Thursday, July 07, 2005

" He drove me to the Tower of London, more huge and terrifying than I'd imagined, like a sprawling medieval Alcatraz. We got there just at ten, so I could watch the guards lock the Tower gates. For all their flashy black-and-scarlet unforms, they are grim and frightening as they lock the gates to that dread prison with darkness closing in. You think of the young Elizabeth sitting somewhere beind the stone walls, wanting to write and ask Bloody Mary to have her beheaded with a sword instead of an axe.

' When the gates were locked the guatds marched back toward the huge iron Tower door. It rose to let them pass through, lowered and clanged shut behind them, and the light voice behind me said: "They haven't missed a night in seven hundred years".

' The mind boggles. Even going back only three hundred years, you think of London during the Great Fire, the Great Plague, the Cromwell Revolution, the Naploleonic Wars, the First World War, the Second World War

' "They locked the tower with this ceremony," I asked him "Every night, even during the Blitz?"

' "Oh yes," he said.

' Put that on Hitler's tombstone tell that to that great American patriot Wernher von Braun whose buzz bombs destryoed every fourth house in London.

' He drove me home and I tried to thank him..."

Helene Hanff "84 Charing Cross Road"


Phil Masters said...

There's a very fine line between consideration of all possibilities and paranoia and I'm not quite sure which side of the line this puts me on.

Paranoid. Verging on Meacheresque.

The thing is, for so many explosions in such a crowded space the number of casualties seems a lot less than it could have been.

And all explosions are exactly the same. A firework is the same as a nuclear weapon.

Phil Masters said...

Right. So let's see what you're suggesting (and if this isn't what you're suggesting, stop faffing around and come out with what you do mean).

Some ruthless agency of some government may have decided that it needed a terrorist incident at this point. So it planted those four bombs in London to create that incident. But, despite being ruthless and murderous, it cares about the population enough to only want to kill fifty or sixty people, instead of hundreds - so it makes the explosions fairly small.

I'm probably short on imagination, but the idea of a group that's evil enough to let off explosions in crowded tube trains, but moral and caring enough to not make them very big, strains my credulity. And it's not like viciously amoral government agencies are likely to be very short on budget for their explosives (unlike dingbat terrorist death cult cells).

And - treating the whole idea with far more seriousness than it deserves - I don't really see the point of this supposed plot. It's timed to coincide with the G8 summit. But the G8 summit wasn't scheduled to talk very much about terrorism. The big topics were stuff like global warming and African aid. If the idea was to get the discussions off those inconvenient subjects and onto terrorism, then the whole deranged high-risk operation was a predictable miserable failure; after Blair had made his one-day trip back to London, and the other leaders had made some conference calls home, all of them did their best resolute looks for the camera thing, made their "terrorists shall not prevail, and shall not prevent this meeting doing what it's supposed to do" speeches, and went back to the original agenda.

And if some evil government conspiracy wanted to stop the G8 meeting from making certain inconvenient decisions, they didn't need to take the insane risk of running a black op in a friendly city; they just had to tell Bush or somebody to stonewall. Which virtually everyone was expecting Bush to do anyway (because he'd said he was going to). You don't need to sabotage a meeting where one of your own people has an effective veto, for Pete's sake.

(As it turned out, the meeting actually achieved rather more on those non-War on Terror topics than a lot of people feared, though not as much as some might have hoped.)

(And yes, this hypothetical operation is an insane risk. People who go into government/intelligence work may have vaguely idealistic views of their duty to the public at large. If one such idealist found out that his colleagues were bombing said public, he might have something to say on the matter. And if, say, the CIA ran undisclosed black ops on MI5 territory - well, imagine the potential fun.)

So this leaves the hypothetical evil agency (and who do you think we're talking about here, by the way? The CIA? MI5? The oil companies? The Elders of Zion?) with no clear motive other than generally stirring up public panic. But hypothetical evil agencies don't need to plant their own bombs to do that. The death cults are quite happy to do it for them.

Let's face it, politicians exploiting the fear of terrorism (which, God knows, they do) are really just an extreme case of politicians exploiting the fear of crime. And when some little old lady is mugged by some yahoo, we don't assume that the yahoo was commissioned by the nearest law-and-order candidate to perform this mugging; we assume that the world has its share of yahoos, and get back to arguing about what to do about them, and whether they're a major problem in the first place.

So, on balance - I think that your tinfoil hat needs some adjustment.

Phil Masters said...

Latest news stories are talking about it being home-made explosives after all, rather than military-grade, earlier authoritative-sounding leaks and rumours notwithstanding.

Which does sound more plausible to an non-expert like me. Ten pounds of military-grade stuff in a crowded tube carriage probably would be expected to kill more than a dozen people.

