2006-02-10

Shoes over California?

As Diego Gambetta points out, stories of foiled terror plots are often difficult to take seriously because the means involved do not always seem to add up to a plausible threat. Taking down the Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch? Technically improbable mass poisoning schemes? On the other hand, it also does not seem so likely that a small group of men with box cutting knives could have managed what they did, and they did. But the story offered yesterday by US president George Bush, who "said that in early 2002 the United States and its allies disrupted a plot to use bombs hidden in shoes to breach the cockpit door of an airplane and fly it into the tallest building in Los Angeles," seems odd at best. The bomb-in-a-shoe threat was tried once and failed for reasons that were fairly predictable -- it might be more persuasive than radio receivers in a rock (24 hour rock radio!). But even accepting the whole shoe proposition, as a matter of planning bombs would make a poor hijacking instrument. The perpetrators would be just as likely to destroy the plane as to take control of it. Then there is the matter that if there was a threat in Los Angeles, somebody appears to have neglected to tell the city government about it. In a restrained comment, LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa "told the Associated Press news agency he had not been forewarned about the president's revelations," and said, "I'm amazed that the president would make this [announcement] on national TV and not inform us of these details through the appropriate channels," he said. John McKay points out the striking resemblance between the plot Mr Bush described and another one which failed in 1995.

Formally, there is another matter: Mr Bush made his remarks in the context of a widening controversy over his illegal program to practice surveillance over people's private communications. But there is no indication that this secret program provided useful intelligence regarding this or any other plot. As Mr Bush himself noted, "It took the combined efforts of several countries to break up this plot." Which suggests that compulsive secrecy and deliberate self-isolation continue to be poor strategies.

Update: The more I think about it, the less clear it is to me whether the quotation from the LA mayor refers to the threat itself, or to the president's decision to make information about it public.

3 comments:

Yakima_Gulag said...

The whole story stinks like three day old lutefisk!
We all know that this was very self-serving and long after the 'facts'

Anonymous said...

There are certainly a lot of reporters at work checking out every aspect of this story. Should there be holes in it, somebody will leak that. After six years an administration must have enough disenchanted people.

Romerican said...

I have no doubt there are terrorist cells sleeping in the US. Awaiting their chance to conduct an operation in the name of jihad.

However, I think the threat is vastly overstated. And I completely agree with insight that revelations of a shoe bomb plot coincide with mounting legal reprecussions to the unconstitutional efforts of the President to spy on American citizens.

There is no valid reason to operate outside the law, since current legislation allows a w-i-d-e latitude for law enforcement to obtain wire tapping permissions.

Tis a crock, verily!