Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Aaro Ponders the Thunderpants* Bomber

I'm not ashamed as our man clearly thinks I should be. "You know who you are." He writes, darkly. Yes, I know who I am.

The trouble is that a pants bomb bringing down an airliner appears to be perfectly feasible. In late August of this year, strangely under-reported here (perhaps because of the holidays), a “repentant” al-Qaeda man managed to arrange a meeting with the Saudi anti-terrorist chief, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef in Jeddah. The former terrorist, Abdullah al-Asiri, successfully passed through security checks, including airline-style metal detectors, and spent more than a day with the Prince’s security men, before gaining an audience. Then, when in bin Nayef’s presence, al-Asiri detonated around a pound of high explosives hidden in his rectum, triggering the blast with a mobile phone signal.

I wonder what Aaro's sources were here. The most complete story I could find was on Saudi-US-relations.org.

The king asked Prince Muhammad why was the terrorist allowed in without proper checks, to which the prince replied, “It was a mistake.”

Aaro: bomber so cunning he sneaked through security. Prince: it was a cock-up.

"The wanted criminal exploded himself during security inspection," the royal court said, adding that the prince escaped the assassination attempt with minor injuries. The bomb had been fixed to his body and that was triggered when the terrorist received a call from outside, according to Al-Arabiya news channel.

"Nobody else suffered any injuries," the royal court said. The prince later left the hospital after undergoing necessary tests and treatment.

Note that Aaro says the bomber triggered it; that source says it was someone outside. (I'm inclined to go with DA here: if the assassin had to go through so much security which would take an unpredictable amount of time, how would his accomplice/controller know when to call?) I'm no expert in anal, er, stuffing, but a pound of materiel sounds like quite a lot (assuming Aaro is right, and since it exploded, I don't think anyone can be certain). So this may have been as big as a bomb hidden in a rectum can be, and it hurt no one but the bomber. It's a bit of a leap to assume that a similar device can bring down a plane, isn't it? Maybe as DA suggests, the bomb is detonated "at altitude and against the cabin wall", but then maybe not.

The whole article is really just the usual reasons to be scared. I'm not sure what he calls a "truly murderous ideology" - Islam? Islamism? terrorism? Bombing weddings is pretty murderous too.

It's a lazy, even complacent, ironically enough, article, with lazy, complacent mistakes.

There are no undiscriminating suicide bombers among the world’s many environmental activists, or among the Iranian opposition.

Does he think the Iranian opposition are secularists, or is this leading example of doublethink this century? Iran has suffered suicide bombs which clearly targeted the government. Or are suicide bombers who hate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard not pernicious? I suppose since that bomber wasn't officially with the opposition (he was probably part of a Sunni group; the Iranian resistance are Shi'ites, like the government) and because his target was the armed forces, you could say the bomber wasn't indiscriminate. But if you buy that, you also have to allow that hijacking a plane and flying it into the Pentagon isn't discriminate either.

It really is an exaggerated fuss. And here are some figures. And here is a real security expert: Bruce Schneier.

The way we live is open enough to make terrorists rare; we are observant enough to prevent most of the terrorist plots that exist, and indomitable enough to survive the even fewer terrorist plots that actually succeed. We don't need to pretend otherwise.

Like flies to shit, the comments are really ugly.

It wouldn't make any difference, have you been through Heathrow lately and seen who is on the security & Immigration desks.
I would like to know, who is guarding the guards???

148 people recommended the above. 227 recommended:

I don't like the BNP but if they are the only party willing to speak out against this growing problem then how can you ask British people not to vote for them?

Er, David, I think he called you "the BNP." I'd be offended by that, myself. Last word to Kevin Drum:

The relentless desire of conservatives to do al-Qaeda's PR for them never ceases to amaze me.

* Thanks to Twitter. The 'undabomber' is also a good name.


Blogger ejh said...

Another question might be:

"David, in eight years since 9/11, which must have been an extraordinary inspiration to anybody who wanted to blow themselves up and take a plane with them, how many people have actually suceeded in doing so?"

12/30/2009 07:05:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

The more interesting story is about the so called security. How much easier can you have it. The guy's father, a pretty senior banker, tells you that he's worried about his son, provides itineraries. And they do what, they let him board a plane, keep his visa and don't even bother to warn Amsterdam so they can check him for liquid explosives. Impressive stuff.

Its a race to the bottom between Al-Quaeda and the count-intel guys.

12/30/2009 09:06:00 PM  
Blogger flyingrodent said...

I'm no expert in anal, er, stuffing

Methinks the lady etc.

