that Khan and co. were part of a wider network of terrorists under surveillance in Operation Crevice. I talk at length in the book about these interconnections, as well as the dozen or so other advanced warnings of a terrorist attack on the Tube planned for July 2005 by al-Qaeda received by British intelligence services.

In the ensuing weeks and months, more information is going to come out confirming my thesis that the government had every opportunity to shut down the terrorist network that incubated the London bombers, but failed to do so.

The question is: why did they fail?

22 June 2006

The London Bombings: An Independent Inquiry

Today is the official release date of my new book, "The London Bombings: An Independent Inquiry" (Duckworth). We've set up a website for the book at www.independentinquiry.co.uk.

In one sense, it's an exciting time. I feel optimistic that the book will be able to help mobilize communities in support of an independent public inquiry into the London bombings.

There's been some half-decent publicity already.

By the end of last week, there was a Sunday Times


review of the book by Brian Appleyard, which looked at mine and three other 7/7 related books. Here's the excerpts about my book, which take up most of the space in the review:

"The state’s response — in the form of violence against an unarmed man — only heightened the anxieties of Britons and Londoners,” comments Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed in The London Bombings: An Independent Inquiry (Duckworth £8.99), on the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes. Of course, it wasn’t the response of the state at all, but of something more familiar — an incompetent, unreformed police service. Ahmed is right, however, to speak of heightened anxieties. That killing and the recent Forest Gate farce both remind us that, in chasing terror in our midst, we are chasing shadows...

The books by Ahmed and Melanie Phillips, though utterly different in tone and intent, agree absolutely that British official nurturing of Islamic radicalism is at the heart of the matter. Ahmed’s book is a lucid and, in spite of the endorsement by John Pilger on the front cover, quite persuasive account of how our security mandarins talked themselves into believing we could make quiet, backroom deals with these terrorists. For Ahmed, it is a conspiracy theory, though, for me, his evidence could equally well point to a string of post-rationalised blunders. Essentially, the Anglo-American strategy in the Balkans from the early 1990s onwards was part of a great game designed to satisfy both corporate greed and strategic logic. Maybe. It is certainly true that the fact that our allies against the Serbs were Muslims did provide an opportunity for the radicals to exploit our Balkan strategy.

From there Al-Qaeda grew and grew within Europe. Uniquely, the British attempted to control the militants through discreet contact and it is this that lies behind Blair’s refusal to convene a public inquiry into the 7/7 bombings. The can is just too full of worms. “An entrenched and growing network of Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists of more than 100 in number — and consisting of possibly up to several thousand — has operated in the UK, with immunity from the law, despite being implicated in numerous instances of international terrorism.”

... these books make plain that the British official response to Islamic radicalism at every level has been inept and ill-judged. This may be a conspiracy, a cock-up or a symptom of our own decadence, but it is plainly a disaster.

I'm generally pleased with the review, but am rather disconcerted at Appleyard's depiction of my research as "a conspiracy theory". [On the same note, I don't get the bizarre dig at John Pilger, whose blurb is on the front cover of the book.] The label is rather odd, as I don't offer any overarching theory of what happened on 7/7, but merely establish the anomalies in the government's official narrative. In particular, as Appleyard notes, I focus on the relationship between the escalation of domestic insecurity and British state exploitation of radical Islamist networks abroad in pursuit of strategic and economic interests. It's a real shame that quite complex truths pertaining to the manner in which British govt foreign policy has undermined our security at home are misleadingly and casually described as "conspiracy", and thus automatically dismissed. The reality is that western co-optation of al-Qaeda networks in the post-Cold War period is well-documented on the basis of reliable sources, including western security and intelligence sources. The policy has been implemented in tandem with concerted military interventionism, overt and covert, in key strategic regions, especially the Balkans, Central Asia, and North Africa in relation to the London bombings. I don't believe this sort of policy, which Appleyard readily acknowledges did go on in some form, was simply a matter of ongoing bungling incompetence, but rather the product of cold strategic calculations in the pursuit of power and profit.

