Thursday, September 22, 2016

Security and scavengers

Ahmad Khan Rahami's largely aborted bombing spree in New York and New Jersey last week raises again the question of how How Safe are We? John Mueller and Mark Stewart took a look at that question in August. For all the drama and horror of various incidents, they are not impressed by the terrorist threat.

... In general, the capacities of the people involved are singularly unimpressive. A summary assessment by RAND’s Brian Jenkins is apt: “their numbers remain small, their determination limp, and their competence poor.”

Indeed, most of these plots were at best embryonic or facilitated by infiltrating FBI operatives—as in the case of the Rochester panhandler who planned in the name of ISIS to wreak havoc at a local restaurant (where he had been treated with less than full courtesy) with a machete bought for him at Walmart by one of the three FBI operatives who had formed something of a cell around him. Left on their own, it is certainly possible that a few of the plotters would have been able to get their acts together and actually do something. But it seems unlikely that the total damage would increase by anywhere near enough to suggest that terrorism is something that could justifiably be said to present a threat.

In addition to those prosecuted on terrorism charges, authorities have encountered a considerable number of loud-mouthed aspirational terrorists within the United States, and, lacking enough evidence to convict them on terror¬ism charges, the authorities have levied lesser ones to jail or deport them. For the most part, these plots or aspirations are even less likely to lead to notable violence than the ones that have led to terrorism trials. Further, the bulk of people who are jailed on terrorism-associated prosecutions serve short terms and, accordingly, are soon set free to commit terrorism if they want to do so. Yet, none have attempted to do so.

Nor is it likely that much terrorism has been deterred by security measures. Extensive and very costly security measures may have taken some targets—commercial airliners and military bases, for example—off the list for just about all terrorists. However, no dedicated would-be terrorist should have much difficulty finding other potential targets if the goal is to kill people or destroy property to make a statement—the country is filled with these. ...

Mr. Rahami seems to have been one of the incompetent, thank goodness.

I'm staying these days with an elderly friend, a true New Yorker; her reaction was instinctively dismissive of the whole episode. In her mind, New Yorkers don't flinch. Josh Marshall who lives across from where the Chelsea bomb exploded reports a similar sentiment.

... Returning to our neighborhood and approaching the guarded perimeter I felt a deep-seated pride in the community I live in, pride as a New Yorker. Immediately outside the sealed off perimeter people were going about their business as if nothing had happened. There was no climate of fear, no sense of a community on lock down. People were walking the streets, going to restaurants and bars.

Everyone has their own inner dialogue they use to process these events. But I saw no fear or panic. We can't control everything about the dangers we may face in life but we can choose how we live. I'm proud to be part of this city.

New York neighborhood media hit similar notes about how this went down: it's a very New York story.

MANHATTAN — Leave the bomb, take the bag.

In two separate cases, thieves snatching bags from a city street and a train station inadvertently helped law enforcement get the upper hand in a bomb spree that injured dozens of people and spans both sides of the Hudson River, sources said.

The day Ahmad Khan Rahami allegedly planted two bombs in Chelsea — one of which detonated on West 23rd Street — two thieves accidentally helped to disable his second pressure cooker bomb left inside a rolling suitcase on West 27th Street... The young men, who sources described as being well-dressed, opened the bag and took the bomb out, sources said, before placing the explosive into a garbage bag and walking away with the rolling suitcase.

... Then, on Sunday night, two homeless men snatched a backpack resting atop a trash can near a train station in Elizabeth, [NJ] officials said. “They probably thought there was something of value in that backpack,” said the mayor of Elizabeth, Christian Bollwage.

They started rooting through the bag and found five explosives that officials say are tied to Rahami, prompting them to immediately drop the bag in the middle of the street and alert police, officials said.

"When they opened it up and found the wire and the pipe they immediately walked around the other corner to Elizabeth police headquarters and turned it in," Bollwage said.

Worth remembering, next time you see someone checking out your garbage.


Hattie said...

There is an element of humor here: Don't leave your bombs around or someone will steal them.

janinsanfran said...

Hattie: you got it!

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