Terrorism and the Curious Coincidence of Drills, Exercises and State Involvement
by Dr T.J. Coles - Axis of Logic
Feb 3, 2019
U.S. Director of National Intelligence, Daniel Coats, has warned that terrorism will continue and maybe even rise this year, as the near-defeated Islamic State resorts to guerilla tactics against U.S. and European targets.
If there is an increase in terrorism, we should look out for coinciding drills and exercises. Coinciding drills and exercises have been part of the terrorism landscape in the U.S. and Europe since at least 9/11.
As I document in my new book, Manufacturing Terrorism (2018, Clairview Books), drills and exercises are a common and (from a practical perspective) necessary part of policing, the military and the emergency services. Given the frequency of drills and exercises, it is not surprising that some might coincidentally occur at the same time as real-life terrorism.
However, the number of simultaneous, real-world terror attacks and live-action drills/exercises, with some occurring on the same day, at the same time and same place as real-life terror attacks, suggests that some drills/exercises could cover for false-flag terrorism.
The British Ministry of Defence said in a projection out to 2036: “simulation and representatives will have a significant and widespread impact on the future and will become an increasingly powerful tool to aid policy and decision makers … It will also blur the line between illusion and reality” (emphases in original). So, let’s look at some cases:
September 11, 2001: Several military exercises were being conducted on 9/11. Here are some of the most well-known: The National Reconnaissance Office was running an exercise simulating a small corporate jet crashing into a building. The Associated Press reports: “In what the government describes as a bizarre coincidence, one U.S. intelligence agency was planning an exercise last Sept. 11 in which an errant aircraft would crash into one of its buildings.” It also notes that “the cause wasn’t terrorism -- it was to be a simulated accident.” The phrase bizarre or strange coincidence crops up a lot in U.S.-European terrorism cases.
Continuing with the 9/11 drills: The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) was running Operation Northern Vigilance, which began on 9th and ran for several days, as in the previous year. NORAD was also running Vigilant Guardian, which involved several scenarios. On the ground, the Federal Emergency Management Agency was positioned in New York on the night of September 10 in preparation for Operation Tripod, a huge counter-bioterrorism drill scheduled in New York for September 12. Although evidence in some cases was given, little of this information made it into the Bush administration’s 9/11 Commission Report (2004), which was “set up to fail” in the words of the heads of the Commission, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton (in the book, Without Precedent).
11-M 2004: On 10 March 2004, NATO concluded its counterterrorism training exercises CMX-04 in the capital cities of Europe, including Madrid. The next day at 0740 (approx.), 10 bombs exploded on four Madrid trains, murdering 191 people. Spaniards call it 11-M. Twenty-one people were convicted. PM José María Aznar of the right-wing People’s Party personally contacted media outlets to pin the blame on ETA, the Basque separatists, rushing a draft resolution through the UN Security Council. Interior Minister Angel Acebes referred to press inquiries that perhaps “al-Qaeda” was to blame, as “a miserable attempt to disrupt information and confuse people.”
El Mundo reported that at least two of the alleged bombers were informants working for the Spanish services: the Cuerpo Nacional de Policía, Guardia Civil, Centro Nacional de Inteligencia and the police. Two of the accused had prior convictions for trafficking the explosive Goma 2 ECO. The cell phones used to remotely detonate the bombs were taken from a store owned by a former policeman. The explosive Goma 2 ECO has not contained nitroglycerine since 1992. However, Juan Jesus Sánchez Manzano, head of TEDAX, the bomb disposal unit, told the parliamentary commission: “We managed to find traces of nitroglycerin, and nitroglycerin it is the component of all the dynamites.” He later retracted the statement.
Following a court order, more samples were taken which confirmed the presence of both nitroglycerine and dinitrotoluene (DNT). Other tests found both DNT and dibutyl phthalate (DBP), which is found in Goma 2 ECO. The government destroyed the train carriages and thus the evidence shortly after the explosions, as well as washing the samples, which might have cleansed them of nitroglycerin. Future PM under the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, accused the government of destroying computer records linked to the case.
