April 23, 2024

Attacks on a Plane

Last week’s arrest of a gang of would-be airplane bombers unleashed a torrent of commentary, including much of the I told you so variety. One question that I haven’t heard discussed is why the group wanted to attack planes.

The standard security narrative has attackers striking a system’s weak points, and defenders trying to identify and remedy weak points before the attackers hit them. Surely if you were looking for a poorly secured place with a high density of potential victims, an airplane wouldn’t be your first choice. Airplanes have to be the best-secured places that most people go, and they only hold a few hundred people. A ruthless attacker who was trying to maximize expected death and destruction would attack elsewhere.

(9/11 was an attack against office buildings, using planes as weapons. That type of attack is very unlikely to work anymore, now that passengers will resist hijackers rather than cooperating.)

So why did last week’s arrestees target planes? Perhaps they weren’t thinking too carefully – Perry Metzger argues that their apparent peroxide-bomb plan was impractical. Or perhaps they were trying to maximize something other than death and destruction. What exactly? Several candidates come to mind. Perhaps they were trying to install maximum fear, exploiting our disproportionate fear of plane crashes. Perhaps they were trying to cause economic disruption by attacking the transportation infrastructure. Perhaps planes are symbolic targets representing modernity and globalization.

Just as interesting as the attackers’ plans is the government response of beefing up airport security. The immediate security changes made sense in the short run, on the theory that the situation was uncertain and the arrests might trigger immediate attacks by unarrested co-conspirators. But it seems likely that at least some of the new restrictions will continue indefinitely, even though they’re mostly just security theater.

Which suggests another reason the bad guys wanted to attack planes: perhaps it was because planes are so intensively secured; perhaps they wanted to send the message that nowhere is safe. Let’s assume, just for the sake of argument, that this speculation is right, and that visible security measures actually invite attacks. If this is right, then we’re playing a very unusual security game. Should we reduce airport security theater, on the theory that it may be making air travel riskier? Or should we beef it up even more, to draw attacks away from more vulnerable points? Fortunately (for me) I don’t have space here to suggest answers to these questions. (And don’t get me started on the flaws in our current airport screening system.)

The bad guys’ decision to attack planes tells us something interesting about them. And our decision to exhaustively defend planes tells us something interesting about ourselves.


  1. And this just in — a plane was turned around and twelve people taken off in handcuffs for the heinous crime of … sharing a phone.

    They were as likely as not just passing a camera-phone around and taking snapshots of one another for their vacation album.

  2. There’s news today that a plane crashed in Russia.

    Notice how quickly they rule out terrorism but at the same time they admit they don’t know the cause of a crash. Again the tendency is to reassure the public and lie to them, which puts them at greater risk. It’s like how they told the people in the Twin Towers or New Orleans to stay where they were because help was on the way.

  3. enigma_foundry,

    I have been thinking about your criticism to my proposal.

    You are right, in that a media blackout definitely has ramifications on the Freedom of Press. I have been unable to think of any “absolute” argument to justify such an action.

    However, if looked at in a relative light, it does seem to be a sensible solution. [I’m certainly open to other suggestions.]

    The police state is what I emphatically want to avoid. I’m concerned about the freedoms being waived before the dishonestly named USA PATRIOT act, and other “counter-terror” measures. Widespread wiretapping infringes on the right to not witness against yourself (for real or imagined crimes); no-fly lists can infringe on the freedom of assembly; with airport security at an all-time high, the right to bear arms is inhibited, and you can reasonably expect to have your stuff searched (and possibly seized.)

    We also have a situation wherein a handful of media conglomerates get to decide what is news, and how people should feel about it. It is these organizations against whom I feel a gag order would have a positive effect, for, as I see it, they are want to encourage the view that terrorism will be the end of us if we do not allow a police state to step in and stop it.

    I still feel that small and independent news sources (such as blogs and word of mouth) should continue unabated. They do not have as much ability to sound the drums of war; they do not carry the megaphones that goad people on to fight or give up their freedoms. Consider it to be a media brown-out, if you prefer.

    The mainstream media are known to self-censor, even what would be explosive (and this highly profitable) stories. (I have to recommend the book Manufacturing Consent.) Did you hear them talking about election fraud? How about an FCC proposal to allow large media companies greater market saturation? How about battles lost in Iraq, or American soldiers killed?

    It is because the media are being used as a mouthpiece for the wealthy and politically powerful that I feel that specifically not reporting on terrorist activities would help reduce the fear and control that these powerful people have and wish to gain over us. It is also for this reason that I do not see that it will happen.

