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Terrorist plot: hype and reality

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The initial stories about foiled terrorist plots are always heavy on sensationalism and light on details. It's frustrating that the story is usually fading from public consciousness by the time reality overtakes hype, but here's my understanding of what the deal is thus far.

What's always true: There are people plotting against the U.S. and its citizens. Not a big surprise. Although I greatly disagree with how the Bush administration chooses to combat terrorism and its practitioners, obviously terrorist attacks continue to threaten the U.S. This week's revelations don't make that any more or less true; it's constantly the case.

What's true today: Some people in the U.K., somewhere between 21 (the number of arrests thus far) and 50ish (the number cited as potential conspirators), were making specific plans to target international flights between London and major U.S. cities. Reports describe the plan as in "final stages," though nobody has any idea when they planned to act, and anybody who currently claims otherwise is lying (the suspects reportedly didn't have tickets or anything with dates). The plot was reportedly foiled by British HUMINT (human intelligence), and it intended to detonate mid-air, much like a similar plot foiled in the mid-90s.

The important remaining questions: Who are these guys? Speculation of al-Qaida involvement is widespread, but that's just a name everybody recognizes. Where were they from, who were their trainers and financial benefactors, and what's their history, if anything, of militant action? The "how" and "why," please, for chrissakes, not just the "what."

Another big question is how long it's been known, and what were the reasons for revealing the information to the public. Intelligence successes are generally more effective when they remain private, but of course if a threat still exists, and can be minimized through public disclosure, that's a legitimate reason for exposure. Still, considering the past (and present) political use of terror threats, I think skepticism about timing and motives is understandable. They boy who cried wolf writ large.

Of course, the greater story is that we continue to create more terrorists than we're defeating. Every day, our stupid foreign policies, flawed intelligence system, and massive, massive debacle in Iraq mean the likelihood of more terrorist plots and actions is increasing, not decreasing. The British were apparently able to catch these guys through cooperation with Pakistan, which almost makes it seem like good relations with other countries might be a good idea. Who woulda thunk? This administration is not making us safer, a fact that Americans are increasingly realizing.

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