So Who Started the Fire?



By Michael Shrimpton 

Coup in Egypt
Big news this week was the tragic fire in Arizona, but firstly I should congratulate the Egyptian Army on its well-organized coup.  They really have smacked the Islamo-fascist Muslim Brotherhood about.  Good to see the Brotherhood’s casualties kept to such a low level and minimum force employed.  Obviously you cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs.
There was no bloodless way out of the crisis in Cairo.  When you’re dealing with fascists, of whatever stripe, you need to be tough.  Nobody in Britain is going to be too worried about a BBC journalist getting hit!  (It was only a few shotgun pellets).   That was a nice bit of work by someone.
Hopefully the smarmy Mohammed El Baradei will not be the beneficiary of the coup.  We’ve only met once and did not take to each other!  I am backing the nice Ahmed Shafiq, formerly chief of the air force and aviation minister.  He’s at least as smart as El Baradei but not as pompous.  El Baradei was worse than useless at IAEA.
The Tragic Events in Prescott AZ
My condolences to the families of those brave firefighters who gave their lives.  19 dead in one fire is a huge loss, not least from one fire station.
Why should an intelligence specialist such as myself be paying attention however?  Tragedies happen all the time, even on this scale.  There are two answers, apart from the fellow-feeling of an ally towards a small town suffering such tragic loss of mostly young life.  The first is a counterintelligence point, the second a policy point.
The media and politicians easily fall for fairy stories about how wildfires start.  They are not in fact that easy to start.  You are not encouraged to try this at home but if you throw a lighted cigarette butt out of a moving car it will normally burn itself out.  Most fires in fact have multiple ignition points.
The DVD and its terrorist spondees like al Qaeda have been starting fires for years.  It’s a low-risk strategy which causes a lot of heartache and physical damage.  The way in which fires start is hardly ever investigated.  What’s more there is never any international cooperation.  The Australian states barely cooperate with each other let alone with American states.
There is a state of mind in the West that fires are a natural hazard.  If arson is considered at all it’s thought of in terms of lone nutters with a firebug.  The idea that terrorists or Bad Guy assets might be waging economic warfare is hardly ever considered.  Military assets like satellites are never used.  This is despite the fact that fires are started out in the open, ideal for IMINT.  Even if you don’t get the actual ignition, you can get the vehicles they’re using.  Few people start fires and try to get away on foot – fires can catch up with you.
This fire has a suspicious look about it.  There needs to be a serious investigation.  How did it start, who started it and how many ignition points were there?  Were accelerants used?  If so, what were they and where were they acquired?  It’s a pity we can’t give arsonists a taste of their own medicine, as it were, and burn them at the stake.  Thankfully Arizona still has the death penalty.  If these fires were started deliberately it should be possible to bring home murder convictions.  Since there were multiple deaths there would be an aggravated factor, i.e. the death penalty would be available.
The Policy Issue
Why are we still fighting wildfires mostly on the ground?  There will always be a role for firefighters on the ground, but fighting fires from the air was proven decades ago.  The problem is that there are not enough airplanes and those we have are not used efficiently.  Take the bushfire season in Australia.  It’s in the northern winter.  The planes are mostly long-range.  Four-engined types are common, as they have the load-carrying capability.
I suggested moving firefighting planes across the Pacific years ago.  In North America it’s pretty rare to have Canadian and US planes in operation at the same time.  Where was the backup in Arizona?  We also need a lot more planes.  We have a large pool of ex-military pilots to fly them.  The technology is proven – it was actually taken over from a friend of mine to spray defoliant in Vietnam, an interesting but not entirely successful strategy.  (Speaking of Vietnam wasn’t it nice to see Dr Sam Axelrad take Nguyen Quang Hung’s arm back?    He’s clearly a nice guy, typical of US Army medics.)
We also need to get relevant satellite imagery into the hands of state and local law enforcement in Arizona.  It would be great to see the boys get serious for once.  If these brave men were murdered then someone has to pay, big time.
Good luck to Sabine Lisicki for the Ladies’ Final tomorrow.  That’s right, I’m backing the German!  It’s not just that her opponent is French.  She seems like a genuinely nice person.  Germany’s tragedy is that the nice Germans are never put in charge.
Someone once asked me if the conspiracy theory about Angela Merkel being Adolf Hitler’s daughter was true.  I’m afraid to say that I replied that I didn’t think she was nice enough!
Great to see Andy Murray going through to the final.  His Polish opponent today didn’t win many friends with his finger-wagging on court.  From 1-4 down in the third set Andy played like Pete Sampras.
One American we are genuinely pleased to see back at Wimbledon each year is John McEnroe and yes, I am being serious.  I am not entirely convinced that all the calls against him were fair.  His affection for Wimbledon and Britain is clearly genuine and he has made many friends over here.
I was sorry to see my old Head of Chambers, Lord Campbell of Alloway QC pass.  He started his career representing fellow POWs at Colditz Castle before Wehrmacht courts-martial, with some of his clients facing the death penalty.  It must have been great training for the Tower Bridge Magistrates Court.
Reply to Comments
I am sorry to see people having a go at the poor old NSA, who do very good work.  The reference to the Bourne Ultimatum was intriguing.  Great movie, but with a definite anti-CIA and anti-NSA bias.  Now if Robert Ludlum had made the Germans the Bad Guys the movies would have been much more true to life!
I hope everybody had a good July 4th .
July 5th 2013


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Michael Shrimpton was a barrister from his call to the Bar in London in 1983 until being disbarred in 2019 over a fraudulently obtained conviction. He is a specialist in National Security and Constitutional Law, Strategic Intelligence and Counter-terrorism. He is a former Adjunct Professor of Intelligence Studies at the American Military University. Read Articles from Michael Shrimpton; Read Michael Shrimptons' Full Complete Bio >>>