Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Plot Unfolds

As the week has dragged on, it is starting to appear that the UK terror plot was not nearly as imminent or as dangerous as it was made out to be.

First, it appears that this plot was not even close to the advanced stages it was being made out to be.

"None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn't be a plane bomber for quite some time.

In the absence of bombs and airline tickets, and in many cases passports, it could be pretty difficult to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt that individuals intended to go through with suicide bombings, whatever rash stuff they may have bragged in internet chat rooms."[empahsis mine]

Further, it appears that the police in Britain wanted to delay the arrests much longer to gather more evidence (SOP from their experience with the IRA), but were pressured to arrest early by the US Government.

"British officials knowledgeable about the case said British police were planning to continue to run surveillance for at least another week to try to obtain more evidence, while American officials pressured them to arrest the suspects sooner."
You don't suppose this has to do with Dick Morris predicting a 10-point jump for Bush because of this do you?

It now seems that the details of the plot are not holding much water either. The claim of "liquid explosives" is becoming very implausible when examined by those who know about these things

"Now, they could of course mix up their oxidizer in advance, but then finding a container to keep the stuff in that isn't going to melt is a bit of an issue. The stuff reacts violently with *everything*. You're not going to keep piranha bath in a shampoo bottle -- not unless the shampoo bottle was engineered by James Bond's Q. Glass would be most appropriate, assuming that you could find a way to seal it that wouldn't be eaten."

The comments at the above link have provide even more reasons to be skeptical.

"To the person with the elaborate ideas on how to make TATP on board in spite of the various problems associated with it -- congratulations on ingenuity, but you've neglected the real problem, which is that you need to mix the materials very slowly and gently or they'll blow up long before you have enough explosives made to bring down the plane, and that you need to mix the materials under cooling -- even ordinary ice isn't really optimal though terrorists have done that in home bathrooms anyway, sometimes blowing themselves up in the process. Given that airport security is incapable of detecting pre-made acetone peroxides in the first place, why risk your reward of 77 virgins by trying to go for the "movie plot" when you can just take the stuff on pre-made? It isn't like the precursors are invisible and the manufactured material is easily detected -- in fact, the precursors are far easier to detect than the product, since almost everyone knows what nail polish remover smells like and the other chemicals are irritants."[emphasis mine]
In short, we have a plot that was not going to happen anytime soon, by people that had not yet made any actual explosives, purchased plane tickets or had passports. They were planing on making highly unstable explosives that take 24 hours to produce in an airplane washroom with easily detected precussor materials and they were going to coordinate all of this unlikely activity across 10 airplanes. All while they were under surviellence by the UK police.

Given all this - that the plot was never likely to get off the ground in the first place - why am I banned from bringing my shaving bag and a bottle of water in my carry-on for a trip from Ottawa to Chicago?

You don't think its to keep us scared and jittery, do you? I'm sure its a coincidence that this all happens the same week that the 9/11 tapes are released and a mere two months before the US mid-term elections?

The politics of fear for domestic political gain? Never.

Commenter 'Deathwind' put it best at Schneier's blog:

"Problem these days is that terrorists win both ways :

if their plot succeeds, they win blowing up some people,

if their plot fails, the security measures introduced reduce our freedom, make air travel a nuisance and everybody is more afraid thanks to media frenzy and overreacting. In short, even if they don't succeed, we become more terrorized.

And thus they win as terrorism is all about spreading fear and terror not really killing people.

We have to try as much as possible to stop them from succeeding but we must try not to let them win even when they don't succeed."[emphasis mine]



Its not like this is new. Keith Olbermann has an interesting top 10 list. I'm sure its all just coincidence. (h\t to Janet)


At 11:54 AM, Blogger Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Ah, yes, I have missed you. Great post.

At 12:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is incredible to me that anyone, after all this time, didn't understand EXACTLY what that "RED ALERT!!!" was all about.

Holy Joe's defeat did not go unavenged.

At 2:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post, Mike. And good on you for linking to Schnier - he's great.

My own experience for two decades in an occupation where I was able to observe a lot of human behaviour was interesting for me. But not only human behaviour itself, but how enforcement types could take advantage of it at times for their own ego and powertripping.

My son and his mom arrived home from Edmonton this evening. She was telling me about how stupid and idiotic the whole security thing is. Once they got past the long security lineup, they had to sit - without bottled water or juice - our son who is four years old, had no access to any fluids other than a water fountain (which he has never drank from in his life before) for a couple of hours.

It's bizarre. You'd think they could at least "vet" their own supply of bottled water that has been inspected by security, and hand that out to those awaiting embarking on planes in the secure "zone."

It's just absurd.

At 12:35 PM, Blogger Godammitkitty said...

Thanks for the great post Mike. I've updated my own blog to link here and to Schneier.

All the best! GDKitty

At 9:40 PM, Blogger Alison said...

Ian :

The security restrictions are not even consistent from airport to airport. I was talking to three people today who had all just gotten off different domestic flights. I didn't know them and don't know which airports they had all come from but according to their own accounts :
One woman had all her makeup taken, including used mascara.
Another was allowed to take her water with her after she sipped it first.
A third woman went through security, then bought water at a concession booth and carried it onto the plane with her.

So how serious can they possibly be about the need for all this if these are the experiences of three people all getting off flights on the same afternoon?

At 12:45 PM, Blogger Janet said...

Dear Mike, I just received this from the organizers of a local peace vigil. Thought you might like it.

Here is a link to Keith Olbermann's updated top 10 list of occasions that the Bush admin has gained political benefits around the same time that the public's fear of terrorism was at it's peak...

Also, this particular "terra alert" came at Joe's defeat... AND when many peace activists (including Ann Wright and Cindy Sheehan) were traveling to attend a National Veteran's for Peace convention.

The liquid theory... so they say they are worried about a terrorist combining liquids together to ignite a bomb... so what do they do??? They have everyone COMBINE ALL their liquids into big Freedom Bins at airports... not too smart.

Having once worked for the friendly skies.... It's the Cargo Hold. Period.

At 10:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At 7:51 PM, Blogger Matt said...

Hi there
I'm looking to create a group blog on the topic of the Ottawa municipal election coming up. I need supporters for Munter, Chairelli, and O'Brien. If you're interested, please drop me a line, otherwise kindly advertise this in a quick post on Blogging Dippers in order to help fill up the group. Thanks.

The blog is at

At 1:24 AM, Blogger John Murney said...

Great column Mike. Glad to have you posting again.


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