Special Reports
Crying Wolf: Terror Alerts based on fabricated intelligence
By Michel Chossudovsky
Global Research

Aug 23, 2006, 00:55

"It would be easy for terrorists to cook up radioactive 'dirty� bombs to explode inside the U.S. . . . How likely it is, I can't say . . ." (Secretary of State Colin Powell, 10 February 2003)

"The near-term attacks . . . will either rival or exceed the 9/11 attacks . . . And it's pretty clear that the nation's capital and New York city would be on any list . . ." (DHS Secretary Tom Ridge, December 2003)

"You ask, 'Is it serious?' Yes, you bet your life. People don't do that unless it's a serious situation." (Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, December 2003)

" . . . Credible reporting indicates that Al Qaeda is moving forward with its plans to carry out a large-scale attack in the United States in an effort to disrupt our democratic process . . . (Secretary Tom Ridge, 8 July 2004)

"The enemy that struck on 9/11 is weakened and fractured yet it is still lethal and planning to hit us again." (Vice President Dick Cheney, 7 January 2006)

''Had this plot been carried out, the loss of life to innocent civilians would have been on an unprecedented scale,'' ( Home Secretary John Reid, 10 August 2006)

"Crying Wolf: To raise a false alarm too many times, with the result that no one believes you when help is necessary."

The British Home Office announced (August 10) that a "foiled terror plot" to simultaneously blow up as many as ten airplanes on transatlantic flights had been uncovered. So far Scotland Yard has not presented documentary evidence of this carefully coordinated suicide bombing operation.

Confirmed by media reports, there is no evidence that the arrested suspects had actually purchased plane tickets which would have enabled them to undertake this operation. Several of the suspects did not even possess a passport. (Craig Murray, 14 August 2006).

Meanwhile, the feasibility of the plot ( at a technical-scientific level) has been questioned. No chemical labs were discovered, which might have confirmed that the suspects had the prior knowledge or skills to manufacture a triacetone triperoxide ( TATP) bomb, let alone their ability to appropriately mix the deadly liquid chemicals on board a transatlantic flight ( Thomas C. Greene, 17 August 2006)

Moreover, much of the confidential information which led to the arrests of the British suspects by Scotland Yard was made available, courtesy of Pakistani Military intelligence (ISI), which coincidentally is known to have supported and financed the terror network including the Pakistani based Islamic groups which are allegedly behind the foiled UK plot.(Michel Chossudovsky, 15 August 2006).

The British and American corporate media are complicit. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is upheld as "a hero" for assisting in the foiled UK plot. Carefully omitted from most press reports, the London Police Anti-Terrorist Branch (S013) headed by Peter Clarke together with MI6 and MI5 (which operates under the authority of Home Secretary John Reid) have been working hand in glove with a Pakistani based intelligence agency which has and continues to support the Islamic jihad including Al Qaeda, while also collaborating in a cozy relationship with its Western counterparts "in going after the terrorists".

According to "reliable" intelligence transmitted from ISI headquarters in Rawalpindi, the explosive TATP chemical mixture "had been tested in Pakistan", but the British based suspects "had not yet actually prepared or mixed it".

Crying Wolf

This is certainly not the first time that brash and unsubstantiated statements have been made regarding an impending terror attack, which have proven to be based on "faulty intelligence".

Since 2003, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued several terror warnings about possible Al Qaeda plans to launch "an attack on America" similar in magnitude to that of September 11, 2001. In some of the high profile terror alerts, the alleged plot also involved a mysterious "Pakistani connection".

The foiled UK plot replicates several features of an alleged Al Qaeda 1995 terror plot entitled "Operation Bojinka " which relied on triacetone triperoxide ( TATP) bomb. It also bears a canny resemblance to a more recent December 2003 Code Orange Terror Alert, which served to disrupt transatlantic flights at the height of the holiday period. (See below).

Reviewed below (chronologically) are selected clear-cut cases of terror alerts based unsubstantiated information and "faulty intelligence".

1. The Foiled Ricin Threat: London, January 2003

There was a ricin terror alert in January 2003, barely two months before the invasion of Iraq. According to several media reports, it had been ordered by terror mastermind Abu Musab Al Zarqawi. The ricin had allegedly been discovered in a London apartment. It was to be used in a terror attack in the London subway.

