It’s not easy to comprehend and summarize all of the information about the UK terror plot at the end of a long day. This post contains 40+ updates from throughout the day about the plot, and this post offers my initial general reactions. Even with all of the information that that’s come up since the story broke, there’s still a lot more to learn about the plot, especially with up to five key plotters still at large in the UK. And the story about how the aviation system reacts to this challenge is only beginning to unfold. In the coming days we’ll have to address the following questions:
- Which changes to screening will be temporary, and which will be permanent?
- What can be done to immediately improve the performance of the aviation screening system?
- Will this lead to a new impetus for risk assessment or pre-credentialing of passengers in the aviation system?
- Will this plot lead to new government action on a related vulnerability, air cargo security?
- What will be the new resource requirements for aviation security? Does DHS need supplemental funding for FY06?
- How will this affect other homeland security-related legislation on border security, port security, and chemical plant security that is currently before Congress? Will the plot distract attention from these important bills, or will the renewed attention to homeland security give them new impetus? (I could foresee aviation provisions being attached to the port bill when it comes to the floor of the Senate in early September).
In spite of all of these spending aviation security challenges, I still think that the main story today is one of good news: British officials wrapped up this plot before it could transpire. Spending on this type of intelligence and police work is one of the most effective ways to fight terror – note that MI5, for all of its vaunted status, has a budget only in the range of $360 million/year. The United States still has a structural gap in its domestic intelligence capabilities that keeps me worried about our ability to detect a similar plot.
Finally, if you’re still looking for more information tonight, check out CQ’s coverage of the plot, which they’ve made publicly-available at this link. Their reporters have written a number of interesting stories tonight, and the page includes links to a number of relevant source documents. Also recommended: the package of stories from The Guardian and The Times of London. Especially recommended is Gerard Baker’s stirring essay from the latter paper. An excerpt:
Events such as yesterdayâ€™s near-miss should remind us that September 11, 2001, gave birth to a radical and dangerous new world. It required the US â€” an imperfect country to be sure, but the only one with the power and the will to defend the basic freedoms we too easily take for granted â€” with its allies to remake the international system. It provided a terrifying harbinger of much larger atrocities to come, when terrorists and their state supporters get hold of weapons with which they can kill millions, not thousands. This new enemy is not like old enemies. It is fundamentalist and suicidal and apocalyptic. The old system, rooted in a liberal philosophy that relied on patient diplomacy and made a virtue of being slow to respond to attacks, was unequal to this new challenge. The new system required rapid action to open up the Middle East, the festering root of all these threats to modernity.
I’ll be posting frequently on this plot and its aftermath over the coming days and weeks. Be sure to check back.
Update 1 1:10 AM EST (8/11): This Washington Post story, just posted online, provides new information on the origins of the investigation:
It all began with a tip: In the aftermath of the July 7, 2005, suicide bombings on London’s transit system, British authorities received a call from a worried member of the Muslim community, reporting general suspicions about an acquaintance.
From that vague but vital piece of information, according to a senior European intelligence official, British authorities opened the investigation into what they said turned out to be a well-coordinated and long-planned plot to bomb multiple transatlantic flights heading toward the United States — an assault designed to rival the scope and lethality of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings.
By late 2005, the probe had expanded to involve several hundred investigators on three continents. They kept dozens of suspects under close surveillance for months, even as some of the plotters traveled between Britain and Pakistan to raise money, find recruits and refine their scheme, according to interviews with U.S. and European counterterrorism officials….
Update 2 2:06 AM EST (8/11): This Time Magazine story contains info on the FOUO memo, entitled “Possible Terrorist Use of Liquid Explosive Materials in Future Attacks”, sent out by DHS and the FBI to local law enforcement on the threat.
Update 3 2:50 AM EST (8/11): The names of 19 of the suspects, via the Times of London.