Years later, the People’s Party was out of government and campaigning for re-election in 2007-08. In late-2007, the trial of 28 Muslims was concluded, with 21 facing charges. Acebes accused the incumbent Spanish Socialist Party of being hasty with the convictions in order to win the next election and of (Guardian’s paraphrase) “us[ing] a terrorist attack for electoral gains.”
Terrorism specialist Scott Atran who attended the trial was equally skeptical:
“There isn’t the slightest bit of evidence of any relationship with al-Qaida. We’ve been looking at it closely for years and we’ve been briefed by everybody under the sun ... and nothing connects them” (ellipsis in original).
7/7 2005: Beginning at approximately 0850 on 7 July 2005, 52 people were murdered when alleged suicide bombers began blowing up three tube trains and, later, a bus in London. The British government’s Intelligence and Security Committee report, Could 7/7 Have Been Prevented?, reveals:
“Since 2003, the [Metropolitan Police] have run an annual exercise known as Operation HANOVER which develops different scenarios for attacks on London and rehearses how the Metropolitan Police Service would respond. By coincidence, their 2005 exercise, run by the Security Co-ordinator’s office in the Anti-Terrorist Branch, took place just a few days before the attacks – on 1–2 July. The office-based scenario for this exercise was simultaneous bomb attacks on three London Underground trains at Embankment, Waterloo and St James’s Park stations. Once again, the scenario is quite similar to what actually took place, and the fact that it took place so close to the actual attacks is an interesting coincidence.”
Even more interesting is the exercise that took place on the same morning and involved the same stations/lines being bombed. It was led by Peter Power, a former Metropolitan Police Anti-Terrorism Branch officer. In 2004, the BBC produced a documentary simulating terror attacks on three of London’s 270 London Underground lines/stations, Hyde Park, Oxford Circus and Vauxhall Station, and on a road tanker containing chlorine. The producers invited crisis management experts to give a real-time response to the simulation. One of the experts, Peter Power, was a retired police officer and magistrate with specialist counterterrorism training and intimate knowledge of the Underground.
The BBC names Power as heading BET Security (1992-94), but that company’s annual accounts don’t include him on the list of directors. (Was it a mistake or was he working for them anonymously?). The BBC also names him as head of Visor Consulting (sic); he actually heads Visor Consultants. Visor, according to its website, was founded in 1995. Strangely, Companies House (the government’s registry of businesses) lists Visor Consultants as incorporated as late as 2008. (Was the company registered under a different name? If so, why isn’t this mentioned in the annual filings? There is no listing for Visor Consulting.) Visor’s team included individuals who worked for the Home Office (Admiral Bawtree), the Metropolitan Police (Power, Tom Pine and Dr Tony Burns-Howell) and the BBC (Fiona Cline, who had worked personally with PM Tony Blair).
At the same time, two individuals, Rashid Rauf and Haroon Aswat, were plotting bombings of the Underground from bases in Pakistan. Rauf’s organization, Jaish e-Mohammed, was protected by Pakistani intelligence, presumably as a proxy against India. Aswat, according to former U.S. prosecutor John Loftus, was an MI6 informant. Rauf met the British men, Mohammad Siddique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, who were later blamed by media and politicians, but crucially not the inquest, for the 7/7 bombings. In the 1990s, Khan worked for the UK Department of Trade and Industry and had worked with local police in Yorkshire to settle gang disputes.
Remarkably, Rauf et al. also chose to attack three London Underground trains (the Circle lines near Aldgate/Liverpool Street, Edgware Rd/King’s Cross and Piccadilly/Russell Sq.). Supposedly, a fourth suicide bomb was to be detonated on a fourth train, but the alleged bomber missed the train and blew up a bus instead, also in line with the BBC documentary (albeit the bus replaces the chlorine tanker).
Even more remarkable, Reed Elsevier (a firm whose subsidiary organizes arms fairs) hired Visor Consultants in 2005 to plan with them and conduct a small, office-based tabletop crisis management exercise. Power told the BBC that the stations he and Reed Elsevier picked were Liverpool Street (on the Aldgate line), King’s Cross (Edgware line) and Russell Sq. (Piccadilly line); the same lines that were blown up for real. The exercise was “based on simultaneous bombs going off precisely at the railway stations that happened” (Power) on 7 July 2005.
