UK Terrorism Law Used To Prosecute Actual Terrorist Fighter For Possessing A Copy Of 'The Anarchist Cookbook'

from the citizens,-let-the-Ministry-of-Culture-guide-your-reading-decisions dept

We’ve reached the point in terrorism hysteria where someone can be prosecuted simply for having a copy of book already owned by millions. Ryan Gallagher details the trial of Josh Walker — a man who actually left the UK to fight against terrorists, only to be charged under the nation’s terrorism laws when he returned.

Police had arrested Walker when he arrived at the airport. They later searched his apartment, turning up a copy of the infamous “Anarchist Cookbook,” which contains bomb-making instructions along with information about how to eavesdrop on phone calls and commit credit card fraud. Walker was accused of violating the Terrorism Act because he possessed information “likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.” He faced the possibility of a 10-year jail sentence.

Walker didn’t even possess a physical copy of the book, so to speak. He did what any number of people could have done: downloaded a freely-available PDF and printed it out. Walker downloaded his copy from a local library for use with a role-playing “crisis game” group. He apparently used it to create terrorism scenarios for the group to work with. This was corroborated by statements from other members of the group.

Not wishing to alarm outsiders, the group routinely destroyed its notes and other documents post-game. This was the direct result of being previously reported to the police by a janitor who came across notes the group left behind after role-playing a terrorist attack. Apparently, Walker forgot to toss his printed Anarchist Cookbook PDF into the fire with the rest of the prep materials.

The prosecution claimed Walker retained his copy of the book — again, a book anyone can download from the local library — because he was “curious” about the contents. More ridiculously, the prosecution suggested the printed PDF Walker had in his bedroom “endangered public safety.”

The government apparently wanted to take an actual terrorist fighter down for obtaining a copy of book that’s not actually illegal to possess in the UK. But even the government’s expert witnesses seemed to feel it’s unlikely the book posed any sort of threat.

Walker’s case seemed to strengthen on Wednesday, when Sharon Marie Broome, an explosives expert with the British Ministry of Defence, told the court that while the makeshift explosive instructions in the “Anarchist Cookbook” were “credible,” much of the same information could be obtained from freely available books and academic literature.

Broome said that she had worked for 25 years assessing explosives, sometimes forensically analyzing devices used in real terrorist attacks perpetrated in the U.K. and overseas. Bennathan, Walker’s lawyer, pressed her on whether she had ever encountered a terrorist case that involved the use of the “Anarchist Cookbook.” She could not provide any examples.

Fortunately, there’s a happy ending to this story. Walker was found not guilty by the jury. But that this happened at all should be of concern to anyone who thinks the best way to fight terrorism is by expanding the reach and power of the government. Simply possessing something the government finds objectionable is apparently a criminal act in and of itself, even without any evidence suggesting the contents of the book were going to be used nefariously. Walker won’t be the last person prosecuted for reading “dangerous” things or thinking “dangerous” thoughts. And it’s giving terrorists exactly what they want: a steady pruning of citizens’ rights and protections by fear-fueled legislators.

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Comments on “UK Terrorism Law Used To Prosecute Actual Terrorist Fighter For Possessing A Copy Of 'The Anarchist Cookbook'”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I can walk into a hardware store and find all kinds of things to kill a whole lot of people with IF I was an evil person.

This so-called book has been around forever. If anything it must be pretty outdated. Unless a person builds a real bomb with plans to use it, that person is not a Terrorist.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Please back away from the kitchen

To be clear, home kitchens are those that kill the restaurant business, just as restaurant kitchens are killing home cooking. Both have been around for very long times and neither appear to have any death sentence overhanging them. There is growth in both restaurants and home culinary endeavors.

Then again, cookbooks, anarchist or not, are killing creativity as they are not as subject to copyright unless they creatively express the recipe, and even then the recipe itself, a list of ingredients and a method of preparation are not in and of themselves copyrightable. The creativity comes in creating new recipes. I, personally, change things by changing the ratios between ingredients, obscuring that original creation and creating a new end result. Something more to my taste, or formerly my customers tastes.

As an ‘expert’ in computers (then of the Macintosh variety) who asked me what I wanted to do with computers when I expressed an interest, to which I responded ‘create recipes’, he responded with (given limitations of the time, 1980 or so), have you ever considered the size of the set of all food? To boot that set of all food has expanded to anything that won’t kill you.

So, we end up with cookbooks that are not copyrightable, but are prosecutable because of different ingredients? Or is it just that one word, anarchist, which may or may not mean what the prosecutors think it means an it may need context (not in the use of the book but in the use of the reader) to have any legal meaning, and can that be proved?

Under UK law, is there no way to protest the government without being prosecutable? Is there anyway for that dissent to not actually declare the goverment anarchistic in and of itself, as they don’t allow anyone to question their way of governance? Was this ‘cookbook’ user actually protesting anything other than terrorists? Can they prove that?