    If there was ever a reason to call something a state secret in the name of national defence — the sort of thing that would actually make the homeland more secure — it would be to deny the terrorists the attention they so desperately want to gain. It would be to prevent the magnification of the horror or whatever evil they do to us, and thus prevent knee-jerk reactions that are short-sighted and cause long term damage.

    Oh, to have a trustworthy government, with checks and balances, that is not actively undermining the constitution which gives it legitimacy! Sigh. As you said, how can you tell the terrorists apart from the people who are running the country?

  4. the problem here, as with all terrorism tales: all we know is what we have heard from the secret services. remember: a secret service is a company with one main product: desinformation. in other words: lies. so what theyre telling us is: we have found plans to make bombs (which dont really work) and get those bombs on planes, we have watched this for months and now decided to tell to the public. so it is up to us to use our brains, isnt it? what proof do we have those guys arent just up to secure their own their careers? start asking for clear evidence, just like in any other case.

  5. I think by attacking planes they are making a statement. They were trying to do something that has already been done but do it so much more extreme, proving that they mean business. If they can reinact a horrible event to some extent they would be producing so much fear in people who thought attacks on planes are impossible now. I think it was more about fear than destruction.

  6. The clue is in the name: terrorists try and cause terror; actual killing is not their primary goal, it’s just a reliable means of instilling the terror. They caused widespread panic, disruption on a massive scale, financial woes, and a long-lasting inconvenience to air travellers, and they didn’t actually have to *do* anything. They must be chuckling pretty hard now! (It’s sad that policy makers seem to be unaware of the irony: clamp down on “enemies of freedom” by removing freedoms; fight “terror” by making everyone paranoid and suspicious through the use of ill-defined “threat levels”? Now *there’s* logic for you…)

  7. enigma_foundry says

    Perhaps the whole thing was a distraction.

    There really wasn’t a plan, just make-believe theater, if you will…

  8. enigma_foundry says

    I totally agree that it would be hard to trust a government that actively avoids constitutional checks to prevent tyranny. The problem is that the government is the only organization..

    Well the answer to that problem is Regime Change. As in the bumper sticker: Regime Change begins at Home”

    *If* the goal is to reduce the effects of terrorism, a simple solution presents itself: a media blackout.

    Wow, you’ve really reduced the effects of terrorism with that idea. You’ve only had to remove the constitution (OK, maybe just the Bill of Rights, sorry for eggagerating) create a police state in its wake. In this most excellent solution that you’ve proposed, I do perceive one small problem: how will I be able to tell the terrorists from my own government?

  9. *If* the goal is to reduce the effects of terrorism, a simple solution presents itself: a media blackout. For many people, if something is not reported in the mainstream media, it didn’t happen. [The word will still get out via bloggers and word of mouth, but this will not have the same stinging effect as headlines plastered all over the papers, and video clips played back ad naseum.]

    This solution would be far cheaper to implement and more effective then increasing airport security. People will not worry about terrorists, and go about their daily lives. And, as terrorists are (seemingly) provoking us to get attention, they will stop if they do not get that attention. [Or come up with something that can’t be ignored, but that’d probably be on the scale of a war, and it is unlikely they have the resources to do so.]

    If, however, we want people to live in constant fear, and base foreign and domestic policy on terror events, well, then, we can keep doing exactly what we are doing — drilling the idea, as strongly and frequently as possible, of the need to be fearful of terrorists, and putting on a security theatre show for them every time they go to the airport.

    Also, I think that planes make a sensible target due to the disproportionate amount of attention they get on the news. Trains de-rail regularly; cars are in accidents all the time — but, these are not the sort of stories that sell newspapers.

  10. One of the problems is that law enforcement, bureaucrats, and policy makers are not creative or imaginative thinkers. So when they implement a rule designed to protect the public, it is not due to their imagination but as a response to whatever threat has already occured. So while they do a good job at reacting to known threats, they do not protect against unknown threats.

    It seems the high security is to assure the public. In the United States soldiers may patrol the airports with their M-16s, but I know that it is for show, because the M-16 is cumbersome to use in close range and spontaneous combat. They ought to be giving them pistols, which is what police officers use. Yet the public feels assured seeing that there are soldiers carrying rifles around the airport.

    In the weeks after 9/11, there were security checkpoints in Manhattan south of Canal Street, which was still abandoned being near the WTC. Yet there were no security checkpoints in Midtown where there were lots of people and which would be a better place for terrorists to strike at that point.

