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The Foiled Plots:
Like a lot of people, I've been spending a lot of time this morning trying to piece together what we know about the foiled plots to hijack and blow up planes bound for the U.S. from the UK. This report seems to be the most detailed so far:
More than 20 suspected terrorists were arrested in England by early Thursday morning, in an operation that involved British intelligence, Scotland Yard and assistance by a number of other law enforcement and intelligence agencies, including those in Pakistan.

ABC News has learned that two "significant arrests" in Pakistan in recent days may have significantly accelerated the pace of the investigation.

Many of the alleged terror plotters appeared to be of Pakistani descent. It appears that they were probably "homegrown" terrorists with strong links to al Qaeda and Pakistani operatives. This new generation of terrorists have figured significantly in plots in the U.S., London and Canada in recent months.

In this case, the plotters apparently intended to assemble small but powerful bombs in flight and use them to take down flights from England to the United States. * * *

According to a Department of Homeland Security briefing to the aviation sector, the terrorists appear to have planned to use multiple persons aboard each flight to assemble peroxide-based liquid or gel high explosives. The bomb-making materials could easily be concealed in small containers -- water bottles, tooth paste tubes, juice boxes and any of the other numerous person items passengers traditionally take into the passenger compartment of commercial flights.

At least nine transcontinental flights from American, United and Continental airlines were targeted in the plot. ABC News has learned that terrorists planned to attack the planes three at a time, waiting an hour between each attack.

According to federal authorities, two or three bombers would each carry a separate portion of the bomb onto the plane to avoid detection. Once onboard the bomb would be assembled and then detonated by using heat or friction.

British authorities had been tracking some of the suspects for several weeks but stepped in to round up the plotters when they began to book flight reservations.
It's always hard to know what to make of stories of foiled plots, but this one sure sounds like a biggie. It sounds like the group was being tracked for a while, too, and (I would assume) pretty comprehensively; if investigators knew that the plotters "began to book flight reservations," and had a sense of the particular flights at risk, it seems safe to assume that at least a portion of the overall group was identified and UK investigators were tapping their phone/Internet connections. But of course it's hard to tell from the outside, especially just from early reports like this, and it's unclear when (if ever) we'll know the real details.
KosRules (mail):
As AmericaBlog tells us, this entire "plot" is just a Karl Rove fake meant to distract us from Ned Lamont's victory:


Bottom line: Joe Lieberbush lost. The message is spreading across the land that incumbents who embrace the president are in serious trouble. And the Republicans needed to divert attention, to stop this meme in its tracks, and lo' and behold we have our first terror alert that I can recall since the last election, and it's our first ever Red Alert! What a coincidence!


So I don't know why Orin and everyone else is getting all worked up about it.
8.10.2006 1:45pm
cirby (mail):
I think we're just lucky that our most devoted enemies are drama queens in love with complicated, extravagant plots out of a Tom Clancy novel.
8.10.2006 2:08pm
OrinKerr:
Cirby, what does that mean?
8.10.2006 2:11pm
te (mail):

Many of the alleged terror plotters appeared to be of Pakistani descent. It appears that they were probably "homegrown" terrorists with strong links to al Qaeda and Pakistani operatives.

"Appeared" to be of Pakastani descent? Was that based on their skin color. The colorful clothes they were wearing?

I have been hearing this and like things on the radio this a.m.. All of it may be true. But I have not heard a single sourced comment with solid facts about any of this.

My favorite was some "terrorism" expert, that they wheeled out from the Hoover institutions or someplace who said that this was undoubtedly an "extremely" sophisticated international operation because of the expertise required to formulate such explosives. You mean like high-shool chemistry and access to the internet?

Just absurd.
8.10.2006 2:12pm
WHOI Jacket:
I think the "grandiose plots" Cindy was referring to mean elaborate efforts to bring down airliners simultainously.

