EXPRESS CHECKOUT

Aviation and Big Brother

Posted in Law + Social Policy, Politics + Diplomacy by expresscheckout on 24 August, 2006

Airline data and Big Brother

Officials Seek Broader Access to Airline Data
By Eric Lipton
The New York Times
August 22, 2006

WASHINGTON, Aug. 21 — United States and European authorities, looking for more tools to detect terrorist plots, want to expand the screening of international airline passengers by digging deep into a vast repository of airline itineraries, personal information and payment data.

A proposal by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff would allow the United States government not only to look for known terrorists on watch lists, but also to search broadly through the passenger itinerary data to identify people who may be linked to terrorists, he said in a recent interview.

Similarly, European leaders are considering seeking access to this same database, which contains not only names and addresses of travelers, but often their credit card information, e-mail addresses, telephone numbers and related hotel or car reservations.

“It forms part of an arsenal of tools which should be at least at the disposal of law enforcement authorities,” Friso Roscam Abbing, a spokesman for Franco Frattini, vice president of the European Commission and the European commissioner responsible for justice and security, said Monday.

The proposals, prompted by the recent British bomb-plot allegations, have inspired a new round of protests from civil libertarians and privacy experts, who had objected to earlier efforts to plumb those repositories for clues.

“This is a confirmation of our warnings that once you let the camel’s nose under the tent, it takes 10 minutes for them to want to start expanding these programs in all different directions,” said Jay Stanley, a privacy expert at the American Civil Liberties Union.

The United States already has rules in place, and European states will have rules by this fall, allowing them to obtain basic passenger information commonly found in a passport, like name, nationality and date of birth. American officials are pressing to get this information, from a database called the Advance Passenger Information System, transmitted to them even before a plane takes off for the United States.

But a second, more comprehensive database known as the Passenger Name Record is created by global travel reservation services like Sabre, Galileo and Amadeus, companies that handle reservations for most airlines as well as for Internet sites like Travelocity.

Each time someone makes a reservation, a file is created, including the name of the person who reserved the flight and any others traveling in the party. The electronic file often also contains details on rental cars or hotels, credit card information relating to travel, contact information for the passenger and next of kin, and at times even personal preferences, like a request for a king-size bed in a hotel.

European authorities currently have no system in place to routinely gain access to this Passenger Name Record data. Mr. Frattini, his spokesman said, intends to propose that governments across Europe establish policies that allow them to tap into this data so they can quickly check the background of individuals boarding flights to Europe.

“It is not going to solve all our problems,” Mr. Abbing said. “It is not going to stop terrorism. But you need a very comprehensive policy.”

American authorities, under an agreement reached with European authorities in 2004, are already allowed to pull most of this information from the reservation company databases for flights to the United States to help look for people on watch lists.

Members of the European Parliament successfully challenged the legality of this agreement, resulting in a ruling in May by Europe’s highest court prohibiting the use of the data after Sept. 30, unless the accord is renegotiated. European and American officials expect to reach a new agreement by the end of September.

But Mr. Chertoff said that in addition to simply reinstating the existing agreement, he would like to see it eventually revised so American law enforcement officials had greater ability to search the data for links to terrorists.

Under the current agreement, for example, the United States government can maintain Passenger Name Record data on European flights for three and a half years. But it is limited in its ability to give the data to law enforcement agencies to conduct computerized searches. Those searches could include comparing the passenger data to addresses, telephone numbers or credit card records on file for known or suspected terrorists, Mr. Chertoff said.

“Ideally, I would like to know, did Mohamed Atta get his ticket paid on the same credit card,” Mr. Chertoff said, citing the lead hijacker of the 2001 plots. “That would be a huge thing. And I really would like to know that in advance, because that would allow us to identify an unknown terrorist.”

Paul Rosenzweig, a senior policy adviser at the Homeland Security department, said the use of the passenger data would be negotiated with European authorities.

“We are handcuffed in what we can do with it now,” he said. “It would be a big step forward if we could identify ways in which we can use this information to enhance our ability to detect and prevent terrorism while at the same time remaining respectful and responsive to European concerns regarding privacy.”

But the proposals to expand access to this data will be likely to spur objections.

Graham Watson, the leader of the Liberal Democrat group in the European Parliament, said that given the previous opposition to the American use of the passenger record data, he expects the plan by Mr. Frattini will draw protests.

“I think that is unlikely to fly,” he said in an interview on Monday.

The problem, Mr. Watson said, is not a lack of information, but the unwillingness of individual European states to share with other countries data on possible terrorists so that it can be effectively used to block their movement internationally.

Mr. Stanley of the civil liberties union said that if Mr. Chertoff and Mr. Frattini continued in the direction they are headed, the government would soon be maintaining and routinely searching giant databases loaded with personal information on tens of millions of law-abiding Americans and foreigners.

