Less Than Meets The Eye
I'm getting on a plane in a few days, and I'm not relishing the thought of the wait in the airport beforehand. I normally allow about 90 minutes; this week, I'm going to try to arrive a good three hours early. The reason, of course, is the new set of screening rules arising from the arrest this last week of a group in the UK apparently prepping to unleash a wave of airplane bombings.
Unfortunately, the old adage that the first reports are always wrong holds true yet again.
As more details of the arrest emerge, the more things don't quite add up. My best friend, Mike, who lives in London, pointed me to a blog post by the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray. His essay detailed the reasons why the terror plot may well turn out to be not nearly as frightening as it first appeared:
Unlike the great herd of so-called security experts doing the media analysis, I have the advantage of having had the very highest security clearances myself, having done a huge amount of professional intelligence analysis, and having been inside the spin machine.
So this, I believe, is the true story.
None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn't be a plane bomber for quite some time.
In the absence of bombs and airline tickets, and in many cases passports, it could be pretty difficult to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt that individuals intended to go through with suicide bombings, whatever rash stuff they may have bragged in internet chat rooms.
Moreover, the main source of information about this group -- which had been under surveillance for a year, without any signs showing up that a bombing run was imminent -- was someone wanted in the UK for murder but captured and "interrogated" in Pakistan.
Does this mean that the UK suspects are innocent? Not at all. As Ron Suskind's powerful and depressing The One Percent Doctrine illustrates, folks operating under the al Qaeda brand have assembled some pretty awful tools for terror, and intelligence services foiled a very similar plot to use liquid explosives against aircraft over a decade ago. It does mean, however, that the presumption of innocence at the center of the Western legal tradition remains relevant, and that all official announcements, especially those presented without evidence, should be treated skeptically.
This points to a conundrum for those of us who try to think seriously about what tomorrow might hold. Very often, events transpire at such a pace that we need good analysis and strategic foresight now if we're to respond intelligently to emerging changes -- but information about recent events, especially those with a strong political element, is all too often dangerously inaccurate. This is why there's no such thing as a finished scenario or foresight-based strategy, only temporarily stable ones. Useful futurism must undergo a process of constant iteration and redrafting, as more information -- and more accuracy about existing information -- becomes available.
Our insights into the future are perpetually in beta.