MI5 looking for a Needle in the Haystack

The Xmas Day "Al Qaeda" terror attack on a transatlantic flight bound for Detroit is an interesting one.  Awful for those on the flight, of course, and my heart goes out to them for the fear they must have experienced.

But which are the governments most staunch in their prosecution of the war on terror?  Let's call them the "Axis of Good"…..

The USA, the UK, and the Netherlands.

So it must be just nuts to them that the immediately identifiable Al Qaeda terrorist is reported to be a Nigerian-born UK engineering student who is flying via Schiphol airport in NL to the USA.  Even better, he acquired his "bomb" in Yemen – interestingly, a country that is under increasing assault by the US military at the moment. 

This ticks a number of useful national security boxes, reminding us what a threat our nations face. 

The alleged terrorist is reported to have been on the watch list of the US security apparatus, but not on the "no fly" list – which is unverifiable anyway, but reportedly contains the names of over a million people. So yet another break-down in this unwieldy security system.

Airport-securityWe already have a situation where all citizens of the US, UK and NL are effectively treated like criminals every time they take a plane, as well as everyone else attempting to fly into these countries.  However, this incident has demonstrated that the security around flying is not just a slow irritant – a "Big Brother Lite" with its stupid restrictions around liquids, maquillage, shoes, belts and laptops – it has been dramatically shown not to work.

Identifying potential terrorists is like looking for a needle in a haystack.  This has become an establishment cliche these days: the terrorists have to be lucky only once, and the security services have to be constantly lucky to stop an attack.  The odds are acknowledged to be impossible. 

What used to be agreed within British and other European spook circles is the view that the best intelligence comes from tricky-to-run human sources.  They may have their flaws, but they can occasionally provide precise and lifesaving intelligence. The US approach has long been diametrically opposed to this approach – instead they sit back and hoover up every scrap of information via data mining and hope to sieve something out of it.  They then tend to respond with whizz-bang, hands-off gadgetry, much like a deadly video game.

So, that said, let's make two guesses how this new attack will be interpreted and used by our governments and security forces:

1) They admit that they need to reassess their approach to the "war on terror".

2) Focus on ever more draconian data mining measures at the point of travel – whether they work or not, whether they slide us ever nearer a police-state or not – until we are effectively prisoners in our own countries. 

A difficult prediction for 2010. 

The final annoyance will, at least from a personal perspective, be that they now ban the carrying of powders as well as liquids on board a flight.  If they stop me travelling with my Max Factor, that's it.  Trains only in the future.

Happy New Year!