Is there any government in the world today that allows for dissent? I know the US Constitution allows for it, the issue is whether the government actually allows it to happen. How long will that last?

Cowardly Lion says:

Re: Re:

Shortly after 9/11 the UK government expanded it’s anti-terror laws to include photographing “strategic” targets such as railway stations. And yes, the inevitable happened; a man was arrested in the centre of London for sketching a railway station. All part of Tony Blair’s manic reign of law.

GristleMissile (profile) says:

Re: Ambiguous headline...

This is definitely the worst headline I’ve seen in quite some time. I’d probably reword it as “UK Terrorism Law Used To Prosecute Man Who Fought Against Actual Terrorists For Possessing A Copy Of ‘The Anarchist Cookbook'”

But even that is not 100% clear. It leaves open the question of whether he was prosecuted for owning the book, or whether he fought terrorists because they owned the book.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

That brings back memories. I did a book report on the Anarchist’s Cookbook in high school back in the early ’80s. The gist of my report was that I was unimpressed with the book and found it to be more anarchist fantasy than reference.

I duly noted that my missing fingertips had nothing to do with the book. That was from making my own black powder explosives a few years earlier, using information from the encyclopaedias and other books in the school library.

dcfusor (profile) says:

Ability != Intent

I’ve had the DEA come and “bust” the place because a cop saw a chemistry setup when they came to deal with another problem. As far as they were concerned, there’s no legal use for chemistry at all. When we (I was running a software biz at the time) pointed out that no, we didn’t make drugs, and were making more money programming than we would dealing with meth heads…they at first refused to believe us, then switched to “then you must be robbing banks over the internet” – this back in the days just before DHS and when even the local FBI was on dial-up.

It seems it is assumed that you wouldn’t bother to learn anything unless it was going to be used badly. With the laziness I see around me, it might not be a stupid thing to
think, but that doesn’t include me!

Holy crap, I work with nuclear fusion in my lab!
And a lot of other “things of interest” as well.

FWIW, one of those things sometimes IS energetics. The cookbook is often wrong, or was last time I saw it, and laughably wrong more often than not. When the FBI questioned me about that I told them to leave it on the market, as they they could ID teeny-bombers by the acid burns and missing body parts…

Really, it said use acid from a *dead* battery to boil pure for the sulfuric you need as part of a nitration process, and that you could then distill nitric with two beer bottles and duct tape over a campfire…Any real chemist is either LMAO or aghast.

dcfusor (profile) says:

Re: Re: Ability != Intent

Funny, I’m off-grid with a ton of solar panels, and yes, they mentioned that possibility, not knowing that it would have been the most expensive pot ever…their fantasies aren’t reality.

A 5kw solar array wasn’t cheap then or now. It only makes that for a few hours a day, not enough to grow dope.
Further, in the rural area I live in, all the pot that’s grown is pretty much in the huge forest edges…where sun is free and there’s just too much ground for them to find it, pull it up, or bust someone. The big risk to a small time grower is hunters who don’t mind bagging some herb along with whatever else.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: 'We at the DEA do not make mistakes. EVER.'

When we (I was running a software biz at the time) pointed out that no, we didn’t make drugs, and were making more money programming than we would dealing with meth heads…they at first refused to believe us, then switched to "then you must be robbing banks over the internet" – this back in the days just before DHS and when even the local FBI was on dial-up.

My first thought upon reading this was that they were annoyed that they’d made fools of themselves and were trying to salvage it by spinning it as another crime. Or they were idiots who simply couldn’t comprehend how simply ‘playing with a computer’ could be profitable, such that it had to involve crime at some point.

Neither of these are exactly flattering possibilities to be sure.

dcfusor (profile) says:

Re: Re: 'We at the DEA do not make mistakes. EVER.'

You are correct – they were very embarrassed, if not right then, later on when they did their homework and found out about my work in .gov and the top secret gold stars on my dossier. They must have spent in the 10’s of thousands for that raid, and wound up with a couple joints charge (which then cost me $8k to defend – successfully, as we were able to prove various civil rights violations).

I told them about the energetics I was doing with the chemistry, and asked them to send BATFE to make sure we were all squared up…This surprised them, as I was supposed to be a meth cook, scared to death, and fer sure hiding something. So to ask for more of those fed guys to visit, while handing them a code to go look up, really set them back. This wouldn’t have worked had I not stood my ground, been white, had employees present, and probably a host of other not-so-intangibles.

I should say, that after it all, we became more or less friends, or at least not enemies, and the BATFE guys turned out to be pretty cool, unlike other things you hear about it. Of course, they had already looked me up for real by then and kinda were in damage control mode by then.

