Friday, August 11, 2006

A reason for optimism?

I saw this post on Kevin Drum's Washington Monthly blog. He argues that the foiling of the English terrorist plot is not, as the mainstream media would have you believe, a cause for alarm but, rather, a cause for hope. This was by all accounts a huge plan, but one that was disrupted (well in advance of execution) using traditional law-enforcement mechanisms and international cooperation. Now in the US we've done what we usually do, overreact, hype up the danger, with endless pieces on the cable news outlets with captions like "Are we as safe as we think we are?" or "Are your children about to be exploded?", and go overboard in our response (NO liquids on planes EVER!!! -- even though we've known this was a possible tactic since at least 1995, when Clinton foiled an attack to explode planes over the Pacific) without ever really digging into the specifics.

Under this backdrop, Kevin Drum makes the following observation:

British and American counterterrorism agencies have been tracking 50 al-Qaeda (or al-Qaeda-ish) terrorists for over a year. They were under intensive surveillance the entire time and never had any chance of pulling off their plans. What's more, the investigation has probably provided us with hundreds or thousands of additional leads to keep tabs on.

I wonder: what lesson will al-Qaeda draw from this? Osama bin Laden may be a religious fanatic, but he's not stupid, and my guess is that he'll conclude that in a post-9/11 security environment it's simply impossible to keep a plot this big a secret. There are too many entry points and too many ways for a single mistake to derail the whole thing.

Bin Laden may be fond of big statements, but I wonder if this failure will convince him and his compatriots to think smaller? Is our future now more likely to be full of lots of little attacks rather than the occasional big one?

These are excellent points. I wonder whether our alarmist media will think to ask them.

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