Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Smoke and Mirrors

Illusions and sleight-of-hand on a mid-summer’s morning.
I first about heard it on the radio when the alarm clock went off.

‘Evil terrorist plot foiled.’ ‘Terrorist attack imminent.’ Critical Alert. Agitation. Excitement. News anchors sounding solemn. Abandoning civil liberties to save them. Mass detentions. Men with guns at airports. WMD in the tampax. Saving the West from the deadly twin spectres of spectacle cases and baby food. And all that jazz.

Performance theatre at its finest, deserving of awards all round, followed by an extravagant cream tea at the parish hall with lashings of strawberry jam and generous helpings of Auntie Marjorie’s Victoria sponge.

Smoke and mirrors

Then again, one cannot know that for sure?

Wouldn’t a propagandist have managed to come up with something a little more inspired? Inventive? Original?

Given the situation, such things, such grandiose plans are not utterly remarkable. After all, any number of grandiose plans involving planes, bombs and civilians as ingredients are not only made but also implemented with monotonous regularity. And by thoroughly respectable members of society no less: certain heads of state routinely order such plans implemented by the truckload and who could be more respectable than they? It’s true that their well-refined recipe calls for a slightly different combination of the ingredients – they prefer to fill the planes up with bombs, take them up reasonably high and then drop the bombs on the civilians from a height, rather than just combining all three at once. And currently they express a preference for seasonings like white phosphorus, depleted uranium, cluster bombs and such. It must be a style thing. Why the one is deemed so acceptable and the other so appalling.

But where such recipes exist, so too will innovation. Regrettably, therefore, it would be naïve to say that the whole thing is prima facie impossible. Invented from whole-cloth. The fervid nightmare of a fevered brain. The sort of thing that nobody would ever do. It isn’t. Things just like it happen every day.

Smoke and mirrors.

Then there are the intermediate options, the dim and murky possibilities that lie between those two. There may have been some people who did have grandiose plans (along with a lack of discretion) whose ‘discovery’ was saved for an opportune moment and who knows? Perhaps for public consumption, their plans were made a little more grandiose. Elaborated on some. They provided the outline: others fleshed it out.

There was Reid – seemed like it was just the day before that he was describing various human rights as ‘made for another age.’

Another age. Presumably not this age of
smoke and mirrors.

Or perhaps it was just the U.S. dog wagging the U.K. tail.

I’ve had my doubts about that one, I must confess. Some of the colonies – like this one in fact – do have a kind of limited Home Rule and it did seem very well-timed, not to mention well-tailored for indigeneous consumption. There’s nothing like long queues for bringing out a kind of enculturated compliant stoicism. But perhaps my doubts are ill-founded.

Q: What does theoretical parsimony look like in the absence of credibility?

A: Smoke and mirrors

Perhaps (Probably? Certainly? I suspect the latter) there was someone who was tortured. The U.K. is a part of that extensive spiderweb of rendition and torture: presumably it’s good for something. And there are a lot of names there. Someone (some ones?) hurt beyond the edge of endurance, saying anything at all to make the pain stop? (It’s true that evidence based on torture is now supposed to be inadmissable, but how would one know whether or not it was used?)

Smoke and mirrors

And doubtless a whole myriad more of intermediate possibilities, blurrings, smudges, shades all of which strongly resemble
smoke and mirrors.

Of this I am told we may all be sure: that it has nothing at all to do with foreign policy whatsoever. Which comes as a huge relief, because if it did have anything to do with foreign policy then there really might be widespread scepticism. After all as Max Hastings has observed, “one could nowadays fit into an old-fashioned telephone box those who believe anything Bush or Tony Blair says about foreign policy.” He was writing about the U.K. but he seems to have confused an ‘old-fashioned telephone box’ for the Tardis. It’s an easily made mistake in this place of
smoke and mirrors.


Blogger DuctapeFatwa said...

Props to catnip for this one:

Homegrown Islamic Fascists

British authorities claim to have thwarted a "homegrown" plot wherein suicide bombers were to simultaneously destroy 10 American airliners en route to the United States.

Although British residents, those arrested appeared to be "of Pakistani origin," and Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman claimed that "Pakistan played a very important role in uncovering and breaking this international terrorist network."

President Bush immediately opined that the foiled plot was a "stark reminder that this nation [America] is at war with Islamic fascists."

Islamic fascists?

Who are they?

Well, according to Bush, they are terrorists who "try to spread their jihadist message; a message I call – it's totalitarian in nature, Islamic radicalism – Islamic fascism; they try to spread it, as well, by taking the attack to those of us who love freedom."

If the Pakistani-Brits had been successful, the surviving relatives of the victims could rest assured that Bush's refusal to prevent or halt Israel's war of aggression against Lebanon and the murder by the Israelis of a thousand or so Lebanese civilians with American-supplied weapons had absolutely nothing to do with the Pakistani-Brit plot.

Nor will the Israelis launching a war of aggression against Syria or "taking out" Iran's nuclear programs (all verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency to be for peaceful purposes) and the murder of thousands of Syrian and Iranian civilians with American-supplied weapons have anything to do with any future attempts by "Islamic fascists" to retaliate against Americans.

Of course not.

