Friday 22 July 2005

The Perfect Conspiracy: The London Bombings

by Trowbridge H. Ford

Whenever any high-profile, violent event occurs - whether it be the assassination of some important politician, an unexpected conflict, or a sudden, devastating act of terrorisim - everyone immediately wants to know its causes, key players, and consequences. The problems occur for those needing to react or those just seeking to understand because they bring to the process too much conceptual baggage they have amased along the way, and take too many short cuts in seeking solutions. Despite what counterterrorist experts claim about wanting to make what they are doing predictable - some kind of science - almost all these events are highly individualistic ones because of the specific context in which they occur, the unexpected action by some previously uninvolved party, and the most likely occurrence of some mistake or oversight along the way.

In today's world of asymetric warfare, actions come so thick and fast that we have developed abbreviations to denote them - like 9/11, 3/11 and 7/7 - as if they were as common as neighborhood dispensers of modern man's essentials - and all kinds of items - acronyms, abbreviations, tradecraft, jargon, new facts, speculation and the like - are used to describe and define them. Then all observers bring to their tasks all kinds of assumptions and biases which both shape and distort what they have been trying to understand and explain. It is apparetnly the only way we can keep from going completely mad and impotent in today's unpredictable, violent world.

One only has to look at any day's headlines to see what this approach to events produces in the way of content and understanding: "Youths Lost to Islam Became 'Suicide' Bombers in London", "9/11 Attacks Were Inside Jobs", "Dr. Kelly Killed Himself", "Mossad Pulls Off Another False Flag Operation in Gaza", "Al-Qaeda Strikes Gold Again", "House Inquiry Reconfirms Oswald JFK's Assassin", "FRU Refuses to Come Clean about 'Psyops' in Ulster", "KGB Planned to Kill
Politician in Scandinavian False Flag Move", "Mossad Had Most to Gain in Attacks of 9/11", and the like.

The trouble with such articles is that they are based upon a level of information, prejudice, and uncertainty which would not be permitted in other stories. All these incidents involved governments whose security services must be protected at all costs, so information is only
disclosed or leaked which helps promote explanations which serve their interests. The services of other governments give a wide berth to the process in order to receive the same privilege when they are in center stage though all the world's leading security services are intimately involved in all kinds of ways when anything important happens. As a result, claims of incompetence, corruption, and bad luck by officials are very much at a premium in explanations. It is the culprits who are usually guilty of oversights, manipulation, and good fortune in such accounts.

As a result, the mainstream media generally discuss such events as tragedies, surprises, and accidents while sites on the internet are prone to see them as the result of conspiracies. Actually, they are usually the result of cock-ups by authorities, plans or counterterrorist operations which have gone wrong because of blunders. Even when deadly conspiracies are plotted, they generally go astray even if they are carried out by official agencies because of some oversight, accident, or more pressing matter. In sum, the suspicion that conspiracies have occurred should be the last option that officials and their critics resort to rather than the first when such events occur.

Having followed this advice in examining the underground and bus bombings in London on July 7th, I have come to the conclusion that it is one of the best examples of a conspiracy conceived, and carried out in a long time - or, if you prefer, Britain's counterterrorists effected one of the biggest cock-ups of all times. Conspiracies and cock-ups are inversely proportional except when some plot is prevented, and the concepts can be used to calculate the performance of either the terrorists or the counterterrorists. In this case, the Leeds sleeper cell must be given total marks, and their protagonists among the authorities virtually nothing.

To understand why Britain's counterterrorists did so badly, one must go back to the end of the Cold War when MI5 aka Security Service - unlike what was happening to the FBI in the States - was given new powers, personnel, and privileges to combat the terrorists, especially the Provisional IRA, in Northern Ireland. In 1993, MI5's new T Branch was given overall control of the kingdon's counterterrorism efforts, much to the expense and chagrin of Scotland Yard's Anti-Terrorist Unit aka SO-13, and the Royal Ulster Constabulary's Special Branch. Whitehall wanted results in combating the Provos, and was not too worried about legal niceities along the way, providing that it only had to answer to the Home Secretary for its performance.

And the changes did not come a minute too soon as the PIRA was in the midst of its most deadly bombing campaign ever throughout the kingdom. Its temporary ceasefire in December 1990 after Mrs. Thatcher stepped down as Prime Minister was not followed by the expected permanent one but a renewed campaign of terror when the UK could least afford it because of its involvement in the Gulf War. On February 7, 1991, the Provos fired three mortar rounds at No. 10 Downing Street -reminiscent of how it had obliterated the Newry Police Station, and nearly killed the former PM back in the mid-1980s -setting off a wave of tit-for-tat killings between republicans and loyalists which would only end when the Provisionals declared a "complete cessation of military operations" on August 31, 1994.

