Sunday, July 09, 2006

NYC Bomb Plot: Idiots Thwart Other Idiots

On July 7th The New York Daily News broke the story of a foiled plot to bomb the Holland Tunnel which of course instantly became a national story.

That very morning one of the News’ writers was on air with Brian Lehrer of WNYC—definitely the best informed, intelligent and moderate topical talk radio mediators I’ve ever heard--who asked the reporter if, given the impracticality of the alleged scheme, he’d had any sense from his sources that the story might be in some way be politically motivated. The reporter calmly replied that he had no such impression.

So with that assurance let’s look at the original story and then the follow up.

Only July 7 the Daily News opened with this lead (emphases mine):

The FBI has uncovered what officials consider a serious plot by jihadists to bomb the Holland Tunnel in hopes of causing a torrent of water to deluge lower Manhattan, the Daily News has learned.

Accompanied by a photo of the Holland Tunnel captioned:

New Jersey-bound traffic speeds through Holland Tunnel beneath more than 40 feet of earth and concrete - and the Hudson.

The body then went on:

The plotters wanted to detonate a massive amount of explosives inside the Holland Tunnel to blast a hole that would destroy the tunnel, everyone in it, and send a devastating flood shooting through the streets of lower Manhattan. …They also wanted to attack subways and other tunnels.

But then added that:

Experts also said that even if the [Holland] tunnel cracked, the Financial District would not be flooded because it is above the level of the river.

And in the second to last paragraph wrote that:

The disclosure of the Holland Tunnel plot came at the same time Homeland Security Department officials announced a boost in funds to protect rail and transit lines in the New York City area yesterday.

This of course was several weeks after the DHS had cut anti-terror funding to NYC by 40% due to its lack of landmarks, bridges, tunnels and significant financial centers.

Now according to the Daily News (who “own” this story) on 7/8

The plot, as The News first reported, was to blow up underwater tunnels, break the walls, flood the tunnel, and possibly drown the subway system and lower Manhattan.

The Daily News characterized the story as a plot to bomb the Holland Tunnel, mentioning the tunnel specifically five times (and “subways and other tunnels” just once) apparently based on what the FBI told them. The News goes on to report:

Mark Mershon, the assistant director in charge of the FBI in New York and top city officials confirmed what the Daily News exclusively reported yesterday.
Mershon said the focus of the group was "specifically only the PATH tunnels" and not the Holland Tunnel, as The News reported. But several high-level sources said the plotters had eyed other tunnels in lower Manhattan, including the Holland Tunnel, before settling on the PATH trains

Now it seems just 24 hours later that the “target” was the PATH tunnel not the Holland Tunnel as was so clearly initially reported. The Daily News both “corrects” its initial story and yet claims confirmation—and from whom? The very same sources that gave them the story in the first place and have since changed it.

For those of you who don’t know, the Holland Tunnel and the PATH tunnels that connect New Jersey to lower Manhattan are separate and a mile apart on both sides of the Hudson. An explosion in one would not affect the other.
In the interest of informing the public whilst not revealing too much, the FBI might have instructed the Daily News report that the plot simply involved downtown tunnels (which could have included the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel) but they let them run the story that the Holland was the target.
Now that seems to be “wrong”, the FBI aren’t directly correcting the story but just changing it, and the Daily News isn’t really correcting the story either. So how reliable are the sources, and how thorough are the Daily News reporters?

Whilst you are pondering that, let’s move on shall we?

The suicidal plot to attack Hudson River tunnels, kill thousands and flood lower Manhattan was the "real deal," but was busted up with the arrest of three terrorists, the city's top FBI agent said yesterday.

So the plot was actually foiled yesterday (7/7) and publicly revealed, presumably AFTER the arrest of three “terrorists”, though as this latest article goes on to mention:

Three suspects have been busted - including self proclaimed mastermind Assem Hammoud, authorities said. Hammoud is in a Lebanese jail. Another suspect was in custody in England, and a third was picked up in Canada, sources said. Canadian media reported a Montreal man was questioned but later released because there wasn't enough evidence to hold him.
Five other suspects remained at-large, but Kelly said their whereabouts "are known and they are being observed."

I can only imagine that the FBI, having glommed a plot being hatched by terrorists dumb enough to use an internet chat room assume that the remaining conspirators are too stupid and too busy Instant Messaging each other (“what happened to Assem? Haven’t heard from him! Did his ‘puter crash again? I keep telling him to get an Apple, or at least bomb Microsoft HQ instead of NYC!”) to bother looking at say, the Al Jazeera website which (along with a zillion other sites) has been carrying the story since it “broke”, and therefore won’t notice that they are “known and being observed”.

However stupid the “terrorists” may have been by discussing their plans in an easily accessible chat room, they at least seem to have been smart enough to conclude that blowing up the Holland Tunnel to flood Manhattan’s (DHS-defined non-existent) financial center might not work on account of the fact they’d need a bomb big enough not only to breach 4 feet or more of solid concrete (plus the surrounding granite bedrock), but also big enough to raise the level of the Hudson River 11 feet.

Now, according to Saturday’s FBI, the plan was actually to attack the PATH tunnel, not the Holland Tunnel (as Friday’s FBI explained it). Why the difference in the story? Maybe Friday’s FBI will say any old shit just so they can go home early and Saturday’s FBI don’t want to work on Saturday so they’ll say any old shit just to make the day go faster—who knows?

