Monday, July 10, 2006

July 10, 2006

Scepticism overshadows
US reports of terror plots

US SECURITY agencies unveiled two major "terror plots" in the last one month — one that targeted the Sears Tower in Chicago and the other the Holland Tunnel New York City. While the US media as well as international newspapers, radio and television stations gave high prominence to both reports, many also voiced scepticism and implicitly suggested that both were cases where "evidence" was exaggerated for political purposes.
The critics' conclusion is that political hawks who indirectly but effectively control security and intelligence agencies grabbed at the slimmest of suggestions of terror plots against the US and blew them out of proportion with a view to telling the American people that they remained vulnerable to terrorism linked to the Middle East, but the Republican administration is capable of preventing them. The unveiling of the purported plots come ahead of mid-term elections, they point out.
The critics also note that the revelations of the purported plots coincided with a report that Alec Station, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) unit responsible for tracking Osama Bin Laden since before the Sept.11, 2001 attacks, had been disbanded.
Officials claimed the unit was disbanded in 2005 and therefore there could have been no link between the closure and the revelations of "terror plots." However, members of congress say they were not informed of Alec Station's closure, undermining the official claim that the unit was indeed closed more than one year ago.
"The alleged bomb plot (against the Holland Tunnel), sources suggest, may have been to alleviate Bush administration concerns that the Alec Station story would make them appear to be weak on terror," writes Larisa Alexandrovna on
US security officials say they busted the plot after monitoring Internet chat rooms used by militants who had used coded language to discuss a possible attack. One American official said the members of the group had never met one another.
Critics counter that terrorists do not discuss their plans in public.

'Nothing more than chatter'

Alexandrovna quotes one former intelligence field officer as saying and two other CIA officials as confirming "that the alleged plot by Muslim extremists to bomb the Holland Tunnel in New York City was nothing more than chatter by unaffiliated individuals with no financing or training in an open forum already monitored extensively by the United States government."
"It is not clear this early on, however, how much of a real and immediate threat the bomb plot may have been," Alexandrovna writes.
She quotes Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer and contributor to American Conservative magazine, as saying that "the so-called New York tunnel plot was a result of discussions held on an open Jihadi web site.”
Giraldi acknowledges that three suspects who have already been arrested in Lebanon and five others are being hunted elsewhere espouse extremist thinking, but "their on-line chatter is considerably overblown by allegations of an actual plot.'
“They are not professionally trained terrorists, however, and had no resources with which to carry out the operation they discussed," Giraldi says. "Despite press reports that they had asked Abu Musab Zarqawi for assistance, there is no information to confirm that. It is known that the members discussed the possibility of approaching Zarqawi but none of them knew him or had any access to him.”
Assem Hammoud who is also said to have used an alias, Amir Andalousli, is in detention in Lebanon along with two others — one is a Syrian and the other's nationality has not been revealed.
The five suspects at large are said to be a Saudi, a Yemeni, a Jordanian, a Palestinian, and an Iranian Kurd.
Experts also expose a major loophole in the assertion by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that the suspects planned to attack the Holland Tunnel under the Hudson River using suicide bombers and backpack bombs. The alleged plan was to flood lower Manhattan by attacking the tunnels and cripple the heart of the US financial district. Experts point out the tunnel is below the water level and indeed Lower Manhattan, and hence it does not make sense to believe that flooding it would flood Lower Manhattan.
“In sum, the plot, if that is what we would call it, was not well conceived, and there was no possibility of flooding Wall Street," says Giraldi, the ex-CIA expert. "There was no connection to a cell in the US. Finally, professional terrorists generally do not discuss targeting on open channels. As it was being monitored from the beginning of the open discussion, there was little chance anything concrete would have developed."
The alleged plot was said to be in the planning stages, and the suspects had not purchased any explosives or visited the US as part of the scheme.
In the Miami case also, suspects were arrested "before" they collected weapons and finding or even figured out the logistics necessary to carry out their purported plot to bomb the Sears Towers in Chicago.
The suspects did not have written information on how to make explosives, details on the layout of the Sears Tower or any known link to a terrorist group.

'Pre-emptive action'

However, US security officials say that they need to take pre-emptive action.
"We don't wait until someone has lit the fuse to step in," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said on Friday.
"It is a mistake to assume that the only terrorist that's a serious terrorist is the kind of guy you see on television, that's a kind of James Bond type," he said. "The fact of the matter is mixing a bomb in a bathtub does not take rocket science."
Asserting that someone plotted terror attacks is one thing, but proving it is yet another, legal experts point out.
In any event, scepticism is dominating the air as authorities in Lebanon and Washington reveal more details of the alleged plot, the plotters and their alleged connections with Al Qaeda.
Carl W. Tobias, a law professor at University of Richmond in Virginia who tracks terrorism cases, sums it up.
According to Tobias, quoted by Alexandrovna, the evidence disclosed so far in relation to the ability of the suspects to deliver on their threats has caused him to wonder if politics might be a factor.
He says: "There is some kind of public relations gained by making Americans on the one hand feel concerned that the Sears Tower in Chicago or some tunnel in Manhattan is targeted yet on the other hand feel comforted that the government is on top of it."