Tag Archives: terrorists

The only thing we know for certain is that we don’t know anything at all

jahar-hashtagIf there are any Wikipedia editors out there, I have a significant update for the John Wilkes Booth entry. I think he might have been innocent. Bear with me, I know I sound crazy. But I may have ‘proof’.

After the Twitter account of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (or Jahar) was publicised last weekend, I noticed some disturbing tweets. On March 11, 2012, at precisely 8:21am, he simply tweeted: “time travel”. Then, almost a year later, on February 13, 2013, he dramatically tweeted: “I killed Abe Lincoln during my two hour nap” (where “nap” can be taken to mean “adventure through the wormhole”). This blatant admission of guilt has since been retweeted over 260 times by various people across the world, including Twitter user @TheSecular, who added “hmmm” to their manual retweet, with all the narrow-eyed suspicion of someone who’d just stumbled across evidence of a time-travelling presidential assassination.

It’s worth noting that Jahar hashtagged his tweet with #intensedream, which should give him a legal loophole to jump through should it ever go to trial. Still, it’s comforting to know that the super-sleuths of Twitter are on the case following the tragic scenes in Boston the other week, forensically analysing every tweet he’s ever written.

Another online sleuth, going by the name of @Mr_GreedGH, quoted two of Jahar’s tweets for the benefit of his 2,000+ followers, adding that they strongly hinted at the terror attack that was to come. One tweet, originally posted in late March, said: “Being bilingual is da bomb” (my emphasis), while another, posted in early February, said: “I’m in the New York state of mind”. With such breathtaking investigative flair, I certainly hope the likes of Kris Kross and Billy Joel have ironclad alibis as to their whereabouts on April 15th. Nothing gets past these online Columbos.

Out of pure nosiness, I spent most of last Saturday reading through Jahar’s timeline. When I started reading, his account had just over 82,000 followers (up from around the 300 mark). By the time I arrived at his very first tweet (a laundry-based update from October 2011) he had over 90,000. If you visit his timeline now and refresh your page every few minutes, his follower count steadily continues to rise – just over a week since his arrest in Watertown, Massachusetts.

Since the bombings, Jahar’s Twitter timeline has become a forum for argument, rumour, abuse, seductive conspiracy theories and even messages of support, solidarity and declarations of awkward romantic feelings from fangirls. Aside from the aforementioned Twitter sleuths poring over Jahar’s timeline for the ‘smoking gun’ tweet that doesn’t seem to exist (e.g. “I did bombingz lol”), it’s developed into a straight fight between the #freejahar movement – who believe he’s been framed by the US government – and those who want to see him fry for the terrorist atrocity he stands accused of committing.

Twitter is basically the digital equivalent of standing outside a courthouse hurling impassioned abuse at a suspect being whisked away beneath a gunmetal-grey, prison-issue blanket. But instead of attempting to land a satisfying blow on the side of the police van as it whizzes past – sending a metallic-sounding thump and barrage of vitriol reverberating around the suspect’s dark soul – all you have to do nowadays is click a ‘follow’ button, post a cathartic, 140-character tweet to the suspect’s timeline (in response to something he probably wrote months ago), then head to the kitchen for a sandwich.

Given that Jahar is unlikely to be keeping track of his Twitter mentions from his prison cell, people’s responses to his tweets are less about genuine attempts to communicate with him and more about playing to the gallery and informing their Twitter peers  – for the avoidance of doubt – that they despise terrorism.

For instance, in response to a photo Jahar tweeted of a sunset last December, one Twitter user bluntly responded: “You’re not artsy dude you’re a killer.” Had Twitter been around in the 1980s, it’s the kind of tweet one might have sent John Wayne Gacy in response to a Twitter timeline full of nightmare-inducing clown art. Of course, Gacy had already been tried, convicted and sent to Death Row to await execution by the time he discovered his creative side. In contrast, Jahar’s sunset photo was probably posted to Twitter with the same instinctive urge to share as someone presenting their Instagrammed chicken and pesto panini to the world. I doubt it was some kind of artistic statement – four months prior to the Boston bombings – which aimed to show that even aspiring terrorists can appreciate natural beauty. 

