Friday, August 11, 2006

Intelligence Success or Just Another Starburst Plot?

You may not have heard the big news, so please allow me to inform you that the British Foiled a Terrorist Plot to Blow Up Planes. It sounds like this was a major success for British Intelligence service MI5, American Intelligence, and world intelligence. This Washington Post Article outlines - at least according to the many leaked sources they borrow from - how these suspected terrorists were tracked for many months. Apparently, British authorities received a tip right after last year's July 7 train bombings in London about suspicious activities of a Muslim friend in the British Muslim community. Authorities followed up on the tip, and "By late 2005, the probe had expanded to involve several hundred investigators on three continents." If this is all true, it was a major operation that spanned many continents, and was a coordinated effort by British Intelligence, US Intelligence, and other countries' intelligence services, as well as their governmental cooperation. In my opinion, this is a great success because it demonstrates how intelligence is SUPPOSED to work. Intelligence services should all work together to corroborate information and survey suspected terrorists and criminals. If intelligence and law enforcement operatives have reasonable suspicions that someone is planning something, then I have no problem with getting a warrant and putting people under heavy surveillance. I was glad to hear that in this case MI5 followed the suspects for as long as possible - "British and U.S. law enforcement authorities decided against breaking up the cells right away in the hope that they could learn more about the origins of the network and assemble evidence for prosecutors." This is good for two reasons: 1) As the article points out, it allows authorities to gather as much information as possible about all aspects of the plot, and possibly other plots, and of course connections. 2) It allows law enforcement to have more substantial evidence that a real and impending plot to kill was going to occur. The lesson learned here is that when intelligence services are vigilant, careful, collaborative, and well resourced they can stop terror before it occurs. This means that the old school rules of war - IE, tanks and bombs - are obsolete and the underground war is at hand. Please take note Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld!

What I am concerned about, however, is the degree to which we have responded in order to beef up security. I wonder if we are losing freedoms and convenience and ultimately the war on terror by placing these restrictive rules on travel? How long are these "liquid restrictions" going to last? As one article proclaims - "Liquid Threat is Hard To Detect.
It seems to me that if a person bent on terrorism has made it to the airport already with their weapon of choice, then they probably have a good plan to get through security. In addition, what is stopping them from doing the same thing on subway trains where something like liquid explosives would be nearly impossible with current technology and security to detect? This underscores an important point that this article makes clear - "Their [Al Queada on 9/11] choice of weapons underscored the potential danger in seemingly benign items." The NY Times article about the liquid threat mention that "There are technologies that may do the job [of detecting liquid explosives] — without simply throwing all liquids into the trash." I am all for technologies that can scan or detect as you move through a security checkpoint, but in the meantime is it really necessary to have to throw in the trash everything from everybody? If you think about it, if someone did have a liquid explosive and it was just thrown in the trash, then isn't it possible it would blow up in the airport as personnel transport it to a dumpster?

Here is a plot I dreamed up that demonstrates why it might just be impossible to detect against everything. Have you ever carefully unwrapped a Starburst candy and then took the wrapper and folded back into a perfect replication of the original wrapping, but without the candy inside? (If you haven't, it is possible to make it look like you have a wrapped starburst w/o actually having any candy inside - it is a cruel trick to play on Starburst lovers) Then, what if one were to fill that wrapper with some sort of explosive material? I do not know if this is possible, but could you mix corn starch and water (or something like it) to a liquid explosive and make it into a crystallized form? If so, you put that into a bag of Starbursts and figure out a way to ignite it and BOOM! To mix it up, in case of a suspicious TSA agent (which is unlikely) you could even mix in some real Starbursts - say like all the yellow ones (since they are the best flavor) are real candy and not the explosive material. Whether my plan would work I do not know because I am not an explosives expert; however, I imagine that there are unlimited ways to mask explosives and weapons as seemingly innocuous items.

Considering this, have we not gone too far with restrictions? Is it not the goal of the terrorists to "inflict terror" and "disrupt our way of life"? Are we not scared and fearful? Are our lives not being disrupted? We should really step back and consider at what point have we gone too far, and at what point do we just need to realize that the possibility of a terrorist attack is inevitable. I stumbled upon this Video Log about this subject and was impressed by what this guy ZEFrank had to say. I have included it in my blog for your convenience.

the show with zefrank

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