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A Terrorism Expose, Dead-Tree Edition

Today’s New York Times has a long and very interesting article on the recent plot by radical Muslims in Britian to blow up a bunch of airplanes. But the article, written by Don Van Natta Jr., Elaine Sciolino, and Stephen Grey, is not available online (not yet, at least), because of legal concerns. As the Times explains, “This arises from British laws that prohibit publication of information that could be deemed prejudicial to defendants charged with a crime.” So not only is the article missing from, but also from the U.K. edition of the International Herald Tribune (which the Times owns).

If you care about this story, I would therefore suggest getting a dead-tree copy of today’s newspaper. The article explains how British law enforcement first caught wind of the plot (from investigating the successful 7/7/05 London subway bombings), how the Muslim plotters bought a safe house/”bomb factory” for $260,000 cash (I would have thought they’d be willing to carry a mortgage in order to stick it to the bank once they blew themselves up, but I guess a cash purchase better suited their purposes), and, most significantly, the internal dispute among British, European, and American law enforcement officials over whether they should have stepped in when they did or let the plot unfurl further in order to glean a lot more information. The authorities had the suspects’ apartment thoroughly tapped with audio and video, and were learning a great deal. And although the plotters had already done a lot of work, it seems they were nowhere near carrying out their plan. But I think it would be idiotic for someone in my position, and for practically anyone outside the investigation itself, to second-guess at this point whether the time was right to shut things down.

Among the gleanings from the surveillance and the subsequent raids: “more then 400 computers, 200 mobile phones and 8,000 items like memory sticks, CD’s and DVD’s”; a last will and testament from one of the accused and the “martyrdom videos” of several others; and what appears to have been a prototype for the weapon that would have carried out the airborne assault: a disposable camera whose batteries had been scooped out in order to be replaced with an explosive chemical compound made in part from the sports drink Lucozade.

As I was typing the above paragraphs, I realized that I was in effect doing exactly what the Times hoped to prevent by not posting its article online: i.e., putting facts of a potential criminal trial online where they can be read by anyone in the U.K., or around the world. I do not know enough about British law to guess whether my own actions are someone a violation, however slight, but I cannot believe they would be. It does raise for me, however, a different question: considering the grave difference between how future criminal trials are covered in the U.S. and U.K. press, how does such coverage truly affect judicial outcomes?

[Update: as of 2:49 p.m. E.T. on Monday, the article was available online here.]