Purer Than Caesar’s Wife

PURER THAN CAESAR’S WIFE….What’s the real story behind last week’s airline bombing plot? Several days ago NBC News reported that the timing of both the arrests and the announcement of the plot was a subject of dispute between the British and the Americans:

A senior British official knowledgeable about the case said British police were planning to continue to run surveillance for at least another week to try to obtain more evidence, while American officials pressured them to arrest the suspects sooner.

….The British official said the Americans also argued over the timing of the arrest of suspected ringleader Rashid Rauf in Pakistan, warning that if he was not taken into custody immediately, the U.S. would “render” him or pressure the Pakistani government to arrest him.

Since then, information about the plot, whether leaked or official, has been surprisingly sparse. Government officials are usually quite (anonymously) chatty about this kind of thing. James Galbraith comments:

No bombs have been found. No chemicals. No equipment. No labs. No testing ground….Apparently, not one ticket had been purchased by the detainees….[And] you need something else. It’s a document called a passport. Apparently, some of the detainees don’t have them.

….Finally, confessions. Twenty-four suspects have been arrested [and] they will have a chance to make an uncoerced statement of their intentions in open court. By then the authorities will have found the labs, testing grounds, airline tickets and passports. Credible witnesses too will have emerged. By then the young zealots will have no expectation of acquittal or mercy, and nothing to lose. We may therefore confidently expect them to face the judges and declare exactly what their motives and intentions were. If they do that, I’ll eat my hat.

Finally, Andrew Sullivan links to Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, who has some similar suspicions:

Many of those arrested had been under surveillance for over a year….Nothing from that surveillance had indicated the need for early arrests. Then an interrogation in Pakistan revealed the details of this amazing plot to blow up multiple planes ? which, rather extraordinarily, had not turned up in a year of surveillance.

….We then have the extraordinary question of Bush and Blair discussing the possible arrests over the weekend. Why? I think the answer to that is plain. Both in desperate domestic political trouble, they longed for “Another 9/11”. The intelligence from Pakistan, however dodgy, gave them a new 9/11 they could sell to the media. The media has bought, wholesale, all the rubbish they have been shovelled.

The Guardian, of course, has already reported that the testimony of Rashid Rauf, the British citizen who was picked up in Pakistan, is suspect since it came only after he had been “broken” under torture. Was his testimony real, or was he merely telling his interrogaters whatever he thought they wanted to hear?

As little a year or two ago I would have rolled my eyes at the idea that even the timing of the arrests was politically motivated, let alone the possibility that the plot itself was being exaggerated. But today? I don’t know. I can only quote Teresa Nielsen Hayden yet again: “I deeply resent the way this administration makes me feel like a nutbar conspiracy theorist.”

Beyond that I’ll just say this: there better not turn out to be even a shred of evidence that any part of this was exaggerated or timed or hyped for any reason that’s not related with absolute certainty to the requirements of the police and counterterrorist community. Bush and Blair better be purer than Caesar’s wife on this one.