Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The plague terrorist takedown

(Photo - some dodgy terrorists with really snotty noses, hence massive handkerchiefs)
Some years ago for work I looked in some depth into the idea of "WMD terrorism". In the early part of this decade, Jihadi terrorism seemed unbounded in its brutality, someone had sent weapons grade Anthrax through the US postal service and CNN found footage in an abandoned Afghan camp of al Qaeda people gassing dogs. It all seemed so possible and hence utterly terrifying. But the scary thing was, the more you dug, the more crap you found you were digging through. And I don't mean scary crap, I mean just simple common or garden bullshit. The concept of WMD became virtually meaningless through sloppy over-use in global discourse. I remember hearing a normally sensible and grounded former US marine general on NPR call ricin WMD and just thinking the world was going nuts. Ricin is as much a WMD as bullets are. Some American terrorism 'experts' still go on about "European ricin plots", seemingly unaware that in court case after court case these claim have virtually all turned out to be nothing. American neo-Nazis were messing about with ricin in the 80s, but nobody ever accused them of plotting Armageddon. The collapse of the Bush Administration's claim that the Saddam regime had WMDs, and wanted to give them to al-Qaeda, had a lot to do with the slow retrenchment of the world's media from the story. But every once in while once these stories pops up again like a fart in a bath.

I remember seeing the story about AQIM fighters dying from the plague in Algeria a few weeks ago and didn't pay much attention. I've researched quite a lot on the Algerian situation in the past and soon learnt that vast amounts of what you read about terrorism in that country is crap. The agendas of many different actors make sorting out fact from fiction pretty hard when it comes from Algeria, and the idea that AQIM (the former GSPC) were messing around in mini-biolabs with bubonic plague seemed far-fetched to say the least. What I hadn't realised at the time was that the story came from the Sun. If you read the Sun to get your info on jihadist movements, you deserve everything you get. I noticed just two weeks back that even whilst the bodies were still lying in the open in Victoria, the Sun was suggesting that it might have been terrorist 'what done it' with the bushfires. They won't just scrape the bottom of the barrel, rather attacking it with a chisel and mallet. But whilst reading around on some other North Africa related issues in the last couple of days, I've come across some really quite impressive takedowns of the story by some quality bloggers.

So first off check The Sun Lies for a rather in-depth fisking of the story. The Armchair Generalist has a very good overview of why it is all bollocks and even finds an Algerian doctor writing in a medical journal who notes that the Algerian medical profession thinks it's bollocks too (although I'm sure the good doctor would use slightly more technical language). The Generalist sticks with the story coming back a few weeks later to note that the Algerian health ministry and WHO are also both voting for the "bollocks" option. Jihadica has an interesting post looking at this along with other very unlikely stories from recent times about al Qaeda - Thomas writes:
Let me start by congratulating the journalist on being able to fit the four words “al-Qaida”, “gay”, “rape” and “horror” in one and the same headline in the world’s largest English-language newspaper.
Journalism of that 'quality' - it just makes you proud to be British. OK, so maybe I'm missing a 'not' from that last sentence.

(You might also be interested in this earlier post on related matters)

2 comments:

Tom Fuller said...

Hi Toby,

Have you read this ?
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Risk-Science-Politics-Dan-Gardner/dp/0753515539/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1236760796&sr=1-1

Cheers,

Tom.

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

No, I haven't but it looks very interesting. Thanks Tom.

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