As opposed to taking the flights as normal, coming to the US, buying dynamite, and blowing yourself up as you run in the door of Primerose Hills Daycare Center shouting "I use this to express my disapproval of BushCo's support of the Zionist Opressors".
8.10.2006 2:25pm
cirby (mail):
WHOI Jacket:

That's cirby, not cindy, but you had it right.

The bad guys keep doing these "everything happens at once" schemes, which are really flashy when they go off correctly, but result in a much, much higher chance of someone screwing up and revealing the whole organization. When you're trying to get 20 guys on 20 flights on the same day, relying on their complete secrecy, while also relying on them being dim enough to go through with a suicide bombing plot, you're really asking for a lot.

If we hadn't been so clueless in the years before 9/11, those plotters would have given away the whole shebang before they ever go near the aircraft.

I think the organizers of these things really want to be Bond villains...
8.10.2006 2:31pm
cirby (mail):
te:


"Appeared" to be of Pakastani descent? Was that based on their skin color. The colorful clothes they were wearing?


Probably.

You obviously haven't noticed, but a lot of the more nationalistic folks tend to wear their "colors" a lot. Here in central Florida, you can often tell if someone's from Puerto Rico or Cuba from quite a distance, due to little sewn-on flags or specific pieces of jewelry. Likewise, you can tell where some Mideast people are from by the style of their keffiyeh.

You could probably tell a lot of folks are of Pakistani descent by the bumper stickers on their cars, or flags on their t-shirts.
8.10.2006 2:39pm
te (mail):

You could probably tell a lot of folks are of Pakistani descent by the bumper stickers on their cars,

You might want to be careful about publicizing that intel.

Al Qadi might read this and order all of their operatives to remove the "My Son is an Honor Student at Pakastani Terrorist Training Camp" bumper stickers from their cars.
8.10.2006 2:45pm
WHOI Jacket:
I'd rather have SMERSH than Al Queda.

They were in it for the money (and the babes).
8.10.2006 2:46pm
KeithK (mail):
The bad guys want the big attack to cause maximum panic. Thus the push to knock down ine planes at once, instead of just one. There's also the fact that it's harder to take down nine planes in sequence, since vulnerabilities tend to get closed off once they've been exploited.

I agree that it owuld be more effective to simply blow up a large number of random suburban places. Look at how terrifying the DC shooter was. But the bad guys seem to want to make big statement attacks rather than cause lots of low grade terror.

Be glad that these guys have dreams of world domination and act like they want to be Bond villains. it works to our advantage.
8.10.2006 2:50pm
Bpbatista (mail):
Just more proof that the Patriot Act, terrorist finance tracing, terrorist call monitoring and other intelligence programs and the so-called war on terror are nothing more than a ruse by Bushitler to distract our attention from Haliburton's fleecing of the American taxpayer. GO LAMONT!


P.S. In case you can't tell -- I'm being sarcastic. This is not a post from DailyKos.
8.10.2006 2:53pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
The AmericaBlog post is pretty silly, but given the past uses of terror alerts in politically-motivated instances, and given the rather dubious cases trumpeted to the skies (Padilla, anyone?) ... it's not surprising that even when the administration spies a real wolf, some townsfolk will shrug it off.
8.10.2006 3:01pm
MnZ (mail):
Bond villians?

I actually give them more credit. The terrorists are propagandists and regularly use pictures to inflame the passions of their supporters and potential supporters. However, they also know that pictures can be used to inflame passions against them.

Bringing down an airplane provides few gruesome pictures. Moreover, it can be spun as killing mainly "rich" Westerners.
8.10.2006 3:13pm
Hoosier:
Re: Crying wolf and blaming Rove--

And just how did Rove get Scottland Yard to go along with this plot to distract from Lamont's Glorious Victory? Was Blair confused about which Greenwich we were talking about?
8.10.2006 3:15pm
A.S.:
"Appeared" to be of Pakastani descent? Was that based on their skin color. The colorful clothes they were wearing?