boston-fake-story

Interestingly, one day after the attacks, Jahar tweeted a response to @ImRealTed (a parody account of the Ted film character) in which he called out a heart-rending human story from the Boston Marathon as “fake”. The story, which had spread like wildfire around social media sites – unchecked, typically – told the story of a man who intended to propose to his girlfriend after she’d completed the marathon. But after hearing the two explosions, he rushed to the finish line to discover that she’d tragically been killed. The accompanying photo showed an anguished man tenderly cradling the head of a lifeless woman lying on a blood-spattered pavement. “This deserves endless retweets,” said @ImRealTed, as the story was shared with the account’s quarter of a million followers.

They got the retweets they asked for – over 1600 of them – but the story was fake, as Jahar rightly pointed out. The man in the photo was a perfect stranger to the injured woman on the ground (18-year-old high school student Sydney Corcoran, who hadn’t even been running in the marathon and notably didn’t die from her shrapnel injuries). The story was as fake as the one about the Sandy Hook pupil running the marathon for victims of last December’s school shooting. But that didn’t stop several Twitter users, apoplectic with rage over Jahar’s supposedly insensitive tweet, from responding. “Wow you fucking bomb people and then call out fake stories on victims stfu,” said 17-year-old Christina, who later added that “no one cares about the story being fake when a terrorist says it”.

Her uncompromising ‘guilty until proven guilty’ approach is almost as baffling as her apparent willingness to accept bullshit stories at face value (unless officially debunked – by a trusted, non-terrorist source, obviously).

jahar-collage

Jahar now has a twitter feed with enough retweets and favourites to rival Rob Delaney, with a growing base of support from people who genuinely believe he’s innocent – not to mention a growing army of smitten women. “I think I’m in love with a fake terrorist,” tweeted one ‘supporter’, with a split-screen photo of her smiling face next to Jahar’s. “It’s always the hot ones that turn out to be the messed up ones,” tweeted another. “Can we talk about how perfect his teeth are?” said one Tumblr post, beneath a photo of Jahar wearing a wing collar dress shirt and a beaming smile (with his arm around a girl whose face has since been scribbled from history). One girl even posted a handmade ‘Jahar’ photo-collage to Twitter. It’s like glimpsing what the world would be like if Match.com introduced a ‘Phwoar on Terror’ category for anyone wishing to meet extremist singletons.

Aside from the draw of his boyish good looks, Jahar’s Twitter account is actually quite ordinary. He chatted with friends, posted photos of his cat, tweeted song lyrics, enjoyed sharing random facts and watching Breaking Bad, slowed down for squirrels crossing the road and advised his friends on allergy products (“You need to get Claritin Clear,” Jahar advised @therealAbdul_…just over 24hrs after he’d allegedly killed three people and maimed hundreds more at the finish line of the Boston Marathon).

There’s no mention of “jihad” or “infidels” in his timeline, but you will find “Nemo” and “Dory”. (Unsurprisingly, this being the internet and everything, Jahar’s Finding Nemo­ tweet triggered an inexplicable and pointlessly macho etymological discussion about the term “Glasgow smile” and whether it was the correct term for the violent torture method that one Twitter user said he’d use on another. Several of the ‘conversations’ that Jahar’s tweets have spawned have the stagnant air of YouTube’s comments section about them.)

He even tweeted a few things that I wholeheartedly agree with, like calling MTV “garbage”. He also retweeted a link to a Media Matters article – with the words “just depressing” – about how the Kardashians get 40 times more news coverage than ocean acidification. It’s a strange feeling to find a modicum of common ground with a suspected terrorist.

But it’s this apparent ordinariness which has left people baffled as to how he could be involved in the grave events in Boston. A video of Jahar lightheartedly performing the robot during a wrestling training session (posted to YouTube by a friend, with the title ‘This was the Jahar I knew’) only adds to the confusion and sense of disbelief among his supporters. I guess it’s how we’d all feel if we suddenly found ourselves at the mercy of a mysterious bomber, only to later discover that Peter Crouch had transformed himself into the Ted Kaczynski of the English Premiership.

