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July 08, 2006


Two more questions I've got. The Lebanese guy they arrested is a computer science professor. If you were an AQ member with strong computer science skills, do you think you'd really try to strike at the US by bombing tunnels to flood the financial district, particularly when our computers are so easily hacked?

Also, this guy is described as both being a playboy and being a devout AQ member. Kind of reminds me how the FBI claimed the Miami 7 were Muslim, I mean, Christian, I mean about as syncretic as you get, and that they dsecribed a guy who has gone by "Sunny" his entire life by the nickname "Sunni."

This bit of propaganda was timed to catch the London bombing anniversary news cycle.

1. We are talking about the journalistic standards applied by the Daily News here.

2. Combine a bureaucrat looking for publicity and/or funding with a reporter looking for a headline, and stand back.

These are the last two paragraphs of the Daily news piece:

The disclosure of the Holland Tunnel plot came at the same time Homeland Security Department officials announced a boost in funds to protect rail and transit lines in the New York City area yesterday.

Last month, DHS cut New York's high-threat grants by almost half. But yesterday, DHS Undersecretary George Foresman said the $47 million rail security grants, which were 25% higher than last year's, were in response to increased risks after the 2004 Madrid and 2005 London rail bombings.

I think this is called chatter spiced with islamic jihad bravado.

The Miami 7 - ghetto kids scamming the man for pecuniary gain - a camera and new shoes.

All publicity and demagoguery by Karl Rove and Co.

Joe Sixpack ain't buying this BS.

So, two issues here -- the NY Daily News reporting, and the plot itself. The NY Daily News got maybe 40-60% of the story right. It is fair to criticize them for shoddy unsourced reporting, but frankly knowing their track record my own reaction was, "hey way to go Daily News, you actually got it sort of right this time." As to the plot itself, what I noted most of all was that this was a group caught by monitoring of computer communications (not phone calls) strictly outside the US (not domestically) and largely by the work of NYPD officers (whose salaries Homeland Security won't contribute to).

So I can see the argument that we shouldn't crow about arresting people, even noncitizens outside the US, who were just planning to attack us and hadn't done anything yet, I find myself glad we did (providing they're tried in some fair way and not just shoved into an oubliette somewhere) and what strikes me most is that all the puffery and cost that Bush has put into wiretapping our phone calls and invading our domestic privacy rights were completely unnecessary for this catch, and the one thing that did help -- having agents working the case, in this instance NYPD -- was the area that Homeland Security refuses to pay for. Bush's "safeguards" are turning out to be a lot like torture: not only illegal and morally filthy, but also they don't work so good.

"Aspirational" is the new "-related program activities."

And the only problem with what Tom Maguire points out is that these bureaucrats don't get publicity. They remain anonymous. I suppose there's a thrill at knowing you're the "source" they're talking about, but you're not getting your name in the paper.

And that brings us to another point -- the first one I ever wrote about on this blog -- that there's no reason in the world to have to quote government sources anonymously when they're out to advance the government's agenda.

If, as a reporter, you're being asked to do so, you're being asked to "catapult the propaganda."

So I can see the argument that we shouldn't crow about arresting people, even noncitizens outside the US, who were just planning to attack us and hadn't done anything yet, I find myself glad we did (providing they're tried in some fair way and not just shoved into an oubliette somewhere)

Well, that's part of the problem. If we can guarantee no one got tortured to exact a confession, great. But in Lebanon? Lebanon, currently trying to curry favor with the US? I'm not so sure. Because otherwise, I think we do need to consider the contradictions and wonder whether we're not prosecuting chatter.

Note to self: people who are telling the truth don’t "spin" stories.

"and wonder whether we're not prosecuting chatter."

Could be one of the reasons to leak this. Not to prosecute amateur jihadist chatter, but our own in the public debate. "Why don't you liberals take the threat to our country seriously? Look -- there are people trying to blow up our buildings and tunnels! You should just shut up and support Dear Leader (and let that nice Joe Lieberman alone)!"

oh, no, emptywheel, I'm sure he was tortured or otherwise coerced. I mean, he already confessed what must have been within hours of his arrest.

