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The UPS terror plot

This story is still very much unfolding and past experience has taught that it’s dangerous to make too many assumptions about these incidents in the early hours (not that that’s stopping anyone on Cable news right now). But here are two quick observations: The good news: Even by the standards of the underpants-bomber era, sending ...

This story is still very much unfolding and past experience has taught that it's dangerous to make too many assumptions about these incidents in the early hours (not that that's stopping anyone on Cable news right now). But here are two quick observations:

The good news: Even by the standards of the underpants-bomber era, sending bombs by UPS and FedEx from Yemen to a synagogue in Chicago does not strike me as the most sophisticated of plots. Whatever security systems UPS and FedEx have in the sorting facilities seemed to work pretty well in this case and even if they hadn't, I would hope that a strange UPS package from Yemen might arouse some suspicion at most American shuls.

The bad news: Today, law enforcement agencies in several countries were put on high alert, two global corporations -- FedEx and UPS -- had to disrupt services and inspect dozens of packages around the world, Canadian fighter jets were mobilized, passengers on board a completely innocent commercial flight were scared out of their wits, the president of the United States made a statement on TV, the American Jewish community feels increasingly vulnerable, new security measures will be put in place for international shipments for at least a few weeks if not indefinitely, and the U.S. media will spend the next few days talking about the threat from al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula. 

This story is still very much unfolding and past experience has taught that it’s dangerous to make too many assumptions about these incidents in the early hours (not that that’s stopping anyone on Cable news right now). But here are two quick observations:

The good news: Even by the standards of the underpants-bomber era, sending bombs by UPS and FedEx from Yemen to a synagogue in Chicago does not strike me as the most sophisticated of plots. Whatever security systems UPS and FedEx have in the sorting facilities seemed to work pretty well in this case and even if they hadn’t, I would hope that a strange UPS package from Yemen might arouse some suspicion at most American shuls.

The bad news: Today, law enforcement agencies in several countries were put on high alert, two global corporations — FedEx and UPS — had to disrupt services and inspect dozens of packages around the world, Canadian fighter jets were mobilized, passengers on board a completely innocent commercial flight were scared out of their wits, the president of the United States made a statement on TV, the American Jewish community feels increasingly vulnerable, new security measures will be put in place for international shipments for at least a few weeks if not indefinitely, and the U.S. media will spend the next few days talking about the threat from al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula. 

So for the price of two small improvised explosive devices, which I’m guessing is not all that high in Yemen, plus UPS shipping fees, AQIM, or whoever is behind this, probably cost the governments of the United States, Canada, Britain, and the UAE millions of dollars and bought themselves weeks of free publicity.

Even when these guys lose they win.  

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy  Twitter: @joshuakeating

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