Perhaps the most notable and disturbing thing about the #FreeJahar movement online is how quickly it’s adopted a siege mentality. And due to the involvement of more than a few Beliebers and Directioners (who flock towards any cause that enables them to act as a hivemind) it already has the unsettling feel of a teenage cult. Many of his supporters are already spending their time defending the campaign against ‘haters‘, which is an infuriating label to hurl at anyone who objects to the plastic pop of One Direction and Justin Bieber, but completely inappropriate when used to deflect criticism from anyone genuinely unsure as to the innocence of an alleged terrorist.

In a frighteningly similar way to how Beliebers and Directioners believe they have a deep and very real emotional connection to their idols, which they assume is reciprocated, some of Jahar’s supporters have been tweeting as if he’s fully aware of their efforts. “I’m sure Jahar wants us to be strong, but if he hurts, I hurt. It’s hard to explain, but that’s the way it is for me,” tweeted the supporter behind the four-day-old ‘Supporting Jahar‘ account.

The emotions of his more impressionable supporters are also starting to be routinely targeted by what sounds like bite-sized fan fiction. Only yesterday, a rumour appeared from nowhere that “Dzhokhar cries when he wakes up and to stop the crying he goes back to sleep.” This nugget of information was attributed, in the vaguest sense imaginable, to “a nurse from the prison Jahar is in” (that being the Federal Medical Center, Devens). It surely won’t be long until someone tweets: “After our campaign secures his freedom, Jahar has said that he’s going to do the robot dance especially for us!” (source: A legal type dude working on his case and shit)

And in typical obsessive fan style, some supporters are even tweeting the usual “Let’s trend!” rallying cry – only to complain, when no such trend appears, that their efforts must have been actively blocked. Even though many supporters assert that they’re not conspiracy theorists – while at the same time posting and retweeting endless conspiracy theories about the Boston Marathon on various social media sites – their belief that even Twitter must be working against them says much about their naivety.

zubiYesterday, a Twitter account purporting to belong to Jahar’s mother appeared, which encouraged followers to make cash donations to help with Jahar’s legal defence. A photo of a woman claiming to be Zubeidat Tsarnaeva holding up a sign with routing numbers for a Russian bank account was the third tweet to be posted to the account (there’s also an accompanying YouTube video). Bizarrely the tweet prior to that was a message to Jahar himself, which asked him to follow her and then communicate only via direct message (“do not do a public Twitter,” she stressed). Even more bizarre is the fact that the @Tsarnaeva account appeared to have been created in July 2010, yet not a single character had been typed nor a tweet posted until yesterday afternoon.

Worryingly, the person behind the account claimed that they had received over $2,000 in just a few hours (after the appeal had been promoted by the ‘leader’ of the #FreeJahar campaign @TroyCrossley). Crossley later admitted that the account didn’t belong to Jahar’s mother, but assured everyone that the creator of the account was a supporter of the campaign nonetheless and the banking information was entirely accurate. So at least those 14-year-old online activists, with their supportive t-shirts and consciousness raising messages scribbled across their fresh faces, can now wire their mum and dad’s cash to Chechnya without feeling that something’s amiss.

(Well, they can’t anymore because the @Tsarnaeva account has since been deleted.)

The point of this long, rambling blog post is to stress that none of us really know anything, which is ironic given that we live in an ‘information age’. The people who believe that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is guilty of carrying out the deadly terrorist attack in Boston are relying on information provided by a frequently unreliable mass media, not to mention law enforcement agencies who’ve been feeding the public a constantly mutating, and at times wholly contradictory, narrative.

The #FreeJahar movement, on the other hand, will continue to rely on Alex Jones’ Infowars and any number of armchair conspiracy theorists to pick at the threads of the official story, sharing among the hivemind any and all discrepancies that provides ‘proof’ of a False Flag terror attack, and thus, Jahar’s innocence. Meanwhile, the super-sleuths of Twitter will read and re-read Jahar’s achingly normal tweets through the murky hue of their terrorist filters. And supporters and detractors alike will continue to lock horns across the Internet, pretending they have all the answers.