    The rules for passengers speak for themselves. Laptops are permitted while mp3 players are prohibited. Such a discrepancy shows again the stupidity of the people in charge of security. And with Dell’s exploding laptop batteries, even more so.

  11. The so-called “point security” is not very good yet. People pass through airport screening with weapons suitable for a 9/11 attack every day. Improving airport security will push terrorism off to other targets, but planes are a uniquely fragile form of transport so a larger amount of deterence makes some sense. The question is if we are currently getting deterence or theater?

    Andrew McGuinness’s sample of 13 killed per bomb by the London train bombers is perhaps a misleadingly low sample. The Madrid train bombers killed many more, although they increased their odds by using multiple bombs per train and a traditional explosive.

    I worked for a long time in Sri Lanka, the birthplace of the suicide bomber. They mainly targetted prominent individuals and everyday crowds. A direct descendant of their style would be the the Oct 2002 jihad bombing of a Balinese nightclub with a 1000Kg fertiliser bomb which killed 202 people. Being a non-transport stationary target the criminals were able to use a huge amount of explosive, much larger than a backpack on a train.

    The Tiger’s interest was never so much the train, but the huge crowds at the station. If the English wannabe bombers took that lesson they’d have bombed the crowded and chaotic departure hall at Heathrow the day after the crackdown on luggage. I was surprised that passengers even showed up.

    Steve R talks about a militarily-based suppression of terrorists. In Sri Lanka state violence of the most awful type did eventually quell the JVP terrorists (although by then there was little difference between the methods of the government and the JVP), but it simply acted as Darwinian selection upon the LTTE terrorists. I see something similar in Israel’s long fight with extremists in Lebanon; where the moderates have been winnowed away leaving an uncompromising and battle-bred Hezbollah.

    An alternative is the policing approach, where terrorism is treated as a conspiracy to murder, investigated, and people bought to trial. This was eventually used by the British against the IRA and seems to have runs on the board. The lack of near-arbitrary and unapologetic state killing (chillingly described as “collateral damage”, as if people are buildings) certainly has less potential to encourage further terrorist/freedom fighter recruits. So it seems the prudent course to try a policing-based response first.

    One of the interesting dynamics in the UK at the moment is the question of why new anti-terrorism laws are needed above those which worked when faced by the IRA (and we all know if the IRA had set out to explode ten planes over the Atlantic then they would have managed to do so with a lot less bungling than this lot).

  12. Oops. I accidently posted before finishing.

    I totally agree that it would be hard to trust a government that actively avoids constitutional checks to prevent tyranny. The problem is that the government is the only organization that would have the resources to conduct counter terrorism activities. Much of what I am advocating involves the government, euphemistically speaking, using extra-legal methods. So, I guess, I am hoping that the government would actually work to protect its citizens and not actually promote an endless “1984” confrontation as an excuse to oprress its citizens.

  13. Mathfox: You are quite correct. However, we need to spin the comment. Rather than accept a degree of loss we need to rephrase the discussion in terms that 100% security is unrealistic. This also leads to the issue of collateral damage. That is, when you take out a terrorists, you may also be taking out his/her entire family or it may be in an inconvient location as the proverbial school full of children. This is another losss that needs to be factored into the decision processs.

    In terms of sensible measures I am amazed at how we can analyze an issue to death and end up with a non-solution. Take the issue of a pilot having a gun. Those in opposition asked what if he misses? It seems by that point of an event that type of question is irrelevent since you are in a fight for your life. I can’t remember the outcome of whether pilots can or cannot carry guns.

  14. Steve, another option is to accept some loss to terrorism. We accept that people are killed in car accidents or damage their health from smoking tobacco. (9/11 can be compared to a few days of car accidents in the USA.)

    That doesn’t suggest doing nothing, but taking sensible measures, and doing cost/benefit analysis. If spending money on preventing car accidents saves more lives than spending the same amount on airport security, a sensible policy would be spending on car traffic safety.

    I find it hard to trust a government that actively avoids consitutional checks to prevent tyranny. A government that says “if you object to us obtaining your information, you must have something to hide” and “information on our actions are state secret” on the same day.

  15. john s erickson says

    Above all, terrorists (like politicians) understand that “perception is, all there is.” Their strategies are geared towards triggering our biggest fears, which psychologists such as David G. Myers have shown to be utterly irrational; this is not about killing hundred’s of people, but about scaring millions by triggering their innate fears as humans:

    Psychological science has identified four influences on our intuitions about risk. First, we fear what our ancestral history has prepared us to fear…Flying may be far safer than biking, but our biological past predisposes us to fear confinement and heights, and therefore flying.