But Stephen A. Luckey, a retired Northwest Airlines pilot and aviation security consultant, said those efforts were an essential ingredient in a robust aviation security system.

“Even with the best technology in the world, we will never be able to separate the individual from the tools he needs to attack us,” said Mr. Luckey, who helped airlines in the United States develop a screening system for domestic passengers. “You are not going to find them all. You have to look for the person with hostile intent.”

Meanwhile, in other related headlines…

The Truth about the “Terror Plot”, and the new “psuedo-terrorism”
By Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed
OpEdNews
August 22, 2006

I am disappointed to say that so far there has been very little serious critical discussion, grounded in factual analysis, of the alleged “Terror Plot” foiled on the morning of Wednesday, 10th August 2006. Except for a few noteworthy comment pieces, such as Craig Murray’s critical speculations published by the Guardian last Friday, the mainstream media has largely subserviently parroted the official claims of the British and American governments. This is a shame, because inspection of the facts raises serious problems for the 10/8 official narrative.

No Imminent Plot

On the basis of the “Terror Plot”, Prime Minister Tony Blair is planning “to push through 90-day detention without charge for terror suspects.” Home Secretary Dr. John Reid has ordered the draft of new anti-terror legislation that would suspend key parts of the Human Rights 1998, to facilitate the indefinite detention of terrorism suspects in the UK without charge or trial. The law is planned to apply also to British citizens. And since 10th August, Britain was on its highest “critical” state of alert, which indicates the threat of an imminent terrorist attack on UK interests. Only in the last few days was it lowered back down to “severe”.

The stark truth is that the “Terror Plot” narrative has been thoroughly, hopelessly, politicized. There was never any evidence of an imminent plot. A senior British official involved in the investigation told NBC News on 14th August that:

“In contrast to previous reports… an attack was not imminent, [and] the suspects had not yet purchased any airline tickets. In fact, some did not even have passports.”

If British security officials knew that an attack was not imminent, the decision to raise the alert level to critical, indicating an imminent threat, was unjustified by the available intelligence — this was, in other words, a political decision.

Other British officials told NBC News that many of the suspects had been under surveillance for more than a year, since before the 7th July 2005 terrorist attacks. “British police were planning to continue to run surveillance for at least another week to try to obtain more evidence” — as it was clearly lacking. But: “American officials pressured them to arrest the suspects sooner.” An American official also confirmed the disagreement over timing.

Brits Opposed Arrest and Torture of Key Informant

The NBC News report further reveals, citing British security sources, that British police did not want to yet arrest Rashid Rauf, the alleged mastermind, al-Qaeda facilitator and key informant on the details of the plot: “British security was concerned that Rauf be taken into custody ‘in circumstances where there was due process,’ according to the official, so that he could be tried in British courts. Ultimately, this official says, Rauf was arrested over the objections of the British.”
However, the arrest of Rashid Rauf is at the crux of the case, as it purportedly triggered the ensuing wave of arrests, with Rauf providing in-depth details of the plot to his interrogators in Pakistan. Among the details attributed to Rauf is the idea that the plotters intended to mix a “sports drink” with a gel-like “peroxide-based paste” to create a chemical explosive that “could be ignited with an MP3 player or cell phone.”

The problem is that several Pakistani newspapers reported on 13th August that “Rauf had ‘broken’ under interrogation.” The reports were described by a Pakistani human rights group “as confirmation that he had been tortured.” According to the Guardian, “Asma Jehangir, of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said that it was obvious how the information had been obtained. ‘I don’t deduce, I know — torture,’ she said. ‘There is simply no doubt about that, no doubt at all.'”

That most of the details about the plot came from Rauf, who has been tortured and “broken” while under interrogation in Pakistan, raises serious questions about the credibility of the story being promoted by the British and American governments.

Torture Precedents: the “Ricin Plot”

The revelation bears hallmarks of a familiar pattern. It is now well-known that the interrogation of terror suspects using torture was responsible for the production of the false “Ricin Plot” narrative. In much the same way as Pakistan has done now, Algerian security services alerted the British in January 2003 to the alleged plot after interrogating and torturing a former British resident Mohammed Meguerba. We now know there was no plot. Police officials repeatedly claimed they had found plastic tubs of ricin — but these claims were false. Four of the defendants were acquitted of terrorism and four others had the cases against them abandoned. Only Kamal Bourgass was convicted, but not in connection with the “Ricin Plot”, rather for murdering Special Branch Detective Constable Stephen Oake during a raid. Indeed, the “rendition” of terror suspects orchestrated by Britain, the United States, and other western states, attempts to institutionalize and legitimize torture as a means for the production of fundamentally compromised information used by western states to manipulate domestic public opinion.