The internet is awash with deceit, misleading and downright inaccurate information, endless repetition, argument and counter-argument, and more charlatans than you can shake a stick at. Although, from a slightly wider angle you can see that there are several other shady characters in the vicinity with stick-like implements…and if you look at the impossible directions of the shadows on the ground, it could be argued that I wasn’t stood there shaking a stick at a charlatan at all. The online aftermath of a terror attack is a confusing and depressing sensory overload. The only thing we know for certain is that we don’t really know anything at all.

(In the time it’s taken me to write this blog post, Jahar’s inactive Twitter account has gained over 20,500 followers.)

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Filed under Current Affairs, terrorism, Twitter, Twitter

The one where I write something about Osama bin Laden

So, Osama bin Laden is finally dead. I actually thought he’d been dead for about ten years, but I obviously haven’t been paying close enough attention. I have the same thing with Denis Norden; I’m never quite sure if he’s still with us or not. (He is, by the way. Alive. I’ve just checked his Wikipedia page.)

I was still awake just before 5am (BST) last Monday morning when news of Osama’s death was first breaking. Those celebrating Americans sure made our Royal Wedding street parties look mighty dull, didn’t they?

With no complex network of bunting and no rickety trestle tables snaking through the streets, buckling under the weight of scotch egg pyramids and platters of stale ham sandwiches, the American celebrations could easily have been a bit of a yawn fest. But they were nothing of the sort! Because even before Fox News could once again confuse the name of the world’s most notorious terrorist with their own president, thousands of ordinary Americans had gathered outside the White House, and at Ground Zero in New York, to celebrate Osama’s demise, bringing with them broad smiles, dancing shoes, and hearty lungs capable of at least sixty whoops per minute.

The crowds that gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue quickly surrounded themselves with a cacophonous wall of patriotism, with renditions of The Star-Spangled Banner and Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA, and also Queen’s We Will Rock You, which was perhaps a less obvious choice (unless everyone was singing “you’ve got blood on your face, you big disgrace” while gleefully envisioning the moment Osama bin Laden was shot in the face).

As car drivers slowed to a crawl and beeped their car horns in support, revellers climbed lampposts and trees, held aloft home-made placards, waved the Stars and Stripes enthusiastically (or wore it like a superhero’s cape), and provided camera crews with wild-eyed, exhilarated whooping, as if trapped in the memory of their greatest ever rollercoaster ride.

Typically one of those camera crews belonged to Fox News, which cut live to a grinning Geraldo Rivera, who was deeply embedded in a crowd of excitable college students. “It’s wild out here!” said Geraldo (who looked like Lionel Blair playing the role of a waxed-moustached Victorian ringmaster), “It’s Mardi Gras, it’s New Year’s Eve!”. He then thrust his microphone at the students in the crowd to get some raw reaction to Osama’s death, which led to several minutes of television that should see al-Qaeda’s human resources department inundated with applications.

“It’s awesome! Finally, the guy’s dead!” shouted one girl, instantly gaining deafening approval from her whooping peers. Geraldo then reiterated what a “party atmosphere” it was outside the White House, before describing the raucous scenes of patriotism as “soothing” and “reaffirming”. The only person who said anything vaguely sensible was the girl who described the occasion as “surreal”. It was certainly more sensible than Geraldo’s laughable claim that the wild celebrations over Osama’s death was America’s “Cairo moment”.

The death or capture of Osama bin Laden was always going to be the breaking news most likely send Americans into frenzied rapture, but the scenes outside the White House felt terribly unsettling. It was like watching a Facebook photo album of a testosterone-fuelled keg party come alive and scream “BOOYAH!” in the world’s face.

The American press was no less understated in its response to the news. Perhaps most ridiculous was the front page of the Chicago Southtown Star, which declared: “Bin Laden Dead – We Win At Last”. That the last ten murderous years of the ‘War on Terror’ (on both sides) could be summed up with a headline that sounded like America had just scored a match-winning point in a crucial sports game, was as naïve as it was supremely dumb. Especially when the prize for “winning” was a heightened terror alert at U.S. military bases and power plants, and a State Department travel alert for Americans worldwide.