Their birth certificates? Their family in Pakistan? Their (or their family's) immigration records?

Why so skeptical?

I agree that much of the information coming out could be wrong. But it is certainly understandable that law enforcement sources would not want to be quoted on the record right now.
8.10.2006 3:15pm
Hoosier:
Scotland
8.10.2006 3:15pm
A.S.:
And just how did Rove get Scottland Yard to go along with this plot to distract from Lamont's Glorious Victory? Was Blair confused about which Greenwich we were talking about?

Obviously, since Blair is Bush's poodle/lapdog, Blair will do whatever Karl Rove tells him to do.
8.10.2006 3:16pm
Hoosier:
And the rest of the UK just, you know, follows along?
8.10.2006 3:18pm
te (mail):

But it is certainly understandable that law enforcement sources would not want to be quoted on the record right now.

Why? They have arrested those people. Presumably they actually know whether or not they are of Pakastani descent.

If they are, why not say it. Why the "appears"?

I'm not "skeptical" per se - it just seems odd to me.
8.10.2006 3:33pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
And the rest of the UK just, you know, follows along?

Well, so far they have ...

Snark aside, it's very unlikely that Blair is doing Bush any favors these days.

Also, if you haven't seen it, James Fallows' article on why American Muslims are a key reason we haven't had a terror attack since 9/11 is interesting ... and I hope won't be overtaken by events.
8.10.2006 3:34pm
limes (mail) (www):
This engineer wishes to propose something:

The Twenty-Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America

The First Amendment to this Constitution shall be modified as follows. Followers of any religion shall be allowed to peacefully practice their faith, subject to the following restrictions: (1) No member may advocate the suppression of opposing religious faiths; (2) No member may support groups that advocate violent actions against this, or any other Country; and (3) No member shall be allowed to hold dual-citizenship with nations determined by the Executive Branch to be state sponsors of terrorism.

Individuals found in violation of these restrictions shall be stripped of their Citizenship and be deported to the Country of their origin, or otherwise be detained as provided for by law.
8.10.2006 3:38pm
IssueRaised (mail) (www):
Timing is everything, isn't it?
8.10.2006 4:02pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
The funny thing is, when I read the above excerpt from Americablog, I thought (not being familiar with that site) that it was a Scrapplefacian parody of what the wackos at DailyKos or Democratic Underground were probably thinking. I didn't realize that the guy was serious.

Well, "serious" is the wrong word; he's fundamentally unserious. I didn't realize the guy was attempting to be serious.
8.10.2006 4:02pm
Toby:

If they are, why not say it. Why the "appears"?

I'm not "skeptical" per se - it just seems odd to me

I would guess it is just journalist speak - kind of like the way they say "the alledged ax-murder was committed on National TV during prime-time"

It doesn't actually mean anything.
8.10.2006 4:12pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
WHOI Jacket:

I think you mean SPECTRE not SMERSH. SMERSH was a counter intellegence offshoot of the NKVD. As a government organization you get low budget, so no babes. On the other hand, SPECTRE was private enterprise, so you get a better class of women.
8.10.2006 4:17pm
Shake-N-Bake (www):
While the AmericaBlog post is a little goofy in thinking this is a Rovian plot to distract attention, the right wing blogs are already trumpeting from the mountaintops that this justifies everything the Administration has done in the war on terror, including the warrantless wiretaps, Iraq, USA PATRIOT Act, you name it. The National Review has a post basically attacking everyone including the ACLU in a rather disingenuous lumping together of any group or person opposed to Iraq and for our constitutional liberties.

Even though, you know, it was the Brits who busted up this plot, and last I checked they are without the supposedly necessary tools of warrantless wiretaps, etc. Same ridiculous fallacy that the AmericaBlog post has.

In other words, the loons on both sides are out in full force. Except you can expect that the Republican Party talking points are going to look a lot like what the right wing blogs are already sayin.
8.10.2006 4:21pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
What I don't understand is the ridiculous security responses after these sort of events.