It is perhaps not all that surprising then to learn that, according to a Daily Mail headline, the Pakistanis have found “no evidence against ‘terror mastermind'”, despite two weeks of interrogation under torture and forensic combing of Rauf’s home and computer. The plot “may not have been as serious, or as far advanced, as the authorities initially claimed”, observes the Mail somewhat sheepishly, and belatedly. “Analysts suspect Pakistani authorities exaggerated Rauf’s role to appear ‘tough on terrorism’ and impress Britain and America.” I wonder if the paucity of evidence has something to do with why, as the Independent on Sunday reported: “Both Britain and Pakistan say the question of Mr Rauf’s possible extradition [to the UK] is some way off.” Indeed. A spokesman for Pakistani’s Interior Ministry gave some helpful elaboration, telling the Mail that extradition “is not under consideration.”

The extradition to Britain of the alleged chief mastermind of a plot to kill thousands of Americans and British citizens by simultaneously blowing up multiple civilian airliners has, in other words, been ruled out indefinitely.

Er, Still No Evidence…

All the evidence now suggests that the Americans wanted immediate arrests without proper evidence. It seems, there was no imminent necessity of such immediate action, nor was there sufficient evidence of an imminent plot, other than the claims of an informant under torture. There are only two further possibilities. Either there was no real evidence of any plot at all; or these premature arrests could have seriously compromised a long-term surveillance operation against suspects who may have been involved in a wider network involved in terrorist-related activity, an operation that has now been scuppered — meaning that we may never know for sure what they were actually planning.

Meanwhile, reports of material evidence in the UK have been unnervingly threadbare. Only eleven out of the 24 suspects arrested over the alleged airliner bomb plot have been charged, largely it seems on the basis of police findings of “bomb-making equipment and martyrdom videos”. Out of the other thirteen, two have been released without charge. But the “bomb-making equipment” discovery of “chemicals” and “electrical components” is ambiguous at best, especially given that police descriptions of the alleged bomb construction plan is to mix a sports drink with a peroxide-based household gel (the chemicals), and detonate the mixture with an MP3 player or mobile phone (electrical components). If possession of such items makes you a terror suspect in possession of potential bomb-making equipment, then we are all terror suspects. As Craig Murray observes:

“Let me fess up here. I have just checked, and our flat contains nail polish remover, sports drinks, and a variety of household cleaning products. Also MP3 players and mobile phones. So the authorities could announce — as they have whispered to the media in this case — that potential ingredients of a liquid bomb, and potential timing devices, have been discovered. It rather lowers the bar doesn’t it?”

Yes — clearly, it lowers the bar to potentially include millions of perfectly normal British citizens. The police story is also, simply, scientifically absurd, as Murray further notes: “The idea that high explosive can be made quickly in a plane toilet by mixing at room temperature some nail polish remover, bleach, and Red Bull and giving it a quick stir, is nonsense.” Citing US chemistry experts, Washington-based information security journalist Thomas C. Greene similarly concludes that “… the fabled binary liquid explosive — that is, the sudden mixing of hydrogen peroxide and acetone with sulfuric acid to create a plane-killing explosion, is out of the question… But the Hollywood myth of binary liquid explosives now moves governments and drives public policy. We have reacted to a movie plot.”

CIA, MI6 and ISI

A report by Asia Times Pakistan Bureau Chief Syed Shahzad citing Pakistani intelligence sources confirms that the British-born Pakistanis arrested in Lahore and Karachi were active members of al-Muhajiroun, the banned UK-based extremist Islamist group currently directed by Omar Bakri Mohammed from Lebanon. Moreover, they had been penetrated by Pakistani intelligence services. “I can tell you with surety”, said one Pakistani source, “that the boys [recently] arrested in Pakistan have long been identified by the Pakistani establishment.” They had come to Pakistan and “interacted with a few officials of the Pakistani army” with a view to stage a coup against the Musharraf regime. Omar Bakri has repeatedly issued fatawas calling for the assassination of Musharraf. In fact:

“Pakistani intelligence — coming from a strong military background — penetrated deep into them… The closeness of the Pakistani intelligence with some boys with a Muhajiroun background was a known fact, but at what stage it turned out to be their ‘London terror plot’, we are completely in the dark. However, I safely make a conjecture that those highly motivated boys were exploited by agents provocateurs. A religious Muslim youth in his early 20s is undoubtedly full of hatred against the US, and if somebody would guide them to carry out any attack on US interests, there would be a strong chance that they would go for that. And I think this is exactly what happened… they were basically [en]trapped.”