I'm going to elaborate on this in later posts, so keep your eyes peeled.

19 June 2006

KHAN: The Myth

How much did British intelligence know about the alleged London bombers prior to the 7th July 2005 terrorist attacks?

Not much, according to the House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee report into 7/7, released in May 2006, which found that “none of the individuals involved in the 7 July group had been identified (that is, named and listed) as potential terrorist threats prior to July.” The report does confirm that Mohamed Sidique Khan, believed to be the chief bomber, and Shahzad Tanweer, were noticed by intelligence services on the periphery of a different unfolding terrorist plot, although their identities never became known to the services. Ultimately, there was, according to the official narrative, no real evidence of their involvement in a terrorist plot, and so no justification to monitor them as potential terrorists. Given the scarce resources available, the parliamentary report said, it was perfectly understandable, indeed prudent, for the services to invest in targeting more serious terrorist suspects for investigation.

The claims of the parliamentary inquiry have been discredited in the wake of the publication of a few interesting details about pre-7/7 US intelligence on Khan, revealed in the new book by Ron Suskind, The One Percent Doctrine. Suskind’s sources as described The Times state that Khan “was considered such a dangerous threat that he was banned from flying to America” as early as 2003. The CIA believed that he had been plotting with Islamists in the US to “blow up a number of synagogues on the US East Coast”, and had already made “at least two trips to America to finalise attack plans.” The FBI had reportedly amassed “detailed files of Khan’s many telephone calls and e-mails, beginning in 2002, to a number of US based al-Qaeda-trained militants living in New York and Virginia.”

According to Dan Coleman, who led the FBI’s al-Qaeda investigations, Britain was warned that Khan was “a very dangerous character” who should be urgently monitored. US intelligence services placed his name on a ‘no-fly-list’ to stop him from leaving the UK, says Suskind, when they learned of his imminent plans to fly to New York in March 2003. US security officials confirmed that the CIA’s Counter-Terrorist Centre regularly shared its information on Khan with a British intelligence official in London.

Unfortunately, Whitehall is still in denial. The whole story is “untrue”, indeed, a “myth” (one of many in fact) that has somehow, inexplicably, spontaneously, randomly generated itself “around Khan.” The blanket denial by Britain’s security services doesn’t explain why or how such a Myth could generate itself from thin air, nor in particular why or how US intelligence services are ardent Believers in the Myth.

Suskind’s important revelations, however, only scratch the surface of credible information about intelligence surveillance of Khan which has long been buried in the public record.

Months before the release of the parliamentary report, for instance, disgruntled British intelligence officers revealed to the press that MI5 had Khan and Tanweer under surveillance, in fact, was bugging their conversations about waging jihad more than a year before 7/7. Further details about MI5’s bugging of Khan and Tanweer and their involvement in a UK-based bomb plot emerged after the release of the report, to welcome, if insufficient criticism.

But it wasn’t just these two. The Mirror reported in November 2005 that not only Khan, but all four London bombers had been “watched by intelligence officers a year before” – in relation to a terrorist plot against British targets being monitored by security services. Khan had been filmed with a terror suspect and spotted in conversation with an “al-Qaeda fixer”. Police sources confirmed that the other three bombers were also “being tracked”, as they were identified on a list of “100 people throughout the country feared to be Islamic fanatics.”

A large body of reports derived from western security sources about the identification and surveillance of Khan and others are reviewed in detail in my book, The London Bombings: An Independent Inquiry (pp. 56-65). I don’t have the time to reiterate the same here; but suffice it to say that extensive evidence in the public record shows that British intelligence had identified all four bombers as members of a wider network of suspected terrorists monitored by security services, who were linked to plots to blow up several potential targets in both the US and the UK, including West End nightclubs and the London Underground. The problem is that the four were not merely on the periphery of this plot; they, Khan in particular, were integral to it. Suskind’s revelations add a little detail to the information that’s already available, but the broad picture is quite clear.

