Friday, December 04, 2009

Intelligence Agencies Are Sometimes Wrong And Stupid

News reports often rely on quotes from both sourced and anonymous intelligence officials, usually to paint a particular picture of some political conflict. I always practice healthy skepticism toward anything intelligence officials say. Mind you, this does not mean I simply disbelieve anything they say, or that I'm one of those nutty people who believe in global conspiracies hatched in Langley, Virginia. I just believe that we should exercise scrutiny when we are told things by these people, because (a) they can be wrong, and (b) they can have an agenda.

For an example of (a), please read this article (via Mosharraf's twitter) about eleven Pakistani students in Britain who basically had their lives turned upside down. They were accused of being al-Qaeda agents because...

1. A few of them went to Wales in January, took their shirts off, and took pictures of themselves flexing muscles. This was interpreted as commando training by MI 5.

2. A few of them chose to eat together in Liverpool and Manchester. This was interpreted as "operational activity" by MI 5.

3. One of them, finding a wife through a matchmaking website, sent an email to the others which said: "My mates are well and my affair with Nadia is soon turning to family life. I met with Nadia family and we both parties have agreed to conduct the Nikkah [Islamic marriage contract] after 15th and before 20th of the month." The name "Nadia" was interpreted by MI 5 as a pseudonym for "explosive" and the email in general was interpreted as warning of a bomb attack.

If you think I am lying or joking, go read the article for yourself.


e_scape_artist said...

uhh correction Intelligence agencies are MOSTLY wrong or stupid.. and when they do happen to be right.. you're correct they have their own agenda

Now MI 5 is concerned it might be infiltrated by Al Qaeda after a spate of hiring Arabs et al.

takhalus said...

c'mon you should know by now that intelligence agency is an oxymoron..

At best they are data collectors..if left to their own devices they end up harrassing people like Kamran shafi..

Jman said...

This reminds of what the "terrorists" in a US tv drama, Sleeper cell, used as their method.


Anon_for_a_good_reason said...

It would be too much to read into an terror accused account of indictment.
The article in the guardian talks about interrogation of the suspects..not on the implicating evidence which is still classified. Terrorism is different from normal crimes..since it is very difficult to prove in court..i.e. judicial evidence with witness and all..since unlike normal prosecutions..the intelligence agencies cannot reveal their sources..even for prosecution. I therefore think..the terrorism must be fully handled by military..and tried in a military court since it is war against the state..and the guys must be executed after quick proceedings..where wireless intercepts,confession,cyber forensical evidence are admissible.

Anonymous said...

An internet Joke - Shared..

A man is! taking a walk in Central park in New York . Suddenly he sees a little girl being attacked by a pit bull dog.

He runs over and starts fighting with the dog. He succeeds in killing the dog and saving the girl's life.

A policeman who was watching the scene walks over and says: 'You are a hero, tomorrow you can read it in all the newspapers:

'Brave New Yorker saves the life of little girl'.

The man says: 'But I am not a New Yorker!'

Oh then it will say in newspapers in the morning:

'Brave American saves life of little girl' the policeman answers.

'But I am not an American!' - says the man. Oh, what are you then?'

The man says: 'I am a Pakistani!'

The next day the newspapers say: 'Extremist kills innocent American dog *'

Predictable.. said...

@anon 12/4/09 12:52 PM
extremist tags are well deserved..
poor victim-hood perpetuating jokes notwithstanding..
Other people of the world dont have infinite patience ..and minaret ban by most tolerant a sign of things to come..

Anonymous said...

So the MI5 is paranoid. Duh Isn't that the most rational thing to do when you've got crazies amongst you?

Anonymous said...

While this is unfortunate and, at a minimum, someone in the UK's government ought to have provided an apology it is no surprise that it occurred. MI5 has uncovered genuine instances of terror plots by Pakistanis in the UK. Nobody, neither the UK nor Pakistan, wants another 7/7. This of course pales compares to the US where in the aftermath of 9/11 numerous Pakistanis were arrested (and many deported) merely because they were Pakistani.

melquiades said...

Adam Curtis' documentary, The Power of Nightmares, does a good job of pointing out all the fuck ups of British and American intelligence agencies. All the post-9/11 terrorism suspect arrested in the US turned out to be harmless. Travel videos were interpreted as evidence of dangerous terrorist plots. It's ridiculous. Also, South Park's Imagination Land episodes poke fun at this tendency to imagine threats where none exist.

greywolf said...

@takhalus: clearly, intelligence agencies around the world have their fair share of issues. unfortunately, in the age of terror sleeping cells and 'explosive' shoes, its difficult for intel to be accurate. as JFK once said, people always know of an intelligence failure but rarely of its successes. meanwhile, collecting intelligence is an ancient art, and by no means is any nation safe without a good intel setup. this is a reality, and while intelligence agencies should be controlled and watched over, in some situations, allowing them room to operate is the best remedy. so i would hardly call intel work 'data' collection, as only the lower work is data collection. everything from there is actually quite difficult and cumbersome. as for kamran shafi, this man is a heroic liar. he's nothing but a disturbed personality who has for years now been haunted by everything army related. its clear from his writings that he's a bit of a crank. intelligence agencies have no interest in harassing poor souls like him, and if they wanted to do it, believe me, they would not be making calls to him to scare him.

Adam said...

Did you guys even read the article? The whole thing was incredibly suspicious. I looked up a few other articles about it with more information and my suspicion grows.

1. Who doesn't know the date of their wedding when it's just a few weeks away? It doesn't make sense. And if you don't know the precise date, how would you know enough to give a 4 day range? Why not something like "next time I'm in Pakistan" if precise dates aren't known?

2. Email is monitored and terrorists use code words. Read about the code words David Headley used with his contacts in Pakistan. I'm sure you guys would just laugh it up that intelligence agencies got all hot and bothered over words like "business" and "investments" right? Because obviously there's no need to take it seriously until they send emails like "Hey I'm setting them up the BOMB with my friend MOHAMMED in LIVERPOOL after the 15th but before the 20th!!!"

3. The dude who sent the email had a copy of it in a file called "hi buddy email" that he kept on a usb thumbdrive. (Suspicious in itself. Who keeps backups of short emails? Most people leave them on the server. Virtually nobody copy/pastes individual short pointless emails and saves them specially in a text file, rather than dumping their whole mailbox, if they are indeed interested in backing up their email in general. This seems like a suspicious special effort.) When it was shown to one of the other arrestees he became highly agitated. (

4. 'None of the men had met any women and there were “absolutely no signs of wedding preparations” according to the report.' ( So your point #3 is pretty much wrong. Also, the email wasn't just sent to "the others" as in the other students, it was sent to the suspected al Qaeda contact in Pakistan. Oh and don't you think with his wedding 2 weeks away he would need something like, say, a plane ticket??

5. The students themselves are out of place. They come from across Pakistan and go to different schools in England, yet apparently they know each other well enough to go on multiday outings as one big group. There's a mixed age range, from I believe 23 to 29 (based on the few ages I've seen), which is pretty wide for a group of friends, and on the high end for first-year students in any case. They have even older contacts back in Pakistan, who just happen to be tied to al Qaeda.

You guys want to believe in big bad evil intelligence agencies violating poor Pakistani students' rights, because that's a lot more palatable to you than the alternative. Great. I get it. Just try to keep an open mind, because this stuff affects you too.