Testing Times

Okay, so I’ve spent the morning trying to think of a reason why Putin would order this hit on Skirpal in a way that implicates Russia. Let’s look at something Jean said in the comments:

Quite simple people – as much as Putin would like to see NATO gone, he is far more interested in breaking up the EU. After the last expansion of both organizations, in 2004, he was asked whether he would cooperate with both and he replied that he couldn’t imagine not working with them. He changed his tune in 2005 after the EU commission starting talking about bringing an anti-trust case against Gazprom.

Perhaps unfairly I initially dismissed this, but let’s suppose he’s she’s right. From an outsider’s perspective, Britain and the EU are at each other’s throats, trading insults and seemingly as divided as ever as the Brexit negotiations lurch on in fits and starts. It may suit Putin to test the EU’s commitment to Britain and measure their hostility to Russia. Would the EU rush to Britain’s aid in the wake of a hostile Russian act, or will they mince their words and do nothing? The former would require principles and the belief that Russia is indeed a threat to Germany or France (the rest of the EU doesn’t count). The latter would be driven by EU hatred of Britain over Brexit and Germany’s considerable commercial interests in Russia. It’s not difficult to see how this will play out. I’d not be too surprised if Macron denounced Russia, whatever else you may think of the young French president, he doesn’t just say what everyone else wants him to. But this is weak sauce:

Mrs May spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday and “discussed the wide pattern of aggressive Russian behaviour and agreed that it would be important to continue to act in concert with allies to address it”, her spokesman said.

What allies? Germany? Heh.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the use of any nerve agent was “horrendous and completely unacceptable” and officials were in touch with the UK.

Downing Street said the incident was not an “article five” matter – a reference to Nato rules which say an attack on one member constitutes an attack on all.

No? Why not? I don’t think going to war with Russia is a good idea at all, but if this is a direct attack on the British people by the Russian government, as we are being told, then why does this not trigger Article 5? I know the answer: Article 5 is to be triggered only when it suits the geopolitical interests of the US. Which is fair enough, they’re the ones who will do the bulk of the nuking and the fighting.

So what will the Americans do? This is what the BBC reported:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US agreed with the UK that Russia was likely to be behind the attack.

“We agree that those responsible – both those who committed the crime and those who ordered it – must face appropriately serious consequences,” he added.

“We stand in solidarity with our allies in the United Kingdom and will continue to coordinate closely our responses.”

Naturally, many people who think any hesitation on Trump’s part to launch an all-out nuclear strike on Moscow is proof that he’s Putin’s puppet, but we can ignore these idiots even though they’re many in number. But I don’t see why America is under any obligation to get involved here. Britain isn’t a particularly great ally of the United States right now: the public have generated considerable noise in letting Donald Trump know he won’t be welcome should he visit the United Kingdom, and he should expect mass protests of a size not seen since the Iraq War demonstrations. John Bercow, the speaker of the House of Commons, has publicly stated that he would oppose the current US president from addressing parliament, and both Theresa May and Amber Rudd saw fit to chastise Trump for daring to retweet a video which made Muslims look bad. Sadiq Khan seems to think the office of London’s mayor has a foreign policy element, and that should be directed at criticising Trump. Then yesterday a credible story circulated that an American citizen had been denied entry into the United Kingdom because her Austrian boyfriend says mean things about Muslims.

At this point, Donald Trump would be forgiven for thinking Britain should deal with its own problems for a change. The Russians have attacked you? Oh dear. Perhaps you ought to have focused on Russian agents running around your cities with nerve agents instead of endlessly insulting me and telling me what I can and cannot share on Twitter. If I’m honest, I hope he says just that (see bobby b’s comment here, too).

So this issue is going to severely test the relationship Britain has with the US, as well as what remains of their relationship with the EU. Even if Putin was not behind this attack, he will be paying serious attention to what each leader says, and what actions they’re prepared to support. It seems an overly complicated and risky way to go about it, but perhaps this was his plan all along? We’ve got to consider it. Let’s see what the Russians say today in response to May’s demand for an explanation. I may have to acknowledge Jean called this right from the start.

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So it was Russia, in some form. What now?

At the time of writing, this is breaking news:

Former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia, Theresa May has told MPs.

The PM said it was “highly likely” Russia was responsible for the Salisbury attack.

The Foreign Office summoned Russia’s ambassador to provide an explanation.

Mrs May said if there is no “credible response” by the end of Tuesday, the UK would conclude there has been an “unlawful use of force” by Moscow.

The chemical used in the attack, the PM said, has been identified as one of a group of nerve agents known as Novichok.

Mrs May said: “Either this was a direct action by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of its potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.”

I’d say she’s got the two options narrowed down correctly. She’s also well within her rights to summon the Russian ambassador and demand an explanation. It’s going to be interesting what the Russians say: this isn’t something they can just fob off in their usual manner.

