Not up to the Zhob

Timing of the British arrests to foil the latest terror plot: conspiracy or cock-up?

Was the timing of the British arrests in the latest terrorism plot driven by US politics, as (update) a blogger on Daily Kos and Michael Froomkin suggest, interpreting an NBC Web report of US-British disagreements before the operation?

The chaos and improvisation last week in British airports tends to confirm other reports (eg Juan Cole – a long page, search for “Rashid”) that somebody or something forced the hands of Scotland Yard and MI5 before they, or the terrorists, were ready. It could be a little hard to get convictions in a real court based on text messages, airline timetables and bottles of bathroom chemicals.

The trigger seems to have been the August 9 arrest of one Rashid Rauf, brother of one of the alleged plotters, by Pakistan intelligence (not the regular police), “outside an internet shop in Zhob, in the border region of Baluchistan”. From there on, the explanations diverge. Juan Cole describes the British “official narrative” as denying that British intelligence wanted the arrest. Perhaps the Pakistanis were acting on their own; Rauf is a thug with a history – he’s wanted for murdering his uncle in Birmingham – so there were plenty of grounds to pick him up. Or, as NBC claims, Pakistan was acting under US, not British, pressure.

According to The Independent, the operation was helped by a British police informer; now blown (perhaps prematurely), but we know the Bush administration doesn’t worry about this sort of detail.

There are basically two theories of history: conspiracy and cock-up. The Bush administration combines them so well that in any given case, it’s hard to decide.

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

14 thoughts on “Not up to the Zhob”

  1. While I don't doubt that the Bush administration blew this one early, I think the Lamont conspiracy theory is utterly implausible, because there is no motive. Lamont winning the primary isn't a defeat for Republicans (if Lieberman wins the general as an Independent, it is a big gain for them) – it is a defeat for DLC Democrats.
    If you believe (as the Rethug establishment clearly does) that Lamont represents a movement within the Democratic party which is unpopular with the median voter, then both Lamont's win and continued media coverage of it are good for Republicans. So neither "terrorist plot engineered to stir up pro-war sentiment and help Lieberman" nor "terrorist plot engineered to blackout media coverage of the Lamont win" make sense.
    There is a much simpler interpretation that is consistent with Bush behaviour – deciding when to bust a terror cell is a balance between "better safe than sorry" and the need to collect evidence for trial. Given that the Bush administration doesn't believe in trials, and does believe that overestimating terrorist threats is a good thing, there is an entirely obvious reason for disagreement over timing.

  2. The Republicans don't really believe that "Lamont represents a movement within the Democratic party which is unpopular with the median voter." They're saying so in an attempt to keep pols and the press marginalizing what is in fact a majority and growing consensus among Americans: invading Iraq was a great big mistake and a diversion from the "War on Terror."
    The Lamont win signals a weakening of the dominance of the Bush/Cheney/Rove narrative and its purpose: keeping people so afraid that they'll only vote for supporters of the war in Iraq, illegal spying on Americans, expansion of executive powers, and so on.
    The idea that the thugs in the White House forced an early arrest for political purposes is very believable on its face, IMO.

  3. "Terrorist plot engineered to stir up pro-war sentiment and help Lieberman" certainly doesn't make sense, given that Lieberman had already lost by the time the arrests were announced.
    What *does* make sense is: "Terrorist plot busted prematurely to reinforce Republican claim that Lamont's win shows Democrats aren't serious enough about national security."
    The timing of the arrests was perfect for that purpose, which is clearly the main thrust of the Republicans' election strategy (seeing as how they ain't got nuttin' else to campaign on).

  4. Good God, one of the most important lessons that defines the transformation into an adult is realizing that not every single thing that happens in the world is about you.

  5. "The Republicans don't really believe that 'Lamont represents a movement within the Democratic party which is unpopular with the median voter.'"
    Of course they don't; they believe–correctly–exactly the opposite: it IS popular with the median voter. Therefore the antiwar stance must be conflated with U.S. vulnerability to terrorism and used against Democratic candidates nationally.
    I wouldn't be at all surprised if the administration had decided when the arrests were to take place the instant it appeared that Lieberman might lose the primary.

  6. Just a point: DailyKos is a semi-public large-group blog. If Markos himself makes a front-page post with a definitive statement, that /might/ be considered the "editorial direction" of DailyKos (which order for the blogsphere to to march in lockstep might be obeyed if there is no R in the name of the month – or might not), but no other person (even one of the current 5 with the privilage of placing their own diaries directly on the front page) can be considerered to "speak for" DailyKos. Since AFAIK Markos himself has not published an editorial on this topic, it is not correct to say "as DailyKos suggest[s]".
    Cranky

  7. Cranky: it's a rococo nit for you to pick, but I've fixed it. Actually I try to cite my sources out of fairness not as an appeal to authority. If I'd said "Beloved Leader Kos" you would have more of a point. The argument should be judged by whether it makes sense, no?

  8. > The argument should be judged by whether
    > it makes sense, no?
    Yes, which is why I would consider it a fairly major point actually. The Radicals are working very hard to attribute any posting or comment that they dislike or that can in any way be considered inflammatory on a group blog to some individual mastermind, thus allowing that person to be demonized and burned in straw-man attacks. So far this tactic seems to be very effective with the traditional media, and I expect the Radicals to keep using it throughout 2006.
    So while I am sure it was a scrivner's error on your part, I thought it important to correct the record. I imagine you would not want your personal writing attributed to Mark Kleiman just because it is posted on samefacts.com.
    Cranky

  9. By "Radicals," you mean the right-wing radicals, correct?
    Or were you referring to that well-known radical Lanny Davis trawling for meanspirited comments in his Wall Street Journal op-ed entitled "Liberal McCarthyism," which attributes the blog comments he dug up to the liberal bloggers rather than their commenters?

  10. > By "Radicals," you mean the right-wing
    > radicals, correct?
    That is the only Radical Party I know of currently in operation in the United States 😉
    Cranky

  11. “The Republicans don’t really believe that ‘Lamont represents a movement within the Democratic party which is unpopular with the median voter.'”
    Of course they don’t; they believe–correctly–exactly the opposite: it IS popular with the median voter. Therefore the antiwar stance must be conflated with U.S. vulnerability to terrorism and used against Democratic candidates nationally.
    I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the administration had decided when the arrests were to take place the instant it appeared that Lieberman might lose the primary.

  12. Not Lamont, but Lebanon. Designed to remind people in the US and Europe that they're the bad guys and we're the good guys.

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