From :

October 03, 2007

Latest Terrorist False Alarm: Chili Peppers

In London:

Three streets were closed and people evacuated from the area as the search was carried out. After locating the source at about 7pm, emergency crews smashed their way into the Thai Cottage restaurant in D’Arblay Street only to emerge with a 9lb pot of smouldering dried chillies.Baffled chef Chalemchai Tangjariyapoon, who had been cooking a spicy dip, was amazed to find himself at the centre of the terror scare.

“We only cook it once a year — it’s a spicy dip with extra hot chillies that are deliberately burned,” he said.

“To us it smells like burned chilli and it is slightly unusual. I can understand why people who weren’t Thai would not know what it was but it doesn’t smell like chemicals. I’m a bit confused.”

Another story.

Were this the U.S., that restaurant would be charged with terrorism, or creating a fake bomb, or anything to make the authorities feel better. On the other hand, at least the cook wasn’t shot.

EDITED TO ADD (10/4): Common sense:

The police spokesman said no arrests were made in the case.”As far as I’m aware it’s not a criminal offense to cook very strong chili,” he said.

EDITED TO ADD (10/11): The BBC has a recipe, in case you need to create your own chemical weapon scare.

I was reading an article about the continuing , when I encountered this paragraph:

Among the miles and miles of devastated houses, rubble still there today in New Orleans, we found dry, beautiful homes. But their residents were told by guys dressed like Ninjas wearing “Blackwater” badges: “Try to go into your home and we’ll arrest you.”

And it was then that I realised that I’ve been hearing about and their activities far too much recently for me to be totally comfortable about it. Their Wikipedia article describes them as:

a private military company and security firm. Founded in 1997 by Erik Prince and Al Clark, it is based in North Carolina. The company markets itself as being “The most comprehensive professional military, law enforcement, security, peacekeeping, and stability operations company in the world”.

It seems their remit is wide and their operations diverse, from private security contracts, police training to operations in Iraq. It would seem that private military company is a non-too subtle way of saying “mercenaries”. Such companies have always existed, but it’s more concerning how often these people pop up in the employ of the US government.

And, as a final note, what exactly are “stability operations” and why do they sound suspiciously like the kind of stuff the CIA used to do to prop up regimes in the Developing World.

: “There is growing pressure from MPs for ministers to shed light on claims that the CIA has used UK airports to move suspects to other nations for torture.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We are not aware of the use of UK territory or airspace for the purpose of extraordinary rendition, nor have we received any requests, nor granted any permission for the use of UK territory or airspace for such purposes.”

Mr Straw has said he expressed concern about the claims about secret prisons on EU territory in his letter to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The US government has said its laws have not been broken.

But it has refused to confirm or deny the existence of “secret prisons” in third countries. “

Pretty serious allegations. It has already been established that the US Government exports it’s torture of terrorist suspects, but I don’t think people were expecting those places to be Farnborough and Luton (though the latter would be torturous enough).

Since the BBC article was written, Dr Rice responded to the German foreign minister that the US government will give an official response to the allegations. Germany has received even more of these mystery flights than the UK.


So, the that Rice has spoken to Merkel in Germany. “Ms Rice admitted that terror suspects were flown abroad for interrogation but denied they were tortured. “

But what I want to know is that if all US and international law is being followed, as Rice states, then why fly them to a different country at all? Rice said suspects were moved by plane under a process known as rendition, and that this was “a lawful weapon”.

What’s rendition? It’s not a word that’s well explained in the , but here’s the , which although seemingly clear is somewhat vague on what the legal term of rendition actually means.

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Last Thursday night I flew out to the Netherlands, for a day of meetings on Friday. Quite a painless trip, though there was an interesting innovation at Heathrow Airport. There was a strange cubicle next to the security scanners with a sign next to it proclaiming: “You may be randomly selected to help test our new full body scanner. If you refuse you will be subjected to a full body search by hand.” Sounds pretty ominous. I don’t know what technology the scanner was based around, but it does remind me of the body scanners used in Total Recall.

On the topic of security, while the machine-readable numbers were scanned from my passport by customs, I wondered what the passport number is checked against. A list of people forbidden to travel? A list of known criminals? And what happens to the information that I passed through Heathrow customs on that particular date? Do they retain that information? And to what end?

Eindhoven reminded me of Rotterdam in miniature. A small-ish, modern industrial town with the odd old building thrown in randomly here and there, but nothing cohesive. Nice enough though, and well kept. The hotel was very nice indeed and I wish I’d known earlier so I could have brought swimming trunks. Not to swim, of course, but merely to lounge around in the jacuzzi!

