Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Scotland Yard Foils Terror Plot

You have probably heard by now that Scotland Yard foiled a terror plot to use "liquid explosives" to bring down several UK to US airliners. For most of us this will mean we can't take our shampoo, toiletries, and drinkable beverages etc onto the plane as we board or in our carry-on bags.

I'm waiting to find out if the Brits got these guys by using the kind of "total information awareness" fishing expedition style wire taps.

I also note with interest that our Homeland Security Agency's color coded alert system has proven it's uselessness. It seems like this is the first time we've gone to Orange Alert when there wasn't an election or major vote in Congress looming. Also, it's interesting that we go to higher alert AFTER they got the guys. Is this system only capable of "shutting the barn door after the horses got out?"

Thoughts? Updates?


Anonymous said...

Well, I heard something this morning that I thought were highly inaccurate. I heard an NPR commentator refer to the bombings on London Buses last year as being affiliated with Al Qaeda. He was saying that the marks of Al Qaeda were simultaneous explosions. And his comments seemed to imply that Al Qaeda was responsible for the London bus bombings. I thought those were home grown terrorists that were not affiliated with Al Qaeda, but copy cats. Correct me if I am wrong.

This is important because this is not a time to get facts wrong and start planting misconceptions.

Before long, we will have to travel on aircrafts nude. Either that, or they will have to start putting fewer passengers on planes and sending up more flights. Turning planes into cattle cars in the sky makes the security issues greater because it is too many people to monitor in a small space. I wonder would this means for Airbuses A380!

Also, if they continue to prohibit liquids and carry on baggage, they risk some serious air rage. They stopped providing food. Now they will have to start providing toiletries on flights including diaper bags. Imagine traveling with a child and not being allowed a carry on. I need eye drops and hand cream on flights. The air quality on these planes is bad enough that these things are necessary.

I will have to come back to this when I have more time. I do have more to say. 

// posted by USWest

Anonymous said...

Why bar all hand baggage? Can't they search it? The logical end of all this is no baggage at all.
This extreme reaction is just letting terrorists win. Security worked. They caught these guys. And they are UK born, not foreigners, so profiling isn't much use. I'm in Australia on vacation at the moment, and I'm hoping they don't go a little crazy over here. So far, no. 

// posted by LTG

Anonymous said...

Unbelievable. Republicans are so desperate about losing this Fall that they are having massive political grandstanding, trying to recreate the fear of 9/11. Among the idiotic things, you can't go PAST security into the duty-free area and buy liquor.

How do they handle liquids in checked baggage? Why not just apply the same standard to hand baggage? These people are idiots. Vote Democratic and stop the US government from terrorizing its own citizens. 

// posted by LTG

Anonymous said...

Australian television reported yesterday that women attempting to take expressed breast milk or infant formula on flights would be asked to taste it before being allowed to bring it on board. Perhaps they could, I don't know, unscrew the top and smell it? Wait, that would be logical...and sanitary.

This sort of thing is about humiliating and frightening people rather than providing "security."

Once upon a time, air travel was kind of glamorous. Then it was interesting. Then it was helpful. Now a domestic flight almost as much fun as chewing off your own leg. No food, no space, and now, my very favorite Japanese lipstick will be left to melt in my checked luggage.

-Seventh Sister

// posted by Anonymous

Anonymous said...

A few years ago, a friend of mine got stopped in Heathrow at security because she had handcream in her hand luggage. The handcream had had glycerin in it. I am not sure how it was detected, by machine of hand search.

OK, now the news is saying that detecting liquid explosives  is difficult. Well, what is all the magic that takes place around my shoes when I have to take those off? I see them hovering some cotton pads over them. I was told that they were checking for explosives residue. I don't see how that is accomplished by hovering cotton pads around my shoes. I am open to explanation.