Power strongly denies any involvement in the real-life attacks. The Intelligence and Security Committee’s report notes that MI5, the Police and Transport for London deny any knowledge of or involvement in Power’s exercise. It says of Power’s exercise:
“that the exercise was taking place at roughly the same time that morning is indeed an astonishing coincidence. Unfortunately, his remarks were interpreted by some as direct evidence of a conspiracy. He himself has denied this, and we have not uncovered any evidence that this is anything other than a coincidence.”
Boston bombing 2013: Every year since 2005, Sgt. Chris Connolly of the Boston police bomb squad inspected Boylston Street and other locations for bombs to protect the annual Marathon. There was a security presence at the Boston Marathon in case of a terrorist attack or other disaster. They had officers and dogs along the route, especially near the finish line. Beginning 2011, the Department of Homeland Security began the Urban Area Security Initiative. Part of the Initiative was Operation Urban Shield, an annual, large-scale terrorism-emergency response exercise.
Brothers Tamerlan (deceased) and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are accused of perpetrating the Boston Marathon bombing. The Tsarnaevs’ father was born in Chechnya and forcibly removed by the Soviet regime in the 1980s. The family lived in the Kalmyk Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic and Kyrgyzstan, respectively. In 2002, the family moved to the US. The FBI had Tamerlan under investigation. In 2011 at the request of the Russian FSB, he was visited by four men claiming to be FBI agents. They showed him no ID and were “tan” but had no “accents.” The FBI report also says:
TAMERLAN wants to box for the US Olympic team but does not have his citizenship yet. TAMERLAN has not thought about joining the military because he wants to become a professional boxer. TAMERLAN doesn’t like to fight for the sake of violence. TAMERLAN has fought to protect others. TAMERLAN was in several fights as a child in school in Kyrgyzstan. TAMERLAN stood up for kids that were being bullied by others ... TAMERLAN has respect for all religions and feels that any religion makes your life better. TAMERLAN hopes to move his family to Revere, Massachusetts in the coming year ... TAMERLAN goes to mosque in Cambridge once a week for Friday prayers. TAMERLAN doesn’t have any Muslim friends ... TAMERLAN doesn’t search for anything related to extremist Islamic material ... TAMERLAN was open to all contact with the FBI and report any additional contact with the four unidentified individuals (UI) who claimed to be FBI.
Within a year, Tamerlan had allegedly been radicalized and had allegedly fought with Chechen mujahideen against Russia, paying thousands of euros to return to America after jihad. How did a pleasant, non-extremist with ambitions of boxing for the US in championships allegedly end up being a terrorist in Russia and how come he was able to travel on international airlines without being stopped? Was he a US proxy? Was he in Russia at all? Investigative reporter Michele McPhee says: “counterterrorism experts and law enforcement officials ... point [...] to Tamerlan having been a federal informant who went rogue.” The theory that he “went rogue” is just as valid or invalid as the one (not McPhee’s) that says he was working for the FBI in order to fast-track his citizenship and was duped into taking part in what he thought was a counterterrorism drill but was actually a set up to make Americans frightened of people with Russian-sounding names. The evidence is only circumstantial.
Returning to the annual training exercises in Boston: James Baker, head of security at the consultancy firm the Cytel Group, which ran Urban Shield, “helped Boston run two massive, 24-hour worst-case scenario simulations that bore no small resemblance to the situation unfolding this afternoon [15 April] in Watertown,” says the training and simulation company, Strategic Operations, referring to the post-bombing shoot-out.
Urban Shield 2012 included 600 participants spread across 50 departments and agencies. “The drills are intended to be strikingly lifelike. Urban Shield has worked with Strategic Operations, a Hollywood effects company that also helps prepare army medics for the battlefield. (Their disaster scenario staff, Baker says, include an amputee).”
Officials told the Boston Herald that in March 2012 Boston’s “top emergency agency” conducted a drill anticipating an attack envisaging bombs at the finish line and at the VIP grandstand on Boylston Street. According to an NBC report, Ali Stevenson a coach at the University of Mobile’s Cross Country, said that shortly after the actual bombing: “They kept making announcements on the loud speaker that it was just a drill and there was nothing to worry about ... It seemed like there was some sort of threat, but they kept telling us it was just a drill.” Yet, Operation Urban Shield 2013 was not due to take place until June.