No doubt there's some joker somewhere who didn't believe that various loony Islamic terrorist groups would like to blow up a few planes. I suspect Aaro's apocalyptic tone comes from his difficulty distinguishing between "people refusing to be panicked into yet another bout of insane military adventurism" and "People refusing to look Islamist horrorism and edificide in its baleful eye".

In other words, it's an Aaro column about terrorism, with all the usual bells and whistles.

12/30/2009 09:14:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

I think its time to just face the fact that Yemenite and Saudis make lousy terrorists. They suck. The best terrorists are clearly Iranian, Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese. These guys can make good bombers, can source decent detonators and know how to pierce security so as to smuggle a bomb on board, waiting for the most effective moment. Professionals. Yet somehow we all survived.

Saudis and Yemenites, and all those attracted to their causes, are showboats and incompetents. Even the ones who are apparently engineering grads can't build a proper bomb. You're best off ignoring them, as otherwise you're only going to encourage them to further tantrums. Yet how do we respond? Pathetic, truly we are living in fallen times.

12/30/2009 09:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not even convinced that the tribal insurgency in Yemen is AQ - from the news clips, it looks more like something out of Mad Max.

I'm even less convinced by these wingnut groups that are getting huge media play by styling themselves "AQ In Iraq", "AQ In North Africa" or what have you. As Jeff Huber says, it's a bit like a garage band in Milwaukee calling itself "The Beatles In Wisconsin".

12/30/2009 10:40:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

i think you'll find that all opposition to the ahmedinejad govt comes from iranian bus drivers-or so the hp sauce approved version of things goes-ergo any opposition cannot contain suicide bombers even if there have been suicide bombs directed at the iranian govt.

12/31/2009 10:46:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

also-to add-that "greens and iran" point is part of the standard decent narrative in politics and world affairs where political movements that decents disapprove of are rendered invalid in their entirety if they happen to attract a couple of nutters that decents also don't approve of. Thus you were not allowed to march against the gaza onslaught last year because some hamas supporters also marched. The logic doesn't work the other way, of course-moussavi is given a free pass because the people demonstrating in iran aren't his supporters but rather democrats, or something.

12/31/2009 10:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It is worth recalling, too, that between the plot and the trial there were plenty of folk willing to be very sceptical about whether there had ever been any plot at all. You know who you are."

Perhaps he means the jury in the first trial of the bomb plot, who did not find any of the defendants guilty of conspiring to target aircraft. A later jury reached an Aaro approved verdict.


12/31/2009 01:10:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

splinteredsunrise - I'm not even sure that those groups did actually style themselves AQ - or at least that doing so was their own idea originally, rather than that of the press and propagandists. Publicity for them - under the AQ banner - is also publicity for the campaign previously known as the GWOT.

Anon - yes, imagine being 'willing to be sceptical' (instead of suppressing scepticism by an effort of will?) about that.

Wallowing in such wanton scepticism is as ridiculous as imagining that Dhiren Bharot, the 'doodle bomber', was an idiotic fantasist who conveniently pleaded guilty to avoid being sent to Gitmo, or that Al Megrahi didn't do Lockerbie, or that last May's foiled plot in NY was set up by the FBI, etc, etc.

Obviously the cypher Aaronovitch is unreachable by any such ideas, but Nick C can see how this kind of thing works, in the case of Colin Stagg: "what all those off-the-record briefings produced was a police-approved Stagg hunt led by a pack of C-list celebs and thoughtless hacks".

But Nick seemed not to register the similarities between that and, say, the astonishment of unnamed sources at the outcome of the first liquid explosives trial (reported, of course, in advance of the prosecution's second bite at the cherry).

Bonus link: Glenn Greenwald - The Joys of Airstrikes and Anonymity

12/31/2009 03:12:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Well the first public use of the name Al-Quaeda that I'm aware of was in the trial for the first Twin Towers bombing. The source was a fantasist/liar, and if I'm remembering correctly may have been due to a misunderstanding by the FBI anyway (all their translators at the time were Maronites, probably still are). And in Afghanistan they were a runty little group who couldn't get no respect from the big boys.

Anyway my new years resolution is to try and deflate the brand of Al-Quaeda. I mean they're just shit.
Explosives: Al-Queada vs IRA? No bloody contest.
Martial expertise: Hezbolla vs Al-Quaeda? Uh-huh (Yeah I know Hezbollah aren't terrorists, but...).
General bad guy evilness: Abu Nidal vs Al-Quaeda. Close, but Abu Nidal was more consistent and delivered.
Brand: PLFP vs Al-Quaeda. Leila Khaled vs a guy in a beard? I mean come on.
Ruthlessness: Al-Quaeda vs Chechneyans. I'm probably going to go with the Chechneyans there.