    Second, we fear what we cannot control…Driving we control, flying we do not…

    Third, we fear what’s immediate…Much of the plane’s threat is telescoped into the moments of takeoff and landing, while the dangers of driving are diffused across many moments to come, each trivially dangerous…

    Fourth, we fear what’s most readily available in memory. Horrific images of a DC-10 catapulting across the Sioux City runway, or the Concorde exploding in Paris, or of United Flight 175 slicing into the World Trade Center, form indelible memories…

    — From David G. Myers, “Do We Fear the Right Things?” American Psychological Society Observer (December, 2001). Link

  16. Dave is quite correct; our current approach will bankrupt us. One of my pet rants, we have already entered Orwell’s world of “1984”. The war on terrosim has made the situation more dire and more real.

    In terms of a substantive comment, the concept of a point defense is ludicrous. We simply cannot defend every airport, train, port, water treatment plant, etc. Not to mention the fact that the more security people you hire, the greater chance that you will actually hire the terrorists themselves.

    So what is the solution? The only rationale approach would be to focus on disrupting how the terrorists function. This would include following the money trail, preemptive strikes, and using the old Israeli approach of hunting them down one by one. Unfortunately this approach suffers from many legal and public relations problems. Given the fact that the terrorists themselves do not feel constrained by legal niceties and the infeasibility of a point defense this may be our only option. Its difficult for me to say this, but we will have to trust the government!!!

  17. enigma_foundry says

    I’m probably not the first person to figure out that planes fly over stuff, especially in D.C. I’m sure it would be a crude attempt, but couldn’t anybody look out the window of the plane and make a rough calculation about when to ignite the chemical bomb so that the pieces of the plane hit stuff on the ground? Especially given some practice?

    Just barely conceivable at several of the more crowded airports, for example the old Hong Kong airport, but the timing would have to be extremely well co-ordinated, so much so that I don’t think this is much of a threat.

    If you want a death toll in the thousands, there aren’t many options. The best ways are tried and tested: tons of explosives, or dozens of well-armed men are best, and knocking down aeroplanes comes pretty close behind.

    This part of the post by Andrew McGuinness is quite well taken; to further elaborate: the progressive failure of an aeroplane’s fuselage can be initiated by a quite small explosive charge, when that aeroplane is at it’s altitude and its cabin is pressurized, it’s fairly close to exploding by itself, it just needs a little more help.

    Given that finding more effective ways of killing has been one of mankind’s major areas of study throughout history, it must be very hard to come up with original ones.

    Some of the more scary ones are connected with biological warefare, IMHO. Since the advent of Genomics, some new ideas are out there, and they all involve novel self-replicating entities that could be used to attack thorough the networks built by the globalized interconnected economy.

    Perhaps the most relevant and interesting Post from Global Guerrillas is this one, which describes why sometimes partial failure of a network is better for an attacker than the complete failure of that network.: Partial vs. Complete Network Failure

  18. Ed, you seem to make the assumption that there was a serious plot to attack planes. IIRC, seven of the suspects would have been unable to enter the plane because they lacked a passport. There are no reports of explosives or significant amounts of chemicals found.
    As far as I can see now, planning was in a very early stage (if there was any); it is entirely possible that MI5 is projecting its fear of a terrorist attack on the current suspects.

  19. Humans are actually quite hard to kill. Given that finding more effective ways of killing has been one of mankind’s major areas of study throughout history, it must be very hard to come up with original ones.

    The July 05 bombs in London averaged 13 dead each – attacking as dense a crowd as is physically possible in a very enclosed space. That about sets the standard for hand-carried anti-personnel bombs.

    If you want a death toll in the thousands, there aren’t many options. The best ways are tried and tested: tons of explosives, or dozens of well-armed men are best, and knocking down aeroplanes comes pretty close behind.

  20. I’m probably not the first person to figure out that planes fly over stuff, especially in D.C. I’m sure it would be a crude attempt, but couldn’t anybody look out the window of the plane and make a rough calculation about when to ignite the chemical bomb so that the pieces of the plane hit stuff on the ground? Especially given some practice?

    Now that’s terror! Snakes on a plane falling from the sky and landing in your living room, along with the remnants of a plane’s engine.

