Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Courage of One's Convictions

'Tis the season when the good works of security services in Canada and Great Britain come to fruition in the conviction of Muslim plotters who would, had they not been stopped, have unleashed Jihad on the littoral of Lake Ontario and in the skies over the Atlantic. It's a good thing that we have laws which can punish plotters to almost as great an extent (in some cases more so) as they would an actual perpetrator. But then, the new 'security' laws don't have to meet the judicial standards of proof that, for instance, saw Sikh plotters walk away from an actual aircraft bombing, or a Libyan accused get an early release from prison. Having some 'nacht und nebel' legislation allows security forces to get 'er done without too much judicial interference - the gestapo proved that. But now that police hackles are going up (He's calling us Nazis!) let's just say that rigorous standards for investigation can be replaced with a certain amount of 'intuition' and 'erring on the side of the angels'.

Let's take a look at the case of the Brit bombers. Right off the get go, to-day's news of the conviction is tempered with stories about how close the investigation came to be being derailed by a take-down in Pakistan. How security forces had to 'rush' the arrests before all the "iron-clad proof" had been gathered. Maybe that's why it took two trials to get a conviction.

There are a whole bunch of 'truisms' laid end to end that are purported to indicated an intent (leave out the ability) to cause some mayhem. Some plotters visited Pakistan, some communicated with a suspected terrorist in Pakistan, some plotters may have been disenchanted with the West, some plotters checked air schedules, some bought luggage, some bought products that by a stretch could be used for bomb-making - if not for a hundred other non-explosive activities. One made 'martyrdom' recordings on his computer. Some sent 'cryptic' emails to each other. Some seem to have emptied drink bottles without opening them. But there is no indication they ever actually tested a bomb, or even booked seats on airlines (one ticket was found, destination unreported). There is a disturbing lack of money involved, and an inferred propensity for 'home-cooking' that imperiled the lives of others in their family homes and neighbourhoods. It took a couple of tries to get the 'evidence' organized so that even a sympathetic court could 'see' what security could 'see'. It had to be more than we're 'seeing' in the media.

Crucial to the whole matter, I think, is how does one go about building a peroxide 'bomb' and doing it in such a way as to bring down and airliner? Such bombs can be built, but they're not something that can be made at home, or even in a home lab. They have been made and exploded by police labs. Nobody has yet demonstrated a way to make one from materials taken on board an aircraft, for a prepared device is too volatile to be transported any great distance or subjected to any abuse. If those security labs could have taken the materials into an airliner's head and 15 or 20 minutes later blown the loo to bits, I might have given the reality of the plot some credence. However, such an 'experiment' was too dangerous for security personnel (not to mention a virtual impossibility in an airliner's toilet). I guess we're supposed to believe that, if you're suicidal, it's not. But then what about the time involved and the martyr's ability to actually do it? That hasn't been demonstrated and it's what crucial - for most scientists think it can't be done.

If someone's plotting to do something they couldn't do, then we're into punishing thought. That could be a dangerous precedent for all of us.

Unclear in both the British and Canadian operations is how, and why, these particular individuals came to the attention of 'security'. We're told in the British case that it was investigation into a purported 'terrorist banker' (who wasn't charged in the conspiracy) that brought the plotters into focus. The police also describe their investigations as a "covert" operation. That could refer to the ignorance of the subjects, but it could also refer to the operation of a police 'plant'. That is the the case in the Toronto model.

In the Canadian reprise of Jihadist terror. The subjects allegedly came to light as the result of a gun smuggling investigation. This led back to a gunshop in Georgia owned by an individual who was, so were told, tracked to a meeting of Jihadists in Toronto - he 'confessed' to being part of the plot in Toronto before he was jailed in the States. A police informant, associated with a Toronto Mosque, was involved and after a two year 'investigation' 16 plotters were arrested (in a massive police operation) with 20 bags of crap labelled by police 'ammonium nitrate' and, no doubt a couple of gas can full of diesel, in a garage they'd rented for the purpose of assembling a bomb to target an office building containing RCMP and CSIS Toronto HQs. Of the sixteen, only two have been convicted - after they 'confessed'. One is currently free, the other will be serving a reduced sentence. Some were freed early on and 4 remain to be tried. The police agent received 3/4 of a million dollars and a little mosque on the prairies somewhere.

One of the other sad truisms is the massive fear these operations engender. Air travel will never be the same again - but then air travel has been evolving for decades, and not for the better in many regards. Fear, in the minds of some, is a good thing. It makes us more conscious of personal safety and helps us accept the need for greater expenditure, and less freedom, to keep us 'safe'. The same expenditure and 'safety' entrenches the power of the state to protect 'interests' at the expense of the individual. Fear has become an objective, a manufactured reality, in to-day's world, and we're far away from the Rooseveltian perspective on it.

The hype and hoopla - an 'icing' of a story (in this case a non-story) finally being told - accompanying the conviction of 'terrorists' is designed to make us more vigilant of our security to-day than we were yesterday. Why? So that we'll feel better when security nets the next bunch - and we're told, they're on the way!

A brave show, bravely done!

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