In a statement, the Lebanese Internal Security Directorate said that under questioning Mr. Hammoud had said he was a member of an extremist organization and had been planning a major bombing in the United States.

We should have asked Lebanon to hand him over to us directly, or the US should have been able to oversee that he was treated with some standard of fairness by Lebanon (don't laugh -- that really is what the US should be able to do. We have lost all credibility, but it's still our job and we should not just give up on the idea it's what the US stands for.)

Whether it's good to prosecute chatter when it has not moved into actions, I am ambivalent about. But in this case I'd say yes, especially if it's not just a babble of hate but specific plans with maps and the suspect is about to leave an area where you can reach him: "The authorities said Mr. Hammoud had sent out maps and plans for an operation to other members of his group over the Internet and said he had been planning to travel to Pakistan for a four-month training mission." But again, my feelings are contingent on him getting a fair and speedy trial of some kind. If arrest automatically means he's getting tortured and summarily thrown in a box, one would like to be more sure of his guilt before the arrest -- but I would prefer to solve that by heavy pressure for a legitimate justice system, and not more timorous arrests.

Elsa Lee warned all the Canadians that terror in Canada is inevitable.
Mike Troyer from Chicago told everybody not to worry.

Isreal pulled out of Gaza.
Everybody back to work in Jersey.

The threat was the same as the original 9/11.

Retired operations officers, again.
FBI ever check the KGB agent they ran out of the New York office who knew the 9/11 terrorists?

In 1988 the Feds prosecuted Dave Foreman and several of his Earth First cronies. The "plot" was to knock down power lines. The way it worked was a FBI operative (more than just an informant) kept pestering Foreman about what a great idea it would be to knock down some transmission towers. Finally, Foreman said, in effect, "ok, I'll go out there with you." The FBI instantly swooped down, arresting Foreman and three others, catcing them in the desert with a blow torch.

The F.B.I conceived of and promoted the crime, working hard to get people to agree with them. Undercover FBI agents had picked the target, driven the truck, and taught the activists to use the torch. The FBI paid informant Ron Frazier $54,000 cash in exchange for implicating the Earth Firsters, and granted him immunity from prosecution for various crimes.

I make this point because rounding up these aspirational terrorists will be easy if all it takes is for a CIA or FBI agent to go to an arab country and say, "hey, wouldn't it be a great idea to get back at the U.S. for blowing up your village? I'll supply you with shoes, uniforms and a blow torch."

The Cheney Administration probably has a whole string of these things in the hopper, ready to pull out when they need to change a news cycle or blow something politically damaging off the front pages.

Oh dhose Bush WH leakers are so twicky ...

kaleidoscope, certainly government agencies could (and may already be) posing as provocateurs to entrap local groups in terror plots, who they can then catch. That was also the defense that was rejected in a recent terror trial here in NY

The defense in the case argued that Mr. Siraj had been entrapped by the paid informer, Osama Eldawoody, a 50-year-old Egyptian-born nuclear engineer who, Mr. Siraj's lawyers contended, sought to draw their client into the plot for the money. Evidence showed he was paid about $100,000 over two years and nine months -- $25,000 during the 13 months he worked as an informer and the rest in relocation and living expenses over the 20 months between the arrests and the trial.

Mr. Siraj's lead lawyer, Martin R. Stolar, had sought to portray his client as a hapless dullard ripe for manipulation. He said Mr. Eldawoody, posing as a father figure and religious guide, had cajoled and inflamed the younger man, in part by showing him images of abuses, some of them at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Mr. Stolar said the government had manufactured the crime, noting that the informer had told Mr. Siraj and another man that he was part of a terrorist group that did not exist and that he would supply the explosives, though there never was a bomb.

In that case the defendant (another aspirational terrorist) was found guilty. Several of the jurors said later that they personally thought it had probably been a case of entrapment, but that the defense had not been able to show clear evidence of it so they had to find guilty. Presumably since in the current case all the conversations happened in online chat rooms it may be easier to document entrapment, if it exists.