I have no doubt that these individuals could have been associated with extremist groups. But while it may be possible they were involved in terrorist-related activity, it is now indisputable that there was no evidence of an imminent plot, and the specific claims about the details were obtained from an informant under torture. We should therefore be very cautious in accepting the “Terror Plot” official narrative, as there is clearly a continuing danger of political interference compromising ongoing intelligence investigations for political expedience.

But the deep involvement of the Pakistani ISI in penetrating the very group that was subsequently arrested and tortured, raises serious questions about what was going on. Moreover, the Asia Times also notes that the Pakistani intelligence operation against these groups was coordinated on the initiative of the CIA and MI6. Indeed, MI6 had also ensured that a deep undercover British intelligence operative had “infiltrated the group, giving the authorities intelligence on the alleged plan”, according to several US government sources.

The revelation that the arrestees were associated with al-Muhajiroun also raises serious intelligence issues. Omar Bakri Mohammed, the leader of the group, which recently operated under the names of the Saved Sect and al-Ghuraaba, was recruited by MI6 in the mid-1990s to recruit British Muslims to fight in Kosovo. Despite being implicated in the 7/7 London bombings, the British government exiled him to Lebanon where he resides safely outside of British jurisdiction, and thus effectively immune from investigation and prosecution. One inevitably wonders about the nature of Bakri’s corrupt relationship with British intelligence services today.

P2OG: Stimulating Reactions

So what were the CIA, MI6 and ISI doing? Given the disturbing context here, in which the entire “Terror Plot” narrative has obviously been deeply politicized and to some extent even fabricated, a balanced analysis needs to account precisely for the stated new “counter-terror” strategies of western intelligence services. In August 2002, a report by the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board revealed the latest strategic thinking about creating a new US secret counterintelligence organization — the Proactive Preemptive Operations Group (P2OG) — which would, among other things, conduct highly clandestine operations to “stimulate reactions” among terrorist groups, by infiltrating them or provoking them into action in order to facilitate targeting them. In January 2005, Seymour Hersh revealed in the New Yorker that the P2OG strategy had been activated:

“Under Rumsfeld’s new approach, I was told, US military operatives would be permitted to pose abroad as corrupt foreign businessmen seeking to buy contraband items that could be used in nuclear-weapons systems. In some cases, according to the Pentagon advisers, local citizens could be recruited and asked to join up with guerrillas or terrorists. This could potentially involve organizing and carrying out combat operations, or even terrorist activities.”

Hersh refers to a series of articles by John Arquilla, a professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School, in Monterey, California, and a RAND terrorism consultant, where he elaborates on this strategy of “countering terror” with Pseudo-Terror. “When conventional military operations and bombing failed to defeat the Mau Mau insurgency in Kenya in the 1950s,” muses professor Arquilla, “the British formed teams of friendly Kikuyu tribesmen who went about pretending to be terrorists. These ‘pseudo gangs’, as they were called, swiftly threw the Mau Mau on the defensive, either by befriending and then ambushing bands of fighters or by guiding bombers to the terrorists’ camps.” He goes on to advocate that western intelligence services should use the British case as a model for creating new “pseudo gang” terrorist groups, purportedly to undermine “real” terror networks. “What worked in Kenya a half-century ago has a wonderful chance of undermining trust and recruitment among today’s terror networks. Forming new pseudo gangs should not be difficult.” He then confidently observes about John Walker Lindh, the young American lad who joined the Taliban before 9/11: “If a confused young man from Marin County can join up with Al Qaeda, think what professional operatives might do.”

Hmmm….

I’m thinking about it, and I’m looking at the deep intelligence penetration of al-Qaeda affiliated networks like al-Muhajiroun by the CIA, MI6 and ISI, and unfortunately I’m not experiencing the same sense of elation as Arquilla. Is the 10/8 “Terror Plot” connected to the post-9/11 P2OG strategy?

Whatever happened on 10/8, it is not the majestic “success story” that it has been painted by the British and American governments. It is symptomatic of something far worse, the mechanics of which will never be truly understood in the absence of a full-scale independent public inquiry focusing on the 7th July bombings, but including associated British and western “security” policies which see Psuedo-Terrorism as a legitimate tool of statecraft.

Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed is the author of The London Bombings: An Independent Inquiry (London: Duckworth, 2006). He teaches courses in International Relations at the School of Social Sciences and Cultural Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton, where he is doing his PhD studying imperialism and genocide.

Since 9/11, he has authored three other books revealing the realpolitik behind the rhetoric of the “War on Terror”, The War on Freedom, Behind the War on Terror and The War on Truth. In summer 2005, he testified as an expert witness in US Congress about his research on international terrorism.

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One Response

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  1. by tramadol said, on 17 December, 2006 at 09:45

    hello, merry christmas to all


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