My guess is the latter of the two scenarios is the more likely. I simply can’t think of a credible theory that would have the Russian government trying to knock off this Skirpal chap at all, let alone using a nerve agent which points the finger straight at them, and then botching the job. So I think there are rogue elements in Russia, quite possibly hostile to Putin and much more hardline than he, who have access to this agent and firstly bear a grudge against Skirpal for his treachery, but who also want to ensure there is no improvement in relations between Russia and the west. The Russian economy is not in good shape; perhaps Putin – or one of his advisers – has been murmuring about concessions over Crimea in return for an easing of sanctions, or backing down in some other manner. Okay, the Crimea one is unlikely: your average Russian is pretty committed to keeping hold of Crimea, far more than they care about Syria for example. But something along these lines is at least a believable scenario, albeit a rather frightening one.

However, if the Russians have rogue elements of their security forces running amok, don’t expect Putin to admit it. For someone in Putin’s position to publicly concede he’s lost control in some manner would be suicide. Here’s a sobering thought though, probably not one entertained by those demanding Britain (and America) takes action against Putin: supposing he’s replaced by someone worse, someone who didn’t think much about knocking off former spies with nerve agents in a Salisbury pub? That’s not to say we shouldn’t take action, but we need to think through the consequences. In this regard, I think we can safely ignore anything most of the media has to say over the coming days, as well as Corbyn and his idiotic shadow cabinet.

A lot of people are already demanding Trump says something in support of Britain over this issue, but I’m interested to hear what the EU and European leaders say. Which way will Germany jump, especially if further sanctions are mooted? I’m half-expecting Merkel to mumble a bit before doing whatever is good for Siemens at al, with the rest of the EU falling in behind her. Probably the only ones who will object are the Baltic States, but it’s high time they learned when it comes to the EU and Russia, they’re on their own – just like Britain.

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If Putin did it, we need a convincing explanation as to why

Something about this Russian spy and his daughter doesn’t add up for me. Since I wrote my previous posts, it has transpired that the two were attacked with a nerve agent. This makes things doubly serious, firstly because nerve agents are so deadly that collateral damage is hard to avoid – and with 21 people now said to be affected, there has been plenty of that – and secondly because nerve agents, compared with poisons, are generally only accessible to state bodies. This puts the attack on Skirpal in the same bracket as the one which killed Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned with polonium-210. Nerve agents and polonium are not things you can buy in a shop or make at home – at least, we hope not.

So all the fingers are pointing towards a Russian government operation. But if that’s the case, the rules of the game have changed:

It seems to reflect a breakdown in the old etiquette of espionage, not only foreshadowing an even more vicious “shadow war” to come, but also challenging Western states to come up with new ways to respond to and deter these kinds of outrages.

In itself, former spies are not usually considered targets, according to the old rules. It’s assumed that they will be debriefed, squeezed of all remaining information of value they may possess, but typically they then semi-retire into grateful obscurity, their knowledge increasingly dated.

So either the Russians have blatantly broken the rules – which served them equally well as us, and were maintained throughout the Cold War – or it was not a Russian government operation. Or put another way, if something doesn’t follow the normal rules of a government operation then it probably wasn’t a government operation.

So let’s suppose it was carried out on Putin’s orders. Why would he do this? The easy answer is “to send a message”. Okay, to whom? For what purpose? To discourage spies within his ranks? Sure, but Putin grew up in the KGB during the Cold War and they’d have been equally motivated then, but they stuck to the rules. What has changed that would make someone versed in old-school spycraft deviate so drastically from the rules? Did this Skirpal still have valuable information to disclose? If that’s the case, why was he wandering around Salisbury eating in restaurants and loafing around with his daughter on park benches?

Perhaps it was for personal revenge. If so, why Skirpal? Of all the people on Putin’s shit-list, was he really that high up? And worth risking a massive diplomatic rift with Britain over? People need to stop looking at Putin as some sort of pantomime villain. He’s a smart man and although his methods of running a country are dubious at best and his morals non-existent, he is not some irrational lunatic who lashes out for reasons of personal revenge without thinking through the consequences. If Skirpal was killed on Putin’s orders, it would not have been to satisfy his ego. We need a better explanation than that.

Some are saying he is sending a warning to Britain. I don’t know why: other than having a vote on the UN security council and (for now) having a say in any sanctions passed by the EU, Britain isn’t much of a threat to Russia. For Putin, it is better to have Britain on-side, or luke-warm, or perhaps even cool rather than dead-set against them. Nothing Putin has said or done suggests he has some huge chip on his shoulder about the UK, in the way he does the United States. Britain and Russia clash over certain policies for sure, e.g. Syria, but I can’t see how murdering Skirpal in such a manner would help with that. Again, we need to stop thinking of Putin as a cartoon villain, coming up with elaborate plans to warn or punish his enemies.

So even though this looks like a Russian government operation, I believe we need to come up with a plausible theory as to why they’d have carried it out as they did, risking an extremely serious rift with the UK. How would it benefit Russia? So far, most commentary has been of similar quality to that which supposes Putin swung the US election for Trump, i.e. implausible and often demonstrable nonsense. And as I said in my previous post, that’s half the problem: having been sold the idea that Putin is a Bond villain working endless nefarious schemes, we’re now incapable of thinking rationally on any subject remotely related to Russia. Here’s what the Russians themselves say:

Russia was not involved in the attempted murder of an ex-spy and is willing to help with a UK inquiry, the country’s foreign minister has said.