1/01/2010 03:40:00 AM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

to try and deflate the Al-Qaeda brand

Well, 'good luck with that one' (in both senses).

Any opinion on the signficance of Robin Cook's assertion that the term originally referred to a database of CIA-run Mujahadeen? I assume his long experience as F Sec gives some authority to the assertion itself, but I'm not sure what to make of it, if anything.

1/01/2010 09:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Wrestling Dick said...

Any opinion on the signficance of Robin Cook's assertion that the term originally referred to a database of CIA-run Mujahadeen?
It's not only Robin Cook's assertion.
If I recall rightly it was also asserted by some beardwearing veteran of the Afghan Arab contingent interviewed on one of Adam Curtis's thingys.The Power of Nightmares?Anyway,he said that it was just a list of who was sent where after leaving the Peshawar Mujahid Guesthouse.Because parents of guys who went to Aghanistan to fight the Soviets would be asking questions,like,where is my son,is he dead?And the people running the holy war felt kinda bad cause they didn't know.So they set up this database.

1/02/2010 07:35:00 AM  
Anonymous skidmarx said...

I did a performance for the UCL Dance Society's annual show fifteen years ago with Hawkwind's Hassan i Sabha as the background music, so I'm worried this is all my fault.

1/02/2010 12:10:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Urban Guerilla...Angels of Death... bad 'uns, Hawkwind.

1/02/2010 01:32:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

Well, assuming that the term's origin can be considered settled, the question is how exactly did it go from being the CIA's term for a database to purportedly naming a militant Islamist organisation?

Or, when convenient, not an organisation but something less tangible. To quote Ian "WW2 was nothing compared to this" Blair: "Al Qaeda is not an organization. Al Qaeda is a way of working ... but this ['7/7'] has the hallmark of that approach." (Fox link - I can't easily find UK reports though I seem to remember the Graun/Indy/Times reported it at the time.)

Note the intensely relaxed attitude to the application of the term 'hallmark', quite common among GWOT-bags like Blair, Bullying-Manner etc. That's 'hallmark' as in: 'glistering is the hallmark of silver'.

(In other GWOT news: Cressida Dick gets a medal)

1/02/2010 01:55:00 PM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

The worst thing about that Ingrams link is the story about Chirac and Bush. The mind Gog and Magogles.

1/02/2010 03:34:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

Yes. Before I first heard about that one I'd always dimly thought G & M were a pair of giants from British folklore, because for unfathomable reasons, they were (a) depicted, (b) in oakwreathed and becudgelled guise, on a Children's Map of London I had as a, er, child. Scrolls beneath each bore the legends: The Great Gog and The Great Magog. Wtf was that all about then?

And, you may ask, why do I mention it? Well, the map also featured a poem about which all I can remember is that it mentioned Kew, and said of the Thames: 'down he comes with the mud in his hands and plasters it over the Maplin sands'.

Since the quote seems Google-proof I thought the challenge to name poem and author would be (a) non-trivial, and more importantly, (b) potentially useful to me, as a belated festive quiz.

I have a couple of ideas as to authorship but I'd hate to spoil all that seasonal jollity. Double points if you can establish to my satisfaction that you had the same map.

1/02/2010 08:03:00 PM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

Not Google-proof. Kipling.

1/02/2010 09:15:00 PM  
Blogger Sangiovese Fellow said...

