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Was the Liquid Bomb Plot Real?
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Kevin Drum points to an AP story that says the prospective bombers hadn't attended terrorist training camps and were relying on information they got from books. So he wonders:

So: was this a serious conspiracy? Or was it like the plot to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge that turned out to be a mentally disturbed dude with a blowtorch? Or the financial district alert in New York City that turned out to be based on information more than three years old? Or the plot to blow up the Sears Tower that turned out to be "more aspirational than operational"? Or Jose Padilla? What news about this plot are we going to discover buried on page A13 a couple of weeks from now?

I won't pretend to know what to think about the way this has been handled. Was it about winning elections? Building public support for draconian security legislation? Plain old bureaucratic incompetence?

Or was it real?

It's right to maintain a certain level of cynicism, but when you're dealing with the lives of hundres of airline passengers, seems to me it's just fine to proceed with an overabundance of caution and give law enforcement the benefit of the doubt.

Imagine if they'd actually foiled the 9/11 hijackers. What would we have? A bunch of young Muslims with box cutters in their bags, only a few of whom had attended a couple of weeks of flight training. How serious, or pathetic, would they have seemed in retrospect?

The reason these people didn't attend terrorist training camps in Afghanistan is because of our actions in Afghanistan. And I wouldn't underestimate knowledge people can get from books or the internet either.

In today's climate, isn't it much wiser to assume the worst, to take people who might seem like relatively incompetant fringe radicals more seriously? Wasn't that our mistake after the first attack on the World Trade Center?

I admit you have to be somewhat cautious, but the important thing here is intent, not perceived capability. A lone, motivated nutjob with a very poor education can do a lot of damage.

Kevin and others are debating the capabilities of the prospective terrorists, but no one is questioning their motivation and intent (at least so far). And that is the far more important factor. How capable were they of actually carrying it out? I care far less about that than the fact that they had set their minds on it and fully desired and expected to carry it out.

If so, lock them up and throw away the key.

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