Are the Russians playing an exceedingly clever game here, helping out in the inquiry knowing full well they did it? This is a bit risky, isn’t it? When Russian agents allegedly went about assassinating people in Turkey, they didn’t rush to help Ankara with any investigation. They either denied it or said nothing. When they assassinated a Chechen in Qatar and their guys got caught, they defended them to the hilt. When the Israelis assassinated someone in a Dubai hotel room, they denied everything and went quiet. The only times I’ve heard of a criminal assisting the police in their investigation has been in fictional stories or on those TV shows which show the guy in prison having been remarkably stupid in not making himself scarce. My guess is that if the Russian government did order this hit, they’d have in place a very well thought out plan of how to handle the resulting diplomatic crisis, and it would not have involved cooperating with the investigation.

A lot of this doesn’t make sense to me, and only fits the “Putin did it” narrative if we assume he’s the evil genius desperate politicians and the idiotic media say he is. I don’t mind the Russian government being the primary suspect, but I’d like to see a proper theory advanced that stands up to scrutiny, and all other possibilities explored and ruled out, before we decide to close the Russian embassy in London and send them all packing.

What I’m saying is I am not very happy with politicians, the media, and a lot of the public simply saying “Putin did it, obvs” and demanding retaliatory actions without having anything to support the allegation other than the absolute mountain of shite that’s been written about the man in the past 18 months.

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Who did their job, and who didn’t?

Via MC in the comments, this:

The security consultant who has worked for the company that compiled the controversial dossier on Donald Trump was close to the Russian double agent poisoned last weekend, it has been claimed.

Give it a few days and we’ll start finding out this guy was tied in with Clintons, and the story will disappear in a puff of smoke with only conspiracy theorists mentioning his name ever again. With good reason: associates of the Clintons winding up dead is hardly newsworthy, is it? Might as well run a report every time it rains in Wales.

Slightly more seriously, I’m going to buck the trend again. On the one hand I’m in agreement with some of my commenters: Britain should not allow Russian agents (assuming it was them) to go around murdering people willy-nilly with polonium and nerve gas on its soil. For starters, the possibility of collateral damage is great; the policeman who first handled the couple is critically ill in hospital, and this is appalling.

But a spy being killed by the Russians? Okay, the chap worked for us so he’s on our side. But the Russians don’t see it that way, and understandably so. To them, he’s a filthy traitor. Did the information he passed on to the British result in any Russians being killed or imprisoned? It’s hard to imagine his treachery was harmless. So let’s flip this around. Would we be outraged if MI6 had arranged for Kim Philby or Guy Burgess to be knocked off in Moscow once they’d betrayed the west and fled to the Soviet Union? On the contrary, I’d consider it a duty of the British government to try.

The outrage here isn’t really that Russia tried to kill a former spy. The outrage is that the British government let a former double agent wander around Salisbury oblivious to the fact someone still wanted him dead. I don’t think they even gave him a new identity, let alone a security detail. Who was in charge of this? Or is there a gentleman’s agreement that Russia has breached whereby spies who’ve been handed back in a swap are off-limits for retribution? Britain has a duty to protect those who cross over to work for them, as well as the public at large. This duty goes beyond expecting the Russians not to play dirty, and they’ve been negligent. How did someone even get a nerve agent into the country? Isn’t that a scenario they should be guarding against? Perhaps the security services should spend less time hounding British citizens for saying hurtful things on the internet and start doing the job they’re supposed to. We can be sure the Russians are doing theirs.

UPDATE

From the Moscow Times (H/T Tim Johnson):

Skripal was not just any spy, though, but a former insider, a GRU officer who allegedly blew the cover of some 300 Russian agents.

There’s 300 suspects right there. It is quite possible this had nothing to do with the Russian government at all. Let’s just say that had Bowe Bergdahl been Russian instead of American, he’d likely be found dead and the government with a clean pair of hands.

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Leaves on the line, Putin to blame

Let’s talk about this Russian spy and his daughter who have taken ill in Salisbury:

The government’s emergency committee Cobra is to be updated on the police probe into the suspected poisoning of a former Russian double agent.

Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, have spent a third night in a critical condition in hospital after being found unconscious in Salisbury.

Scientists at the UK’s military research facility at Porton Down are examining an “unknown substance”.

Met Police counter terrorism officers have extended cordons in the city.

I assume the Met Police are there because local plod lacks the competence to handle such a case. So ultimately we now have diversity-hire Cressida Dick in charge of the investigation. If I were a Russian holed up in a potting shed on a Salisbury allotment with an empty syringe in my bag, I’d breathe a sigh of relief.

Mr Skripal and his daughter were found slumped and unconscious on a bench outside the Maltings shopping centre on Sunday afternoon.

The two victims should be grateful they didn’t live in Glasgow. Would anyone have noticed?

Speaking in the Commons on Tuesday, Mr Johnson said: “Honourable members will note the echoes of the death of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.

“I say to governments around the world that no attempt to take innocent life on UK soil will go unsanctioned or unpunished.”