In the long run, I think there is more at stake here than inconvenience. Business travelers will start video conferening rather than traveling. Perhaps businesses will be forced to open small, permantenly staffed offices around the country so that their managers won't have to travel. And once they start banning electronics on planes, this trend is going to speed up. Maybe the terrorists have done us a favor by forcing us to slow down a little. No need to be attached to the Blackberry the minute the plane hits the tarmac. I love that moment when the plane starts to taxi in and suddenly every egomaniac on the plane whips out his/her cell phone as if in duration of flight the world would come crashing down without them.

I posed a question in my previous post about the bus bombings in London. I have since confirmed that indeed, the bus bombings were NOT al Qaeda operations, although the group tried to say they were affiliated with Al Qaeda. I have tried to locate the segment on NPR where I heard, or thought I heard someone misspeak. I haven't been successful.  

// posted by USWest

Anonymous said...

From the post: I'm waiting to find out if the Brits got these guys by using the kind of "total information awareness" fishing expedition style wire taps. 

There isn't much reason to think you'll ever find out. Britain is more secretive with its evidence against terrorists and less concerned about privacy of its citizens than the US. It is an open secret that the GCHQ (approximately parallel to the NSA) is skimming everyone's email as a matter of course -- they had Total Information Awareness before Poindexter.

I had exactly the same reaction to the color code going up after the bust. It seems to me that it's proof that whatever intelligence factors they use for color _didn't_ change _before_ the threat, which would have actually been useful.

I almost feel like some acts of terrorism are having impact even when they don't succeed. Richard Reid has made us all stand around in stocking feet on nasty airport floors, and now we can't even take back olive oil or scotch from our vacations. The airlines are knocked for a loop again, maybe justifying another federal bailout.

Regarding USWest's first post: in a trivia show I saw over in the UK, they claimed that air quality in airplanes now is significantly worse than when smoking was common on planes. When there was smoke, they had to filter the air more and circulate more fresh air, because you could see and smell the pollution. Now they can save money by recirculating that terrible plane air more.

The hovering cotton pads mentioned in USWest's second post are probably chemical sniffers (digital noses, if you will). Before terrorism was the primary worry, my carryons would get hovered over ostensibly to detect drugs. Ah, those innocent bygone days... 

// posted by Bob

Anonymous said... reports that it was an anonymous tip from a Muslim British resident that broke this case. NSA reported that they've identified a couple of phone calls to the US from these guys but got no evidence of a plot from the calls...lesson: old fashioned "Huggy Bear" type tips work, tyrranical blanket phone taps don't!

Also, reports that two British citizens are being held in connection with this plot in Pakistan. If that isn't Al Qaeda I don't know what is.

As for the bus bombings, I don't see why it's important whether there is a direct, formal link to Al Qaeda or not. People who know about Al Qaeda have been saying from the start that it's more like a loose confederation of ideologues, terrorists and money men. That's why invading Iraq was pointless.

We didn't bring down the Mafia in New York by invading New York and shooting up "Little Italy." Rudy Guiliani did it through diligent investigations and working within our Constitutionally established legal system. Al Qaeda is organized more like the Mafia and less like a state. To use a sports analogy even a Texan can understand, Bush is using a blitz defense against a screen pass offense. 

// posted by RBR

Anonymous said...

Bob, I think you are correct. The fact that more people are getting sick on flights is in part because there are so many more people flying more frequently from so many more places. They will have to filter the air better, or be required to do so by law. I would have hoped that with SARS and such, that would be happening. But then, it is about the bottom line. It is just like the new strict weight limits on baggage. I am told that it is preserve the equipment and the backs of baggage handlers. This is true, but is also saves on weight per passenger. And since they are loading these planes down more now than ever before, it is the customers who pay. My friend just returned from Romania and had 400 people on her plane. I don't think I have every been on a transatlantic flight with that many people.

RBR, it doesn't so much about the July 7th bombings from a policy perspective. But if the media gets something wrong, or frames events incorrectly, it can raise the fear factor unnecessarily. It can be used to further control public opinions.

Now as I said, I must have misheard something.

// posted by USwest

Anonymous said...

Hi All, thought I'd give you a quick update based on the Brit news (I'm a friend of Numbat o'Love & Dr.S btw, first post here, but I read quite often!). Pretty much everything in this post is courtesy of good ole Auntie (the BBC).