I guess the other curious thing about this case is that, after all the talk in late 2001 and early 2002 about how going after terrorists by criminal procedures hasn't worked and needs to be fundamentally changed, the government seems a lot clearer about the danger posed to us by these folks whom it caught through traditional criminal pursuit, than it is about the danger of the very very many it has locked up in secret prisons under the new system.

From today's NY Daily News:

"Mershon made it clear that tunnels were never in danger, but the group posed a serious threat."

He really covered all the bases with that quote!

The leak about the FBI plot, according to Bloomberg, may have compromised ongoing surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations. The person who leaked these details is "clearly someone who doesn't understand the fragility of international relations" (said Mershon). I have to say this really looks like a White House leak, with the hands of a PR pro on it. I see it in the style of hyperbole in the original Daily News article. Emptywheel, what do you think?

Exactly, Kaleidescope. But of course the Cheney administration's greatest triumph was 9/11, the "Pearl Harbor" the neocons talked about for years finally pulled off. Doesn't anybody see how easy it would have been for them to finance and direct the hijackers? It didn't require a vast conspiracy -- just a few operatives with a lot of cash and a lot of "big ideas" to pass along to willing accomplices. The terrorists aren't the enemy -- they're the weapon. We know the neocons don't give a shit about 2500+ military and 100,000 civilian casualties in Iraq, so were 3000 civilian deaths too high a price to pay to cement their hold on power? Don't make me laugh.

The NDN had to get most of it accurately, lest that fine newspaper be embarrassed by, for example, the fairly conservative paper published across the Hudson, the Newark Star Ledger; NSL sources include the
NDN, Mark Mershon, the assistant director in charge of the FBI's New York Division,
FBI and state homeland security officials in New Jersey
NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Port Authority Police Superintendent Samuel Plumeri
NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Michael Chertoff...at a public appearance in Boston

Newark is the place where there was a similar plot a few years ago when people were making drawings and casing buildings with nefarious intent.

I am sure a lot of people in Lebanon are glad their occupation ordeal finally tapered fairly recently; Reagan certainly helped punctuate the outset of that unfortunate era anchoring the MO off the coast and bombarding.

Given the windfall profits in petroleum products recently, financing for plots by malcontents must be more facile than it was in leaner times.

I suppose I took an interest in ew's story here because I rode the trains commuting to school in that part of the US four years, though debarking before the tunnel. I identified with the Atocha incident that brought Zapatero into power in that European country in 2004, as well, having boarded a train there twice during a long stay in grad school.

There are a lot of stories in the article; some relate to the GWT; it is true there is an increasingly unfunded mandate in the Homeland Security area, which papers in our state have discussed. I support ew's parallel thesis, though, that some politicians will sensationalize events for the sake of political advantage, as long as people are credulous. A complex tale throughout.

That's the problem with drawing attention to political manipulation of the news... when a well-meaning person acting with heart over brain errantly turns it into absurd conspiracy theories, it immunizes the real manipulators against criticism.


I'm not sure whether this is a WH leak or someone else. I assume if it were someone else, WH would be screaming bloody murder. By the same token, I could see this being a leak from someone looking for greater Homeland Security dollars for NY and NJ. Particularly with Chertoff admitting he knew of the plot before he defunded NY, it seems like it could be a funding-related question.

Fools & Buffoons, Inc., has been creating "terrorists" for a very, very long time.

I remember in 1967, people in SDS in Colorado were approached by a guy who claimed to have worked in the SDS National Office, who came out to Denver. When the group who would become the Weathermen in the SDS national office came up with "10 days to shake the empire" - a series of demonstrations following on to the Oakland Stop The Draft Week protests that October, this guy came up with the idea of blocking the freeways in Denver during rush hour by having people have strategic "car failures" on busy on-ramps. He kept pushing it and pushing it, but people were not ready to do such a thing. 10 years later, when I was given a pile of papers mostly blacked-out and told this was my redacted COINTELPRO file, one of the things not blacked out was a comment that "this individual may be involved in an attempt to wreck traffic in Denver as a protest."