Similarly, on the same day that the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, and president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, released a statement that the death of Osama bin Laden “makes the world a safer place”, there was a big, cuddly worldwide security alert.

But even with all the ecstatic celebrations that took place, it still felt like something was missing in the immediate aftermath of Osama’s death. I mean, did we really make as much of it as we could have done?

For instance, when the [blatantly obvious] Photoshopped image of Osama’s bloodied and mangled face appeared on TV screens in Pakistan (and later on the websites of several major British newspapers) wouldn’t it have been more impactful (i.e. great!) for it to have been available in 3D? If those people rejoicing at news of his death had been given the opportunity to look at his face through a pair of 3D glasses, they would’ve been able to reach out and almost feel as if they were mockingly ruffling his blood-matted beard. U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

Or perhaps news of Osama’s death could’ve been broken with the aid of a Taiwanese news CGI reconstruction of the Navy SEALs’ assault on his compound. News stations could even have thrown in a ‘bullet time’ animation sequence showing the round from an M4A1 Carbine entering his left eye and then exiting out the top of his head, popping like a champagne cork in a technicolour shower of brain matter and skull fragments. Imagine the giggles! U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

But back in the real world, where people genuinely were wondering when the ‘money shot’ of the expired terrorist mastermind was going to be released, it soon became clear that there would be no publication of any such photograph. After deciding against releasing Osama’s death photo, President Barack Obama told CBS News: “It is important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence.”

Thankfully, though, Reuters decided to release extremely graphic photos of three of Osama’s dead associates (not sanctioned by the White House) who were shown lying in vast pools of congealed blood, with vacant stares and their brains blown out. So at least we sort of got to see what ‘justice’ looks like. U-S-A! U-S…oh, you get the idea.

But all of this aside, there was surely only one thing on our minds after Osama’s killing: what did the stars think about the news?

Well, Barack Obama’s homeland security and counterterrorism advisor Paris Hilton said: “So happy to hear the news of Osama bin Laden’s death. He was the face of terrorism and such an evil man. The world is a much better place with him not in it.”

Lindsay Lohan simply tweeted: “Go USA!” (although, she’d probably just skipped bail, puked in her own shoes and stolen a car at that point, so her excitable contribution might just have been high spirits).

Mel B reminded us all that we should spare a thought for the brave soldiers who risked their lives (*solemn applause*). While Kate Thornton rued the fact that Bin Laden had been killed, as she would’ve preferred to see him pay for his crimes. (Don’t worry, I’m sure the Loose Women managed to find their way back to more important matters, like discussing Kate Middleton’s menstrual cycle or rating viewers’ photos of their vajazzled pets.)

Meanwhile, Jedward pondered on Twitter: “Are Golden Grahams really gold? Could we buy new trainers and pay for them with cereal?”

(Only one of the above was made up.)

It’s taken me a whole week to write about this because the story of Osama bin Laden’s killing has been anything but straight forward, with claims, counter-claims and falsehoods from the very beginning.

Osama was originally painted as a crazed terrorist in a cowardly last-stand, firing an automatic weapon at the Navy SEAL assault team from behind his wife (his “weeping wife” according to the Daily Mirror, which sounded more emotive), who subsequently died in the assault. “A coward to the end,” spat the front page of the Daily Express.

Next day, of course, it transpired that Osama had actually been unarmed at the time of the raid and that his wife had been shot in the calf (injured but not killed) when she apparently rushed towards the assault team. A White House spokesman claimed that Osama had been killed after he “resisted”.

Following the revelation that he’d been unarmed at the time of the raid, the Daily Mirror then reported that Osama had been killed because the Navy SEALs feared that he may have been wearing a bomb vest. The assault team had apparently been briefed to “take him out” if he was dressed, so Osama’s decision to retire to bed wearing his “trusty getaway kit” (traditional robes with 500 euros and two emergency phone numbers sewn into them) was a fatal mistake.