A team from Porton Down chemical and biological weapons research centre confirmed that they had found no ricin. (See Milan Rai, April 2005).

British press reports, quoting official statements claimed that the terrorists had learnt to produce the ricin at the camp in Northern Iraq. General Richard Myers, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, asserted that

"It is from this site that people were trained and poisons were developed which migrated into Europe . . . We think that's probably where the ricin found in London came from." (quoted in Birmingham Evening Mail, March 31, 2003)

Yet when US Special Forces in March 2003 raided the camp in Northern Iraq, nothing resembling biological or chemical weapons was found:

"What they found was a camp devastated by cruise missile strikes during the first days of the war. A specialized biochemical team scoured the rubble for samples. [there was] no immediate proof of chemical or biological agents. (ABC News, 29 March 2003)

The London Observer's correspondent in Northern Iraq (9 February 2003) blatantly refuted these claims:

"There is no sign of chemical weapons anywhere - only the smell of paraffin and vegetable butter used for cooking. . . . Mohammad Hasan, spokesman for Ansar al-Islam, explained. 'We don't have any drugs for our fighters. We don't even have any aspirin. How can we produce any chemicals or weapons of mass destruction?'"

2. Radioactive Dirt Bombs: Washington, DC, 8 February 2003 (Three days after Colin Powell's Presentation to the UN Security Council)

In the immediate aftermath of Secretary Colin Powell's presentation to the UN Security Council regarding Iraq's alleged Weapons of Mass Destruction, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) declared a code orange terror alert, pointing to insidious links between Al Qaeda and Sadaam Hussein:

"Top intelligence officials gave Congress a sobering warning Tuesday of the al-Qaeda terrorist network's interest in using missiles and poisons to inflict mass casualties in the United States, adding grim new detail to previous accounts of looming terror attacks. The warning came as a broadcast statement believed to have come from al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden pledged the terrorist group's support for Iraqis and called on followers to defeat a US-led invasion. . . . Taken together, the statements from U.S. officials and the shadowy terrorist organization sharpened the sense that the United States faces its greatest threat of terrorist assault since the Sept. 11 attacks." (US Today, 12 February 2006, emphasis added)

The announcement served to turn realities upside down. Sadaam and Osama had joined hands. America rather than Iraq was under attack. The terror alert also contributed served to diverting public attention from the divisions within the Security Council and the accusations directed against Colin Powell for having misled the UN's highest body.

A fabricated story on so-called 'radioactive dirty bombs� had been planted in the news chain. A few days following his address to the UN, Sec. Powell warned that:

"it would be easy for terrorists to cook up radioactive 'dirty� bombs to explode inside the U.S. . . . 'How likely it is, I can't say . . . But I think it is wise for us to at least let the American people know of this possibility.�" (Statement by Colin Powell, ABC This Week quoted in Daily News (New York), 10 Feb. 2003).

Musab Abu Al Zarqawi was identified as the number one suspect. Meanwhile, network TV had warned that:

"American hotels, shopping malls or apartment buildings could be al Qaeda's targets as soon as next week . . ."

Following the announcement, tens of thousands of Americans rushed to purchase duct tape, plastic sheets and gas-masks.

It later transpired, that the terrorist alert was " fabricated" by the CIA:

"According to officials, the FBI and the CIA are pointing fingers at each other. An FBI spokesperson told ABCNEWS today he was 'not familiar with the scenario', but did not think it was accurate." (ABC News, 13 Feb. 2003; See also Terror Alert Based on Fabricated Information))

In another related report on ABC TV:

PETER JENNINGS: (Off Camera) ABC's Brian Ross begins our reporting. Brian, last night we were wondering whether the intelligence agencies were operating on good information. What do we know today?

BRIAN ROSS, ABC NEWS: (Off Camera): Well, Peter, today, two senior officials tell ABC News that a key piece of the information leading to the recent terror alerts was, in fact, fabricated.


(Voice Over) In particular, a claim by a captured al Qaeda member that Washington, New York, or Florida would be hit by a dirty bomb sometime this week, by a secret al Qaeda cell operating in Virginia or Detroit.

