I’ve spent most of the day focused on breaking news regarding the UK terror plot. As a clearer picture of the plot has started to emerge, it’s possible to start to draw broader lessons and implications from it.
1. God bless the Brits. I’m flying to Europe via Heathrow within the next month, and their work could very well have saved my life. The UK government’s efforts to disrupt the plot were exemplary, exhibiting the characteristics that have led me to frequently praise their domestic intelligence capabilities. Is domestic intelligence where it needs to be in the United States? Given all of the difficulties that the FBI has faced over the past five years in building an intelligence capability, I’m afraid not.
2. It’s quite likely that these new aviation security screening realities will persist for some time to come. Does TSA have the resources today to handle this extra workload? I doubt it. Congress should return to Washington tomorrow or early next week for a quick session to provide emergency supplemental funding to DHS, intelligence agencies, and states for these new needs, including new funding for investments in appropriate screening technology.
3. I think the Homeland Security Advisory System was used appropriately today. Flights from the UK to the US were clearly at high risk, and ‘Critical/Red’ was appropriate. And Orange was appropriate for the rest of the aviation system. This approach of using targeted alerts is far superior to the old model of national threat alerts, which caused the nation’s response to be pell-mell, without clear prioritization of resources.
4. It’s been amazing to watch the ripple effects of the disruption of this plot today, as its consequences have spread from the UK all the way to North America and Asia. Was this a necessary outcome? Probably in this case, but watching it unfold makes me think that more forethought is necessary on how we build resilience into global trade and travel networks, so that when these events happen, the costs aren’t overly exacerbated by our response. This is an issue I’ve written about previously here.
5. Finally, a message to anyone who is politicizing this incident, from across the political spectrum: cut the crap. Given the specifics of this incident, any effort to use this story for partisan gains and smears is inappropriate, and a distraction from the important and ongoing challenge of rooting out the threat. There can be disagreement on other issues, but the fight against the threat posed by al-Qaeda and its affiliates is one that should be solely driven by what’s best for American national security, not what’s best for a political party in November.