We seem to have made it through just fine so far, and those passengers detained over the past couple of days have all apparently been released. I must admit that this one had me more than a bit jumpy. It was one of those “feelings,” and I kept turning on the news during our Christmas celebrations to make sure everything was still all right.
During an hour-long drive to visit with family after church on Wednesday, I voiced my fears. Here are some random thoughts of mine, and they don’t really apply just to this event, but to every single day for the rest of all history.
- This news seems to have gone public pretty quickly. Although we may have been able to nab some bad guys by keeping a lid on things, I’m not sure how you could keep something like this quiet for any amount of time. With hundreds of passengers on each flight, the first thing they’ll do when they learn their flight is cancelled is call friends and relatives to make a change in plans. Even if we try to keep them quiet, the ubiquitous cell phone is going to make keeping them silent nearly impossible. This problem means that bad guys aren’t likely to show up and board until the last possible minute, when they’re as certain as they can be that the jig isn’t up.
- The flights from Paris to the US would be fairly low on fuel by the time they reach our soil, wouldn’t they? Although obviously a great deal of damage could still be done, full tanks increase the warhead of a jetliner-bomb greatly. Maybe Paris flights could be targeting London?
- Maybe the Air France “plot” is a diversion for the real operation. Al Qaeda knows that we’ve penetrated some of their cells and that we’ve compromised some of their communication lines. Perhaps they send groups that they think are being watched on a mission like this, expecting it to “fail” while the real group goes ahead with the real mission. AQ is out some operatives that were of limited value at most. And using Air France plays along with our distrust of the French. We’re just that much more likely to take the bait.
- Similar to the above, maybe AQ is throwing away compromised cells to test our defenses and gauge our reactions. Something along the lines of a football team calling a pre-set number of scripted plays early in a game to see what the defense does against those formations. Then they take what they’ve learned and adjust the parts that didn’t work. Later in the game, they can go for the big bomb with a solid idea of the defense’s plan. But in this case, it won’t be a “Hail Mary.”
- To disrupt things and score a victory against us, they don’t actually need to do anything. They simply need to make us think they’re doing something. Grounding six Air France flights will make the headlines and inconvenience a few hundred travellers. Not good, but bearable by all involved. What happens, though, if dozens of flights get cancelled? Especially around a travel-intense holiday like Christmas? For a relatively light effort, the bad guys could really cause some damage without killing a single person or blowing up anything at all. Sort of the World War Four version of some kids pulling the fire alarm or calling in a phony bomb-threat to get out of school for a day. We can’t not react seriously. But this could start happening every couple of weeks.
- AQ could be manipulating the US and France into having even more strained relations. Although Americans like to joke that we’re stronger without the French than with them, the more we can cooperate and fight a common enemy together, the better. France has a very large Muslim population, and that could become increasingly important as this war drags on. The family connections and ideological sympathies that many Muslims in France have can be used against the West. If AQ can drive the wedge between France and the US deeper, that will only hurt our ability to help each other when needed.
As I said, I don’t know that any of this applies to the current Air France events, but it could. Our enemy is strong and cunning, and he knows that a direct confrontation can only end with his defeat. That is why he is fighting the way that he is fighting, and that is why we cannot let our guard down for even a moment. He is trying to use the very freedom that we hold so dear against us. We must be prepared for the possibilities that our victories may be strengthening him.
UPDATE: USS Clueless, admittedly anti-France, writes
OK, let me get this straight. Seven men on an American terrorist watch list were all found to have purchased tickets on the same Air France flight from Paris to Los Angeles. Our people alerted the French, who cancelled the flight, took them all into custody, and after briefly questioning them released them all. French action was big and showy and will have the effect of convincing those men and their friends to make their next attempt against us from somewhere else.
France is safe. We are not.
I hadn’t really thought of this in that light. Perhaps it was France that was being tested as much as the system in general?