Apparently the idea was to smuggle nine lots of liquid explosives, hidden in the false bottoms of drinks bottles (so the actual drinks could be tasted), onto nine different UK to US planes. They would then detonate them in three groups of three, spaced a few hours apart - good plan for creating lots of fear - the first lot going off would be seen as a huge tragedy, the second lot going off would immediately set people questioning how many more bombs there were. And panic a lot of families of people in flight.

There's been 18 arrests in the UK (I think), along with frozen bank accounts, and they're hunting a few more suspects. The suspects are a mix, mostly British-Pakistanis (ie British born, of Pakistani decent), and at least one British white male, recently converted to Islam.

Heathrow was utter chaos, in fact they closed Heathrow to any incoming flights that hadn't already taken off, simply because there were too many people in the airport for it to be safe. The other airports in the UK were also part-closed, but not to the extent of Heathrow. Several airlines cancelled whole swathes of short-haul flights, and a lot of people have had their summer holidays ruined.

So, there was no death & destruction caused, but they have managed to have an absolutely huge effect over here, even if only in terms of inconveniencing a large amount of people (in most of the passenger interviews I've seen/heard, the chief worry wasn't security, but the delay). 

// posted by Pommie Wombat

Dr. Strangelove said...

Thanks, Pombat (may I call you that, Pommie Wombat?) I was interested in the "false bottoms" for the drinking bottles. Isn't that something that could be detected, perhaps by x-ray? And wouldn't that be a dead giveaway?

Anyway, seems like we all have a lot of questions about how security works. LTG wonders why they can't search hand bags the same way they search checked bags--presuming rightly or wrongly that they have a means of dealing with liquid explosives there (I suspect a person may be required to mix or set off the liquid explosives, hence the difference--but I have no knowledge there.) USWest wonders if the mysterious pads used to detect residue on shoes could be used to snoop for liquid explosives.

It's probably good that we don't know--since that means they might not know either. For security it is better to have a system that catches 50% of all threats randomly than 99% of all threats for certain (and 1% never) because the terrorists will try to get around any system you make. Besides, a sufficiently clever, sufficiently dedicated person can always find a way to defeat any mass security system. The only way we have managed to defeat them is by catching them--as the Brits did--before they set foot on the aircraft.

Eventually we're going to learn that the balance between security and convenience is a balance and not 100% for security. It's time to have some sanity returned to our airports.

Anonymous said...

Don't think balance. Think Zeno's paradox. You can keep sacrificing common sense (a.k.a. convenience) for security imrovements, but you never get 100% there. I hear they're now allowing solid lipstick on airplanes. Huzzah. And for those poor people who threw out their $20+ lipsticks in the name of national security?

This is classic CYA shit. That's all it is. British Airways is now allowing hand baggage again.  

// posted by LTG

Anonymous said...

It's worse than CYA, it's panic. It always happens AFTER someone has been caught or after an attack has happened.

I think the choice is increasing becoming the following: I have a 1 in a billion chance of being a terrorism victim. But I have a 100% chance of being really annoyed in a needlessly inefficient and slow security line.  

// posted by RBR

Anonymous said...

When is the American public going to realize that terrorists aren't, as Bush says, intent on indiscriminately killing us all. They are intent on terrifying us (hence terror-ists) through the use of indiscriminate killing of a relative few. By acting terrified, we are giving in. From his bunker in Pakistan (likely) BinLaden must be yukking it up that he persuaded Americans to throw away thousands of dollars of good wine and lipstick, and took over the airwaves for weeks spreading panic and alarm. Where I work, we are getting weekly terrorist updates from the East Coast offices. No shit.

I am reminded of the Simpsons episode where they defeat out-of-control advertisement monsters by refusing to look at them. We can't ignore terrorism altogether, of course, but we can make a valiant effort to tone down our responses and try to make security as seamless and quiet as possible. Then Bush should just say "We're handling it... next question." But he also benefits from the public's panic, sadly. 

// posted by LTG