What sanctions or punishments resulted from Litvinenko’s murder? And are double-agents really innocent? Was Kim Philby?

Okay, let’s talk more seriously. Firstly, this is relevant:

Tony Brenton, the former British ambassador to Russia, suggested that Mr Skripal would have had many enemies – including many former colleagues

He said: “The fact that he blew a whole range of Russian agents, there may be personal animosities there.

“In most Russians’ minds he would be categorised as a traitor. There are people there who would be delighted to see him dead.”

Russia is a dangerous place with no shortage of murderous psychopaths. If somebody gets murdered, there could be several reasons for it. If the deceased happens to be involved in questionable activities, e.g. shady business deals or spying, their list of enemies will be long indeed. Similarly, journalists whose work exposes corruption and malfeasance in Russia will also make a lot of enemies, many of whom will want them dead. In short, a Russian oligarch, spy, or journalist turning up dead does not in itself imply Putin ordered the murder.

Now it may be that Putin is happy with the outcome, but that doesn’t mean it was his doing. It is an article of faith among lefties that the CIA was behind the 1973 coup in Chile that ousted Salvador Allende and brought Augusto Pinochet to power. There is absolutely no evidence of this, and enough evidence showing the American government was somewhat surprised by the developments in Santiago, but lefties simply point to previous American interference in Chile and the undeniable fact that the US would have been quite pleased with the outcome as proof of their involvement. Unfortunately, that is not how historical claims are adjudicated and nor are criminal matters. If we are going to accuse Putin of ordering a hit on a journalist or spy, we need to at least acknowledge that he may well have had nothing to do with it. A lot of commentary in the western press doesn’t do this, and openly states that Putin murders journalists. They then, often in the same paragraph, complain about fake news coming from Russia.

That’s not to say Putin is innocent. Under the conditions of his rule, life for journalists has been made very dangerous indeed, and this is appalling. He certainly bears much responsibility for opposition politicians and journalists being killed in broad daylight, as Boris Nemtsov was, and the standard practice of stitching up a couple of young Chechens each time is happening on his watch. He has also created the conditions under which the words “who will rid me of this troublesome priest?” get interpreted in a manner in keeping with English historical standards. He may not even need to utter them: an ambitious soul might decide to do Putin a favour by knocking someone off before he’s passed any remarks. In a feudal system such as Putin’s Russia, doing the king an unsolicited favour might reap substantial rewards.

So Putin has a lot to answer for, but that doesn’t mean we’re sure he’s tried to kill this guy and his daughter in Salisbury. There are simply too many possibilities, and we need to be sure before saying something daft. Thankfully, someone understands this:

Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley said: “This investigation is at the early stages and any speculation is unhelpful…

Indeed, but perhaps he should have had a word with Boris Johnson:

The UK would respond “robustly” to any evidence of Russian involvement in the collapse of former spy Sergei Skripal, Boris Johnson has said.

The foreign secretary said he was not pointing fingers at this stage, but described Russia as “a malign and disruptive force”.

Is this helpful? This is even more stupid:

The Russian state has denied responsibility for his poisoning, but author of “Spycraft Rebooted”, Edward Lucas, claimed on the BBC the attack was an “act of war” if Russia was found to be behind the attack.

He said: “If Russia is behind it then it means they are taking this to a whole new level, it is in effect a declaration of war from the Russians to bump off someone like that – if they did it.

Supposing Putin calls up Theresa May this morning and says yup, it was me. Are we going to go to war with Russia? No, we’re not. We’ll piss and moan and kick some diplomats out, and go back to doing nothing. I remember when a Malaysian Airlines jet was shot down over Ukraine, almost certainly by Russian-backed militias operating hand-in-glove with Russian forces. Everyone fell over themselves to avoid having to actually do anything, probably at the behest of the Germans for whom commercial interests in Russia are worth far more than a few hundred dead passengers. At the very worst, there will be calls for sanctions which the EU won’t support. So save the tough-talk, nobody believes you.

But the west has a far larger problem here. Russia has been held up as the bogeyman ever since America’s Democrats couldn’t accept the fact that Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election because she was an appalling candidate. Nowadays, whenever a vote threatens to go against the interests of the ruling classes, they accuse the Russian government of interference without offering any evidence other than vague reports of “Russian bots” operating with a $15k budget targeting Facebook users with unhelpful stories. This lame excuse was rolled out to explain the establishment’s humiliating defeat over Brexit, it was preemptively deployed when Macron losing to Le Pen was still a theoretical possibility, and Samantha Power – Obama’s ambassador to the UN – is now accusing Russia of throwing the Italian election. Whenever something doesn’t go the way of the ruling classes in the west these days, prominent figures brazenly accuse Putin of interference. It is irresponsible in the extreme, not only because it damages relations with Russia for no good purpose and encourages ludicrous calls for extremely harmful retaliatory measures, but it weakens their position when something happens for real.