The meetings the next day went pretty much as expected, though the afternoon was an eye-opener. I wasn’t really that familiar with the operations of the nuclear pharmaceutical industry, but I certainly am now. I got to see a particle accelerator, I wore the white coat, over-shoes and hair net so I could enter a semi-clean area, and I had my radioactive dosage tested after walking around the manufacturing areas. It was all fairly awe-inspiring.

As was the coffee machine in the office. Instead of your more typical coffee machine which churned out weak instant coffee, this one had a big batch of coffee beans. When you made your choice of coffee, it grounds the beans and prepared wonderful coffee of the utmost freshness. Bliss! At lunchtime though, everyone scorned the coffee for the other Dutch national drink. Milk. I’m always amazed how slender the Dutch are, considering all the dairy products they consume every day. Full fat milk with every meal, cheese, yoghurts, yoghurt drinks etc. Every single day! No wonder they’re the tallest nation in the world!

So, at the end of the working day, I was shipped back over to Eindhoven airport. Amusingly, the drop off zone in front of the airport was called the ‘Kiss & Drop’ zone, but I made sure I stayed at least an arms length away from the taxi driver.

Coming next: A general mish-mash of events, occurrences and thoughts.

– British Home Secretary Charles Clarke

– Benjamin Franklin

It’s always a difficult balance to maintain; even taking the foreign policy angle out for a moment, how do you strike a balance between civil obedience and civil liberty? Is it even possible?

Security forces (and I include the police in amongst this group) would ideally like to know where everyone is, what everyone is doing, writing, thinking, saying, driving, drinking smoking etc. Only with more information about our so-called private lives can they deter, detect, solve and prevent crimes against the law-abiding masses.

Taking the extreme view of the other side, the civil libertarian seems to want a society where everyone is trusted to do what’s right without any checking or controls. This is not just on a personal level, but aggregates up to a national level where all foreign countries should be left alone except a stern letter in the case of any moral transgressions.

Sure, both are at extremes of the spectrum, but it illustrates the point. A comment I often hear is “I’ve got nothing to hide, so why should I fear phone-tapping/ID Cards/CCTV cameras/stop & search”. Which is fair enough for the law abiding, but therein lies the problem. Criminals (and I’m not talking drunken yobs or kids dealing dope) will tend to find ways to circumvent such restrictions; Handgun ban? Numbers of illegal owned handguns and deaths by firearms has risen. ID Cards? Probably fakeable eventually. Email retention? Encryption. In other words these restrictions of civil liberties, of personal privacy, don’t actually affect the criminals that are allegedly the reason for the, generally knee-jerk, legislation.

And then we have my next beef. I’ve heard people say “I don’t have a problem with the government having all my personal details, medical records, phone call transcripts, emails, vehicle movements.” Nice idea, and actually much more idealistic, or certainly blue-eyed, than the civil libertarian. What do they mean when they say ‘the government’? It’s not as if Tony Blair himself was looking after our information. A whole host of civil servants of various departments, IT contractors and their foreign outsourced minions, illegal immigrant cleaning staff, auditors and who knows what else. And that’s while we have a variety of disparate systems that don’t really talk to each other; there is a desire in government, linked with the ID card legislation, to combine identity specific data into one central database.

I wasn’t sure where I’d come out at the end of this post, but I think it’s fairly clear where I’ve landed. With restraints. I still believe that a court order should be necessary for information on a private citizen to be accessed for the purposes of investigation. For that to actually work, the information has to be collated in advance, otherwise will most likely be too late.

Will we one day get to enjoy a society which has balanced it’s desires for civil obedience and civil liberty? I doubt it. Taking all the figures into account, we in Britain, nay the developed western world as a whole, have never lived safer, longer, more healthy lives. But show us a picture of a drunken youth hurling a stone, tell us two people in Birmingham got shot or whatever and suddenly Middle England is up in arms wailing “ASBO! Ban something! Or someone! Have all my personal details to avoid a statistically irrelevant amount of benefit fraud!”

Then of course there is the threat of Muslim extremists who “hate us for our freedom”. To stop them destroying our very fabric of society we are having more and more restrictive legislation applied. I wonder how we ever coped with the IRA, who actually managed to kill many more people in Britain than some alleged Al Qaeda offshoot.

But one thing is for sure, if they do “hate us for our freedom” they won’t have much to worry about for much longer.