You see, the Likudniks believe anyone "supporting" the Lebanese resisting Israel's most recent war of aggression are also "Islamic fascists," and therefore the Israelis would be entirely justified in destroying Lebanese, Syrian, and Iranian infrastructure and murdering thousands of Lebanese, Syrian, and Iranian civilians – all of them happy to die so that Americans can keep on loving freedom.

Of course.

But perhaps the Pakistani-Brits thought they might "shape the will" of a few members of Congress, get them to quit supporting American-Israeli wars of aggression against Islam, by at least threatening to blow American airliners out of the sky in retaliation.

However, despite the panic engendered on both sides of the Atlantic, this Pakistani-Brit "homegrown" plot appears to be no better planned, funded, or organized than other terrorist plots recently "thwarted" in Florida and Britain.

According to the Associated Press, Michael Chertoff, head American terrorist-plot-thwarter, said the terrorists planned to use liquid explosives, disguised as beverages, and to set them off with "detonators" disguised as electronic devices, such as iPods.

To do that, the Pakistani-Brits would first have to smuggle the three components of an improvised explosive device – the explosive materials, the detonator, and the trigger – past the passenger-gropers and their X-ray machines.

Most explosives – especially liquids – are relatively insensitive and will not detonate themselves.

A typical IED detonator consists of a pellet of very sensitive high explosive with an embedded, highly resistive bridge wire.

The third IED component, the trigger, supplies on command a high-voltage pulse to the bridge wire, "blowing" it, causing the enclosing high-explosive pellet to detonate.

If the high-explosive liquid is well contained and in direct physical contact with the detonating pellet, the supersonic shock wave created by the detonator will propagate through the liquid, detonating it as well.

Of course, to get the three IED components past the gropers and X-ray screeners, the Pakistani-Brits need to have (a) explosives that don't look like explosives, (b) a detonator that doesn't look like a detonator, and (c) a trigger that doesn't look like a trigger.

Acquiring or manufacturing dozens of small, reliable detonators that don't look like detonators might be difficult.

And once smuggled past, the principal problem for the self-immolating disciple of Mussolini is making sure the detonator that doesn't look like a detonator is in intimate contact with the well-confined liquid explosive.

So, if the Pakistani-Brit plot was real, we should expect to learn, soon, that the Pakistani-Brits had an explosives test facility where each of the 10 potential self-immolators practiced assembling liquid-explosive IEDs and detonating them on command without accidentally killing themselves.

Real or not, henceforth, you will be allowed to take onboard the aircraft most of the clothes you're wearing and your passport, but not much else.

Everything else – including any already assembled IEDs – will have to go in the cargo hold.

By the way; it's more than possible that TWA Flight 800 was brought down by an already assembled liquid-explosive IED in its cargo hold.


8/16/2006 5:52 am  
Blogger dove said...

If (and it is a big 'if' even though the willingness of Bush, Blair et al to engage in comparable behaviour mean it can't simply be dismissed as by definition absurd) the quite possibly non-existent 'plot' existed then, it does not sound likely -- reading between the lines of what organisations like the London Met have released about it -- to have been a successful plot by any stretch of the imagination.

The problem with reading what organisations like the London Met et al say (and reading between the lines for that matter) is that they are incredible sources. Whatever miniscule shred of credibility (invisible to my eye) the London Met may have retained after shooting Charles de Menezes as he sat there on the Tube and attempting to cover it up, they cheerfully flung to the four winds at Forest Gate. There's no point in attaching any kind of truth value to their words: sometimes they'll lie, sometimes they'll merely mislead, sometimes they may even tell a truth -- if they consistently lied it would be preferable because then at least one would know one thing that wasn't true.

And the news coming from official sources in Pakistan is about as reliable, I suspect.

Though I may have been premature in accusing Hastings of confusing telephone boxes and the Tardis.

8/16/2006 8:38 am  
Blogger catnip said...

The Real Threat We Face in Britain Is Blair.

8/18/2006 6:55 am  
Blogger dove said...

That Pilger article is excellent --though it's not just Blair I'd blame: there are a bunch of cabinet and ex-cabinet members there -- Reid, Blunkett, Brown, Prescott, Hewitt, Hodgkinson to name but a few -- who are culpable to a similar degree. And any sitting MP who hasn't involved themselves in efforts to displace Blair and his cronies warrants contempt. It strikes me as ironic in many ways that the House of Lords has not been quite as craven as the House of Commons.

"Go into Muslim areas and you will be struck by a fear reminiscent of the anti-Semitic nightmare of the Jews in the 1930s, and by an anger generated almost entirely by "a perceived double standard in the foreign policy of Western governments," as the Home Office admits."

Yes. One has to love that disingenuous use of the word 'perceived.' And the Home Office have, of course, been instrumental in creating that climate of fear referenced by Pilger through their ceaseless attacks on human rights within the U.K.

8/18/2006 7:57 am  
Anonymous Arcturus said...

& on that disingenuouis "percption" --as readily denied as acknowledged --hangs the legacy that Bush, Blair et al have merely amplified & put to their own purposes. A legacy they inherited & will pass down to the next crew of western leaders, press, & pundits. Alegacy that once in a great while summons up a tut-tut at double-standards before carrying on enjoying enjoying its fruit.

8/18/2006 10:15 pm  

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