Anyone with any sense should mock this as hard as possible. The “shorter” seems to be that British (and probably other) counter-terrorism officials have convinced themselves that some of the constant false-positive results from baggage scanning are really deliberate reconnaissance by terrorists. The evidence presented is pathetically thin – apparently someone had both a BlackBerry and its USB charger in their bag, and the charger cable was wound round a bottle of gripe water. Who travels with a mobile device without bringing the battery charger?
This is worrying for all the obvious reasons – it shows that they are rationalising the false positive problem by defining-down the very idea of a suspect package, to the point where there is no real distinction between a suspect package and a non-suspect package. But the problem is broader than that. Consider the last few Al-Qa’ida incidents. All of them have been, objectively, pathetic. The common denominator has been failure mixed with futility. Terrorists who regularly and publicly fail to kill people or destroy artefacts are simply not terrifying. But the official narrative has been that this represents a “new form of terrorism”. For example:
Abdaly’s bombs may represent a new type of jihadist attack in the west. In terms of sophistication, it is at the opposite end of the scale from 9/11. But al-Qaida has failed to land a serious blow on western soil since the 2005 London bombings. Experts say they may be trying a new tack: calling on supporters to attack westerners at will, with whatever tools are at hand.
If this is a new form of terrorism, it’s nothing but good news, as it strongly suggests that the highly competent and ruthless agents of international Al-Qa’ida are a thing of the past, replaced by a new kind of terrorist I propose to call the DICKHEADS, for Desperate, Incompetent, Converts, Kids, Harmless, Economically insignificant, Aimless, Disconnected, and Suicidal.
Desperate – Recent terrorist plots show every sign of desperation. The Stockholm bomber had a bomb that probably wouldn’t go off properly, which he attempted to place somewhere where he realistically needed much more explosive and shrapnel to achieve a real massacre. The printer-cartridge plot amounted to sending some stuff off in air freight and blindly hoping it would explode in a passenger plane at some point. The underpants bomber…what can I say?
Hijacking a flight of fully fuelled Boeing 767s and crashing them into the New York skyline and the headquarters of the US defence establishment is a convincing and terrifying plot. Blowing up the Golden Mosque of Samarra in order to start a religious war in Iraq, in the hope of forcing one side to ally with you, is a convincing and deadly plot. Assassinating Abdel Aziz al-Hakim in order to forestall a stable political settlement in Iraq – that’s terrorism. Pants? No. Pathetic and desperate.
Incompetent – You thought the plans were poor, but that’s as nothing to the execution. Time after time, the DICKHEADS fail to explode. Even though the printer cartridges were well concealed, they failed the primary test of a bomb. They didn’t go bang. The pants bomber crazily attempted to mix his explosives at the point of use, set himself on fire, and made such a spectacle of himself he would have been restrained before doing anything even if he’d got the mixture right. The Stockholm bomber did actually have a nail bomb that worked, and he’d have done better simply to come on foot and chuck it into a crowd, but this apparently didn’t occur to him.
Converts – It is notable that in many cases, even the sources of ideological legitimacy now seem to be iffy converts, sort-of Muslims. The same goes for some of the terrorists. These people are no Sayyid Qutb.
Kids – It’s also notable that there don’t seem to be many Mohammed Attas or even Mohammed Sidique Khans these days. Instead, the DICKHEADS seem to include a lot of people of limited experience of the world, lacking in competence at anything much, without being obviously fit, energetic, or aggressive enough to start a good teenage riot. The nadir, so far, was the mentally ill not-really-a-Muslim who was persuaded to set fire to his trousers in a chain pub in Exeter. As Chris Morris says, Four Lions is very nearly a documentary.
Harmless – In the light of this, I’m quite convinced that the jihadi movement off its home turf is now essentially harmless. Its intentions are fantastic and its capability pathetic. The English Defence League for example, which has a well defined organisation, a support base willing to fight with cops, and members who know real honest-to-goodness criminals, is probably more worrying on a day to day basis. Terrorism is boring: let’s all go home and get on with life.
Economically insignificant – If they can’t get it together to blow up properly, we certainly shouldn’t let them affect our business decisions. The Stockholm bomber’s impact on GDP is certainly less by several orders of magnitude than one day’s heavy snowfall over London.
Aimless – If their operational plans are silly, and their technology and tactics pathetic, their target selection is hilariously awful. Outside the Middle East, they are still yet to even attempt a serious attack on infrastructure other than aircraft, or a single serious attempt to assassinate an individual politician. It can’t be that the security is so formidable – where are the arrests, then?
Disconnected – It does not seem that the proven technology or effective tactics that Al-Qa’ida’s allies in Iraq make use of has spread beyond the Middle East. The DICKHEADS develop in semi-isolation, living on an intellectual diet of rantings and jihad fanboy culture. They are just as effective as you’d expect from that.
Suicidal – In the light of all this, perhaps we should think of them more like those occasional Americans or Germans who go mad and shoot their classmates. There have been some cases where it has been difficult to distinguish the two. There has been some debate about what the social and psychiatric sources of this phenomenon are. I should like to see something similar.
But in general, the lesson here is that we should feel the emotion that the terrorists’ leaders would hate more than anything else: pity. These people are both pathetic, a word that derives from pity, and pitiful. This is worth reading.
Update: If you need help, start here.