And so, the anniversary of 9-11 is upon us again. The most important question we can ask ourselves on this day is, what is the likelihood of this happening again? It seems that the answer to that question, at least in the context of passenger aircraft-based terrorism, is “not very high”.
By now every air traveler has accepted the inanities of the security rules that seem to exist solely to confuse and inconvenience us. For the most part, these rules have some grounding in logic, though they err on the extreme side. For example, the requirement of removing shoes stems from the infamous “Shoe-bomber” Richard Reid’s attempt to ignite his footwear. Likewise, there’s a reason behind the most annoying rule of them all, the restriction on fluids carried aboard the plane. This stems from the plot by three British muslims who attempted to create bombs out of hydrogen peroxide smuggled aboard drinks containers. These three men were just convicted of conspiracy to murder, but this only after two previous trials. The accuse were certainly guilty of planing an attack and deserve to be jailed for a long time, but there were also serious problems with this case from the beginning, not least of all the fact that the actual plot was almost as inept as Reid’s shoes. There were five other defendants, all of whom were found guilty to a lesser degree or outright exonerated. The evidence in the case seemed to hinge on the existence of a single USB stick with some airline flight timetables on it, and the actual threat to the airlines appears to have been minor.
Again, I am mightily pleased that these fools are headed to jail. But given the full facts of the case, as laid out in three separate trials now, it’s time to drop the onerous and silly rules against carrying liquids aboard aircraft. And can we also have our shoes back, please?
Septic Isle blog has the best hands-down coverage of the liquid bombs plot. Well-worth reading all of their posts in detail, to understand just how weak this case was, depsite being labeled by prosecutors as “the strongest terrorism case ever presented to a court”. If that’s truly the case, imagine how weak the other cases must be. The tendency of the autorities to hype-up these real, but inept plots by would-be delusional jihadis only serves to undermine their credibility, which they will need someday if heaven forbid there’s a real threat someday on par with 9-11.
If we are truly to prevent another 9-11, we need to be smarter about security, instead of reactive. While I am not a fan of racial profiling, I do think that behavior profiling is a legitimate tool. But the best way to prevent terrorism in the skies is to have rigorous law enforcement and investigation on the ground. That’s where these plots begin and that’s where these plots are best intercepted and shut down. The lesson in all of this is that preventing terrorism doesn’t require extra-judicial measures but simply good old-fashioned detective work. These people aren’t super-criminals by any means – just criminals with greater delusions of grandeur than average.