Bataclan 2015: Patrick Pelloux has experience in responding to and pushing for changes in the management of crises. Pelloux is head of the Association of Emergency Physicians of France. He said that he and others helped create the union in the late-1990s after a spate of violence against hospital workers, including a shooting at the Kremlin-Bicêtre University Hospital. He was also a contributor to Charlie Hebdo. In 2003, 15,000 French people, most of them elderly, died in a heatwave. “[T]he government dismissed a claim by [Pelloux] that 50 people had died in the capital” due to the heatwave (Independent). Pelloux was right and the death toll increased.
Pelloux became a media figure after exposing government failures in the handling of the mass deaths. He knew and befriended future President, François Hollande, then-first secretary of the Socialist Party. Pelloux says: “In 2004, we were received by Nicolas Sarkozy, Minister of the Interior at the time,” and future President, “following the violent escape of a prisoner in the Nice emergency” (sic).
Pelloux is active in healthcare reform. In 2004, he was involved in the one-day mass strike of health sector workers. Pelloux arranged for Irish singer Paddy Sherlock to play in A&E wards, appearing on stage with the singer in return. Sherlock was also friends with the murdered editor of Hebdo, Stéphan Charbonnier. In 2013, Pelloux was interviewed by the journal Libération about crises in healthcare, including the hostage-taking of medical staff. He said that security changes needed to be made:
“It has long been asked to have an emergency alert system in the emergency services at the police, an alarm system similar to that of banks or jewelers. If we can protect paintings and jewels in this way, we should be able to do the same for emergency personnel ... All that is required is a rapprochement between the emergency services and the police, so that the interventions are faster and more responsive, as well as means to work calmly.”
Pelloux was the first on the scene of the Hebdo attacks in January 2015. “Since then he has been training doctors, nurses and paramedics in the skills of battlefield medics - including how to deal with bullets, shrapnel wounds and major bleeds,” says Sky News. He later received 1.4 million euros in compensation, allegedly care of his friend Hollande. The journal Le Point reported that Pelloux received more compensation than surviving Hebdo staff. Pelloux denies any wrong doing and announced his intention to sue for libel.
On 13 November 2015, terrorists reportedly linked to Islamic State murdered 130 in a spate of shootings and explosions in Paris, mainly in the Bataclan Theatre. Pelloux revealed live on French radio (France Info):
“As luck would have it, in the morning at the Paris SAMU (EMT), a multi-site attack exercise had been planned, so we were prepared ... [T]here was a mobilization of police forces, firemen, EMTs, associations who came to [participate]. We tried to save as many lives as possible.”
Stat is a health news website owned by Boston Globe Media. It says:
“In the morning of Friday, Nov. 13 , firefighters and emergency medical workers in Paris simulated how they might respond to a mass shooting event. They had no idea that they would be putting their skills into practice that same night … [W]hen the attacks began, some doctors thought it was another drill.”
Sky News reported: “By a chilling coincidence, a major training exercise had taken place on the morning of the recent attacks involving medics, the police and fire crews.” It quotes Pelloux: “We were practising military medicine. Actually what we did on Friday morning is what we did on Friday night and I think it allowed us to save 60 to 100 lives.”
Saumur 2016: The final example here is not apparently related to simultaneous or near-simultaneous terror attacks and drills, but it raises some questions. In September 2016, a mowing contractor on a job near the church of Saint-Hilaire-des-Grottes, France, and an abandoned cave found what he thought was an ISIS hideout. Having seen three men leave a white van, the contractor saw that the cave contained ISIS flags, videos and Arabic newspapers. Local police were informed. The military claimed that it was a part of a drill conducted by the Joint Nuclear, Radiological, Biological and Chemical Defence Centre, which had failed to warn local police.
Conclusion: Maybe some of the above are real coincidences, but it’s quite a stretch to believe that each one is unrelated to the real events that unfolded on the same day or close to the same day.
Dr. T.J. Coles is an Associate Researcher at the Organisation for Propaganda Studies and the author of several books, including Manufacturing Terrorism (2018, Clairview).