“The real deal” — Airplanes are just too easy

Almost every time I complain about airline security (or the lack thereof), I get a comment to the effect of “after 9/11, terrorists will never be able to use airplanes again and they won’t bother trying”. I’ve argued that, like a football quarterback repeatedly picking on a weak defensive back, the enemy is likely to keep running the same play until we prove that we can repeatedly stop it.

Seems that some terrorists still “heart” airplanes:

U.K.: Plot to bomb U.S.-bound planes foiled
Britain bans hand luggage fearing use of liquid explosives; 21 arrested

British authorities said Thursday they had thwarted a terrorist plot to simultaneously blow up several aircraft heading to the U.S. using explosives smuggled in hand luggage, averting what police described as “mass murder on an unimaginable scale.” Meantime, a U.S. counterterrorism official called the plot “the real deal.”

I’m pretty convinced that the lack of major terrorist attacks against the US is due at least as much to the pace of big terror operations as it is to heightened security and military action in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. The bad guys don’t just dream these things up one night and then go for it a week later. It takes a long, long time to get a workable plan, collect materials like bogus identification and bomb equipment, assemble a team, train, and get into place.

Word is that six planes were to have been blown up over the Atlantic. The “pack, not a herd” thinking in the wake of the thwarted United Flight 93 attack on 9/11 is certainly worth quite a bit, but it wouldn’t have had any ability to prevent a bomber from destroying a plane full of people. They might be able to prevent a kamikaze attack, as they did in 2001, but what’s to prevent the terrorists from simply blowing the plane over a city? The death and devestation on the ground would be horrific, possibly approaching the numbers of dead seen on 9/11.

What’s going to be a sight to behold is the inevitable claim that this is all some sort of Karl Rove election strategy. A faked attack to keep voters scared. You know it’s coming.

In August of 2004 I wrote this:

The longer we are successful at fending off attacks, the more complacent the population will become. We will be victims of our own success, which is what the 9/11 Commission Report says happened to the FBI after their very successful investigations of the 1993 WTC bombing. They, and everyone else, thought we had it under control. Danger signs were ignored or shrugged off. We all thought that the authorities had a handle on it. Bin Laden continually told us he was at war with us and that he didn’t differentiate between soldiers and civilians. We didn’t listen, so we paid.

But if we HAD stopped 9/11 in it’s tracks, we wouldn’t truly recognize what had been done. Instead of sobbing in relief and thanking God, we would be griping about increased lines at the airport and the racial profiling that led to the arrest of 19 Muslims on 9/10/01. And the media would be all over Bush for it. Never mind trying to strike Afghanistan.

We would never know when the terror alert was real. We would always wonder if it was just ‘The Man’ keeping us in line. How do I know? Because today, AFTER 9/11, we already think that. Fed up the the USA PATRIOT Act? Think how fed up you’d be if it were implemented without there having been a successful 9/11 attack.

Do I know if this attack was real? No. Neither do you.

But I’m willing to let the authorities make that call. Critics of the military aspect of the “Long Global War On Terror” (World War 4, says Murdoc) claim we should be using law enforcement, security, and intelligence to fight the terrorists, not the military. Then they handcuff the law enforcement, complain about the security, and disbelieve the intel.

UK and US authorities think it’s risky to take hand lotion onto an airplane right now. A lot of people will not only think that the risk is worth avoiding the inconvenience of traveling without hand lotion, they will think terrorist alerts are just political ploys.

UPDATE: A lot of folks, obviously, are blogging about this. May Murdoc recommend Expat Yank, who lives in London? He likes (well, ‘like’ is probably not the right word…) to keep an eye on British media and I expect we’ll see a lot of good stuff on his site in the coming days. This is his first post on the incident.


  1. I think eventually we will FedEx our luggage to our destination and travel with only the clothes we wear. The airlines and airframers will resist this enevitability for as long as they can.

  2. Dfens, Interesting you came up with an idea similar to mine. I submitted a proposal to the FAA and he CAB on how to thwart terrorist blowing up passenger aircraft. Simply make EVERYONE strip totally naked and do an extensive body cavity search before they board the aircraft. Then place all their baggage and clothes on another aircraft. Both planes would then fly to the intended destination and the passengers would be reunited with their baggage and clothes. Simple and effective, Right? Unfortunately, the only response I got was a visit from a friendly F.B.I. Agent. Go figure!

  3. The idea of passengers and luggage flying separately did not originate with me, and I’m pretty sure it didn’t start with you either. It is a serious idea, though, which has been around for at least a decade. It will have a big impact on the shape of aircraft and the cost of flights. Many routes are only profitable now because of the ability of the carrier to contract for cargo transport. I have heard one of the criticisms of the A380 is its lack of cargo space. Imagine what the aircraft of the future might look like with no cargo capacity at all. Imagine the logistical problems of a business trip with multiple destinations – especially if one or more of them changes while you’re on the road. And what do you do with the old airplanes? I guess they could become cargo haulers.