  21. Dave: Before we get too carried away with how military efforts can ruin a nation, we have to consider the role that detached elites and their policies and devices of social management played in the SU, and are progressively playing in the West. (Different elites and different policies/devices, but similar underlying themes of grabbing and perpetuating power and control who gets the “goodies”.)

    Impoverishment did not and does not come *primarily* from diverting resources to the military sector, but from nonexistent or failing checks/balances and information/decision flows that prevent public resources from being deployed effectively, and encourage petty and grand corruption.

  22. arnozigoto says

    “Snakes on a plane”… What a lousy movie title! It should be “Toothpaste on a plane”!

  23. It is an abomination.

  24. Another possible reason: http://www.wondermark.com/d/220.html

  25. If you’re a suicide bomber, you want the big score, don’t you? We often read, mostly in Israel, of suicide bombers attempting to bomb a bus or mall, and killing just 1 or 2 innocent victims, sometimes not even killing anybody but themselves. In a very perverse way you almost feel sorry for them.

    Even though it is possible to design, with less effort than it takes for planes, effective attacks that kill just as many people, often they don’t. Often the attacks go wrong for any number of reasons (including attacks on planes like this British plot. foiled by police and the possible hubris of trying for a group attack so large there are too many in the conspiracy.)

    Exploded planes over the Atlantic would have left a terrible, scary mystery, since they would have all fallen in the water, with no survivors, unless they planned explosions while over land. Hard to judge whether wreckage is more evocative than sinking to the bottom of the ocean, but both are evocative.

    For whatever reasons in bombings of trains, or busses, or nightclubs in Bali, there are survivors, many of them. Perhaps they are particularly keen on no-survivors results?

    It is speculated the 9/11 plan had a particular stroke of evil genius. The two aircraft that hit the WTC came within sight of one another, then took two flightpaths of different length, so that the 2nd plane would hit 15 minutes later. This assured every camera in the city would be on the WTC at the time, making the event much more frightening and dramatic. (They had not expected the more dramatic collapse of the buildings.)

    However, in the long run, the bad news is they will not run out of scary targets if they are willing to die for their cause. We can secure the planes, or not secure them, but as long as there are crowds somewhere there are targets for terror. They may like planes as a target but if we make that too hard, we’ve already seen them go after trains, busses, nightclubs, buildings and bridges.

  26. I think one purpose this serves is to be a “problem” which allows other people to step in and offer a “solution”. Much as pro-DRM people talk about how “pirates” necessitate taking away consumer’s rights, pro-Fascism people talk about how “terrorists” necessitate taking away our liberties. [Well, maybe they don’t just talk. Actions do speak louder than words.]

    Surely, for example, if your goal was to physically harm people, you could use a chemical or biological agent in a crowded shopping mall? With a delayed effect, a whole area could be infected before anyone noticed.

    But then, what makes the most sense at an intellectual level doesn’t necessarily work at a visceral level. [That reminds me of an interesting essay, unfortunately filled with foul language, called “Osama bin Laden – Evil Supergenius?” at http://briandeford.blogspot.com/2005/11/osama-bin-laden-evil-supergenius.html .]

    The second reason for an action like this is to draw people’s attention elsewhere. Much as we say “ooh, shiny” when talking about the new HD video formats…

  27. enigma_foundry says

    Well the issue is network disruption. If a network can be disrupted often enough, it becomes useless. The economy is constructed of many networks, overlaid and interdependent. These networks strive to an efficient scale-free topology, under normal and stable market conditions. Those same-scale free networks, because of their very efficiency (part of the efficiency is being not very redundant.), are susceptible to disruption by a planned attack strategy.

    This issue has been quite extensively discussed over at John Robb’s blog Global Guerillas.

    One of the most relevant posts, to this subject would be Cascading System Failure.

    There are several othe posts that are relevant, but one item not to miss is discussion of:

    “Col. John Boyd (he died in 1997) is considered one of America’s best military thinkers. His thinking dramatically influenced the plan of attack in the first gulf war. Boyd’s thinking also serves as a good basis for a deeper understanding 4GW (fourth generation warfare).

    Grand strategy, according to Boyd, is a quest to isolate your enemy’s (a nation-state or a global terrorist network) thinking processes from connections to the external/reference environment. This process of isolation is essentially the imposition of insanity on a group. To wit: any organism that operates without reference to external stimuli (the real world), falls into a destructive cycle of false internal dialogues. These corrupt internal dialogues eventually cause dissolution and defeat.

    The dynamic of Boyd’s grand strategy is to isolate your enemy across three essential vectors (physical, mental, and moral), while at the same time improving your connectivity across those same vectors.”

