All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaida, in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies….
So we are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy. Allah willing, and nothing is too great for Allah.
bin Laden spoke those words in 2004.
Now, instead of two mujahidin (literally, “those who struggle”), al Qaeda apparently has cut back to one. In this instance, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
While it is probably too early to give him his terrorism name, current betting is that he will become the Underwear Bomber. He will take his place alongside Richard Reed, The Shoe Bomber, and the lesser known Abdullah Hassan Taleh al-Asiri, the anal orifice bomber.
How will the nation react to this latest example of the Brighton Rule — enunciated after the IRA’s failed effort to kill Margaret Thatcher in 1984: “Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always.”
Are we going to run to and fro with hair a blazing, holding hearings, making charges and counter charges, creating more rules about events that are demonstrably unlikely to happen?
As Bruce Schneier told Wired’s Noah Shachtman, we think if we focus “… on what the terrorists happened to do last time, … [magically] we’ll all be safe. As if they won’t think of something else.” [Thanks for the lead, Mark]
Or can we use Abdulmutallab’s inept attack on Northwest Flight Flight 253 as an opportunity to give the lie to bin Laden’s claim that all he has to do is have someone whisper “Boo,” and then watch us spend our way to defeat?
Terrorism prevention is not just about preventing incidents from happening. It is also about preventing our people and our government from overreacting to terrorist incidents.
How are we doing so far?
Obama Ends Silence With Stern Warning, reads the Wall Street Journal’s passive aggressive headline:
President Barack Obama, under fire from Republicans for keeping too silent on the attempted Christmas bombing of a U.S. jetliner, took a break from his Hawaiian vacation Monday to assure Americans that he was working to keep them safe….
Safety Gaps Revealed, a New Surge in Security, sniffs the New York Times
WASHINGTON — Airline passengers are now increasingly being patted down, and carry-ons are being double-checked since a self-proclaimed terrorist tried to bring down a passenger jet headed to Detroit on Christmas Day. Canine teams are out in force, sniffing for explosives…
While the new flight regulations should be mocked and repealed, it would be foolhardy to downplay the threat they were meant to address. Islamic militants and other extremists will not stop trying to kill us.
Strict in-flight rules following failed bombing attempt relaxed, officials say.You are now free to move about the cabin. Or not. After a two-day security clampdown prompted by a thwarted attempt to bomb a jetliner, some airline officials told The Associated Press that the in-flight restrictions had been eased. And it was now up to captains on each flight to decide whether passengers can have blankets and other items on their laps or can move around during the final phase of flight.
Two of the four leaders allegedly behind the al Qaeda plot to blow up a Northwest Airlines passenger jet over Detroit were released by the U.S. from the Guantanamo prison in November, 2007, ABC News is reporting, quoting American officials and citing Department of Defense documents.
There is even an argument about whether this was a successful or an unsuccessful attack. Did the multiple layers of security work? Jasper Schuringa and his fellow passengers did what we expect all airline travelers in a similar situation to do. They are a part of the security system.
Or did the security system fail because Abdulmutallab brought explosives aboard an airplane?
The Department of Homeland Security Secretary is not allowed any nuanced response.
Security theater is not just for airports.
These terrorist jerks are not going away. Some analysts even see Al Qaeda as a minor league version of what’s to come. Phillip Bobbitt, in the difficult — but worth reading — Terror and Consent, believes that “Time will bring forth new and more lethal terrorist groups long after al Qaeda is defeated.”
Reed, al-Asiri, and Abdulmutallab’s R&D efforts have each come a little closer to getting it “right.” There is little reason to believe the attempts will stop with them.
Some future attacks in the US are going to succeed in killing Americans. When that happens, it ought not automatically mean the homeland security enterprise has failed. Not unless the criterion for success is Zero Attacks, Zero injuries, or Zero deaths. Our nation is resilient enough to accept tens of thousands of traffic deaths and homicides each year. Surely resilience in homeland security ought also to incorporate an ability to be attacked without surrendering our willingness to take risks.
Winston Churchill wrote, “War is very cruel. It goes on for so long.”
There is no end point to homeland security and the terrorism wars. We are not building a machine to produce security. We are growing a continuously evolving understanding of how to be American in the uncertainties of the 21st Century.
This week, that evolution is highlighting the prevention of terrorism. Terms like response, recovery, mitigation, preparedness and the other vocabulary that has shaped much homeland security conversations since Katrina are strangely absent. Almost as if their referents — as substantial and significant as they are — rest elsewhere.
People who lead this country and who shape opinions have a choice. They can act unthinkingly, like the smirking man in the cave expects. Or they can remember why we started this homeland security enterprise in the first place: to prevent terrorism, including choosing not to act like children frightened by a loud noise.