16 September 2011

Al-Qaeda: The Terror Organisation That Never Was

I've just read "Ricin! The Inside Story of the Terror Plot That Never Was" by former juror Lawrence Archer. The book is well worth reading; it explains, from the perspective of a member of a jury, how people were put on trial for plotting to kill people using ricin: except, there wasn't any ricin, nor any plot.

It explains, in part, how preliminary tests of apparatus seized during a police raid tested positive for protein - which could have been ricin - but two days later, an ELISA assay (for ELISA read very sensitive) showed that no ricin was present. Yet for months everyone was mislead to believe that ricin was present in apparatus seized by the police.
"Gould's evidence that no ricin had been positively identified showed that the ricin-plot hare had been set running by a false positive test result and a decision taken by a non-scientist employee at Porton Down. What's more, no one had sought to calm public fears by correcting the wrong information which had been given to police until three months later, despite the raft of alarming and inaccurate press stories the false reports of a ricin find had generated."
Other threads in the book describe what life is like for an illegal immigrant: petty thieving, poor housing, fear of authorities, exploited by employers. The illegal immigrants in this story were from Algeria, a western friendly dictatorship, that seems not to be a part of the Arab Spring. A place where the security forces are feared, where torture is conducted and who send spies to London, not to spy on the UK gov, but to spy on the illegal immigrants so that they can find reasons to attack their families back in Algeria. Against this background everyone has false documents and everyone goes under a number of different names.

The other thought that came to mind as I read the book was that, if it's possible to be so mislead by the fear of the ricin plot when none exists, couldn't the same be said of Al-Qaeda itself?

Salvador Dali was fascinated by Vermeer's painting, The Lacemaker: he copied the painting and discussed it in lectures. His fascination was for the tip of the lacemaker's needle in the painting since, the needle is visually suggested but not actually depicted. Like the Lacemaker's needle, everything suggests that Al-Qaeda is there but do we really know that it even exists?

Update 3rd October 2011. It appears from the wikileaks 'cablegate' that I'm not the only one who has these sorts of difficulties. A cable titled, "Ergenekon: it all depends on where you sit" where ambassadorial ace, Sandra Oudkirk writes,
""Ergenekon" remains an all-encompassing term after nearly a year of indictments, investigations, arrests, and search warrants. There seem to be as many perceptions of the reality of Ergenekon as there are agendas..."
Transpose Ergenekon with Al-Qaeda and the statements make as much sense.


  1. Shortly after 7/7, the Guardian published an article on the Paris Metro bombings of 1995:

    The DRS - the Algerian secret service - systematically infiltrated insurrectionary Islamist groups such as the GIA and from 1992 onwards launched its own fake guerrilla groups, including death squads disguised as Islamists. In 1994, the DRS managed to place Jamel Zitouni, one of the Islamists it controlled, at the head of the GIA.

    "It became impossible to distinguish the genuine Islamists from those controlled by the regime," says Salima Mellah, of the NGO Algeria Watch. "Each time the generals came under pressure from the international community, the terror intensified". By January 1995, however, Algeria's dirty war began to falter. The Italian government hosted a meeting in Rome of Algerian political parties, including the FIS. The participants agreed a common platform, calling for an inquiry into the violence in Algeria, the end of the army's involvement in political affairs and the return of constitutional rule.

    This left the generals in an untenable position. In their desperation, and with the help of the DRS, they hatched a plot to prevent French politicians from ever again withdrawing support for the military junta. As Aggoun and Rivoire recount, French-based Algerian spies initially given the task of infiltrating Islamist networks were transformed into agent provocateurs. In spring 1995, Ali Touchent, an Algerian agent, began to gather and incite a network of disaffected young men from north African backgrounds to commit terrorist attacks in France. The DRS's infiltrators, led by Zitouni, also pushed the GIA to eliminate some of the FIS's leaders living in Europe.

    Naima Bouteldja: Who really bombed Paris? | World news | The Guardian

  2. ^ thanks for the note, Bridget.

  3. AQ does exist, but perhaps not quite as it is presented.

    Ladies and Gentleman, the late Robin Cook:

    Bin Laden was, though, a product of a monumental miscalculation by western security agencies. Throughout the 80s he was armed by the CIA and funded by the Saudis to wage jihad against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. Al-Qaida, literally "the database", was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians. Inexplicably, and with disastrous consequences, it never appears to have occurred to Washington that once Russia was out of the way, Bin Laden's organisation would turn its attention to the west.

  4. ^ Eyes Wideshut asks who's behind the A-Q magazine, Inspire.

    All very weird. (If not a little tedious).