During the bombing campaign, Sinn Fein and the PIRA Council were badly divided over its conduct. While SF leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were talking to MI6's Michael Oatley in the hope of establishing real peace, the Council, especially Sean Kelly, was most desirous of pressing ahead with the war. The bombing in London's Soho, Oxford Street, and the Baltic Exchange, the Warrington Gas Works, its shopping centre, the City of London's NatWest Tower, St. Ethelburga's Church in Bishopsgate, six no-warning bombs in North London, and many others seemed to be Kelly's handiwork, and little wonder that T Branch was most desirous of catching him red-handed - what could only be achieved by penetrating the PIRA Council back in Belfast.

At the same time, Special Branch officials back in Northern Ireland, especially those in the Stevens Inquiry investigating British collusion by the Army's Force Research Unit (FRU) in sectarian murders, were finally regaining control of the spiraling terror by getting the Ulster Defence Association's Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair, commander of its 'C' Company aka Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) in the Shankill Road, to resume its dirty work for it. (For more on this, see my article "Just Who Is Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington?") While UDA's intelligence chief Brian Nelson was being scapegoated for all the killings in which the FRU participated, and UDA members, especially John Gregg, who wanted to kill Sinn Fein leaders seeking a peaceful settlement were being imprisoned, Adair's assassins so attacked innocent Catholics in West Belfast that the PIRA Council had to increase its efforts to protect Catholics back home, operations at the expense of the bombing campaign on the mainland.

After five unsuccessful attempts to assassinate Adair, the UFF, RUC, and some of Stevens' people were finally able to take Kelly's measure. With a meeting of Adair's people scheduled on October 23, 1993 in his office above Frizzell's fish shop on the Shankill Road - though the personnel prudently were advised to stay away in case there were any unexpected fireworks - Kelly and Thomas Begley walked into the shop, dressed in white coats to make it appear that they were making a delivery, with a time-fused bomb, set to destroy the above office, after they had given a warning, and everyone had made their escape. Unfortunately, the bomb exploded while still in Begley's possession, killing him and nine others when the building collapsed.

The massacre, especially after Adair committed one of his own in retaliation, was a great boost to the peace process, and a big set-back for Kelly and his bombing campaign. While Kelly received nine life sentences for his blunder - something he accepted would make him be seen as a terrorist for the rest of his life - the British and Irish government soon agreed to the 'Downing Street Declaration' which established the principles for the making of a settlement, and the Provisional's ceasefire followed. It was then basically a question of making it permanent, with the PIRA decommissioning its weapons, and joining the peace process.

The only problem is that the Provisionals never followed through, and Steven, though ultimately the Met's Chief Commissioner, especially since his immediate subordinate Hugh Orde was now head of the province's new police force, the PSNI, never lost sight of it - particularly now that Kelly and Adair had both been released from prison under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
According to Sir John, Kelly was constantly looking for the right opportunity to resume his paramilitary career, especially his bombings. "With the IRA ceasefire," Mark Urban wrote in UK Eyes Alpha, "some senior policeman began to worry that the Security Service would now be searxching for new territories to conquer." (p. 281) Stevens was dedicated to making sure that it did not happen.

Consequently, while a series of operations were occurring to make the Provisionals finally decommission their heavy weapons and come to the peace table - the alleged PIRA spying ring at Stormont Castle after provincial government had finally been restored, their alleged raid on the files at the Castlereagh police headquarters in East Belfast on St. Patrick's Day, 2002, and the Northern Bank raid around Christmas, 2004 - British police, especially the Met, made sure that MI5's efforts in countering international terrorism, G Branch's responsibility, always had a domestic, hopefully Ulster, component.

When British subjects Asif Hanif and Omar Khan Sharif went to the Occupied Territories in late 2003, and blew themselves up in Mike's Bar in Tel Aviv, killing and wounding several Israelis, Stevens and other senior policemen were immediately reminded of what Kelly and Begley had accomplised in Frizzell's fish shop a decade before, and worried about what this indicated for the future, particularly in light of the domestic feedback the war on terror was creating. This was after T Branch had made a complete cock-up out of what psychopath Kamel Bourgoss, an asylum seeker from Algeria, was attempting in his Manchester flat - what it claimed was a laboratory site of a ricin-based WMD attack but turned out to be, after a massive roundup of would-be terrorists, only the murder site of Special Branch detective Stephen Oake.

To get G Branch interested in the domestic dimension of its pursuits, T Branch, thanks to apparent input from the Met, then tried to make out that Muslims youths at the PC UK Internet Cafe in Crawley were part of an international conspiracy which was circling the world (Operation Crevis). The plot concerned the "Portland Seven", especially Haroon Rashid Aswat, wanting to go to Pakistan so that they could make contact with Al-Qaeda in order to fight for it in Afghanistan; the buying of a large amount of fertilizer which could be made into bombs, and the storing of it near Heathrow by alleged Canadian terrorist Mohammad Monim Khajawa; the recuitment of Muslim youth, and then sending them to Afghanistan for terrorist training by fiery Muslim radical Abu Qatada, close associate of his counterpart in Spain, Abu Dahdah; and many of the youth who frequented the Crawley cafe. This started in November 2003, just after Jeffrey Leon Battle had been sentenced in Portland to 18 years in prison for trying to fight for foreign terrorists. (For more on this, see my article "War on Terror Sucks More Still" in the Trowbridge Archive.)