This is a classic case of the boy crying wolf once too often. If high-ranking politicians are accusing Putin of nefarious deeds on a daily basis, each time sounding increasingly deranged, why should anyone care when he’s charged with poisoning a spy in Salisbury? And why should the Russians care? Mueller’s investigation into supposed Russian interference in the US presidential election has been running for well over a year, and nothing of any substance has been found, yet the cacophony has only gotten louder. An act of war, says Ed Lucas? Well, he’s a bit late to that particular party:

Why should we expect Russia to behave honourably in this poisonous political environment? Even if Putin personally ordered the hit on Skripal, the British authorities are never going to find out, let alone gather enough evidence to do anything other than ratchet up the existing hysteria. Will anyone even notice?

Finally, I’ve heard several remarks over the past day or two to the effect that Putin, and Russians generally, never forget those who cross them and hold grudges. Well, maybe that’s true but I don’t see why this should necessarily be a bad thing. Consider our own politicians, for example, many of whom seem to have forgotten that the IRA were murderous thugs who killed and maimed innocent British citizens on our own soil. Our memories are so short that the man who showed solidarity with these terrorists and invited them to parliament is now the leader of the opposition, and his past dalliances with groups openly hostile to Britain are airily dismissed with a wave of the hand. And do you think anyone in Moscow is advocating giving social housing to returning ISIS fighters? The question ought not to be why Russia holds grudges and kills traitors, but why we are so forgiving of those in our own ranks.

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When Towers and Trust Collapse

The BBC is running a story about 9/11 conspiracy theories:

On 11 September 2001, four passenger planes were hijacked by radical Islamist terrorists – almost 3,000 people were killed as the aircraft were flown into the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field. Just hours after the collapse of New York’s Twin Towers, a conspiracy theory surfaced online which persists more than 16 years later.

“Is it just me?” an internet user named David Rostcheck wrote, “or did anyone else recognise that it wasn’t the airplane impacts that blew up the World Trade Centre?

“I hope other people are actually catching this, but I haven’t seen anyone say it yet, so I guess I will. There’s no doubt that the planes hit the building and did a lot of damage. But look at the footage – those buildings were demolished,” he continued. “To demolish a building, you don’t need all that much explosive but it needs to be placed in the correct places… Someone had to have a lot of access to all of both towers and a lot of time to do this. This is pretty grim. The really dire part is – what were the planes for?”

Subsequent investigations made it clear that the tower structures were weakened by the inferno from the planes and felled by the weight of collapsing floors. However even now some people refuse to believe this version of events.

I watched the towers collapse on a television in the conference room of an engineering consultancy, surrounded by civil and structural engineers. None of us could believe what we saw, and many of us thought an airplane crashing into the towers couldn’t cause the towers to collapse as they did. A few months later some American TV station aired a program explaining exactly how they collapsed, someone recorded it, and we all packed into the same conference room to watch it. Everyone came away fully satisfied by the explanations given.

The video explained that the two towers fell in quite different ways. Their construction consisted of an inner steel core and an outer shell, held together by cross-braces made of light steel. Neither the inner core or outer shell could stand independently, so the cross bracing was essential. When the aircraft struck the impact knocked off a lot of the fire protection, and the subsequent fire weakened the cross bracing to the point the outer shell fell away, causing the entire tower to collapse. In one video clip you can actually see the core standing on its own for a fraction of a second before it too collapsed to the ground. The other tower fell differently. When the aircraft struck, the resulting fire weakened the supporting steel above the impact point so the entire (intact) tower section above slammed into the floor below, which gave way, and the process repeated through several floors bringing the entire structure crashing down. Although burning jet fuel is insufficient to melt steel, any increase in temperature beyond a certain point severely reduces its structural strength, and temperatures far exceeded that point.

There are many inexplicable elements to 9/11, but most have to do with the fact that this event was entirely without precedent. Nobody could possibly have predicted what would happen should two colossal skyscrapers come crashing down in sequence in the middle of a city, and the mechanisms it triggered in the immediate surroundings will never be properly understood. People say WTC 7 (or whatever) should not have collapsed in the way it did; well, nobody knows how a building is going to behave subject to forces of that nature, all we can do is look at the wreckage and try to figure it out. If the same thing was repeated half a dozen times we might get a better idea, but until then there will always be a lot of odd phenomena about 9/11 we can’t explain. This is what conspiracy theorists rely on when peddling their nonsense.

However, the point of my post is to highlight how much times have changed. When 9/11 occurred there was still some semblance of trust in the US government, and only demented conspiracy theorists believed it would be an inside job. Most people were even on board with the official explanation, which seemed to make sense to me. I certainly can’t see any reason not to believe the official version of events, at least those concerning the WTC and the Pentagon (the story of Flight 93 lends itself to some manipulation, not least because we don’t know for sure what the target was and how it was brought down). But public trust took a huge knock a year later when George W. Bush and co. started banging on about Iraq’s nuclear weapons and resorting to complete bullshit to make the case for war. Since then things have gone rapidly downhill: the Obama years saw the utter corruption of government agencies, flat-out lies concerning Benghazi and Fast and Furious, and since Trump’s election it’s been non-stop disinformation regarding Russia’s alleged interference in US politics. To cap it all, we had a gunman firing hundreds of rounds into a crowd in Las Vegas and after a brief period of feeding the public contemptible bullshit, law enforcement officials and politicians have decided they’re not going to tell anyone what happened, and the media aren’t in the slightest bit interested in finding out. The government’s reaction to this event was so remarkable that even normal, balanced people were convinced something was rotten about the whole thing. And we’re still waiting for answers, by the way.

