Coincidence between bombing exercises and real attack?
(An attempt to explain Visor’s simulated bombing exercises on 7 July 2005)
Published: 17 Jul 2005
By: Channel 4 News (UK)
Before the discovery of the London bombers’ identities, bloggers had been speculating about a large-scale bomb-simulation that took place at the same time and locations as the explosions.
It began when Peter Power, one time high ranking employee of Scotland Yard and member of its Anti-Terrorist Branch, reported in two major UK media outlets that his company Visor Consulting had on the morning of 7th of July been conducting ‘crisis exercises’ whose scenarios uncannily mirrored those of the actual attack.
In interviews on Radio 5 Live and ITV News, Power appeared to claim the exercises involved ‘a thousand people’ as well as a dedicated crisis team whose number was not specified. The consultant described the simulation of ‘simultaneous attacks on a underground and mainline station’ and ‘bombs going off precisely at the railway stations’ at which the actual bombings occurred.
Visor’s crisis team, Power explained, were planning to practice the switch from what he called ‘slow time’ thinking to the ‘quick time’ thinking required by a crisis situation. In the event, they were forced to do so for real. ‘Unusual though it may be to stop an exercise and go into real time,’ he comments, ‘it worked very well – although there were a few seconds when the audience didn’t realise whether it was real or not.’
Three days after the London bombings, Power was in Toronto for the 15th World Conference on Disaster Management. There, he took part in a discussion panel for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s news discussion programme CBS: Sunday Night, in which he was quizzed again about what the host called the ‘extraordinary’ conjunction of his company’s planned scenarios and the actual events. Power dismissed this as ‘spooky coincidence’.
‘Our scenario was very similar, but it wasn’t totally identical,’ he said. ‘It was based on bombs going off – the time, the locations, all this sort of stuff. But it wasn’t an accident, in the sense that London has a history of bombs.’
To many, this seemed a huge story wilfully ignored by the mainstream media. Online publishers stepped in to add fuel to the fires of indignation. Colman Jones, an Associate Producer on CBS:Sunday Night, claimed in his blog that, while escorting participants from the building, he enquired of Power ‘why there had not been more media coverage of this.’ ‘They were trying to keep it quiet,’ Power purportedly responded, with what Jones called ‘a knowing smile.’
The rumours spread like wildfire: perhaps something lay behind the ‘co-incidence’ presented by Mr. Power. Prison Planet, the investigative journalism site which initially drew attention to the Radio 5 Live comments, set the tenor of online coverage in an article entitled ‘London Underground Bombing “Exercises” Took Place at Same Time as Real Attack’. Here the authors argued that the simulated attacks were, whether Power knew it or not, intended to act as a cover for the real ones.
‘Whether Mr. Power and Visor Consultants were “in on the bombing” […] is not that important,’ their report stated. ‘The British government or one of their private company offshoots could have hired Visor to run the exercise for a number of purposes. This is precisely what happened on the morning of September 11th 2001 with the CIA conducting drills of flying hijacked planes into the WTC and Pentagon at 8:30 in the morning.’
News agency Al Jazeera agreed, baldly asserting that ‘The London Underground exercises were used as the fallback cover to carry out the attack.’
Associated Press, for example, reported a ‘simulated accident’, scheduled for September 11th, ‘in which an errant aircraft would crash into one of its buildings.’ The article reports a spokesperson for the intelligence agency running the simulation, the ultra-secretive National Reconnaissance Office, describing the conjunction as a ‘incredible coincidence’ – just as Power did.
In the frenzy of linking, cross linking and careless speculation, however, it appears most self-publishers – and Al Jazeera – failed to contact Visor to corroborate their claims. In fact, the ‘exercises’ he spoke of on Five Live were carried out purely ‘on paper’, or at least PowerPoint, by a small group of seven or eight executives (Power remains tight-lipped about the client) seeking to examine the impact on corporate decision-making of a potential crisis situation. As Fintan Dunne, editor of BreakForNews.com points out, ‘these types of private-sector “risk management” drills never use field staff.
Neither do [such] low-level corporate drills have active involvement of police or other security forces.’ The exercise, therefore, was ‘in no way comparable to U.S. drills and wargames on 9/11 – which were being run by active-duty security forces in the U.S. military, federal agencies, the FAA and various emergency services.’
As Power explained, the London bombing scenario was in fact one of three explored: another looked at the disruption that might be caused by unruly anti-globalisation demonstrators. In no case was there any real mobilisation of physical or human resources, which makes the case for ‘planned’ intelligence alibi look awfully flimsy, if not downright silly.
In the light of a brief interview with Power, the ‘unbelievable’ coincidence of events suddenly seems entirely comprehensible: the train stations targeted, after all, were all in central London — any planner would pick these amongst a list of possible targets.
Indeed, in developing the London bombing scenario used in this exercise, Power’s consultancy drew on the sort of scenario already explored in Osiris 2, a much-publicised major exercise initiated in the City of London to simulate a poison gas attack on the underground. Power further utilised his experience of taking part in Panorama’s programme ‘London Under Attack’, another timely simulation.
And the date? That is indeed coincidence — but an unbelievable one? ‘Every week across the UK there are probably about hundred exercises, tests and simulations going on to get crisis teams familiar with their roles,’ Power insists. ‘We certainly do this regularly for many clients, the vast majority of them paper-based.’
Given this, the likelihood that one such simulation should fall on the day of an actual disaster is relatively high. Perhaps, who knows, that’s the even case with oft-quoted simulations like the NRO’s. ‘When you hear hooves, think horses, not zebras,’ goes the often-quoted popularisation of Occam’s Razor.
In the absence of journalistic nous, bloggers would do well to stick by it.