The plot turned out to be a utter fiasco, given the fact that it just diverted international counterterrorists away from what Al-Qaeda was plotting in Madrid on March 11, 2004. Still, G Branch, especially agent 'Gould', tried to reclaim something from it by getting the youths - Jawad Akbar, Omar Khjam, Anthony Garcia, and several others - to flee to Pakistam as if they were guilty of something. Stevens joined the call by shouting out to all who would listen that a domestic terrorist attack was not a question of if but when. The FBI did what it could by trying to connect Portland lawyer Brandon Mayfield to 3/11. Unfortunately for G Branch, the Met, and the Bureau, none of it worked, as the youths stayed put and avoided indictments, as did Khajawa and Mayfield.

The trouble with this domestic overkill over the issue of domestic, Muslim terrorism was the terrible blowback it created. Some Muslim youths became convinced that the security authorities were dedicated to proving, one way or another, that they were domestic terrorists. This gave them a calling that they had never had before - what became ever more attractive as the illegitimate invasion of Iraq turned into a civil war which could promote the expelling of the West from the Middle East. Stevens' shouts became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In this context, Mohammad Sidique Khan, a friend of one of the Luton youths arrested during Operation Crevis, put togther a conspiracy which would give the Met Commissioner and his colleagues all they bargained for, and more. Khan, after recruiting Shehzad Tanweer, Hasib Hussain, and Germaine Lindsay to join the operation, put together a plan which would supply them with everything they needed for a suicide mission while betraying nothing which would elicit any suspicion of them or it. Their families even had no idea as to what they were up to, as they never discussed anything with them, or conducted any necessary acts anywhere near them. They observed a tradecraft which the Agency and SIS have rarely, if ever, emulated. It was something the MOSSAD would be proud of.

After visits to Israel and Pakistan to determine just how bad the plight of Muslims is, and the apparent merits of such a plot, Khan's group decided upon a London attack while a G8 meeting was taking place in Edinburgh. The timing seemed ideal because the Joint Terrorist Analysis Center had just agreed to reducing the threat level of terrorism from "severe" to "substantial", though it added, to please the just-retired Met Commissioner apparently, that the threat of a domestic terrorist attack was growing because of the occupation of Iraq.

It assumed that domestic Muslim terrorists, some 200 according to Stevens, still did not have the means of carrying out their designs. To make sure of this, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Peter Hain ordered on June 20th the reimprisonment of Kelly because of his alleged resumption of terrorist activities, thanks to advice provided by Stevens' closest police associate, PSNI Commissioner Orde, though no details were given to justify the action. Counter terrorist officials were apparently convinced that Kelly was the most likely supplier of what potential Muslim terrorists needed, and with him being back in prison, it would not happen.

7/11 proved them totally wrong. The four suicide bombers followed a most carefully thought-out plan down to the last detail. Setting out from home as if they only intended to spend the day in the capital - what required no tearful, revealing good-byes - they then joined up at Luton where they picked up their backpack bombs which had probably been put together in a car-rental vehicle which they duly paid the parking fee for before embarking. They wanted to make sure that no possible surveillance would spot any irregularity, and inspect it. They bought return tickets in order to prevent similar suspicion and inquiries.

Once they reached London - at the lowest state of alert in a long time, thanks to the G8 summit, a terror alert exercise in the underground which would inconvenience the least amount of people, and the counterterrorists most concerned about keeping Israeli Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informed of rather than the general public - the suicide bombers had a cakewalk in the capital. The exercise, unlike the ones NORAD was conducting during the 9/11 attacks to steal a march on the would-be highjackers, was just a coincidence.

The simultaneous explosions in the underground made up for the fact that not more people were killed and injured. Under the circumstances, 55 persons killed would be almost as effective as killing 3,000. And they did not shout Muslim oaths when they set off the bombs only to embarrass counterterrorist officials more when their true identities were discovered at the site because of the papers and plastic they carried with them - what are the least likely items destroyed in explosions. The later blast on the bus, intended just to spread more panic, proved successful, though Germaine Lindsay may have been rushed into setting it off prematurely for fear that he was being discovered, and stopped. His was apparently intended for the rescue teams making their way to the victims at King's Cross.

When the full extent of the conspiracy was revealed, all the counterterrorists could do was to plead surprise, and grab for straws - try to hook up an Egyptian biochemist who returned to Cairo as the plot's mastermind, see that Pakistani authorities finally arrested Haroon Rashid Aswat in the hope that he could be fitted out for the role, and now, it seems, re-stage underground attacks at Shepherd's Bush, Warren Street, and Oval Stations, and on a No. 26 bus at Hackney Road in minute miniature to keep the plan of making the best out of a terrible situation going. In sum, the answer to a dreadful conspiracy by your worst enemies is a most devious one of your own.