So my point is that the 9/11 conspiracy theories are nonsense, but if 9/11 happened today the public would have every reason to think they were being told a pack of lies from the outset and they’d almost certainly be right. This collapse in public trust may prove almost as catastrophic as the collapse of the towers themselves.

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Nothing to see here, Australian edition

Well, it turns out I was completely wrong when I said yesterday’s incident in Melbourne would be forgotten by Christmas: it’s largely been forgotten already, disappearing from the front page of the BBC to be replaced by a story about kids dying in Yemen. At least it’s not the Rohingyas, anyway.

As BiG pointed out in the comments, before the ink was dry on my post the Australian authorities had declared it the work of a lone nutter and hence was not terrorist-related. The fact that the guy was an Afghan refugee, complained about worldwide “mistreatment of Muslims”, and was filmed in action by one of his co-religionists who was carrying a sack of knives doesn’t mean a damned thing, it seems. Because, as Streetwise Professor put it, lone lunatics are always accompanied by knife-wielding cameramen.

The authorities are taking the piss, secure in the knowledge the Australian population – like so many others – will just lie down and take it, with a good percentage actually siding with the men with the beards. But they’re not outright lying, it’s more of a lie by omission. I am quite sure the guys who carry out these vehicular attacks are mentally ill and are quite possibly loners. All societies have them, and Australia’s approach to nutters is to not to care for them or make them seek treatment (because that would be judgmental), but instead to clap them on the back and encourage them to roam the streets panhandling and yelling at passers-by. The irony is that most of Melbourne’s head cases congregate around Flinder’s Street Station where the attack took place, so there is an outside chance our Afghan friend has spotted a mate from way back in the funny-farm and just wanted to say hello.

The problem is, mentally-ill Muslims don’t just hang around stations yelling at people; instead they can tap into a large and well-funded network brimming with anti-western sentiment which will welcome them with open arms. There are supposedly moderate mosques and preachers all over the world who will happily embrace lone nutters and, instead of helping them, turn them into jihadists carrying out amateurish but deadly attacks on western targets safe in the knowledge they have no links to an actual terrorist network and the authorities will play along. By refusing to acknowledge the obvious and dangerous link between mentally-ill Muslim men and organised Islamic terror, western governments have entered into a quite astonishing collaborative agreement with terrorist organisations. Then again, given both see the ordinary native populations as representing the greatest threat to their ambitions, this is perhaps less surprising that you’d think.

But their culpability doesn’t stop there. One day I fervently hope that western politicians and their lackeys are held accountable for their considerable role in perpetuating among Muslims this perception they are being mistreated everywhere, and that westerners are to blame. From the hand-wringing over non-existent Islamophobia to the gleeful reporting of the Muslim world’s reaction to Trump moving an embassy, the western media and many, many governments are as much to blame for filling this idiot’s head full of angry feelings of victimhood as any radical preacher. Once again, it is a collaborative effort.

The good news is that I think fewer and fewer people are buying this crap, and compared to five years ago, more of the population are openly mocking the pathetic, craven, and self-serving response of the authorities to Islamic terror attacks. This is a small but important step along the road to doing something about it. When that time comes, I hope little distinction is found between the terrorists and those in power who currently help them.

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A Mystery in Melbourne

An event in Melbourne, completely without precedent elsewhere, leaves us dumbfounded:

Australian police have arrested two people after a car drove into a crowd in Melbourne.

The car “collided with a number of pedestrians” on Flinders Street, a busy junction in the centre of the city, said Victoria Police.

Fourteen people have been injured, with several in a critical condition.

I know that junction, I used to cross it on my daily walk to work along with about twenty thousand other people. It’s busy, and there’s nothing between the pavement and the road. If you want to mow down a bunch of folk in a car in Melbourne, that’s where you’d do it.

Police have said it was a deliberate act but said it was too early to say whether it was terrorist-related.

This is probably true, but I don’t think time is really the issue here. I remember when an Iranian took a bunch of people hostage in a Sydney cafe and shouted Islamist slogans while waving an ISIS flag before shooting someone; when the police eventually got around to saying whether it was terrorist-related they’d decided it wasn’t. Just another of those “lone wolves” we keep seeing everywhere. The public responded with a hashtag fronting a bizarre campaign to sit next to Muslims on public transport. If only their cricket team behaved like this on the pitch, I’d be a lot happier.

The driver and another man have been detained.

“The motivations are unknown,” police commander Russell Barrett said.

Helpfully, 7 News Sydney tweeted a photo of the two men:

Beards and a lumberjack shirt? Why, they’re fucking hipsters! Melbourne is full of them, and they really are a menace.

Witness Jim Stoupas, who runs a business nearby, told the BBC: “It just barrelled through a completely full intersection of pedestrians. There was no attempt to brake, no attempt to swerve.”

