Fate is turning me into Crooked Timber’s airline correspondent. One moment I’m calling for the right to use my mobile phone in flight; the next I’m forced to contemplate having no carry on luggage on my flight. I presume that will be one of the consequences of the terror plot apparently uncovered in Britain, which, if there is anything to it (which, despite initial cynicism, there may well be), strongly suggests that however much is spent on pre-screening carry on baggage, there is no way to stop terrorists collectively carrying on enough ingredients to make a bomb in flight.
I am generally a hawk on terrorism, not least as a consequence of being in NY on 9/11. I hope I will be able to congratulate the British police on good work in this instance – and that they keep up that good work. But I wish I felt more confident that this is the case.
Of course, pre-emptive action is better than cleaning up afterwards, and proving that pre-emption actually was needed is inevitably difficult. But British politicians and the police, in particular, do seem sometimes to react in an especially heavy handed way when they pre-empt. (The killing of the Brazilian electrician last summer being the most glaring example.) If they have been tracking the current plot for some time, surely they could have phased in changes in check-in and pre-screening earlier, in ways that avoided the massive disruption to flights we have seen today. I find myself wondering if today’s disruption is deliberate, to send a message – though to whom, and what it is, I’m not sure.
There is surely also a need for some genuinely independent scrutiny of the police and government action with regard to alleged terrorist plots, especially given how few of the plot-arrest headlines actually seem to result in trials. That would make me more confident that something is going on here that is more than political grandstanding and career protection.
But the bigger point today, of course, is that rumours of terrorist plots, and actual plots, are going to remain a fact of life, the authorities have a huge and difficult responsibility that I do ot envy them, and we have only started to see how living with that fact is going to effect how we all go about our daily business. Dammit.