Friday, August 11, 2006
Terror, terror everywhere—and not a drop to drink
The latest revelation from the United Kingdom—that explosives come in liquid form and that there are a number of British Muslims who would like to use them aboard an airliner—has left me thankful I didn't invest in that little duty-free shop at the airport.
The arrests, reminiscent of several others where young Muslims have gathered together, were announced without presenting a shred of evidence of a threat. When you consider the length of the investigation (it's been ongoing since at least December 2005), you would think that someone would've considered the PR implications and maybe prepared a little tape of a telephone conversation or a photograph that could be released to the public. But of course PR was the last thing on the minds of the British government at the time of the announcement, I suppose.
The British security services are also to be congratulated on the caution they took this time with their firearms. They didn't wait for anyone to board a plane and then shoot him in the head, as they did with innocent Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes as he boarded a tube train. In fact, they didn't even wound anybody, as they did in the case of innocent suspect Mohammed Abdul Kahar when they invaded the family home at Forest Gate.1
While the absence of details accompanying the news announcement may have been regrettable, what little there was was sufficient to provide America's public television with enough inspiration to devote the entire hour to discussions of the arrests and their implications.
Ray Suarez of The NewsHour began his opening summary by announcing the British announcement of the arrest, then quickly reviewed the effect of the announcement on the price of oil and the stock market. In a spectacular blitz of reporting, over in less than two minutes, Suarez went on to mention the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the daily suicide bombing in Iraq (35 killed), the displacement last month of 25,000 people from Darfur in Sudan, and the worst typhoon to hit China in 50 years—all so that we could get to the important stuff.
And what was the important stuff?
- A repeat of the announcement of the arrests
- A "newsmaker interview" with America's very own Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff, who got us through the Katrina disaster so successfully, and
- Some "expert" analysis of "the terror plot, the plotters and their choice of weapons." (Since absolutely nothing was known about any of those topics, we were treated to some very high quality speculation.)
- The effect on the airline industry. (Market alert: Don't buy!)
All in all, it was as fine a day of news coverage as I can remember.
Cynics have questioned the timing of the arrests. Could they have in any way been linked to Ned Lamont's win over Senator Lieberman in the Connecticut primary? That is silly. In fact, the threat was so great that by the end of the day we had pretty much forgotten that the election even took place.
Here's how bad it was—
- John Reid, British Home Secretary: "It would have caused death on an 'unprecedented scale.'"
- George Bush: "The plot was 'a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom.'"
- Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security: "In terms of the sophistication of the plot, in terms of the risks that were posed to public safety, I think this is really in the top level of the kinds of terrorist activity we've seen over the last 10 years, going back to Khobar Towers, and the bombing of the Cole, and, of course, the 9/11 attack."
- Paul Stephenson, Deputy Commissioner of the (London) Metropolitan Police: "This was intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale."
So you can see that the November elections were the last thing on anybody's mind. In fact, if the Bush administration can't convince the Congress to provide it with "retroactive war crime protection," my guess is that they'll just decide to call the whole thing off—there'll be too much terror about to have time for elections.