He added: “I saw probably five to eight people on the ground with people swarming around them [to help]. Within a minute, I think, there were police on site, so it was very, very speedy.”

Victoria Ambulance said in a statement that a child of pre-school age with serious head injuries was among those taken to hospital.

If the father of that child were Chechen, the perpetrators would not have long to live. I’m merely observing some cultural differences here, celebrating diversity as we’re encouraged to.

In January, six people died when a man drove a car into pedestrians on Bourke Street.

Afterwards, city authorities installed concrete blocks in various locations – including on Flinders Street – hoping to prevent vehicle-based attacks.

Tsk! Someone tell the BBC that the official term is “diversity bollards“.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Twitter that the investigations had begun, and sent “thoughts and prayers” to those affected.

Of course. This will be forgotten by Christmas Day.

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The Inertia of the British Middle Classes

The fascinating social experiment which is the United Kingdom got a bit more interesting last week when a bomb was planted on the London Underground. Fortunately it failed to fully explode, but it burned a number of people as the carriage passed through Parsons Green tube station, leaving behind a smoking Lidl carrier bag with fairy lights and crocodile clips which people seemingly walked right up to and photographed. Obviously they didn’t know it was a bomb, which leaves me to assume they were merely outraged at carrier bags littering the tube, bags they thought had been banned.

The media are, as usual, doing everything they can to obfuscate over who planted the bomb. Check out this BBC report:

An 18-year-old and 21-year-old are being held over the explosion, which injured 30 at Parsons Green station.

The house being searched in Sunbury-on-Thames belongs to a married couple known for fostering hundreds of children, including refugees.

Friend Alison Griffiths said the couple had an 18-year-old and a 22-year-old staying with them recently.

She described Mr and Mrs Jones as “great pillars of the community”, adding: “They do a job that not many people do.”

Lots of people have 18 and 21/22 year olds staying with them. What we want to know is are these the same ones who planted the bomb? The BBC can’t quite bring itself to ask the question, let alone answer it.

When the British government decided to admit thousands of child refugees from Iraq, Syria, and everywhere else it was obvious that many were not refugees and an awful lot of them weren’t children. The authorities didn’t even bother hiding this, such is their contempt for truth and transparency. They were warned time and again that these people weren’t being properly vetted and, having come from a war zone, some of them could be Islamist nutters bent on waging jihad once in the UK. Nobody cared: not the government, and nor the population.

Sure, people made noises on social media but when Nigel Farage brought up the issue of refugees in the last General Election the middle classes howled in outrage and backed that nice man Corbyn instead. However you interpret the results of the GE, one thing is clear: the bulk of the British people seem quite unconcerned about refugees and mass immigration. Proof of this is the reaction of the media and middle classes to people on the continent like Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen. They wrung their hands at these nasty, racist people and cheered when the Netherlands and France “rejected hate” by electing nice, reasonable people who avoided mentioning Islam, terrorism, and immigration as much as they could.

The British middle classes have gone into full-on meltdown over Donald Trump, with many wanting him banned from the UK and others openly calling him a white supremacist. The same people reacted with apoplectic outrage when the rather mild and reasonable Jacob Rees-Mogg said that, being a Catholic, he opposed abortion in all forms. Apparently there is no place for opinions like that in British political discourse, and he was branded a dangerous extremist. The chances of someone like Rees-Mogg, i.e. a genuine conservative being elected British Prime Minister are slim indeed.

What people want is the sort of wet centrist that Cameron personified. Looks like a nice young man, not especially bright, will say whatever makes people happy and won’t really try to change anything. He’s basically the nice-but-dim uncle your parents let run the kids’ birthday party, a safe pair of hands. They don’t want the other uncle who goes on anti-nuclear marches and everyone suspects is a bit of paedo, and nor do they want the one who’s been in the marines and swears too much. People don’t like Theresa May because she exudes soulless mediocrity and reminds people of the dinner lady nobody liked in school, not because her policies are stupid.

This smouldering bucket on the tube has proved that beyond doubt. The policy of admitting in unvetted migrants from the Middle East and passing them off as child refugees was central to the government of which Theresa May and Amber Rudd were part. Okay, perhaps the 18-year old was a child when he got admitted. It would certainly explain the amateurish bomb-making efforts. The instructions on Fisher Price detonators were always hard to follow. I digress.

My point is that anyone who had not been following politics for the past few years would think the British public would be going absolutely mental at this government and the last for pursuing this insane policy, which has bitten them on the arse in the very manner everyone said it would. But no, the media and middle classes are as muted as ever in the wake of an Islamist bombing, hands are being wrung about a possible Islamaphobic backlash, Sadiq Khan has requested the BBC play the same speech he did last time to save him the effort of repeating himself, and all focus is on how Boris Johnson isn’t fit to be Foreign Minister because he said some things Remainers don’t like.

One can only conclude from all this that the majority British public, and certainly the middle classes, are not unhappy with the situation. Economists have this wonderful term called revealed preferences whereby you watch what people actually do rather than listen to what they say. Well, I’ve seen the reaction of the British public to Wilders, Le Pen, Rees-Mogg, Trump, and Farage and I’ve also seen their response to a series of Islamist bombings aimed at killing as many Britons as possible. What conclusion am I supposed to draw?