Given that the danger of liquid explosives has been known for a long time (a similar plot was found in papers of some terrorist we arrested) what is the justification for the sudden security clampdown now? Given we just arrested a group of terrorists planning to do this if anything the risk of terrorists using a liquid filled bomb today should have decreased (presumably terrorists try to avoid duplication to some extent).

The best justification I can come up with for the sudden security increase is that perhaps they think there are still members of this group on the loose who will try and blow up their stuff in last minute desperate attempt to do something before they get caught. However, even if true this would justify only a very short tightening of restrictions and most pundits are predicting something much longer.

And then you have the restrictions that just don't make any sense at all. For instance not being able to idle and wait in front of airports. Sure you could have a bomb in your car but you don't need to idle for this reason and other than actually attacking a plane any other attack could just be conducted at a non-airport location.

These security rules just really piss me off since they seem to be more focused on clamping down on things that seem similar to the recent plot rather than actually trying to minimize risk.
8.10.2006 4:23pm
eddie (mail):
Perhaps the most important aspect of the "good news" is that this was good old fashioned police work. The war paradigm is simply a political ploy. When will intelligent people wake up to this obvious Orwellian obfuscation. This so-called war, i.e. the Global War against Terrorism is not capable of being won by definition (unless, of course, you exterminate all suspects and there remotest family members--just to be safe--all muslims since we've refined this to be the Global War against Islamofascism).

However, our government can provide a reasonable amount of protection from terrorist acts (committed by whomever) by doing the really hard work: investigations, intelligence and following the money trail.

But that simply does not have the grandiosity and political clout of a war.
8.10.2006 4:26pm
limes (mail) (www):
As disclosed, I'm not a lawyer, and I'm sure there's a better way to weaken the 1st Amendment so that it does not become a suicide pact. The emerging reality is that individuals will soon be able to do massive damage to population centers. Police work is effective if you're tracking fifty guys, it doesn't work if you're tracking a disciplined group of two or three. If someone's got a better concept, I'm all ears…

I fail to see how it is a bad thing to target those who single out people for suppression based on their religion, march in our streets with 'Death to __XYZ____' signs, and refuse to renounce their Citizenship with Countries who call for our demise.
8.10.2006 4:43pm
cirby (mail):

While the AmericaBlog post is a little goofy in thinking this is a Rovian plot to distract attention, the right wing blogs are already trumpeting from the mountaintops that this justifies everything the Administration has done in the war on terror,


Really?

Where?

So far, there's a good amount of "the Patriot Act seems to work," and quite a lot of "some folks on the Left are just freakin' nuts," but not a lot of the extreme claims you seem to imagine. There's a lot of people making fun of the crazy folks, as well.

And the Americablog post isn't just "a little goofy," it's just plain crazy. It's not just this one guy, either - apparently, quite a bit of the left side of the blogosphere is falling off the cliff over this idea. A poll on Dailykos.com is currently running about 50% "was more drama from BushCo to keep us all afraid."
8.10.2006 4:54pm
MnZ (mail):
Shake-N-Bake said:

Even though, you know, it was the Brits who busted up this plot, and last I checked they are without the supposedly necessary tools of warrantless wiretaps, etc.


Sorry to burst your bubble...but you are incorrect.
8.10.2006 4:58pm
A.S.:
Sorry to burst your bubble...but you are incorrect.

Too funny!
8.10.2006 5:24pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
What I don't understand is the ridiculous security responses after these sort of events.

Given that the danger of liquid explosives has been known for a long time ...


Yup. Constantly getting ready to win the previous war.

Bush was heckled for saying that the good guys were trying to think of new ways to attack us, but that's exactly what we ought to be doing. And this was one of the things I've thought of: At some points, the components of that which you need to do damage are innocent ingredients. How many different innocent, easily assembled, ingredients do you need in one place at the same time such that you could make something dangerous between when the captain turns off the fasten seatbelt light and the plane lands?

