Is it the rabbit hole or is it Oz?

August 13, 2006 by barbara

by barbara

Remember that "probably" thing I wrote about a few days ago? I was lamenting that my inner cynic was going bonkers, wondering whether there were Bushmarks on the timing of revelations about the Britain terrorist plot. Surely this administration is not so crass and soulless that they would stoop to manipulating world events to suit their political purposes. (You know what's coming, don't you?)

Check out this MSNBC article. A senior British official says that his people wanted to continue surveillance on the terror suspects for a while. That the terrorists hadn't purchased airline tickets and some didn't even have passports yet. But apparently American officials were pressing hard to move in and make the bust immediately.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, one Bush aide claimed "unprecedented cooperation and coordination between the U.S., the U.K. and Pakistani officials . . . (who) worked together to protect our citizens from harm . . . there was no disagreement between U.S. and U.K. officials."

On the other hand, a different U.S. official conceded that there was a difference of opinion about timing, citing U.S. hair-trigger nerves because of missed opportunities around 9/11. I want to believe that, don't you?

The MSNBC article goes on to discuss timing of the arrest of the Rashid Rauf, the suspected plot leader. The British official says that the U.S. demanded immediate custody, and if that didn't happen, they would "render" him. Assuming this does not mean melting down his body fat, it must refer to "extraordinary rendition." That immensely scary policy allows transfer of terror suspects into the control of foreign governments where interrogation methods not permitted under U.S. law can be applied to the suspects. Read: torture.

In fairness, there are multiple issues at play here. Alongside the specter of possible administration political maneuvering, there is the matter of traditional and current structure of U.S. counter-terrorism agencies. According to the New York Times, it has been an FBI tradition to move in and make quick arrests, 9/11 notwithstanding.

The Times interviewed John O. Brennan, a former official of the Central Intelligence Agency who set up the government's National Counterterrorism Center two years ago, said he had been involved in a number of recent cases '" most of them still classified '" in which the F.B.I. had placed suspected terrorists under surveillance rather than rounding them up.

Brennan said the bureau's willingness to wait reflected a new sophistication as supervisors adapted to the rhythm of terrorism investigations. "Especially given the history of 9/11, of course the bureau wants to move quickly and make sure there is no risk of attack," he said. "But over the past two years, I think the bureau has become much more adept at allowing these operations to run and monitor them."

But others are less certain that the bureau has overcome its traditional desire to make quick arrests. Daniel Benjamin, a counterterrorism specialist in the National Security Council in the Clinton administration, said the apparent success of the British surveillance operation '" and the failure of the F.B.I. to identify and disrupt any similar terrorist cell in the United States since Sept. 11 '" argued for creation of an American counterpart to MI5. "The F.B.I. has still not risen to the domestic intelligence task," he said.

So. We have what is probably genuine desire on the part of this administration to keep Americans and others from being blown to smithereens on their watch. Again. We have U.S. and British counter-terrorism modi operandi that differ markedly in a number of ways. We have an administration that antes up the full force of U.S. power to get its way in high stakes situations. How much of that is in the interest of the American people and how much of it is in the interest of the Bush administration? The two are not necessarily the same, as we have seen repeatedly over the past six years.

It is a Memorex moment. When the U.S. bullies Britain into making a bust that coincides with unfolding political issues reflecting badly on this administration, is the immediacy real or is it bogus? How do you tell the difference?

We don't really know. But we harbor suspicions. And that's the problem with perpetual lying and hyping and spinning, oh my.

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