This was not the only time I know of where the FBI did this sort of thing. There was also an attempt by an individual later identified as working out of the San Antonio FBI office who advocated an attempt to free soldiers at Fort Hood who had been arrested for antiwar activities. A couple of people in our group actually thought about it for a few days, they were so frustrated, and the argument over not doing something like this led to an eventual breakup between members of the group (which was also a goal of the FBI in those days).

These people have been liars and cheats and thieves and criminals ever since J. Edgar Fruitloop was put in charge of them, and they have never ever changed their stripes, no matter what they say.

If you trust the FBI to tell you it is Saturday, you are a fool.

Yes, there are any number of good fols on the street operational level - I know several of them. But above that, it's all politics, as they will be the first to tell you. And when it's all politics, it's all bullshit, and nothing can be trusted.

they personally thought it had probably been a case of entrapment, but that the defense had not been able to show clear evidence of it so they had to find guilty.

What's the difference between this state of affairs and 'reasonable doubt'? The defendant's religion? National origin?

Davis X., I'm no lawyer but I believe that 'reasonable doubt' is a standard for deciding whether the defendant did the deed, when the burden of proof is on the prosecution -- here, the guy admitted he did it but offered an affirmitive defense (if I've got the name right) and the burden of proof shifts to him, to prove he was entrapped.

There's a lot of evil shit in the world without having to look that hard to find it.

Much as it pains me to agree with Tom Maguire, are we the only ones who wondered whether the original NDN "leak" was local (NYC-based rather than DC-based) in nature? Why resort to any other explanation when a bureaucratic battle for funding is already in progress? Get your funding doubled and you don't care if your name is in the papers...

First of all, it's inconceivable to me that there aren't at least a dozen or so angry but naive young muslim men getting yanked off the street every month for planning their revenge against the great satan using government-sponsored (or just plain compromised) chatrooms. They're obviously having trouble finding people in the US, but in Egypt and Syria and maybe Turkey and bits of Eastern Europe and the Caspian? Constantly. I wouldn't have guessed Lebanon, but whatever. There's gotta be plenty of these "plots" at any given time. They aren't generally publicized for the same reason COINTELPRO "plots" to wreck traffic in Denver weren't publicized, but "terrorist plots" are a dime a dozen in the middle east (getting cheaper all the time, too) and sometimes you need a foiled terrorist plot, no?

Too, there are probably plenty of people in the NYC "homeland security" and political hierarchy who are privy to the "chatter" that flows out of these chatrooms and websites and whatnot. So I would tend to assume that this was part of a PR effort associated with the monstrous behind-the-scenes conflagration that resulted when federal DHS snubbed NYC. My guess is that the leaker was someone in NYC hierarchy and that the primary intended audience was Nooyawkers, to remind them that the threat is still imminent, and simultaneously reassure them that somebody is on the job. I'm certainly not disputing that it was all about PR, I'm just guessing that it wasn't a beltway campaign so much as an NYC one. My money is on Kevin McConville ;-)

This tunnel plot tale has evidently been around for a while. I was surprised to run into it yesterday in a 2005 spy novel I'm reading; the terrorists in the novel were interested in pulling off exactly the same action as in the current news story, blowing up commuter tunnels to flood Manhattan & Wall Street (some have pointed out that this flood would run uphill).
Rove to Gonzales: "Round up the usual terrorists".

The fear aspect could boost Lieberman in the electoral campaign. That zone extending through the City, in an arc into Northern NJ is a kind of gentrified haven; although instinctively liberal, those suburbanites have a distinct distaste for uncivil disruption. In other words, if ew's theory is right, the scare garners Liebermann votes.

I understand suggesting Lieberman would earn Republ support is a stretch, but total dem vote divided by two might equal a Republican getting elected. JBalkin wrote a humorous piece about Bush scare strategems on the recent day of the beast, q.v.

"Aspirational terrorists" brilliant! Some shady and extreme Random House is probably plotting to segment the market for Asp-terr lit.

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