Thursday, August 10, 2006

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Gonna be a fun month to fly

Congrats to all involved on foiling that terror plot.

And now, a very selfish request:

Please, please, please, pretty please, pretty please with sugar on top, allow things to calm down enough so that next month when I have to fly to and from the UK, these travel restrictions are no longer in place.

Because if me no one is allowed to bring a book onboard a transatlantic flight, then the terrorists really have won.

UPDATE: Although the media reaction has focused on this latest plot as an example of the vitality of terrorists, I tend to agree with much of this Stratfor analysis:
There are four takeaway lessons from this incident:

First, while there obviously remains a threat from those not only sympathetic to al Qaeda, but actually participating in planning with those in the al Qaeda apex leadership, their ability to launch successful attacks outside of the Middle East is severely degraded.

Second, if the cell truly does have 50 people and 21 have already been detained, then al Qaeda might have lost its ability to operate below the radar of Western -- or at least U.K. -- intelligence agencies. Al Qaeda's defining characteristic has always been its ability to maintain operational security. If that has been compromised, then al Qaeda's importance as a force has diminished greatly.

Third, though further attacks could occur, it appears al Qaeda has lost the ability to alter the political decision-making of its targets. The Sept. 11 attack changed the world. The Madrid train attacks changed a government. This failed airliner attack only succeeded in closing an airport temporarily.

Fourth, the vanguard of militant Islamism appears to have passed from Sunni/Wahhabi al Qaeda to Shiite Iran and Hezbollah. It is Iran that is shaping Western policies on the Middle East, and Hezbollah who is directly engaged with Israel. Al Qaeda, in contrast, appears unable to do significantly more than issue snazzy videos.

posted by Dan on 08.10.06 at 05:27 PM


I'm flying via Europe to Tel Aviv on September 11. How do you think I feel?

posted by: Brian Ulrich on 08.10.06 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

My advice is to purchase if you don't already own, an i-pod, or fly virgin/lufthansa as they have the best trans-atlantic in flight entertainment and service - lufthansa has internet access which is great because you can make calls if you have skype set up.... which messes with the other passengers ;)

posted by: johnny meathead on 08.10.06 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

Ahh, but you're assuming they'll let electronics into the cabin!

posted by: Brian Ulrich on 08.10.06 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

I don't see where books are banned--so long as they aren't inflammatory, of course.

Does Stratfor lump fanatically puritan Deobandi Islam in with Wahhabi Islam? Perhaps because they're both Sunni? Or because al Qaeda has a presence in Pakistan? Or because British radical mosques with large Pakistani congregations tend to be financed and influenced by the Saudis? Or because Lashkar-e-Jhangvi cooperates with al Qaeda? Or because LeJ is more regional than worldwide? Was this airline plot perhaps to be Deobandi LeJ's opening on the Broadway of world terror? I'm just wondering whether even Stratfor might have problems keeping up with the explosion (so to speak) of would-be starlets upon the world terror stage.

posted by: Joel on 08.10.06 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

I just flew from Detroit to Washington and it was fine, albeit I frantically had to pack my toiletries and random hand cream in another suitcase and check it.

And Brian, flights to Israel are the safest things. If you take El Al they don't focus on the stupidity of preventing the last attack either (as unfortunately the US and UK security forces are doing).

posted by: amechad on 08.10.06 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

Remember, these were 'British' Muslims, as were those who executed the 7/7 attack -- but don't mention the immigration.

posted by: Mitchell Young on 08.10.06 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

Terrorism is certainly a serious issue, but does anyone think there's any value whatsoever is "whack-a-mole security"?

Terrorists fly into a building? Enact a massive regime of airport policies, Air marshals and a new government agency when simply locking the door of the cockpit would do the trick.

Terrorists plot to combine liquids to make a bomb on a plane? Don't allow any liquids on planes and remove carryons for an indeterminate time.

We could easily brainstorm a list of potential terrorist scenarios and restrict liberty in myriad ways to prevent them, but certainly there's a cost there, right? And further, if we restrict liberty to prevent 100 scenarios, scenario 101 remains open. Since when has "Someone ought to do something!" prevailed with such force over sensible policy?

posted by: cure on 08.10.06 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

This is not a big failure for AQ. It would have had a gteater return if they were able to bring down a plane. Still, every time they shoot a blank, we have to ratchet up our security standards. How many tries will it take until all western airline security costs and procedures are right up there with El Al's.

There is no way they can have the same level of operational security with a group of British moslem walk-ins that they had with the Atta cell. AQ has not sacrificed their A team for this. Their only cost will be relocating or cutting loose their compromised operatives Pakistan. Its a good thing that we are in Iraq putting a stop to all this.

I wish you would get Madrid right! The Spainish voter caught their government lying about who the bombers were for electoral advantage before the blood of the victims was cold. Having endured decades of terrorism and not being a bunch of frightened sheep, they threw the lying a**holes out.

posted by: Bill D on 08.10.06 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

That stratfor analysis strikes me as a serious case of wishful thinking. We don't know how exactly this plot was uncovered. It may have been a stroke of luck. We may not be so lucky next time. AQ only have to succeed every now and then to achieve their objectives-- we have to succeed every time to achieve ours.

posted by: Marc on 08.10.06 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

Of these four observations only the second seems clearly right.