[Being the world’s most wanted terrorist must have been a remarkably tedious experience. Every night, the same thing: take rubbish out (then burn); work on new aspirational terrorist plots; sew more items into clothing (travel pillow into hem of robe; packs of Fox’s Glacier Mints into sleeves; Kindle into underpants); turn electric blanket off and bomb vest on; fall into light sleep.]

After the raid, Osama’s dead body was bundled into a helicopter and extracted from the scene, before being swiftly identified using “multiple methods” and then lowered into the North Arabian sea in a weighted body bag from the deck of the USS Carl Vinson (a burial that was widely criticised by Muslim scholars as a violation of Islamic tradition). Case closed!

But aside from the confusing details of Osama bin Laden’s death (the White House later blamed the “fog of war” for their ever changing story), there were even questions about whether the photo of President Obama and his key aides – huddled in the situation room, supposedly watching real-time feed of the assault on Osama’s compound – was everything it seemed to be.

Director of the CIA, Leon Panetta, later admitted in an interview that there was a period of 20-25 minutes when the live feed from the Navy SEALs’ helmet-mounted cameras was cut off, which meant no one – not even Barack Obama himself – had the slightest idea what was happening on the ground in Abbottabad. For a raid that lasted only 40 minutes, it was quite a significant time gap. In fact, according to Panetta, Obama’s team really only managed to watch the helicopter ride in. The operation itself went unseen. The Special Ops team could’ve met resistance from an army of emotionless Cybermen and no one would have known anything about it

Oscar-winning director of The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow, who was already working on a film about a failed attempt to kill Osama bin Laden, is now re-writing the script to take into account the success of the Navy SEALs’ mission in Pakistan. The provisional title for the film is Kill bin Laden (or Terrorist Brain Explosion! U-S-A! U-S-A!) and is likely to go into production this summer. Given that no officials seem to know what the fuck happened during the raid on Osama’s compound, it will now be left to Hollywood to fill in the gaps and create something that history students of the future will assume is a documentary.

Just as I was planning to wrap up this lengthy blog post, yet more news emerged about Osama bin Laden. Last night, the Pentagon released five snippets of “home videos” which were apparently discovered at Bin Laden’s compound by the Navy SEALs team that killed him. The clips show muted footage of previously unseen video messages, including what some have described as a “blooper reel” which appears to show the al-Qaeda leader missing a cue during one recording.

But perhaps the most bizarre footage shows Osama wrapped in a blanket, sitting on the floor of a cluttered room, watching seemingly endless footage of himself on a 14″ television. It’s how I imagine Jeremy Spake spends his days, rocking back and forth watching repeats of Airport.

Analysis and discussion of these videos in the press and news media has concentrated heavily on the fact that they appear to show a man obsessed with his image, and with his portrayal by the world’s media. “He wears a gold robe in one – and uses dye to disguise his greying beard on camera in a vain bid to protect his public image,” said The Sun. While one American news anchor – with a delivery so deeply serious as to be vaguely comical – reported: “Sources say Bin Laden saw himself as the CEO of terror and mass murder.”

[If that was the last job on your CV, your next job would simply have to be with another terrorist organisation. Nothing else really fits. “It says on your application that your last job was ‘CEO of terror and mass murder’. What makes you want to pursue a career in telesales?”]

I find it slightly baffling that a man so obsessed with his image would sanction the filming of a video that showed him looking, not so much like an all-powerful terrorist mastermind, with a global network of jihadis under his direct command, but like someone who’d wandered into a soup kitchen. Yet that will undoubtedly be the enduring image of his reign of terror.

Reducing terrorist leaders to a human level – portraying them as isolated figures or bumbling, incompetent fools – is fairly standard stuff after their deaths. When America killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2006 (another al-Qaeda bogeyman), the U.S. military released a seized video which showed him fumbling with a machine gun in the desert. That the most notorious terrorist in Iraq appeared to lack any real fighting skill immediately extinguished the legend of the fearsome terrorist that the Bush administration and mainstream western media had worked tirelessly to construct in our minds. Osama is no different.

But anyway, what the hell do I know? If you want really in-depth analysis of this stuff, I suggest you talk to Paris Hilton.

