NEW YORK (Reuters) - Four people, including a former member of Guyana's parliament, have been charged with planning to blow up New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, U.S. officials said on Saturday.That's a pretty dubious claim, of course, but to say a billion dollars in damage and a few hundred lives lost, not to mention disruption of national air travel for several weeks, would not be out of line.
This was "one of the most chilling plots imaginable," Roslynn Mauskopf, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said at a news conference in New York. "The devastation that would be caused ... is just unthinkable."
The plotters sought to blow up the airport's jet fuel tanks and part of the 40-mile (64-km) pipeline feeding them from New Jersey. Three of the four suspects, who included a former airline cargo handler, have been arrested, federal law enforcement officials said.
In a recorded conversation one suspect predicted there would be few survivors and that the attacks would result in the destruction of "the whole of Kennedy."
Targets in the airport plot included terminal buildings, aircraft and fuel tanks, as well as the fuel pipeline to the airport. Pipeline operator Buckeye Partners L.P. said it had been cooperating with authorities since the investigation started in January 2006.(Full disclosure: I have certain investments with Buckeye, which is part of the Carlyle Group)
Spokesman Roy Haase declined to comment on security measures but said speculation the plotters hoped to destroy large parts of the pipeline were unrealistic, since any damage would be confined to the area where fuel leaked and the pipeline was almost entirely underground.
"There's no oxygen in the pipeline. It's completely full of liquid and you need oxygen for ignition," Haase said.
The tanks themselves blowing up would have been the biggest concern, of course, as well as any above ground piping and hoses that lead from them. Since fueling operations are generally done as passengers off-load and re-load, minimal passenger deaths would have resulted if any planes had been affected at all.
This does, however, expose a huge hole in America's philosophy in battling terror crimes: waging a war against whom you believe to be the most likely adversary comes nowhere close to preventing terror attacks, full stop. Moreover, waging a war that can easily be painted as a "Crusade" (and you'd think those master media manipulators would have thought this aspect out a little better) is not going to ensure your adversaries will all gather in one place to battle you.
In fact, if anything, by having such a bloody-minded focus on one place, you allow all sorts of flanking manuevers and indeed, every year since 2002, we've seen more terror attacks in more places killing more people, and that's after factoring out Iraq and Afghanistan from the statistics.
The one-percent theory-- you know, that we have to be right 100% of the time, but if terrorist are right even once out of a hundred, we lose-- is a bit of a farce, as well, when applied here. The Iraq invasion increases the likelihood that we will be wrong, and fairly frequently.
What should have happened after September 11-- find Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants, roll them up, bring them to a trial-- would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives, made many more friends out of our potential adversaries, prevented any number of plots around the world, and garnered the good will of a world grateful to see that the big bully can keep his gun in his holster.
What I see in the Islamist world is not an organized state of war, but ad hoc cells itching for revenge against us. Those would all have gone away as the cells realized there was no safe haven for them anywhere to operate with the blind eye of local governments.
Would there still be terror attacks? Sure, but fewer and smaller scale, with less financial support and emotional blessings attached, which means more chance of catching them before they strike. And truly, we could have established a coalition of the willing to create strike forces that by treaty could stop terrorist attacks anywhere, because who wants Sharm el-Sheik to happen in their backyard?
Led by America's vast and unnecessary military power, we could easily have signed up countries frm Lebanon to Indonesia to Mexico and Canada in the blink of an eye, anyone of whom could invite us in to deal with terorist cells.
What happened after September 11 has only left America exhausted, vulnerable, and morally bereft at a time we can ill afford to have our flaws examined by the entire world, as our star begins to wane and other stars rise to replace us at the top.
And now we have what we have.