Local al Qaeda-inspired groups are frightening because they are more numerous and initially stand a good chance of taking local governments unawares. But al Qaeda's discipline was developed over many years in the face of security measures that were just vigorous enough to learn from. Local, younger terror organizations should be easier to penetrate if governments are alive to the need, as in England they should be.

posted by: Zathras on 08.10.06 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

talk about whistling past graveyard. Kinda premature to be drawing sweeping conclusions, no? As often stated here and elsewhere, terrorists only have to succeed occasionally, we have to succeed everytime out. There's always tommorrow for them - they just have to reach into another cess pool, pull out a few more martyrs and throw a bit of money at them. We don't have it so easy.

posted by: goatherdingfool on 08.10.06 at 05:27 PM [permalink]


Not so. Enough failed plots and the supply of new recruits will dry up, or so we have to believe.

Otherwise the unthinkable will become thinkable. A liberal democracy cannot continue to harbor a group some of whose members continue to attempt audacious plans of mass murder on the general public. In the long term, I emphasise.

The time when the UK has to contemplate the unthinkable just drew closer. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

posted by: Don S on 08.10.06 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

Hoping is one thing, but what can we do to ensure it doesn't?

The current plot seemed to originate somewhere in Pakistan, but the Pakistani government is unable to control the autonomous tribal areas that al Qaeda is likely to be taking refuge in, and sending our forces in to do it may result in a revolution.

There is one positive thing to note, however. The initial tip that something was up apparently came from a concerned Muslim.

That's significant.

posted by: rosignol on 08.10.06 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

Third, though further attacks could occur, it appears al Qaeda has lost the ability to alter the political decision-making of its targets. The Sept. 11 attack changed the world. The Madrid train attacks changed a government. This failed airliner attack only succeeded in closing an airport temporarily.

This sure seems to be drawing a big inference from one data point...

posted by: Peter on 08.10.06 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

"That stratfor analysis strikes me as a serious case of wishful thinking."

If I had to describe Stratfor overall in one sentence, it would be the above.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 08.10.06 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

What are the chances of the next attack being carried out by American born Muslims, of Middle Eastern or Pakistani origin?

posted by: Tiku on 08.10.06 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

@don s

enough failed plots will NOT dry up the cess pools - the israeli's have foiled more than their share of plots, and yet along comes another suicide bomber.

the fact is that "death to america" is the usual chant and not "death to democracy and your way of life" - this tells me that the key to the ongoing middle east problem is to radically change US' foreign policy - from that of one-sided interference (the shah of iran in the 70s, saddam in the 80s... the list goes on) to one which is more pluralistic and based on recognition of the legitimate concerns and problems of all the people of the region (i.e. not just israel).

i suppose when these policies were formulated after WW2, the populations of these countries were thought to be just "goatherdingfools" - 60 years on, they arent.

finally - on the issue of "contemplating the unthinkable" - the culprits are 2nd and 3rd generation children of immigrants. which means they are brits. the solution lies through an engagement with the community (i.e. "more martin luther king/ mandela" style and "less dubya")

posted by: eggs on 08.10.06 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

The Stratfor piece is pretty awful analysis. How do they know there isn't another 50 person network fashioning a similar plot? Wishful thinking, yes, in the extreme. AQ nearly duplicated 9/11 in one gesture and I'm supposed to feel comforted???

posted by: Jim Harris on 08.10.06 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

You want your flight to be relatively risk free? Ok, let's get real.

First of all, NO carry on luggage. You can't live a few hours without your friggin laptop and crappy novels? Toothpaste, mouthwash, food, and water should be provided by the airline.

This is not "giving in to the terrorists", this is simply playing good defense. Would you knowingly hand your bridge opponent a winning card?

I would personally go the next step and have my luggage arrive on a later (luggage flight) but I know that would throw the flying public into fits.

Dealing with realitity is not surrender but good defense. We should remember that we are at war an behave as if we were.

posted by: Pete on 08.10.06 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

If I were a business traveler, I would not mind not being able to have my laptop with me on the flight. What will, I am sure, eventually be the problem, is entrusting the airline to keep it safe (ie, not in 100 different pieces) in the luggage hold down below. Ever look out your window when you land and watch the way those baggage handlers treat the luggage?

And I'm with Dan on the books. They're not imposing these restrictions on domestic flights as far as I can tell, but on Transatlantic flights. That's a heck of a long time to sit in confined space and stare at the seat in front of you. The in-flight magazine might keep you entertained for 10 min of the 6+ hour flight. They're checking everything so thoroughly anyway, what's the extra second it takes to flip through a book to make sure its not hollowed out (which I hope to god the xray machines would have been able to pick up anyway or else all hope is lost and has been for some time).

posted by: Dan (not Drezner) on 08.10.06 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

the culprits are 2nd and 3rd generation children of immigrants. which means they are brits.

It means they carry British passports. Wellington once said, when he was accused of being Irish, that being born in a stable doesn't make one a horse.

the solution lies through an engagement with the community

Britain has 'engaged the community'. From outlawing piggy banks, to modifying some school uniforms into a sort of burka lite, to throwing people who criticise Islam in strong terms in jail, the British state has bent over backwards to 'engage the community". Now, a different course must be tried. A first step would be a rational immigration policy.

posted by: Mitchell Young on 08.10.06 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

Stratfor is FOS as usual.

These travel restrictons won't last. The travel and tourism industries will see to that.

NRO's Corner was correct in stating that such restrictions make profiling more and more likely.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 08.10.06 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

Carry-ons are for wussies. :)

Also, its the domestic connecting flight that deserves the most scrutiny.

Actually I think this incident has highlighted just how truly stupid these people can often be.

posted by: Babar on 08.10.06 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

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