The old (and probably future) rule for containers is that they had to be marked. (I know someone who had to leave shampoo or something at the checkpoint because he'd transferred it into a generic bottle instead of a bottle marked with a label proclaiming it to be something innocent.) So, using the Carnival Barker methodology (can't find a link to this paper from a couple of years ago) we find appropriate containers that will make it through. Need to bring in a powder? Put it into gelcaps and put the gelcaps into a genuine drugstore prescription bottle issued to the actual passenger/terrorist. Need to bring in a liquid? Put it into a commercial bottle of something that looks and smells like your stuff.

Now, what can you make with these ingredients?

Suppose I was trying to make a zip gun. What would I need? An antenna from a portable radio for the barrel? Any sort of ball bearing for the projectile. The hardest part would be the propellant, since the dogs will sniff for that. If I remember my Star Trek, black powder is charcoal, sulphur, and saltpeter -- would I be able to get all of those aboard?

(What do I want to do? Killing flight attendants is a lot less likely to get me into the cockpit anymore. How else can I bring down the plane? If all those news reports of people on the ground blinding pilots with big green lasers have any truth, maybe there's a clue there. Or maybe I should rent Die Hard 2. Or maybe I should give up on aircraft all together, and find some type of place on the ground where, in several places across the country, I and my confederates can find concentrations of vulnerable Americans, especially vulnerable American children. Have there been any places where unsophisticated people have been able to kill a lot of American children at once, that haven't been particularly hardened against people who aren't worried that they'll get suspended if they bring a gun to school or kill a security guard?)
8.10.2006 5:27pm
finec:

Regarding the AmericaBlog post and accusations of political color coding: the average daily return on the S&P for a three-day window surrounding changes from yellow to orange status is .334%, which is not significantly different from the post-Sept 11 daily average return of .016%.

So, to the extent that we can determine it (and the confidence interval is pretty wide), at least the market doesn't seem to take the government's color coding changes that seriously. Today's returns don't materially change that picture.

Note, however, that airline stocks did decline today -- perhaps to reflect higher future security costs, both direct and indirect.
8.10.2006 5:34pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Also, if you haven't seen it, James Fallows' article on why American Muslims are a key reason we haven't had a terror attack since 9/11 is interesting

Alas, The Atlantic Monthly is a pay site, barred from BugMeNot.
8.10.2006 5:39pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Alas, The Atlantic Monthly is a pay site

Hm. I used to subscribe but don't any more; apparently that fact hasn't caught up with their online minions. I just thought it was generally available.

OTB has excerpts.
8.10.2006 6:03pm
Shake-N-Bake (www):
I stand corrected. Then Bush should have pushed to have the law changed instead of just ignoring it. Seeing as his party had control, I doubt he would have had any problems getting them to do this back when they started the program. Especially if he could have pointed at the Brits, French, etc seeing how much the Kos crowd loves the European systems.

I'd argue that a poll of Daily Kos represents that 50% of the looniest of the left thinks this was a Rovian plot. That's most likely progress from a couple years ago, when it probably would have been close to 100%.

Basically, I was saying that both sides of the blogosphere piss me off because they're always blind to anything that challenges their view. Bush worshippers refuse to believe that the Iraq war has been a horrid failure at what it was supposed to do (i.e. stabilize the Middle East, reduce terrorism, get Saddam's WMD's, pretty much anything that has been tossed out as a reason for the Iraq war) and that maybe, just maybe, they might consider another course of action since Iraq is going to fall into a civil war as soon as we leave anyways at this point, whether that be in 6 months or 6 years. The Kossacks, well, their paranoia over Rove speaks for itself.
8.10.2006 6:44pm
Jeek:
On the other hand, SPECTRE was private enterprise, so you get a better class of women.

