The Pakistan Connection
Pakistani police on Thursday arrested a number of UK Muslims within Pakistan who were also suspected of involvement in the “Liquid Bomb Threat.”
British authorities say that they have been investigating the group behind the airplane bombing plot for “about a year.” The Scotsman says that the investigation began in 2005.
US authorities were only told about some details two weeks ago, apparently. It may be that the British counter-terrorism community learned its lesson from the loose lips of the Bushies in summer of 2004. I argued then that from what we could tell from open sources, it seemed likely that the Bush administration played politics with information about a double agent in Pakistan who was helping monitor a London al-Qaeda cell. It seems likely that the election-year leak allowed budding terrorists like Mohammad Sadique Khan to escape closer scrutiny, and so permitted the 7/7/05 London subway bombings to go forward.
This time, the MI5 and MI6 and the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) may not have told Washington everything.
The Financial Times has an interesting observation I haven’t seen elsewhere:
‘ British security officials suspected the innovative use of liquid explosives smuggled on board could have evaded airport detection devices. They said the method of attack, if used to blow up an aircraft over the ocean on a flight from the US to the UK, could potentially have been used repeatedly because its detection would have been all but impossible after the event.
One official said: “We were very lucky to have acquired the intelligence about the modus operandi of the attacks. If we hadn’t got the intelligence, they probably would have succeeded and there would have been little or no forensic evidence showing how they had done it. The modus operandi could have made waves of attacks feasible.”
British police had liaised closely with US law enforcement agencies for some time, although US officials said they learnt the intelligence pointed to threats against specific US airlines only in the past two weeks. ‘
So how did we find out about this plot, and the deadly mode of operation, which might otherwise have been so hard to detect? The investigation was kicked off by an arrest in Pakistan “last year.” (AP says the arrest in Waziristan was “a few weeks ago”, but I think AP is confusing the contribution of some recent arrests to the case with the initial capture of the key informant a year ago).
Most of the investigation was carried out in the UK, but the Pakistanis are said to have provided “an important clue.”
‘ A Pakistani intelligence official said an Islamic militant arrested near the Afghan-Pakistan border . . . provided a lead that played a role in “unearthing the plot.”
So this capture takes place roughly June, 2005.
Amjed Jaaved explained at The Nation on June 28 this year that:
‘ Pakistan has deployed over 80,000 troops in the “no-go tribal areas” (ilaqa ghair) along the border with Afghanistan to forestall inward and outward movement of Al-Qaeda’s or other organisations’ fighters.
Pakistan lost about 600 soldiers in operations against the militants – Pakistan’s loss is more than the total casualties suffered by the coalition and Afghan forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan has handed over 700 Al-Qaeda fugitives to US authorities.
Pakistan’s sincere cooperation with the US intelligence agencies is proving more fruitful. Suspected satellite telephone transmissions, e-mails and other internet traffic are being tracked. ‘
AP reports that ‘ “two or three local people” suspected in the plot were arrested a few days ago in Lahore and Karachi. ‘
So I figure the guy they catch up in Waziristan or Quetta in summer 2005 rolls over on small cells in Karachi and Lahore. The Interservices Intelligence puts these two cells under email and telephone surveillance, and lo and behold they hare having very interesting conversations with some friends in London and Birmingham. The ISI alerts the UK, and there you have it.
Then a few days ago, the Pakistani police pick up two or three cell members in Karachi and Lahore. Why? There are some reports that the arrests in Pakistan precipitated (or were coordinated with) the British arrests, since the officials in the UK were afraid that the UK cell members would go underground once they knew their colleagues in Pakistan were compromised.
The only circumstance that I can imagine that would cause the Pakistani authorities to move in that way is that the Lahore and Karachi cells were planning to do something very violent in the very near future.
Dawn, cited at the beginning of this entry, says:
‘ Officials said intelligence agencies had lately arrested a number of Central Asian militants who had provided information on planned attacks on the US and British interests. A pre-dawn raid in June had led to the arrest of Balochistan chapter chief of Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, Usman Kurd.
The officials said clues from these suspects led the authorities to the militants arrested on Thursday. ‘
The Scotsman is also saying that the UK plotters were “days” from swinging into action.
If this operation is as advertised, then it underlines again the importance of plain old fashioned counter-terrorism and police work. An army of 136,000 men in the field can’t stop bombs from going off in Iraq every day. What stopped the liquid bomb plot was something superior, a tool fitted to the task.