Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 17, 2010

London calling. Dots suspiciously proximate? Too early to connect.

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on September 17, 2010


A Metropolitan Police spokesman said:  “Six men who were arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 on Friday, 17 September, were all released without charge late on Saturday night (September 18) and early this morning (Sunday September 19).”  MORE from the Sunday Telegraph.

Within the first hour after the initial arrests most media reports were claiming the men were suspected of threatening Pope Benedict.  Within three or four hours the media claims were increasingly confident. 

 But even reading the same media reports it was possible to perceive particular police restraint regarding the arrests.  You can track my blog updates (below) signaling increasing skepticism.

Still, for several hours the media — especially broadcast media — gave considerable attention to allegations that six North African men had conspired to kill the Pope. 

Today the Sunday Mirror — not always the most credible source — is being quoted by other British media in explaining it was all a joke.

Six binmen accused of plotting to assassinate the Pope were arrested after they “joked” in the staff ­canteen about blowing him up with a rocket-propelled grenade.

The binmen – all of North African origin – were drinking tea on Thursday when they started to talk about how easy it would be to assassinate the pontiff.

One of the men said: “It would be pretty difficult to shoot the Pope, wouldn’t it, as his car is bulletproof?”

One of his pals then said: “Yeah, but I bet an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) would get through that easily enough.”

The group laughed, before changing the subject.

But a colleague at cleaning firm Veolia ­Environmental Services was concerned enough about the sinister comment to call the police.  MORE from the Sunday Mirror (UK)

Given the Pope’s schedule, the police were correct to give the tip serious consideration.  Without knowing more, I would not second guess the co-worker’s judgment or the value of see something, say something (or in this case hear something, do something).

But I do perceive the case encourages a bit more restraint by the media.  If two-hours in a bloody blogger began to smell something was not quite right, a good editor should have been able to make a similar judgment much earlier.


Original Friday noontime post begins below:

The BBC and plenty of other news outlets are reporting the arrest of five terrorist suspects in London on Friday late afternoon/early evening  local time.  Media is making a connection to the current visit of Pope Benedict to London.  No official statements are —  yet —  connecting the two events. (I am posting about 11:30 Eastern.)

On Thursday evening Imran Farooq, a leading Pakistani politician, was murdered in London.  According to Dawn, “The slaying could have implications for national political stability, especially if the MQM accuses its rivals of being involved. On Friday, an MQM leader said the party thought Farooq was killed in response to controversial statements made by another party leader. Farooq’s body was found in north London on Thursday with multiple stab wounds and head injuries. London’s Metropolitan Police said a 50-year-old man was treated by paramedics but pronounced dead at the scene. No arrests have been made, and police said they were waiting for formal identification of the body.”  Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, has reportedly been largely shut down as a result of the murder.

Earlier today in comments focused on the upcoming London Olympics — not on either matter noted above — Jonathan Evans, the head of the UK’s MI-5 domestic intelligence service said, “So, to sum up the Al Qaida related threat. The country continues  to face a real threat from Al Qaida-related terrorism. That threat is diverse in both geography and levels of skill involved but it is persistent and dangerous and trying to control it involves a continual invisible struggle. Counter-terrorist capabilities have improved in recent years but there remains a serious risk of a lethal attack taking place. I see no reason to believe that the position will significantly improve in the immediate future.”  (The full transcript of Evans’ speech is available via the Telegraph.)

I arrived early for a lunch. Traffic was not nearly what I expected.  It will be a long lunch… not unrelated to the topics above.  By dessert the dots may be completely disentangled, mere temporal coincidences.   But it is worth being attentive and I decided — since I had the time — to share the attention with you.

Update following dessert (about 3:30 Eastern): A sixth suspect has been arrested.  British media are also increasingly confident in claiming a connection with the Pope’s visit.  The connection seems mostly a matter of those arrested being street-cleaners with assignments near the venue for a speech by the Pope. 

So far official reports on the arrests  are  understated.  Comments from Scotland Yard imply an entirely precautionary intervention, rather than clear evidence of a assasination plot against the Pope.

Within the last few hours, according to the BBC, “Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism unit, SO15, has taken over the investigation into Imran Farooq’s murder.”

