“Be sceptical. Be very, very sceptical.”

15 August 2006, 1422 EDT

Craig Murray was the British ambassador to Uzbekistan, until he was recalled in October 2004. His posting was supposed to run through November 2005, so he was clearly sacked from this position, as they say in the UK. In early 2005, Murray resigned from the Foreign Office.

Before his dismissal, Murray was publicly criticizing the human rights policies of the Uzbek government — and privately condemning the Blair government for emulating the US and outsourcing torture. Murray says his dismissal was politically motivated, while the British government says the diplomatic recall was for “operational reasons.” Critics note that Murray was previously investigated for a variety of misdeeds and was charged with being drunk on the job and misuse of an embassy vehicle.

Why am I providing such detail? Well, Murray has written an explosive blog post about last week’s UK terror bust that has not received much attention in the US — though it is beginning to circulate around the web. The title for this blog post comes from his closing line.

Why is Murray skeptical of the official story? First, Murray has been very critical of the hyperbole used to sell the Iraq war and he points out in comments that a number of other British terror cases have been overblown. The evidence in this case doesn’t look so strong to his eyes:

None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn’t be a plane bomber for quite some time.

Moreover, Murray says that the only evidence about the airliner plot emerged from the Pakistani part of the investigation — and he’s convinced that it was obtained by torture and is thus potentially worthless. On this point, Murray speaks from first-hand diplomatic experience in Uzbekistan:

many of those arrested had been under surveillance for over a year – like thousands of other British Muslims….Nothing from that surveillance had indicated the need for early arrests.

Then an interrogation in Pakistan revealed the details of this amazing plot to blow up multiple planes – which, rather extraordinarily, had not turned up in a year of surveillance. Of course, the interrogators of the Pakistani dictator have their ways of making people sing like canaries. As I witnessed in Uzbekistan, you can get the most extraordinary information this way. Trouble is it always tends to give the interrogators all they might want, and more, in a desperate effort to stop or avert torture. What it doesn’t give is the truth….

As they were all under surveillance, and certainly would have been on airport watch lists, there could have been little danger in letting them proceed closer to maturity – that is certainly what we would have done with the IRA.

Murray attributes the arrests to domestic political pressures on George W. Bush and Tony Blair and points out that the media have “bought, wholesale, all the rubbish they have been shovelled.”

Have they?

NBC news has been reporting about political pressure in this case for a couple of days:

U.S. and British authorities had a significant disagreement over when to move in on the suspects in the alleged plot to bring down trans-Atlantic airliners bound for the United States.

British officials knowledgeable about the case said British police were planning to continue to run surveillance for at least another week to try to obtain more evidence, while American officials pressured them to arrest the suspects sooner.

Suspected ringleader Rashid Rauf was arrested in Pakistan “over the objections of the British” and the story says US officials had threatened to “render” him.

An unnamed “senior British official” told NBC that an attack “was not imminent.” In initial reports, “one American official” used the same phrase when talking to The New York Times.

Hopefully, in the coming months, we’ll learn whether this was a successful case of anti-terror law enforcement — or yet another example of threat inflation designed to serve political purposes.

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