You mean like the lovely Rosa Klebb?
8.10.2006 7:12pm
Justin Kee (mail):
http://tinyurl.com/fwqdd
8.10.2006 9:15pm
Christopher Cooke (mail):
Fortunately, the Brits are showing more competence than the FBI did (pre-9/11, anyways) at tracking down these plots.
8.10.2006 9:22pm
Christopher Cooke (mail):


The best justification I can come up with for the sudden security increase is that perhaps they think there are still members of this group on the loose who will try and blow up their stuff in last minute desperate attempt to do something before they get caught.


I think that is the exact reason for the recent restrictions on carryon baggage. I hardly fault Chertoff or the Brits for imposing these restrictions now. Can you imagine what the reaction would be if it turns out there were another 5 or 10 members of this apparent terrorist plot and they boarded planes with liquids in their carry-on bags, and blew up the planes?
8.10.2006 10:05pm
o' connuh j.:
Haha "Shake N Bake" humiliated.

But wait - there's more: Time now claims that US intelligence provided the British with intercepts of the group's communications.

I would say owned but he already knows it.
8.11.2006 12:02am
JunkYardLawDog (mail):
I wonder if any of this will wake up Kennedy and some of the other namby pambies on the Supremes? Maybe they'll stop trying to be commander in chief for a while.

They live in such an insular world they probably are unaware of these events.

My dream is that Stevens and Kennedy both retire or otherwise leave the court before the end of 2007.

Says the "Dog"
8.11.2006 1:38am
Shake-N-Bake (www):
Thinking about it, the British system, having the Home Secretary approve taps, really isn't much different than the FISA rubber stamp. In other words, this proves nothing about warrantless taps.

I am not humiliated whatsoever. We undoubtedly would have obtained that same information had they used FISA, since there clearly was already information from the Brits that something was afoot. FISA's already practically a rubber stamp, and with even the sliver of info provided by that informant in Britain the relevant party would undoubtedly have received permission to tap from the FISA court.

I still can't believe how many authoritarian conservatives run around this blog given the libertarian leanings of most of its bloggers. You still have a better chance of getting killed in an auto accident every day than by terrorists, yet you folks inexplicably are willing to sign away rights and the rule of law (the latter being what is at stake in the warrantless wiretaps -- everyone supports eavesdropping on terrorist, but only some people seem to support the President being allowed to ignore the properly passed law of the land) in the name of stopping terrorism. Why not ban cars? Or force cars to be made to only go 30 miles an hour? What, that's overreacting?

Ben Franklin's still right. Go ahead and sacrifice our Constitution for a little more security. I'm sure it's totally worth it. You Bush lapdogs are unbelievable.
8.11.2006 2:39pm
markm (mail):
limes: Good idea, needs a little more work. (3) No member [of a religion] shall be allowed to hold dual-citizenship with nations determined by the Executive Branch to be state sponsors of terrorism. So only atheists get to hold dual-citizenship with terrorist nations?

Maybe there's a lawyer around who could do a better job of writing this?

limes (mail) (www):
This engineer wishes to propose something:
8.11.2006 4:43pm
JunkYardLawDog (mail):
Shake N Bake,

Please provide some concrete real life examples of how your life and liberty has been negatively impacted by the Patriot Act, NSA surveillance, etc.? What? It hasn't been affected in the least. Gee that's a really big sacrifice of constitutional rights. So large a piece you are completely unaffected by it and completely unaware of a single instance of intrusion on your personal life.

Were you alive in 1977? That was pre FISA. Was your life in 1977 a living nightmare of government intrusion? Ben Franklin knew the President had authority to do these kinds of things. Ben Franklin knew the death penalty could be legally applied to horse thieves and rapists as well as murderers. For 201 years the country, its constitution, and all of our freedoms existed well and safe without FISA at all. FISA is the unconstitutional action. Not the other way around.

Says the "Dog"
8.11.2006 5:44pm