VINCE CANNISTRARO,FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: This piece of that puzzle turns out to be fabricated. And therefore, and the reason for a lot of the alarm, particularly in Washington this week, has been dissipated, after they found out that this, this information was not true.

(ABC News, 13 February 2003)

Both the FBI and the CIA in contradictory statements subsequently clarified that the intelligence had not fabricated. But rather, it was the "suspected terrorist in custody [who had deliberately] fabricated information about potential attacks. The detainee's remarks were one factor in raising the threat advisory to code orange" (Los Angeles Times, 15 Feb 2006)

While tacitly acknowledging that the alert was a fake, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge decided to maintain the 'Orange Code� alert:

"Despite the fabricated report, there are no plans to change the threat level. Officials said other intelligence has been validated and that the high level of precautions is fully warranted." ( ABC News, 13 Feb. 2003 ).

A few days later, in another failed propaganda initiative, a mysterious Osama bin Laden audio tape was presented by Sec. Colin Powell to the US Congress as 'evidence� that the Islamic terrorists "are making common cause with a brutal dictator". (US official quoted in The Toronto Star, 12 Feb. 2003). Curiously, the audio tape was in Colin Powell's possession prior to its broadcast by the Al Jazeera TV Network. (Ibid.)

3. Alleged Chemical Weapons' Attack: Madrid, 5 February 2003

Meanwhile in Spain, coinciding with Colin's Powell's Security Council presentation, Bush's coalition partner, Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar had initiated his own disinformation campaign, no doubt in liaison with US officials.

Perfect timing! While Colin Powell was presenting the Al-Zarqawi dossier to the UN, on the very same day, February 5, 2003, Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar was busy briefing the Spanish parliament on an alleged chemical terror attack in Spain.

According to Aznar, Al Zarqawi was apparently linked to a number of European Islamic "collaborators" including Merouane Ben Ahmed, "an expert in chemistry and explosives who visited Barcelona" (reported in El Pais, February 6 2003).

Prime Minister Aznar's speech to the Chamber of Deputies (Camera de diputados) intimated that the 16 alleged Al Qaeda suspects, who apparently were in possession of explosives and lethal chemicals, had been working hand in glove with Al Zarqawi.

According to Aznar, Al Zarqawi was apparently linked to a number of European Islamic "collaborators" including Merouane Ben Ahmed, "an expert in chemistry and explosives who visited Barcelona" (reported in El Pais, February 6 2003).

Prime Minister Aznar's speech to the Chamber of Deputies (Camera de diputados) intimated that the 16 alleged Al Qaeda suspects, who apparently were in possession of explosives and lethal chemicals, had been working hand in glove with Al Zarqawi.

The information had been fabricated. The Spanish Ministry of Defense report confirmed that:

"the lethal chemicals" turned out to be harmless and some were household detergent . . ." (quoted in Irish News, 27 February 2003, emphasis added):

"A defence ministry lab outside Madrid tested the substances - a bag containing more than half a pound of powder and several bottles or containers with liquids or residues- for the easy-to-make biological poison ricin . . . The Spanish defence ministry, which carried out the tests, and the lab itself declined to comment " (Ibid)

4. Alleged Al Qaeda Plot to Attack Transatlantic Flights: Christmas 2003

A few days before Christmas in a scenario similar to the foiled August UK attack, (former) Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge intimated that a second 9/11 was imminent involving attacks on transatlantic airplanes over the holiday period.

On December 21st, 2003, four days before Christmas, Homeland Security raised the national threat level from "elevated" to "high risk" of a terrorist attack. According to Tom Ridge, these "credible [intelligence] sources" raise "the possibility of attacks against the homeland, around the holiday season . . ."

"Terrorists still threaten our country and we remain engaged in a dangerous - to be sure - difficult war and it will not be over soon," warned Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. "They can attack at any time and at any place."

The official Christmas announcement by the Homeland Security Department dispelled any lingering doubts regarding the threat level:

"the risk [during the Christmas period] is perhaps greater now than at any point since September 11, 2001;"

It also warned Americans, in no uncertain terms, but without supporting evidence, that there are:

"indications that [the] near-term attacks . . . will either rival or exceed the [9/11] attacks".