For instance, Mohammed Junaid Babar, a member of al-Muhajiroun in New York who pleaded guilty to various US terrorism related charges, informed American intelligence that he personally knew Mohammed Siddique Khan. Telephone records also reportedly show that Khan was in regular phone contact with New York-based Islamists radicals (ibid., pp. 58-59).

What Suskind didn’t point out, however, is that the plot Khan was involved in, known to intelligence services, included a plan to target the London Underground. Khan was linked, for example, to a network of “over a dozen young Britons of Pakistani origin arrested in Luton in an attempt to foil an associated terrorist plot discovered on the laptop computer of Naeem Noor Khan, a captured al-Qaeda leader in Lahore, Pakistan.” The laptop contained plans going back to 2003 for “a coordinated series of attacks on the London subway system”, as well as on the financial districts of New York and Washington.

This was the same grand al-Qaeda terror scheme, encompassing potential targets in the US and UK, that the Parliamentary report concedes British police and security services were intercepting in 2003 and 2004. Senior al-Qaeda operative Abu Faraj al-Libbi was reportedly running the UK and US based cells, of which Khan and the other bombers were members, who were supposed to activate the plan. US security sources confirm that the British were involved in the surveillance operation, and were kept informed by their American counterparts. The 7/7 plot was not external to this scheme – it was part of it. If British security services failed to act on this information, the question is why?

The nail in the coffin for the government’s story, however, came about a week after the publication of the House of Commons report. British intelligence sources told BBC News that “the security services had been so concerned about him [Sidique Khan] they had planned to put him under a higher level of investigation.” In other words, they hadn’t dismissed him due to lack of evidence. On the contrary, they had ample evidence justifying plans to intensify investigation. But those plans were thwarted by senior officials: “MI5 officers assigned to investigate the lead bomber in the 7 July attacks were diverted to another anti-terrorist operation sources have now told BBC News.” This revelation – that MI5 investigators were taken of the Khan trail in spite of their urgent concerns - remains unacknowledged by any other media outlet, and flatly contradicts the assertion by Parliament’s cross-party intelligence inquiry to the effect that Khan was not considered a threat worth investigating. Why did British security services want to intensify the investigation of Khan? Did it have something to do with his direct involvement in an unfolding al-Qaeda terrorist plot with both US and UK targets? Why, despite that involvement, were the security services called off the chase?

In view of the evidence available in the public record, it’s now becoming increasingly apparent that Khan and the others in the 7/7 cell were not working in isolation, but were ranking members of a wider terrorist network actively planning multiple operations inside the UK, a network that the government has still failed to properly investigate and shut down. It’s also apparent that the decision to cease investigation of Khan and his colleagues were not justified by the evidence available to British security services at the time on the basis of their own, and American, intelligence investigations. The truth, unfortunately, is that the Myth is true: Khan’s involvement in an active terrorist plot that included a potential (soon-to-be actual) attack on the Tube network was known to the CIA, FBI, MI5 and MI6.

In this context, the actions of Britain’s security services surely warrant being characterized as one of the most drastic intelligence failures in history. What makes it worse is that instead of acknowledging the same, accepting accountability and reform, and moving on, the intelligence services – backed by an increasingly discredited government – continue to pretend that everything they did prior to 7/7 was perfectly “understandable”, to quote Home Secretary John Reid.

It is this narrative of 7/7 that is truly mythical. The stark and unsavoury reality is that inside the impenetrable bubble of intelligence operations, something went seriously wrong. But Blair and Co. would prefer us to simply throw more money at an increasingly secretive, defensive and unaccountable institution whose obvious failure is certainly not “understandable”. The urgent necessity of an independent public inquiry designed to discover precisely what put the British national security system to sleep precisely when it was most needed is beyond doubt.

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