On Labor Day, a British court convicted a group of terrorists who plotted to bring down airplanes. Today, in a feature in The Times (London), Andy Hayman, the man who led the criminal investigation into the plot, lashes out against unnamed Bush Administration officials. British counterterrorism officials had been carefully tracking the cells involved, doing their best to identify others connected to the plot. Throughout this period, Americans were briefed about the progress of the operation, with Prime Minister Blair updating President Bush with some frequency. The Americans, Hayman reports, were constantly skittish and concerned that their British colleagues, by dragging the investigation on, would allow a plot to be implemented.
The authorities in Pakistan had arrested a man called Rashid Rauf and the consequences of that were serious for our operation. Rauf, who hailed from Birmingham, was believed to be strongly linked to the senior command of al-Qaeda in Pakistan and as such was suspected as a key reference point for directing terror plots around the world. While not provable, he was also thought to be a contact for those attending terrorism training in the tribal areas. We suspected that the terrorism cell were known and linked to him.
If they got wind of his arrest it could scare the group and maybe prompt them into accelerating their planned attack — we had to get to the men in the British cell before they found out that Rauf was in custody.
Had the Bush Administration pushed Rauf’s arrest as a way of shutting down the operation against the airline bombing plotters—forcing British counterterrorism to bring in its suspects now and effectively stopping the undercover investigation in its tracks? That’s how Hayman sees it: “jittery Americans almost spoiled our efforts to foil the plot.” If so, it would be another demonstration of Dick Cheney’s one percent theory, which was constantly at loggerheads with law enforcement authorities advising a prudent, careful investigation that would both build a case to support convictions and take the terrorist operations out by their deepest roots.