My guess is most people live nice, comfortable lives. They have enough food, a warm dry bed, a roof over their heads and more luxuries than their parents ever had, including a second car, foreign holidays, and an expensive phone. By historical standards they are financially secure (nobody is going to evict them from their home, and they can always get another credit card), and most are raising one, two, or three absolute brats who give the mother that unconditional love she’s craved since her student days when she watched far too much telly. It’s not just material, they have spiritual satisfaction, too: in the absence of a religion they have taken to virtue-signalling, backing righteous causes such as banning carrier bags, and making the world a better place – by opposing nasty men like Donald Trump, for example.

One should never discount how much intertia resides in a population so satisfied. Let’s be honest, nobody wants to change anything very much while things are going so well. If a giant bomb went off in London next week killing dozens of people and a fringe politician came out of the woodwork and said “By fuck, enough’s enough, I’m gonna solve this!” the middle classes would shit themselves and would cheer the Met as they arrested him for hate speech and carted him away in a paddy wagon decorated with LGBT livery. The chances of any individual being blown up or mown down by an Islamist nutter in the UK are miniscule, and for most people it’s simply not worth rocking the boat by electing someone who’s willing to harbour robust opinions, never mind actually do something.

In other words, Islamic terrorism is an acceptable price to pay to avoid upsetting the material and spiritual status quo the middle classes enjoy. And that’s why nothing gets done about it.

Anyone want to come up with a better explanation?

(Incidentally, this isn’t just a British thing: the German election is about to see Angela Merkel rewarded for her insane immigration and refugee policies with another term, running against someone who makes her look sensible. Again, what conclusion am I supposed to draw?)

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Zakat’s role in funding terrorism

From the BBC:

Saudi Arabia is the chief foreign promoter of Islamist extremism in the UK, a new report has claimed.

The Henry Jackson Society said there was a “clear and growing link” between Islamist organisations in receipt of overseas funds, hate preachers and Jihadist groups promoting violence.

Wednesday’s report says a number of Gulf nations, as well as Iran, are providing financial support to mosques and Islamic educational institutions which have played host to extremist preachers and been linked to the spread of extremist material.

At the top of the list, the report claims, is Saudi Arabia. It alleges individuals and foundations have been heavily involved in exporting what it calls “an illiberal, bigoted Wahhabi ideology”, quoting a number of examples.

When most people read a report like this, they assume that thousands of Saudis are intentionally handing over money to extremist and jihadist groups in the hope they will use it to promote or practice violence. Undoubtedly this will be true for some individuals and no doubt some organisations too, but these reports overlook a crucial point that I have only seen mentioned once.

That point was made in Steve Coll’s excellent and highly recommended Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden (emphasis mine):

The money flowing from the kingdom arrived at the Afghan frontier in all shapes and sizes: gold jewelry dropped on offering plates my merchants’ wives in Jeddah mosques; bags of cash delivered by businessmen to Riyadh charities as zakat, an annual Islamic tithe;

Operating in self-imposed isolation, major Saudi Arabian charities and such organizations as the Saudi Red Crescent, the World Muslim League, the Kuwaiti Red Crescent, and the International Islamic Relief Organisation set up their own offices in Peshwar. Funded in ever-rising amounts by Saudi Intelligence and zakat contributions from mosques and wealthy individuals, they, too, built hospitals, schools, clinics, feeding stations, and battlefield medical services.

Wikipedia describes zakat as follows:

As one of the Five Pillars of Islam, zakat is a religious obligation for all Muslims who meet the necessary criteria of wealth.

Zakat is based on income and the value of all of one’s possessions. It is customarily 2.5% (or 1/40th) of a Muslim’s total savings and wealth above a minimum amount known as nisab. The collected amount is paid first to zakat collectors, and then to poor Muslims, to new converts to Islam, to Islamic clergy, and others.

Basically, in any wealthy Muslim country there is an awful lot of zakat money floating about, handed over by individuals as a matter of duty rather than choice. Inevitably, a portion of this cash will be purloined by people who will use it to further their own nefarious agendas. We see the same thing happening in governments: individuals are forced to hand over taxes ostensibly to pay for police, schools, and the army but the money gets hijacked and ends up going on diversity coordinators, lame arts projects, and the housing of child refugees with full beards and impressive combat records.

If you flood a place with money from a source which doesn’t get to say how it’s spent, you’ll lose control of it. If you lose control, some of it will get spent in ways you don’t like. I suspect a lot of this Saudi funding of terrorism is simply zakat money handed over to a charity in all innocence, and then dispersed by people who have made quite an art of diverting funds to extremist groups under the cover of legitimate, peaceful activities. That’s not to say there is no blatant funding of extremists going on in Saudi, but if you really want to tackle the issue you’ll have to either remove the obligation to pay zakat or ensure it is only distributed to groups which have been subject to thorough due diligence such that every Riyal can be accounted for.

Good luck with that.

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