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Filed under Comment, Current Affairs, Politics, terrorism

Terrorists should dispense with elaborate terror plots and work for tabloid newspapers instead. It’s access all areas with those guys

I’ve often wondered why al-Qaeda doesn’t simply dispense with elaborate terror plots and embed its operatives in the offices of a tabloid newspaper instead? After all, investigations by the Daily Mirror and the News of the World have seen their undercover reporters living a terrorist’s wet dream at times over the last few years. And all it cost these newspapers was the time to fill out a job application, the price of hiring a helicopter for half an hour, and a £1,000 backhander.

TerrorflyingThe Daily Mirror has largely led the way in this field. In February 2003, they hired a helicopter and hovered over Parliament for five minutes at 1,500ft, which aimed to prove that, had they been terrorists, they could’ve dropped a bomb on the House of Commons, or dusted our political leaders with anthrax, or plagued them with a swarm of radioactive killer bees.

In that same year, Daily Mirror reporter Ryan Parry also managed to infiltrate Buckingham Palace (as a legitimately hired employee, not as a break-and-enter Milk Tray man) in the run-up to a state visit by then U.S. President George W. Bush. In the 15-pages of coverage the Mirror churned out for this scoop, there was a photo of The Belgian Suite (where George and Laura Bush were due to stay) and also one of the Queen and Prince Phillip’s breakfast table, which were both taken by photographer Phil Harris.

Surprised at the the lax security, Parry wrote: “Had I been a terrorist intent on assassinating the Queen or American president George Bush, I could have done so with absolute ease. Indeed, this morning I would have been serving breakfast to key members of his government, including National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and US Secretary of State Colin Powell.”

In spite of the Mirror’s efforts to expose serious security flaws at Buckingham Palace, which could have seen determined assassins trying to poison the Queen’s Cornflakes, the Daily Telegraph picked up on the bigger story: ‘‘Footman’ exposes Tupperware secret of the Queen’s table’. In some respects I guess that is quite an expose. I would’ve at least expected the Queen’s cereal to be kept in the diamond-encrusted, hollowed-out skulls of her departed Corgis.

Anyway, now it’s the News of the World‘s turn after they ran a front page exclusive in yesterday’s paper about how they managed to get two undercover reporters into sensitive areas of the Palace. After bunging a Royal chauffeur a relatively small amount of cash, the two reporters were subsequently allowed to film and photograph the Queen’s fleet of cars and even sit in the back seat of her Bentley.

And with a heavy nod towards racial profiling, the News of the World also wrote:

“The driver betrayed his Queen for just £1,000 as he sneaked our men – both Asian – past security without even searching them.”

Can you imagine that?! Two Asian men walking around the Palace, bold as brass, and they weren’t so much as held at gun point, brutalised or kitted out in orange jumpsuits and packed off to a black site prison? Scandalous!NOTW Queen Hooker

[Lax Palace security aside, what I found most most amusing about the News of the World’s front page exclusive was the wording of the strapline and the unfortunate positioning of the Queen’s photograph (right). I always thought that if you looked beyond the fierce and frigid exterior, there’s a definite glint in Her Majesty’s eye.]

Still, it seems clear that if would-be terrorists want to get close to high-value targets or wander around sensitive locations unhindered, then they really need to be working on some kind of tabloid exposé, where they will be paid to probe weaknesses in official security (win-win). Before long, they’ll probably find themselves helping Gordon Brown slip into his tartan underpants every morning, or catching Prince Phillip’s Pop Tarts as they jump up from the Palace’s gold-plated toaster.

Although I would never wish to suggest ways in which al-Qaeda might be able to streamline their global operation, it does seem that they’ve been missing a trick. Working for a tabloid newspaper is access all areas, which could transform the terrorists’ ‘to-do’ list (The Queen, Gordon Brown…his Cabinet…Peaches Geldof). Maybe we should take a look at the recruiting and vetting procedures of tabloid newsrooms before investigating the evidently lax security at Buckingham Palace? Strangely, they seem to be an untapped resource.

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