Is Al Qaeda stuck in a rut?
Reuters reports a French Interior Ministry confirmation that, “national carrier Air France had canceled three U.S.-bound flights from Paris due to security concerns.” MSNBC has been all over this story (link via Josh Marshall): A senior U.S. official told NBC’s Robert Windrem that the United States had uncovered “plausible” intelligence that several flights originating in ...
Reuters reports a French Interior Ministry confirmation that, "national carrier Air France had canceled three U.S.-bound flights from Paris due to security concerns." MSNBC has been all over this story (link via Josh Marshall):
Reuters reports a French Interior Ministry confirmation that, “national carrier Air France had canceled three U.S.-bound flights from Paris due to security concerns.” MSNBC has been all over this story (link via Josh Marshall):
A senior U.S. official told NBC’s Robert Windrem that the United States had uncovered “plausible” intelligence that several flights originating in Paris would be the targets of terrorists, including the three Air France flights that were canceled. The official described the intelligence as “fairly specific. … We do not take it for lock-solid, no-doubt intelligence, but instead I would call it plausible. It’s the sort of intelligence that matches up with other stuff we received.” Some of the intelligence was “date-specific, some route-specific. … There are other flights and routes,” he said, adding without elaboration that Air France was not the only airline discussed in the reports.
What’s even more interesting in the story is the intelligence about Al Qaeda’s grand strategy:
U.S. officials said the information indicated that al-Qaida planned to use foreign airliners as missiles, guided by al-Qaida operatives working as crew members. They said it appeared that Osama bin Laden personally approved the plan at a recent meeting. The officials said U.S. intelligence agencies had learned that al-Qaida operatives would try to fly hijacked foreign airliners into targets in the United States…. U.S. officials and terrorism experts also have identified some potential targets, including at least one small town that would appear an unlikely objective. The officials said al-Qaida seems particularly interested in Tappahannock, Va., a town of 2,016 people with no military base or major infrastructure. Such an attack would be intended to generate widespread fear that no one was safe, even in small rural towns, they said. “Just remember that al-Qaida is not just looking to kill as many Americans as possible. They’re looking to seriously hurt our nation’s economy,” terrorism specialist Roger Cressey, former chief of staff of the President’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Board, said in an interview. In addition to big cities like New York and Los Angeles, al-Qaida has targeted Las Vegas, the officials said, because of its economic value as the nation’s No. 2 vacation destination and as home to large conventions and trade shows beginning next month…. The new intelligence adds details to information about the al-Qaida plot first reported Monday by NBC News, which quoted U.S. officials as saying the terrorist threat assessment was raised over the weekend because of indications that al-Qaida operatives may now be fully trained and licensed pilots for some foreign airlines, ideally positioning them to carry out suicide attacks.
A few thoughts: 1) Oddly, it’s reassuring to hear that Al Qaeda is sticking to its tried and true strategies rather than trying to invent new methods of causing mayhem. [Unless this is an Al Qaeda prank?–ed. Yes, that’s been suggested.] The last paragraph shows that they are trying to innovate within a chosen strategy. However, this is more manageable to defend against than something completely different. This variant is also less deadly than the 9/11 attacks, as Captain Ed points out. 2) The Vegas gambit confirms something I wrote a year ago about Al Qaeda’s strategy — that their enemy is not just the United States, but the pursuit of happiness that is a vital component of the American — nay, Western — ethos. Here’s what I said about the appropriate U.S. response:
[M]any pundits criticized President Bush for his exhortation last year to fight the war on terrorism by going shopping. Both Democrats and “national greatness” Republicans said that was the time to marshall Americans towards some greater collective goal. I sympathize with this response, but it smacks of an attempt to match Al Qaeda in their humorless puritanism. I say Bush didn’t go far enough in the other direction. Given Al Qaeda’s current predelictions, the best way to fight the war on terror is to put our decadent brand of hedonism on full display. So my advice is to take a long, luxuriant vacation.
UPDATE: The Associated Press (link via here) reports that U.S. officials are ticked that the story is now public:
The flights scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday were called off because of information obtained “in the framework of the French-American fight against terrorism,” the French prime minister’s office said. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security had been meeting with French officials in recent days over concerns about a possible terrorist attack over the Christmas holiday. One U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. government had been trying to keep the negotiations with France confidential, “hoping that we would be able to lure some of these people in.” The official said there was some frustration within the Department of Homeland Security that the flights were canceled, thus allowing the word to get out about the security concerns.
For those inclined to blame the French for this, look at the NBC story again — it looks like U.S. officials were leaking a day before any action was taken.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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