But never mind that, the important thing is that the plot was real!

"We're here today to discuss what we believe is the real deal," said Mershon, who was flanked by Mayor Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Port Authority Police Superintendent Samuel Plumeri.

How real was it? Well according to Mershon (who apparently spends Fridays AND Saturdays juggling keeping us safe from terrorists with trying to get his story straight):

"For most of the year we have been focusing on a group of Al Qaeda followers who have targeted the Hudson River tubes that connect New Jersey to lower Manhattan…"This is a plot that involved martyrdom and explosives”.

(I’m sure Mershon really meant explosives first and martyrdom second, or martyrdom with explosives, because you know, it’s tough to set off explosives after you are a martyr).
Anyway, according to the Daily News

They decided that "martyrs" could ride the PATH trains with backpacks full of explosives in an effort to duplicate the July 7, 2005, London bus and subway attacks, sources said.


The plotters hadn't yet decided how many suicide bombers were needed.
"There was never a set number [of bombers]," said a senior law enforcement official in Washington. "Their debate was over how many it would take to damage the tunnel."

Nonetheless the plotters apparently were looking to take action apparently in October or November of 2006

"They were about to go to a phase where they would attempt to surveil targets, establish a regimen of attack and acquire the resources necessary to effectuate the attacks," Mershon said. "And at that point I think it's entirely appropriate to take it down."

Umm…“effectuate”? With prejudicial extremeosity, I presumicate?

"This is more advanced than the Miami Seven," said one of the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Begging your pardon sir, but tofu is more advanced than the “Miami Seven”.

Still, never mind all that, let's summarize shall we?

A Lebanese millionaire and seven other people scattered around the world were monitored for a year discussing a suicide attack on NYC transportation tunnels. During that time the DHS cut anti-terror funding to NYC by 40% because NYC didn’t really have anything much worth blowing up.
Though the supposed “mastermind” of the plot had recently received a Canadian visa (he’d been to Canada and the US before) the FBI has not reported that any of the other co-conspirators had made any travel arrangements.
Believing the conspirators were getting ready to execute their plan the FBI (and other appropriate security agencies) nabbed three of the eight would be terrorists.

Immediately after the three arrests the FBI and the Daily News revealed the plot publicly despite the fact that the investigation was still on-going and that five suspects still remained at large, though as the FBI so reassuringly explained to the public, their whereabouts were known and they were being watched.

The Daily News pushed the story that, according to their FBI sources, the plan was to blow up the Holland Tunnel and flood Manhattan’s Financial District.

Despite the very obvious facts that blowing even a crack in the tunnel walls to begin a flood would require careful placement of a large amount of explosives, or the casual placement of a truckload of explosives---and any truck trying to speed into the Holland Tunnel wouldn’t get very far—the Financial District is 10 feet above sea level ergo no flooding would be possible. Nonetheless this was the story provided on 7/7.

On 7/8 the story, again sourced to the FBI. had changed to describe a far more plausible plot of suicide bombers blowing themselves up on a PATH train.

Such a scheme would be quite ghastly of course, but as the target in question was apparently only the WTC tunnel, only that would have been immediately affected. The PATH at WTC does not share any tunnels with the city subway system.

Yet the Daily News made sure to state:
The plot, as The News first reported, was to blow up underwater tunnels, break the walls, flood the tunnel, and possibly drown the subway system and lower Manhattan.
Of course The News first reported the (utterly unfeasible) plot was to blow up the Holland Tunnel; but let’s not nitpick about reporters falsely reporting on their own reporting.
I’d say blowing up multiple tunnels, flooding downtown Manhattan AND the subway system is entirely possible, as long as you had more than 8 guys (who hadn’t decided how many people or how much explosives they needed).

So the upshot here seems to be that some incompetent “terrorists” were caught plotting by the FBI who couldn’t catch everyone in the plot.
The FBI then incompetently reveals the incompetent plot to incompetent journalists just as the DHS restored anti-terror funding for the subjects of the plot after having incompetently determined the NYC had no such targets.
The FBI then incompetently changes the story which the incompetent journalists simply parrot whilst ignoring their own incompetence. And finally an incompetent politician Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee who had just the previous week demanded the jailing of competent NY Times journalists declared:
"This is a success story. The FBI did its job."

There was no way these “terrorists” could have accomplished, even in part, their plans for the Holland Tunnel. One or two of them could however have killed themselves and others on the PATH train and in that regard the FBI had good cause for concern.

But why the initial story about the Holland Tunnel being presented as though it were crediible? Why the change in story the next day, with no official acknowledgment of the nonsense in the previous story?

Why tell the story when the investigation is incomplete?

Why state that the remainder of the group were known and were being observed? Why does Peter King, a New York Representative and Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee call this “a success story”, when by rights he should be demanding the heads of the Daily News reporters and those who leaked the story?

The terrorist plot isn’t the story; it’s the telling of the story.

And it’s a tale told by idiots, fretting and strutting upon the stage, full of sound and fury, signifying...well, that any idiot can hatch a plot, any idiot can be a reporter, and any idiot can be can hold public office.