"And it's pretty clear that the nation's capital and New York city would be on any list . . ." (emphasis added)

Following Secretary Ridge's announcement, anti-aircraft missile batteries were set up in Washington: "And the Pentagon said today, more combat air patrols will now be flying over select cities and facilities, with some airbases placed on higher alert."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said "You ask, 'Is it serious?' Yes, you bet your life. People don't do that unless it's a serious situation." (ABC News, 23 December 2003)

According to an official statement: "intelligence indicates that Al Qaeda-trained pilots may be working for overseas airlines and ready to carry out suicide attacks." (quoted by ABC News, 23 December 2003).

More specifically, Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists were, according to Homeland Security, planning to hijack an Air France plane and "crash it on US soil in a suicide terror strike similar to those carried out on September 11, 2001."

Air France Christmas flights out of Paris were grounded. F-16 fighters were patrolling the skies.

The terror alert contributed to creating a tense atmosphere during the Christmas holiday. Los Angeles International airport was on "maximum deployment" with counter-terrorism and FBI officials working around the clock.

The stand down orders on Air France's Christmas flights from Paris to Los Angeles, which were used to justify the Code Orange Alert during the Christmas holiday, were based on fabricated information. Following the French investigation conducted in collaboration with US officials, it turned out that the terror alert was a hoax. The information was not "very very precise" as claimed by US intelligence. The six Al Qaeda men turned out to be a five year old boy, an elderly Chinese lady who used to run a restaurant in Paris, a Welsh insurance salesman and three French nationals. (Le Monde and RTBF TV, 2 January 2004)

The decision to cancel the six Air France flights was taken after 2 days of intense negotiations between French and American officials. The flights were cancelled on the orders of the French Prime minister following consultations with Secr. Colin Powell. This decision was taken following the completion of the French investigation. Despite the fact that the information had been refuted, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge insisted on maintaining the stand-down order. If Air France had not complied, it would have been prevented from using US air space, namely banned from flying to the US.

It was only on January 2nd, once the holiday season was over that the US authorities admitted that they were in error, claiming that it was a unavoidable case of "mistaken identity." While tacitly acknowledging their error, Homeland Security insisted that "the cancellations were based on solid information."

5. Foiled Terror Attack on the Bretton Woods Institutions and Wall Street: August 1st 2004

The decision to launch the Code Orange Terror Alert in New York City, Washington DC and northern New Jersey was taken on the night of July 29th 2004, within hours of John Kerry's acceptance speech at the Democratic convention.

According to a unnamed senior intelligence official, the decision to launch the high risk (code orange) terror alert was taken on that same Thursday evening (July 29 2004) in the absence of "specific" and detailed intelligence, which was being provided by Pakistan's Military Intelligence:

"At the daily CIA's 5 p.m. counterterrorism meeting on Thursday, the first information about the detailed al Qaeda surveillance of the five financial buildings was discussed among senior CIA, FBI and military officials. They decided to launch a number of worldwide operations, including the deployment of increased law enforcement around the five [financial] buildings." [World Bank, IMF, NYSE, Citigroup, Prudential] (WP, 3 August 2004)

On Thursday July 29, when the decision was taken to increase the threat level, the "precise" and "specific" information out of Pakistan including "the trove of hundreds of photos and written documents", was not yet available.

The information regarding the role of a mysterious Pakistani computer engineer, Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan, later identified as Osama's webmaster, was only made available ex post facto on the Friday, once the decision had already been taken:

"A senior intelligence official said translations of the computer documents and other intelligence started arriving on Friday [one day after the decision was taken to launch the operation]. (WP, 3 August 2004)

President Bush was "informed of the potential threat on Friday morning [July 30] aboard Air Force One". (WP, 2 August 2004). On that same morning, President Bush approved the decision of the CIA to raise "the threat level" in the absence of "specific" supporting intelligence.

