Details are emerging:
- There was some serious cash flow from someone, presumably someone abroad.
- There was no imminent threat.
- However, the threat was real. And it seems pretty clear that it would have bypassed all existing airport security systems.
- The conspirators were radicalized by the war in Iraq, although it is impossible to say whether they would have been otherwise radicalized without it.
- They were caught through police work, not through any broad surveillance, and were under surveillance for more than a year.
What pisses me off most is the second item. By arresting the conspirators early, the police squandered the chance to learn more about the network and arrest more of them — and to present a less flimsy case. There have been many news reports detailing how the U.S. pressured the UK government to make the arrests sooner, possibly out of political motivations. (And then Scotland Yard got annoyed at the U.S. leaking plot details to the press, hampering their case.)
My initial comments on the arrest are here. I still think that all of the new airline security measures are an overreaction (This essay makes the same point, as well as describing a 1995 terrorist plot that was remarkably similar in both materials and modus operandi — and didn’t result in a complete ban on liquids.)
As I said on a radio interview a couple of weeks ago: “We ban guns and knives, and the terrorists use box cutters. We ban box cutters and corkscrews, and they hide explosives in their shoes. We screen shoes, and the terrorists use liquids. We ban liquids, and the terrorist will use something else. It’s not a fair game, because the terrorists get to see our security measures before they plan their attack.” And it’s not a game we can win. So let’s stop playing, and play a game we actually can win. The real lesson of the London arrests is that investigation and intelligence work.
EDITED TO ADD (8/29): Seems this URL is unavailable in the U.K. See the comments for ways to bypass the block.