The other funny thing is, they bring a local cop when they do this. This one was my friend – he and I had done all sorts of odd capers while he was growing up – he told the feds no way I was the guy they wanted, but…”We do not make mistakes”. You called it right. Thank $DEITY for small towns where we all know each other, and no one really cuts the feds much slack.

Machin Shin says:

Maybe one of these days the people in power will realize the nature of that power.

It is such that the tighter you hold onto it and the more forceful you are the less control you have. Attacking people like this doesn’t make the government stronger or safer. It does the exact opposite. They are making the world a much more dangerous place.

Anonymous Coward says:

the UK is fast turning into anything but a free, democratic country but i think the government is using this terrorism fear to aid it’s own agenda of being able to censor everything for everyone except what it wants and also being able to bring in a system of ID cards, DNA screening etc. as for the ‘fear-fueled legislators’, i dont think they are fear-fuelled in the slightest but are again using terrorism and anything else they can dream up/think of to stop citizens from having any rights of privacy, freedom and free speech. anyone with even half a brain would know full well what was going on here and it sure as hell wasn’t anything that was going to make the people or the country any more safe but just another exercise in trying to put fear into the people. i seem to remember reading that Bin Laden said that governments would do the terrorists job for them and that certainly seems to be exactly what is going on!!

JoeDetroit (profile) says:

Anarchist Cookbook? 1971?!

This the same book written in 1971? Egads I had a copy of that on a floppy sometime in the 90s! It’s quite possible I copied it on to a hard drive back then & I never actually delete anything, so I might still have it on a backup drive. I did throw out all my old floppies a few years ago.

I remember reading it & finding it out of date back then. Kind of entertaining but mostly useless. I remember it had a instructions on how to scrape banana peels, a LOT of banana peels, dry the scrapings, & SMOKE IM to get high. To find the publication date I checked Wiki & it seems the U.K. has arrested a few others but no convictions.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Anarchist Cookbook? 1971?!

To wit, those radioactive bananas will probably have some extreme reaction by some less than understanding government agency, ie.: too many bananas must be some sort of nuclear device, or hiding some sort of nuclear device, think about the possibilities of devastating impact a ship full of bananas might have. (If your not sure about the radioactivity of bananas try Bing, or a more reliable search engine).

And the anarchists cookbook gave instruction on smoking banana peels? The possibilities of anarchy that might be actually prosecutable appear to be endless…to them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Anarchist Cookbook? 1971?!

Shit, we’ve already got donut sugar that the cops think is meth, and tea leaves that the cops think are weed. What’s next? Prosecuting people for having apple cores in their garbage based on suspicion of manufacturing cyanide?

It’s a MyNameHere-flavored wet dream…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Anarchist Cookbook? 1971?!

“I had a copy of that on a floppy sometime in the 90s”,

Bong! bong!, shshsshShshshshhssh!

I think I downloaded a copy of a BBS when I was about 13 yo too. I guess the kid couldn’t afford a high school organic chemistry book.

From the OP:

“likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism”

You mean like owning television spectrum for example?Hopefully one day somebody will start turning some AI at doing audio frequency and image analysis of common TV for the purposes of detecting subconscious suggestion techniques. Then we will get a clear picture of exactly who the terrorists in this country really are.

DannyB (profile) says:

A slippery slope

Once you start banning books, it all goes downhill from there. Like other slippery slopes that have been covered on TD. Once you allow authority to do something bad, they will gradually do it more and more, expanding the reasons why it is allowed.

Cryptography textbooks are considered munitions in the US.

What other books will be treated as something other than books?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: A slippery slope

If information is regarded as a munition, then how does one categorize information that is specifically intended to bypass the conscious mind?

Ted Kezinsky was an example of what can be done with psychological induction techniques. And the question that nobody seems to be asking about all the mass shootings, is:

What was actually in the mass media content these people were exposed to? Because it is practical with modern infrastructure to inject modified content into individual persons data feeds.

It is difficult to talk about this stuff without all the kookery coming into play. But if you know a little about how the techniques that create terrorists actually work, it isn’t difficult to find them spread throughout modern media.

So if people really want to concern themselves with information as a tool for terrorists, it might be a little more appropriate to first consider information as an act of terrorism. And I see terrorism vectored at the public consciousness every day in content and advertising.

There are people who are more susceptible to this sort of thing than others. But IHMO, when you see mass shootings, these are people are a manufactured product of American culture. And “American culture” (distinct from actual culture) is not a humanistic product, but rather a complex engineered abstraction used to farm human minds.

People are being psychologically battered. Eventually they snap. Then the result of that is used to psychologically batter as many other people as possible, and the cycle continues.

There are many places where the loop can be broken. But apparently mass murder is more profitable for wall street than a working healthcare system. And yet more profitable if it sways the country in to disarmorment, so that they can pervert justice even further with less risk of violent reproach.

We aren’t on the slippery slope anymore. We are rolling around in the fucking sewer.

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