Following the DHS's Sunday August 1st advisory that the Bretton Woods institutions were a potential target, the World Bank spokesman Dana Milverton retorted that .''the information was "largely out of date,'' and "a lot of it was actually public information that anyone from outside the building could have gotten." (Guardian, 3 August 2004)

"One federal law enforcement source said his understanding from reviewing the reports was that the material predated Sept. 11 and included photos that can be obtained from brochures and some actual snapshots. There also were some interior diagrams that appear to be publicly available." (WP, 3 August 2004, emphasis added)

According to the New York Times (August 3, 2004) report:

"the information, which officials said was indicative of preparations for a possible truck- or car-bomb attack, left significant gaps. It did not clearly describe the suspected plot, indicate when an attack was to take place nor did it describe the identities of people involved." (emphasis added)

Ironically, when the mysterious Pakistani computer engineer Noor Khan was arrested, he was not charged or accused of masterminding a terror attack on Wall Street and the IMF. (See The Pakistani Connection: The London Bombers and "Al Qaeda's Webmaster" Michel Chossudovsky, 20 July 2005)

In fact quite the opposite: he was immediately recruited by Pakistan's military intelligence (ISI). Two weeks later, when the news regarding his alleged role in planning the attacks on America's financial institutions had hit the news chain in early August 2004, Noor Khan was duly employed by Pakistan's secret service on behalf of the CIA:

Khan had been arrested in Lahore on July 13, and subsequently "turned" by Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence Agency. When his name appeared in print [in early August 2004], he was working for a combined ISI/CIA task force sending encrypted e-mails to key al Qaeda figures in the hope of pinpointing their locations and intentions. (The Herald, 9 August 2005)

Fabricated Intelligence for Political Gain

The various terror alerts reviewed above were all carried out in a timely fashion at a politically opportune moment. The underlying instrument in all these cases is a sense of fear and intimidation "that politicians can capitalize on". (See Sheila Copps, Edmonton Sun, 13 August 2006)

The objective is to galvanize public opinion in favor of a military solution, while temporarily boosting the fragile image of main political and military actors. .

While, the UK foiled terror attack announced by Home Secretary John Reid has served to temporarily distract public attention from the ongoing atrocities committed in the Middle East war, it has also triggered a wave of public skepticism which could potentially lead to the downfall of Prime Minister Tony Blair. This skepticism is in part based on the pattern of repeated terror warnings over several years.

The London terror alert has replicated the US pattern of "crying wolf". Britain's counter-terrorism is a "copy and paste" of US procedures.

John Reid's August 10 statement emulates the pronouncements of his US counterparts, Michael Chertoff and (former) Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, which have been repeated ad nauseam over the last few years.

Moreover, there are indications of deep-seated divisions within the New Labour government. The announcement of the foiled terror attacks were ordered by the government of Tony Blair, with the support of the corporate media. US officials and Vice president Dick Cheney were consulted and had advanced notice regarding the timing of John Reid's announcement.

The sequence of these terror alerts based on phony information, repeated over several years, inevitably creates amidst the British and American public, a sense of disbelief: an uncomfortable feeling that both Scotland Yard and the British Home office are lying.

The counter-terrorism apparatus is desperately crying wolf, which could potentially trigger in the United Kingdom, a political crisis of immeasurable consequence.

Crying Wolf from the Horse's Mouth

How can we be sure that the brazen statements by senior Bush administration officials in support of successive code orange alerts were based on fake intelligence?

Upon retiring from his position at Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, who made several far-reaching announcements during his term in office, candidly admitted (mea culpa), that the code orange terror alerts were in fact based on "flimsy evidence" (See Tom Ridge's Mea Culpa, May 2005)

The Bush administration periodically put the USA on high alert for terrorist attacks even though then-Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge argued 'there was only flimsy evidence to justify raising the threat level . . . ' Ridge [said] he often disagreed with administration officials who wanted to elevate the threat level to orange, or "high" risk of terrorist attack, but was overruled.

"More often than not we were the least inclined to raise it . . . Sometimes we disagreed with the intelligence assessment. Sometimes we thought even if the intelligence was good, you don't necessarily put the country on (alert). . . . There were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said, 'For that?' " (USA Today, 10 May 2005, emphasis added)

Michel Chossudovsky is the author of the international best seller "The Globalization of Poverty " published in eleven languages. He is Professor of Economics at the University of Ottawa and Director of the Center for Research on Globalization. His most recent book is America�s "War on Terrorism", Global Research, 2005. (This book also provides a detailed analysis and review of fake intelligence and the terror alerts). To order Chossudovsky's book America's "War on Terrorism", click here

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