failed attacks in London not only underscore the fact that al Qaeda has taken a
lot of hits since 9/11, but also the fact that a better intelligence
effort is still needed. The failed
attacks did not fail due to good intelligence, but mostly due to luck. In this
case, the bombs were in place, and the attack failed only due to vigilance on
the site by local cops.
The mechanisms were very
primitive - the bombs involved a mix of gasoline, propane, and nails. In
essence, these were a jury-rigged combination of incendiary and fragmentation
bombs. These crude bombs could have caused a lot of damage and casualties. But
the items used are also commonly purchased in a number of Western countries to
fuel cars, fuel barbeques, and to carry
out home improvement projects. The cars are also plentiful.
One other thing to note is
that this terrorist cell was able to
implement its plan without being discovered. This was pretty good
operational security - an illustration of the danger created by reveling
details of intelligence programs in the media. These abortive attacks also show
just how hard it is to defend against an enemy that shows ingenuity in how to
build bombs and conduct attacks.
The fact remains that when
terrorists get to this point, they have an advantage. In essence, they get to
pick the time and place they will attack. Police cannot cover every possible target. Often,
such things can be a guessing game. Knowing the style of operation a terrorist
group helps - but there is an inherent problem. The inherently reactive
doctrine of domestic law enforcement
means they have to get lucky every time. The terrorists just need to get lucky
once - and their luck will result in people getting killed or injured.
So, what sort of lessons can
be learned from this failed attack? First, local cops are the last line of
defense against a successful attack. The other lesson is that intelligence
leaks can hurt. In these failed attacks, the attack was actually attempted,
unlike the attempted airliner bombings last year, which was broken up at an
earlier stage - due to assistance from the NSA. Finally, there is the fact that
terrorist groups are looking to attack with whatever means are available - and
state sponsors of terror can provide greater means to terrorists than the
terrorists can get on their own.
Ultimately, these abortive car
bombings show that terrorism - and terrorists - are still out there. The
ongoing battle between terrorists and those who are out to stop them will
continue for a long time. - Harold C. Hutchison (firstname.lastname@example.org)