Analyzing the MI-5 chief’s speech in The Guardian, Richard Norton-Taylor, argues, “Evans correctly warned that the assumption that terrorism was 100% preventable, which he said had been imported from the US media, was “nonsensical”… Intelligence gathering and countering terrorism is, crucially, a question of judgment, nuance and managing risk.”

Update at day’s end, TGIF:

The MI-5 chief’s speech — to the Worshipful Company of Security Professonals (I hope feathered hats are involved) — is a measured but comprehensive consideration of the terrorist threat to the United Kingdom. With the exception of his attention to the risk posed by dissident IRA elements, the principal points are very similar to those made by Peter Bergen and Bruce Hoffman in their September 10  BPA report: Assessing the Terrorist Threat.  

The Bergen/Hoffman report is, by the way, a good read and only 43 pages (including a detailed bibliography).  It helps to have no more than two authors and articulate, organized thinkers at that.  They offer a particular take on resilience that I will address in my Thursday post next week… pending emerging events.

Saturday Update

Nothing really new (and credible)  that I can turn-up  on the supposed plotters of the Pope’s assassination.  The big event today is an outdoor prayer vigil in Hyde Park scheduled for 6:15PM.  Security will be tight, but these open-air events are always nightmarish for law enforcement planners. Tomorrow the Pope moves on to Birmingham to preside at the Beatification of John Henry Newman, and then fly back to the Vatican.

Life in Karachi has largely returned to normal today after being locked-down Friday – the Muslim sabbath – upon hearing the news of Imran Farooq’s Thursday evening murder in London.  The dead political leader’s father says a Karachi burial is being planned.  No date has been set.

According to the Telegraph, next week the British Defense Secretary will warn of severe vulnerabilities associated with a past due Solar Super-flare.  NASA scientists are predicting a so-called “solar maximum” sometime in the  next two years.

So, there, MI-5, I will match your terrorist threat and raise you a natural threat of Hollywood proportions.

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Comment by Dan O'Connor

September 17, 2010 @ 11:43 am

Thanks Phil;

On simply a recognition spectrum; the UK has a growing and potentially escalating, disenfranchised (according to some literature and press) and socially supported male Islamic culture. Much akin to France, these Diasporas are the impetus and crucible for what one might deem a perfect storm for radicalization.

Perhaps hyperbole, but nevertheless, the reduction of the Pound’s value, their growing entitlement millstone, their shrinking tax base, the world’s economy in general, and the either perceived or actual provocation of these “situations” combined with AQ possibly trying to re establish its relevance makes for an interesting connect the dot discussion.

Thank you for posting,

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 17, 2010 @ 1:52 pm

Well Britain is well ahead of US in use of public surveillance systems and British tolerance for violence, collective or individual is well under that of the US. The British have also conducted post-mortems on their own prevention and protection efforts that far exceed the willingness of the US to stare at the abyss of violence by non-state actors. My guess is that we (the US) will learn a great deal from this and seems also that the Pope’s visit which is historic in many ways will reveal new approaches to British thinking on internal civil security. Hey at least they have an MI-5 while there is no real equivalent in US. So assuming that MI-5 failed somehow in its efforts in these cases, which I doubt, it sends a scary message to US officialdom. My guess is the British government will be the first true democracy to adopt national identity card system for all visitors and citizens and residents before this decade ends and perhaps before the Olympics.

Comment by Dan O'Connor

September 17, 2010 @ 2:36 pm


You are exactly correct re; UK surveillance systems; The ring of steel was studied extensively while developing the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative(LMSI).

I do not see surveillance, at least video, as a preventative measure. It’s a post mortem tool, IMO. It would be an interesting round table to discuss, in terms of analysis and real world/real time prevention.

And, if you couple the jurisdictional turf battles involved with sharing info/intelligence, well that adds some friction doesn’t it.

I wonder how far we off from Admiral Poindexter’s predictive all knowing software package (According to the official U.S. Government web site, the Mission of the DARPA Information Awareness Office (IAO) is to “imagine, develop, apply, integrate, demonstrate, and transition information technologies, components, and prototype closed-loop information systems that will counter asymmetric threats by achieving total information awareness that is useful for preemption, national security warning, and national security decision making) permeating life so we’ll soon be part of our own Minority Report? http://tinyurl.com/5ume8

Comment by Philip J. Palin

September 17, 2010 @ 2:58 pm

A quick response related to the British experience with CCTV. The Liberal Democrats, junior partners in the current coalition government, have been particularly critical of both the lack-of-efficacy of CCTV and its chilling effect on civil liberties. The national party has been more cautious, but the Lib-Dem members of the London Assembly have been pretty aggressive on this count. The recent past is not necessarily prologue in terms of increasing use of CCTV and related technology. The long past preference of the English speaking peoples to be left alone may be making a bit of a come-back. But I am out of time, more – maybe – later.