I didn't have the same map Tim, but the G & M names rang bells for me from British mythology too, and a bit of checking through arcane sources from my less rationalist youth unearthed some references to the eccentric late career and post-retirement work of the archaeologist Tom Lethbridge in this area. Lethbridge claimed to have found chalk figures of the legendary giants Gog and Gogmagog under the turf of Wandlebury Camp, an Iron Age hilltop fort dating from about 400 BC; they were apparently akin to the Cerne Abbas Giant and the Berkshire White Horse in being cut into the hillside. Here's Colin Wilson on the supporting mythology: "Significantly the range of hills that includes Wandlebury is called the Gogmagog hills. Magog was a legendary giant, and his story is told in 'History of the Kings of Britain' by Geoffrey of Monmouth, a bishop who died in 1155. Geoffrey's 'History'... begins by explaining how, when the Trojan War came to an end... [a] Trojan warrior named Brutus came to an island in the western ocean, 'twixt Gaul and Ireland', and named it after himself - Britain. The island was shared out among his companions, among whom was one called Corineus. He became lord of the peninsula that forms the westernmost tip of Britain, which became known as Corinea, or Cornwall. Cornwall was peopled with giants, and the largest and fiercest was Goemagot, or Gogmagog, who was twelve cubits tall (about eighteen feet). All the giants were killed in a great battle, and Gogmagog was slain by Corineus, who hurled him from a clifftop onto the rocks below. Later tradition turns Gogmagog into two giants, Gog and Magog, who were brought to London, and forced to work as porters at the royal palace. Their effigies can still be seen outside the Guildhall. And the giant figures of Gog and Magog were once carved into the turf at Plymouth Hoe - between Devon and Cornwall - although they vanished in the time of Queen Elizabeth I." Colin Wilson, "Mysteries", Granada Publishing, 1983, p.79. So if Wilson can be trusted on this, the Guildhall connection might explain the link to London and your map. Whether any of this mythology is linked to Biblical sources and thus to Bush's alleged whacko views impacting US foreign policy, of course, is another matter entirely.

1/02/2010 10:08:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

Why couldn't I find it then? I did think it rather odd. Maybe a typo or summat.

Kipling was one possibility I had in mind, presumably because I half-remembered it. The other for reasons I cannot articulate was De la Mare.

The map only quoted it up to 'Maplin Sands' and was very much the better for it.

Anyway hijack over, well done GG you get 687 points for that, but I will subtract 19 for using Google.

1/02/2010 10:13:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

Sorry SF, missed yours while answering GG's.

Interesting, though I have little to add save that I'd be pretty confident that there is some connection between the two pairs of names - one has surely been changed to fit with the other somewhere along the line. Coincidence just seems too unlikely.

On an Aaronovitch-relevant note, it's interesting how unobjectionable that last statement seems in this context. If a historical hypothesis positing recent covert action (or 'conspiracy theory') were in the offing, I would never make such an inference.

1/02/2010 10:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maplin Sands? What is the *REAL* reason behind the well documented Tory obsession with building a vast concrete hieroglyph for strange machines there?

I think I see the PATTERN...

1/02/2010 11:48:00 PM  
Anonymous magistra said...

Gog and Magog appear in the Bible in Ezekiel 38-39 and Revelation 20 and have been pretty standard parts of attempts to produce apocalyptic accounts of the 'end times' ever since. But while Bush may believe that kind of millennialism, I'd be surprised if it has any effect on Blair. Catholicism is quite strongly against millenial thought and Blair is also at least nominally in favour of institutions such as the EU, United Nations and a Palestinian state that millenarians tend to regard as the forerunners to Antichrist. Indeed Tony Blair used occasionally to be proposed as the Antichrist.

1/03/2010 08:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Tony Blair used occasionally to be proposed as the Antichrist

He couldn't even get that gig?

1/03/2010 11:21:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Berlusconi wouldn't give it up.

1/03/2010 12:03:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

Back on topic, aside from the usual faith-based framing of issues (feasible = prevalent, Taleban run = failed state, whereas 'mired in war' doesn't, etc), I'd pick Aaro up on

"The US no-fly list has about 4,000 names on it, and even that number requires a fair bit of administration, as those names have to be checked off every passenger list bound for the US. Most of us have been on delayed flights while this list is being scrutinised. The US Government’s TIDE 'watch list' that Abdulmuttalab was on comprises more than half a million names. Any substantial movement towards including these people on a no-fly list would, surely, lead to bureaucratic paralysis."

Like the banks' since-repudiated claim that penalty charges are compensation for manual tasks, this seems to deny the existence of those arcane things known in the trade as 'databases' and 'software'.

I think airlines have by now abandoned the card-index, the filing cabinet and the scurrying clerk as their main method of information-processing. The idea that there is a vast draughty hall somewhere in the Heathrow complex, filled with rank upon rank of hunched, quill-scribbling Cratchits is a beguiling one, but a bit on the counterfactual side for my liking.

captcha: 'jissive', teehee.'

1/04/2010 11:56:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Aaro on the X Factor today is pretty bloody funny (unintentionally, but still)...

1/04/2010 03:28:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I thought he was famous already

1/04/2010 05:03:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

sorry, celebrity x-factor

1/04/2010 05:07:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Got a link? And do you mean 'on' as in 'appearing' or 'writing about'?

1/04/2010 05:11:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

writing about it - my initial phrasing was poor, and the celeb thing was a joke


1/04/2010 05:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


1/06/2010 08:49:00 PM  

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