The conviction of Dhiren Barot, leading to a life sentence with a tariff of 40 years before being eligible for parole, is remarkable. He appears to have been an active terrorist plotter, but just how much of a real threat are his alleged , detailed, professional plots ?
From the media reports, none of these alleged plots, appear to as well researched or as detailed, as those in the books and films by authors such as Tom Clancy - should he and his researchers and co-authors also be serving 40 years or more in prison ?
Given that many of the readers of Spy Blog (or of Tom Clancy novels) have at least as much knowledge of potential targets and techniques as Dhiren Barot appears to have had, we are worried about this "thought crime" conviction with no actual evidence of means and capability to put into action any of the "movie plots", which he appears to have been researching. Just because he pleaded guilty, presumably for the purposes of self martyrdom, this is only evidence of evil intent, not of an actual, realistic, threat.
We are sceptical about the practicality of any of the various "movie plots" which the British media and authorities and legal system seem to have taken for granted would inevitably cause "thousands of casualties".
As with all recent terrorism cases, there has been a flurry of "background" information (not actual evidence used in Court) released to the media , after the trial is over, mostly from anonymous and therefore untrustworthy "security sources".
It is noticeable that the supposedly "cooperative" Al Queda "computer and communications" expert, Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan, whose arrest seems to have triggered that of Dhiren Barot, was not called as a witness from Pakistan, where he may well have been coerced or tortured.
The TV news media showed their weakness for moving images, any scrap of video, no matter how incidental or irrelevant, which they will repeat over and over again, drawing the wrong conclusions from it.
In this case it was a few seconds of an utterly amateur video taken in the deserted streets around the New York Stock Exchange, zooming in ineptly on a CCTV pan tilt zoom camera dome. The footage was obviously taken on foot, from the pavement, with nobody else about, rather than,, say from a vehicle. If this was meant to be "professional terrorist" target reconnaissance, then we have little to fear.
There was also a shot of the World Trade Center towers taken with the camera on its side, and the audio sound of someone saying "boom". There was also a shot of what look like a couple of unpressurised stainless steel liquid nitrogen flasks / gas containers on the pavement.
The impression given by the media was that Barot was somehow planning to blow up and topple the Twin Towers, but it could also have been a reference to the previous 1993 failed attempt, which did cause lots of damage and casualties, but which had no realistic chance of toppling the buildings .
There are no allegations that Dhiren Barot was involved in, or had prior knowledge of, the September 11th 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon etc.
The most important feature of this video clip is not the titbit that it was apparently found spliced into a Bruce Willis "Die Hard" video to help conceal it (why was it not encrypted, if this really was such a professional terrorist ?).
The aspect which is studiously not being reported or commented on by the UK media, is that this video "evidence" of a plot, was shot in April 2001, and obtained 3 years later in 2004 in Pakistan.
This "new and unusually specific information" was the basis of the decision by the Tom Ridge, in charge of the US Department of Homeland Security to increase the Terrorist Alert status to "Orange" , around the financial districts of New York, New Jersey and Washington, just after Democratic Party Convention had raised the standing of Senator Kelly in the opinion polls, during the 2004 Presidential Election, and before the Republican Party Convention.
Magically the the terrorist alert status and increased, yet counter-productive, security measures (they created long queues of CitiBank employees which stretched out into the street, thereby increasing their vulnerability to a car bomb or drive by shooting or sniper attack) around these buildings, were relaxed on November 10th 2004, i.e. after the Presidential Election held on 2nd November 2004.
In other words this 3 year old video footage was cynically hyped up for political opinion poll advantage, to pretend that the USA was under a current, imminent, threat to these financial sector buildings even though the alleged terrorist masterminds were in custody in the UK and in Pakistan.
Someone in the UK appears to have released an edited version of what was claimed to be Dhiren Barot's "business case" to his unnamed Al Quaeda superiors of his most advanced idea - the "gas limos" plot to the Press Association
Was this written in English or another language ?
Gas cylinders in a stretched limo (which have a large carrying capacity, but are able to get into an underground car park with height restrictions which would prevent a van or lorry from doing so), with explosives attached, supposedly to create a large gas explosion ?
This has been a vain hope of terrorists for years, and is similar to the foiled attack on the US Embassy in Damascus, Syria involved this September 2006
No terrorist bomb makers, not even sophisticated ones like the IRA, with years of experience and practice of using ammonium nitrate, petrol tankers, gas cylinders etc. have ever managed to transform commercial gas cylinders into the equivalent of military Fuel Air Explosives or Thermobaric weapons, which might have a chance of collapsing a large office building. Getting an fuel aerosol or gas cloud mixed with the right proportion of oxidiser, is not as simple as attaching some explosives to a gas cylinder.