September 18, 2010 @ 1:52 am

Never fire on a shield. Lots of plots and invisible shields, so terrorism is not a very effective tactic. The invisible shields keep getting better and terrorism keeps getting worse. Cheer up the worst is to come for better or worse. Keeping invisible is inexpensive and this lifestyle does not require lots of money. The economy is rough, so stay secure in spite of all that. Use velcro wrist strap to connect and avoid static.


September 18, 2010 @ 3:05 am

“However, in hour-long arguments over the Obama administration’s appeal, the judges mused aloud over a key question: How could Slahi ever prove that he quit al-Qaeda, even if the law requires that Guantanamo prisoners do so before being freed? Slahi could not have told al-Qaeda that he wanted to sever ties, Chief Judge David B. Sentelle noted, adding: “That would have gotten him killed.”” Washington Post

We could of got him killed sooner rather than later. He broke down and gave us the name of the next link in the chain. Saved us the time of putting him in chains. You can’t put them all in chains. Guilty until proven innocent, then they let you free and you really can never be free again. Terrorism wins when justice fails. It’s politics, so they can kill you more than once. In war you can only be killed once. Keep catching the same fish and the kids need fed. The fed is feeding the enemy. We could be refugees!

Catch and release or catch and fillet. Don’t feed them unless the food is on a hook. I can’t quit fishing and I can’t prove where I’m angling. If you can bring a can of bait and beer and we’ll talk. No telling when. Don’t poach the fish, the lake is paid for like the tackle. I’m not sending my catch to dinner for them. God only knows.


September 18, 2010 @ 3:22 am

We’re supposed to kick up to them to feed them. That sounds like a lifestyle that takes lots of money. Thanks but no thanks. Close quarters and don’t wait for leaders. Do it person to person. If you got a head you don’t need a tail. Follow common sense not despots.


September 18, 2010 @ 3:46 am

“Slahi has said that he joined al-Qaeda to fight Afghanistan’s communist government, a goal shared by the United States in the early 1990s, and that it was only after the start of the Persian Gulf War that bin Laden began to focus on U.S. targets.

On Friday, the appeals judges suggested that other court decisions since April required them to consider al-Qaeda membership and compliance with its “command structure” in a broader, “functional, not formalistic” sense than when Robertson ruled.” Washington Post

We funded them to now feed them. Sounds like welfare for people who will never fare well. They can make more of them and make us pay for making them. Sounds like the GM bailout and other nonsense designed to avoid logic. All the people in private housing can be moved to public housing and people in public housing can take the private housing over because they voted themselves into Eden and could politically logroll. Now terrorism is grandfathered in. Change of command, same old story. People with no etiquette throwing the book at you and they don’t have the book. Keep the shields up, it looks bad. Have a good read and keep the peace.

Old axioms have a way of coming true…But good behavior never goes out of style.


September 18, 2010 @ 3:59 am

No cheap shots at Buffalo.
Bad style in Washington. Satisfied?

Comment by An Identify Card System

September 18, 2010 @ 6:39 am

While it would most likely not be adopted at least for another many years, I am now in favor of a “USA Citizen Identity Card” (CIC) System here in our beloved Republic –

I have never been an advocate of any such system, however seeing what is taking place at our borders and here on Main Street USA and the lack of any leadership in the midst of all this politics, it is time for a (CIC) while protecting the individual’s rights, yet know who the other guy is and whether he belongs here….

Kudos to the intel folks in Israel and to the Brits who once again have performed well..can we expect the same results here?

Most asssuredly though, much unrest on the European streets and neighborhoods will result in Germany put their thumb on the Middle East as their fast deployment Army and new shiny vessels are all ready to pounce on the Middle East which will result in much strife and yes, eventual War…Mankind’s dysfunctions one again prevailing despite evolving technologies promising so much hope for all in so many sectors and only disharmony and discontent prevailing. What a pity!


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