British Terror Plot: More Froth Than Ale?

Craig Murray is the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, who is perhaps most renowned for having been removed from his post in 2004 “after he openly criticized the British and U.S. governments for supporting human rights abuses under the Uzbek regime.� Murray is now a self-described “writer and broadcaster� and hosts a weblog, on which he has raised significant doubts about the seriousness of the British terror plot that was recently foiled. Here, in part, is what he had to say earlier this week:

The UK Terror plot: what’s really going on?

None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn’t be a plane bomber for quite some time.

In the absence of bombs and airline tickets, and in many cases passports, it could be pretty difficult to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt that individuals intended to go through with suicide bombings, whatever rash stuff they may have bragged in internet chat rooms.

What is more, many of those arrested had been under surveillance for over a year – like thousands of other British Muslims. And not just Muslims. Like me. Nothing from that surveillance had indicated the need for early arrests.

Then an interrogation in Pakistan revealed the details of this amazing plot to blow up multiple planes – which, rather extraordinarily, had not turned up in a year of surveillance. Of course, the interrogators of the Pakistani dictator have their ways of making people sing like canaries. As I witnessed in Uzbekistan, you can get the most extraordinary information this way. Trouble is it always tends to give the interrogators all they might want, and more, in a desperate effort to stop or avert torture. What it doesn’t give is the truth.

The gentleman being “interrogated” had fled the UK after being wanted for questioning over the murder of his uncle some years ago. That might be felt to cast some doubt on his reliability. It might also be felt that factors other than political ones might be at play within these relationships. Much is also being made of large transfers of money outside the formal economy. Not in fact too unusual in the British Muslim community, but if this activity is criminal, there are many possibilities that have nothing to do with terrorism.

We then have the extraordinary question of Bush and Blair discussing the possible arrests over the weekend. Why? I think the answer to that is plain. Both in desperate domestic political trouble, they longed for “Another 9/11”. The intelligence from Pakistan, however dodgy, gave them a new 9/11 they could sell to the media. The media has bought, wholesale, all the rubbish they have been shovelled….

In all of this, the one thing of which I am certain is that the timing is deeply political. This is more propaganda than plot. Of the over one thousand British Muslims arrested under anti-terrorist legislation, only twelve per cent are ever charged with anything. That is simply harrassment of Muslims on an appalling scale. Of those charged, 80% are acquitted. Most of the very few – just over two per cent of arrests – who are convicted, are not convicted of anything to do terrorism, but of some minor offence the Police happened upon while trawling through the wreck of the lives they had shattered.

Be sceptical. Be very, very sceptical. [full text]

Murray posted a follow-up to this piece on his weblog today. Here is a brief excerpt:

Hitting a nerve

After eight days of detention, nobody has been charged with any crime. For there to be no clear evidence yet on something that was “imminent” and “Mass murder on an unbelievable scale” is, to say the least, rather peculiar. The 24th person, who was arrested amid much fanfare yesterday, has been quietly released without charge today. Breaking news, another “suspect” has just been released too.

The drip, drip of information to the media from the security services has rather dried-up. The last item of any significance was that they had found a handgun and a rifle – neither of which could have been in any use in the alleged plot. If you were smuggling undetectable liquid explosive onto a plane, you would be unlikely to give the game away by tucking a rifle into your hand baggage.

As with the murder some years ago of the uncle of the suspect held in Pakistan, it remains a possibility that there could be some criminal activity here involving a few of the suspects, which is not terrorist linked.

As the Police immediately told the press about the guns, it is a reasonable deduction that it remains true that they still have found no bombs or detonators, or they would have told us, particularly as they haven’t charged anyone yet. They must be getting pretty desperate to announce some actual evidence by now. [full text]

However speculative, both articles are worth reading in full and cast doubt on the actual severity and imminence of the threat posed by these alleged terrorists. If Murray’s suspicions are borne out, it will give the public yet another reason to lose faith and trust in their leaders for playing politics with the threat of terrorism. No good can ultimately come of such, and, indeed—like the fable of The Boy Who Cried Wolf—it can only make us less vigilant and safe at a time we can ill afford it.

(Note: Thanks to Karen Johnston for alerting me to Murray’s work.)