    Interestingly enough, the optimal network for resisting attack has been shown to be clique and delegation based.

    The goal of those who are planning these attacks is network disruption, not symbolic terrorism.

    Another interesting paper would be: The topology of covert conflict
    Shishir Nagaraja, Ross Anderson, available online from Cambridge.

  28. Look what happened after 9/11 – all planes in the U.S. were grounded for a week! Nearly everyone has a latent fear of flying that they refuse to acknowledge. This mental flaw makes us prone to over-reaction when it comes to aviation threats. It’s clear that if a major plane-targeting plot succeeds, we will see a reaction at least equal to what happened after 9/11. Pretty good leverage for a few grams of explosive.

    Another point is that planes are physically much more vulnerable than most other places people are grouped. Being many miles in the air provides huge amounts of potential energy. And due to the limited power/weight available from engines, planes must be built to have only the minimum structural integrity necessary for protection from atmospheric winds. This provides another advantage in terms of maximum impact for minimum energy devices.

  29. TheHackerNextDoor says

    In a word “sensationalism”. An attack on an airline gets in the news and gets covered more than an equally deadly attack elsewhere. This is partially due to the natural fear that many people have over flying in the first place.

    If something happens you can’t just step off of the plane, as you are committed for the duration, and if things go wrong they can go very very wrong real quick. Even a small structural change on an airplane can cause explosive decompression, oxygen deprivation, catastrophic structural failure, and subsequently the total loss of all life on that flight except in the most favorable circumstances. Even with a train wreck you have a chance of being thrown clear, but there is little chance that on an airplane that same fate would give the same end result.

  30. “Perhaps they were trying to cause economic disruption by attacking the transportation infrastructure.”

    That sounds like the best guess to me. And perhaps they have come to the realisation that they don’t actually need to blow up planes to get the effects they are seeking. All it takes is a few discreet “leaks” in the right quarters; a few deliberately incriminating phone calls (on lines that are known to be tapped), and – as we have just learned – the odd suitacase of bomb-related materials hidden in a wood. Sure, some people will probably spend many years in prison – but if they are prepared to die, surely they are also prepared to make that sacrifice.

    I recall a story related by C.S. Forester (of Hornblower fame) in his wartime novel “The Ship”. One of the characters remembers reading about an unpleasant young Roman boy who enjoyed chasing the slaves around with a red-hot poker. At some point he discovered that a poker painted red would do just as well, and was much less trouble. Forester’s character was thinking about how the Italian navy had been intimidated by the British, to the extent that a battle squadron could be held off by a few light cruisers and destroyers. Eric Frank Russell’s wonderful SF novel “Wasp” is a series of variations on a similar theme.

  31. Conspiracy Wacko says

    Or maybe the same people that are in control of most of the money in the world and that fund most governments are also funding terrorists. They would do this so governments have a reason to pass more restrictive laws around the world. This would create a worldwide dictatorial framework that the controllers of money can just step into (after creating a single worldwide false religion) and begin control of a worldwide empire. Plato laid out the original blueprint for such control.

    If you don’t believe me, then just read my name and laugh.

  32. One other possible reason is inertia: that the bombers stuck with a general idea they were used to.

    And a second other possible reason: if they were out to kill US citizens from a support structure within the UK, attacking airplanes is a way to do that without having to enter the United States and set up a support structure there.

  33. It’s interesting to note that here in Europe attacks have targeted local transportation systems (local trains, underground, buses).
    We have had a large number of victims both in Madrid and in London and yet noone proposed security measures even similar to those that we endure in airports.

  34. I seem to recall that Osama himself has weighed in on this topic. He’s using the same strategy that the US used to bring down the Soviet Union–make your enemy spend so much of their economy on defense that it destroys their ability to produce anything else. It doesn’t matter if the attack is judged militarily or strategically effective immediately after the event. The goal is to evoke a reaction that requires us to spend billions on “defense” to that attack.

    It’s not just terrorists that get us to react this way. North Korea has nuclear weapons that they can put on the end of an extremely hit-or-miss weapon with no precision. In response we are building a multi-billion-dollar missile shield over the Pacific. Given the history of this and similar programs, it will probably be about as effective as the Patriot was in the first Gulf war.

    As long as the public expects nothing less than a riskless world–or the press and politicians perceive it that way–our enemies will be able to provoke us into spending ourselves towards our own demise. Our kids will be uneducated, our health care system delapidated, our infrastructure falling down around us–but darn it, we are safe from attack and that’s all that matters.