The value of constant vigilance was chillingly underscored this week when British authorities arrested 21 people in an alleged plot to blow up U.S.-bound airliners over the Atlantic.
The terrorism plan was said to be sophisticated and close to fruition. Perhaps mindful of past Bush administration announcements of terrorist plots broken up that on examination proved less than convincing, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said, “This is not a circumstance where you had a handful of people sitting around coming up with dreamy ideas about terrorist plots.”
Security officials said the organizational details were consistent with an al-Qaeda operation. And travelers paid the price in massive flight cancellations and delays as the chaos from the closure of much of Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport, spread outward.
The plot supposedly was to use electronic devices, like an automobile remote-entry key, to detonate liquid explosives disguised as beverages and toiletries. Transportation security officials here and in Britain immediately prohibited passengers from bringing nearly all liquids aboard aircraft and in Britain carry-on luggage was banned altogether.
This plot, at least in its preliminary details, was eerily similar to a 1995 conspiracy masterminded by the now-incarcerated Ramzi Youssef to simultaneously blow up a dozen U.S.-bound airliners over the Pacific using liquid explosives disguised as contact-lens solution. And last summer’s deadly London train bombings were accomplished with liquid explosives.
At the very least, this suggests that efforts should be accelerated to develop an effective screening device for liquid explosives because we know that al-Qaeda terrorists and their imitators are both persistent and patient. Recall that 9/11 was the terrorists’ second attempt to take down the twin towers, an attempt having failed in 1993.
We should consider ourselves fortunate that the British were able to act when they did. We should also consider ourselves warned.