Today's news is that 21 British citizens with Pakistani origins have been arrested in a British counterterrorist operation that foiled a plot to bring down several planes en route to the US with liquid-based improvised explosive devices. This should come as no surprise. Nearly five years after 9/11, there have been warning signs that al Qaeda or al Qaeda-inspired terrorists still seek to target our aviation system. As the Government Accountability Office's Davi D'Agostino testified in July of last year:
...intelligence agencies believe that terrorists remain highly interested in U.S. aviation in both commercial and general aviation, to attack airports, or to use aircrafts to attack targets, including critical infrastructure.
I've been told by a federal air marshal that suspicious individuals appear to have tested aviation security on flights.
And a little-noticed classified GAO report from earlier this year reported that GAO investigators were able to smuggle bomb components at all 21 airports they tested. According to one media account:
In all 21 airports tested, no machine, no swab, no screener anywhere stopped the bomb materials from getting through. Even when investigators deliberately triggered extra screening of bags, no one discovered the materials.
Aviation security experts I've spoken to believe that aviation security is only marginally better, if that, even though a new organization was created--the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)--and billions have been spent since the 9/11 attacks.
MORE: One of my sources sent the following, which he emailed to numerous members of Congress and the White House earlier today. It strongly indicates that if terrorists in the United States attempted to bring explosives on board a plane, they likely could:
Three years ago, CBS 4 Reporter Rick Sallinger conducted on-camera assessment of the Explosive Trace Detectors at Denver. (Way to think ahead, Mr. Sallinger. You are the only one in the Country who has assessed EDS.) What he found was that it was almost impossible to get your bag swabbed, but when you did, the ETD did not pick that up. How could he surmise which explosive to use that ETD wouldn't detect? Why he simply went to the best source in the Country to help the terrorist defeat AVSEC -- www.tsa.gov The Terrorist Support Agency's website. That's how! Knowing that the key to a good experiment or story is REDUNDANCY, he went back and did a combined lead filmshield bag/trace explosive assessment again on May 24, 2006. Results: WORSE THAN THREE YEARS AGO! http://firstname.lastname@example.org
-- Nick Schwellenbach