Hard News by Russell Brown

Sex and terror

There was never a terror threat against the All Blacks. Indeed, it's far from certain there was ever a specific "threat" against their next playing venue, Johannesburg's Ellis Park. What can confidently be said is that it would be nice to know exactly what's going on in Pakistan.

You wouldn't know this if you were relying on the local news media yesterday, especially the Sunday News, whose 'TERRORIST THREAT TO ALL BLACKS' headline occupied half a tabloid page above a story which virtually treated "the outrage at Ellis Park" as if it had already happened.

So where to start? Two weeks ago, according to Raja Munawar Hussain, the local chief of police, two South African citizens were arrested in the eastern Pakistan city of Gujrat, in the course of the raid that netted al Qaeda associate Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani. Hussain apparently told Associated Press that maps highlighting facilities in several South African cities were found, and later told Agence France Press that the two men had confessed under interrogation to being part of an imminent plot to attack a range of targets, including Ellis Park. The Johannesburg Star kicked the story alone.

But the South African government has not been allowed access to the two South African nationals, and the head of its National Intelligence Agency is insisting that, having contacted the Pakistanis, it still has no evidence that sites in the country were being targeted by terrorists. There have been doubts expressed about the whole story in the South African papers. The two men arrested may well have Islamist terror connections, but given the distinctly iffy quality of information that has emerged about the Pakistani al Qaeda arrests in the past couple of weeks, it wouldn't be wise to presume too much.

Meanwhile, a South African arrested in Mexico for having "strange and puzzling" travel documents has been released. American Conservative and Antiwar.com's Justin Raimondo is seeking to draw our Mossad passport scandal in with indications that terror organisations are abusing the South African passport system. It's not convincing, but he has some useful links to news stories on the South African angle.

Elsewhere on the Pakistani beat, sources in Pakistan's intelligence service have said that Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan, an al Qaeda suspect named by US officials as the source of information that led to the raising of the alert level in New York, was working undercover for them and that his outing has forced them to abandon a productive sting operation and take the man into hiding.

Washington Monthly's Kevin Drumm pondered the sting story:

What in God's green earth is going on here? I have a whole stew of reactions swirling around in my head about this. I'm beside myself that Bush administration officials are so spineless that they'd kill an undercover operation just to remove some political heat from themselves. But: I'm also angry that the reaction to Sunday's terror warning from Bush critics was so hysterical that the Bushies got panicked into doing this. And yet: I'm furious that Bush and his cronies have so corrupted our intelligence services that deep skepticism was hardly an unfair reaction. But: why did Tom Ridge insist on politicising Sunday's news in the first place? On the other hand: why did the New York Times print this? Did they know they were blowing an operation?

Who the hell knows these days? Juan Cole notes that the American leak of Khan's name also wrecked a British intelligence operation, and that Condoleeza Rice admitted to CNN's Wolf Blitzer that the Bush administration had given Khan's name to the press. Says Cole:

The outing of Khan, probably the most important asset the US has ever had inside al-Qaeda, is a huge disaster and a setback to attempts to finish off the top leadership of al-Qaeda.

The Observer looks at the kind of information Khan was compiling .

Somebody queried the Rationalists' statement I linked to on Friday on the results of a Christchurch School of Medicine study of 330 prostitutes - pointing out that on the information presented it doesn't actually debunk Maxim's claim: the Rationalists were talking about the total sample of 330 sex workers in the study, Maxim was talking about street prostitutes only.

So I had a look. I couldn't find the full paper, but the study was published in 2001, based on research conducted between May and September 1999. The abstract indicates that it found that street prostitutes, estimated to make up a third of Christchurch's sex workers, did begin at an earlier age, largely because massage parlours were forbidden by law to hire anyone under the age of 18.

Of the sample of 303 sex workers, 220 were in parlours. Just under a third of the sample said they had begun sex work under the age of 18, suggesting that about a third had begun on the street.

If there were 12 prostitutes under 18 in the sample of 303, and assuming the number of street workers in the sample was even roughly proportionate, then Maxim's "two thirds" just doesn't add up. So where did the claim come from? Happily, we can trace it through a good old-fashioned process of Maxim fact-mangling:

An earlier version of Maxim's 10 reasons "fact" sheet says that "A Christchurch School of Medicine study found two-thirds of Christchurch street prostitutes starting working under the age of 18." A "myths" page on the Maxim site says: "A Christchurch School of Medicine study found that two-thirds of street prostitutes began selling their bodies under the age of 18." But then we move to the current version of the "reasons" page, which says: "A Christchurch School of Medicine study found that nearly two-thirds of Christchurch street prostitutes were under the age of 18." What odds on where this factoid will head next?

The irony is that the authors of the Christchurch study highlighted the need for "legislation and policy" on health and safety "to encourage the control women can exert over their work practice". Five years on, after law reform, that policy has begun to emerge. Last week OSH published A Guide to Occupational Health and Safety in the New Zealand Sex Industry. Over 100 pages, it covers everything from personal security to disinfecting dildoes. Sex workers can complain if their employers don't meet the standards it sets out. Whatever our misgivings about the sex industry, it's undeniable that in this respect decriminalisation has begun to improve the lot of those who work in it.

BTW, I made an update to Friday's post having finally, I think, sorted out the Maxim-Young-Nats-AUSA business with the help of a reliable source.

And, finally ,back to the rugby on Saturday night, which basically just pissed me off. The All Black pack without McCaw and Robinson is looking more and more deficient, George Gregan's ability to play the referee is peerless (if Ali Williams was going to be yellow-carded for persistent offside, what about Smith and Waugh?), but mostly there appear to be too many failures of judgement on the field. Tracey Nelson's stats for the game are up now.