Neither is it as simple as having electronically controlled release valves to produce a gas cloud, with a delayed detonation circuit, as was demonstrated by the recent failed "suitcase bomb" attacks on German railway stations this July 2006.
Why should anyone believe that Dhiren Barot could manage this first time, from a standing start, with no practice ? We note that the "budget" in his "business plan" does not seem to include anything for actual weapons development and testing.
We are extremely sceptical of the other alleged "business cases" for supposed terrorist plots.
Are these in fact deliberate disinformation to let the hysterical media cause panic and terror, by fingering many possible targets, which are impractical to actually attack ?
Or are they just brainstorming ideas, which have been discarded after a bit of detailed investigation as to their practicality and feasibility ?
It is all very well to claim that a Radiological Dispersal Device (RDD) i.e. a "dirty bomb", could be useful to a terrorist in order to cause panic and fear and economic damage, but creating and deploying one is another matter altogether.
Dhiren Barot's apparently favoured source of radioactive material i.e. Americium241 Oxide from domestic smoke detectors is is utterly impractical, given the thousands of such smoke detectors he would have had to purchase or steal, without arousing suspicion. It is all very well for his alleged notes to state the obvious e.g. that a highly radioactive gamma source like Cobalt 60 would make a very effective RDD "dirty bomb", but there is no evidence that he had any realistic prospect of getting access to this, or to the "hot cell" which would be needed to protect anyone trying to construct such a device, without, as he apparently notes, killing even suicide terrorists before they have completed their mission.
If you were a senior Al Quaeda, leader, who did actually have access to some, say, Cobalt 60 radioactive isotopes, would you hand them over to an Indian born convert to Islam, with British citienship, or would your natural caution and racism make you suspect that he could be an Indian or British or other intelligence agent trying to track down any nuclear weapons or radiioactive "dirty bomb" plans and materials you may have ?
The other "movie plot" idea which the UK media seem to have latched on to is the idea of somehow, magically, creating a large enough explosion to breach the London Underground tunnels which go under the River Thames.
This plays on the understandable fears of many people of being trapped in a Tube train with rising flood waters under the Thames (most people do not think of the risk of flooding or tunnel collapse in other parts of the London Underground, e.g. from burst water mains). However, the amount of explosive required, without any drilling to position explosive charges in the tunnel roof, to breach several metres of reinforced concrete, steel casing and bedrock, would be huge, and would require the hijacking of an entire train, and probably of the signalling and electrical power control rooms as well. If you could do that (or have a huge bomb on board a river vessel, or a military aircraft dropped deep penetration "bunker buster" bomb) then, you could easily cause far more casualties or hit more sensitive targets, than by flooding part of the Tube network.
If this plan was seriously being considered, then why was the supposedly meticulous Dhiren Barot not also investigating other underground railways which pass under rivers or the sea e.g. Paris or New York ? Why not the Channel Tunnel ?
Our suspicion that Dhiren Barot was employing disinformation techniques to point the finger at targets which he was not really going after is strengthened by the reports that the Police recovered 600 sets of keys (not cryptographic keys, actual metal keys) and spent lots of time and effort searching 4,000 lockup garages and storage facilities which they might have opened, but have only found 77 of them so far. No weapons or explosives or radioactive sources appear to have been found in any of these.
This case does not prove the case for an even longer period pre-charge detention period than the current 28 days - he was successfully charged and convicted under the previous 14 days regime.
Barot, who has not been shown to have committed any terrorist or other attacks in the UK, whatsoever, has been sentenced to life imprisonment for at least 40 years, without any access to explosives, firearms, chemical , biological or radioactive materials in his possession, or any evidence that his "movie plot" ideas had ever got to the prototype or trial run stage.
So what if there are still unencrypted data files on some computer hard disks, which could possibly lead to further charges, they cannot lead to further criminal penalties !
We note the claims that Dhiren Barot used several false identities,
Exactly how many of these were false British identities, involving either Passports or Driving Licences, i.e. ones which a perfectly working National Identity Register and ID Card scheme might have had a chance of detecting ?
We suspect that none of them are in this category, and that the Dhiren Barot case cannot be used to justify the claim that somehow the controversial National Identity Register will be of any ise in preventing terrorist attacks.
We noted that fingerprint and DNA analysis was used to check which chemical hazard reference books Dhiren Barot had consulted in various University reference libraries, e.g. at Brunel University.
Does this mean that the fingerprints, DNA and library records of all the students and staff who have also consulted these books are now also on file as "potential terrorists" ? Will Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) websites and legally required health and safety training materials, be censored under the Terrorism Act 2006 or the forthcoming European Commission proposals to censor "bomb making instructional websites" ?
Even if Barot had somehow succeeded in causing hundreds or thousands of casualties, he would still have utterly failed to destroy our Western democratic civilisation.