(Which still wouldn't have suggested anything more than "some people were extremely lucky" or "the bombs were very badly made" or "the explosives had deteriorated" or suchlike, of course.)

Ah, rumour and speculation. Great substitute for facts, innit?

Phil Masters said...

Yes, yes, politicians can be manipulative and amoral bastards. Full marks for observation that man.

However, the idea that they go round deliberately, frequently manufacturing horrible events for minor advantage takes you straight into tinfoil hat territory. Horrible things happen anyway. Once you start believing that everything that happens was made to happen by some cigarette-smoking illuminatus, you're no longer making useful political comments; you're just an idiot.

And bringing up the idea that Roosevelt sacrificed Pearl Harbour to drag the USA into the war shows that, frankly, you've lost it already. (The counter-case can be pretty long and boring, but if you believe that he'd sacrifice the very ships he needed to fight the damn war, you're probably beyond logic anyway.) Next stop is generally the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, if not outer space lizards in Buckingham Palace.

Andrew Rilstone said...

I dunno, Phil. There are some things which, when it comes down to it, I can 't prove, but which seem to be so self-evidently plausible that I am reluctant to call them "conspiracy theories". The idea that the Conservative Party determines what appears on the front page of the Daily Mail is one such. The idea that Prince Charles is an alien is another.

Phil Masters said...

But if everything we hear and everything we read are likely lies propagated by scheming politicians, then their "past records" are almost certainly full of lies and deceptions too.

In other words, once you stop believing anything, you can't believe anything. (And if you start out believing nothing, you end up believing everything.)

Of course, given that the available history and political news are full of stuff that makes one dislike and distrust politicians, one has to assume that, if they're manipulating the news to their own advantage, they're not doing a very good job of it. Because it'd be much more to their advantage to make us trust and like them more.

Whereas the available reports suggest that they try to manipulate the news to their own advantage, and fairly often succeed to some extent, but fail miserably to close off every alternative channel and frequently leave holes in the wall through which stuff seeps, sooner or later. In other words, they're running round fighting fires and improvising and bollixing stuff up, just like the rest of us, only on a larger scale and with more corpses.

Occam's razor applies. Ascribing to vast and devious conspiracies what can be adequately explained by human pettiness and incompetence is superfluous. As well as silly.

Phil Masters said...

Dan's covered the greater part of what I would say more than well enough, so I'll try not to waste anyone's time with a long response here. (Though I will repeat; the idea of a political conspiracy considering fifty civilian deaths to be a price worth paying, but a few hundred civilian deaths to be too much, is so bizarre that I wonder what people are on.)

But anyway... My original line about fireworks and nuclear weapons remains a serious point. If someone let off a small firework in a tube carriage, odds are, no one would actually be killed. If somebody let off a nuclear weapon, the city would be devastated. Hence, there is a scale of potential damage. Somewhere along that scale is an explosion just big enough to kill a dozen or twenty people.

Now, we've got a certain amount of garbled and somewhat contradictory information about this bombing. (I assume that everyone knows that early news reports are often a bit garbled.) On the basis of this information, someone who purports to know about explosives claims that more people should logically have died. This suggests various possibilities to me:

(1) The available information is a bit confused. There wasn't enough explosive involved, or it was the wrong sort, or something.

(2) The bombers were, frankly, bungling incompetents who could have done far more damage if they'd had half a clue.

(3) The purported explosives expert isn't actually as clever as he thinks he is.

Any of these strike me as quite plausible. When people add a fourth possibility - that the whole thing was a vast and disgusting political conspiracy with obscure goals and somewhat incomprehensible motivations - I think they're confused. When they seem to favour that possibility, I begin to think that we've got another troll invasion here.

(By the way, I've never heard the figure of ten kilos quoted for the weight of those bombs. Early reports that I saw said ten pounds - less than half as much - but given that no one actually got to weigh the bloody things, I assume even that's in the realm of loose speculation. It's lovely how the lack of hard facts gives people so much freedom, isn't it?)

Phil Masters said...

Probably time to walk away, Dan, but thanks for the assistance. We're clearly dealing with conspiracy loons here, and arguing with them is like arguing with creationists or UFO nuts; you can spend days carefully breaking down some huge, ostentatious, seemingly critical bit of "evidence", and they'll just shrug it off and move on to something else just as spurious and annoying.

Fortunately, this one has slipped up enough to declare that WPC Fletcher was short from the American Embassy. Given that she was, in fact, shot in St James's Square, and as any fule kno, the US embassy is in Grosvenor Square, we can tell we're not talking informed rationality here. (I guess a sufficiently powerful rifle could lob a ballistic shot over Albemarle Street and Piccadilly...) In fact, I'm getting a distinct smell of troll here.