"Heathrow Alert" (Editorial de THE WALL STREET JOURNAL)
A lot about yesterday felt eerily familiar. Millions were glued to the news; tens of thousands stranded at airports; airline and other stocks were diving. Except, unlike on that September morning five years ago, no lives were lost, as a massive terrorist plot to kill thousands didn't come off.
More information about the Islamist cell unmasked in Britain will no doubt filter out in coming days and weeks. What little we know offers a timely reminder that free societies face an existential threat like no other. Yesterday's close call also offers an opportunity, without blood having been shed, to get serious about waging a war like no other. In this conflict, success comes in stopping the hostile act before it happens, not reacting once it does, unlike in law enforcement or conventional war. That's a luxury our times can't afford.
Yesterday's events show information is key to victory. British security services for months monitored a large extremist group that reports said was made up of British residents of Pakistani origin, apparently home-grown terrorists just like last year's London train bombers. Twenty-one people were arrested overnight yesterday. The cell allegedly was about to try to sneak explosives in liquid form into carry-on luggage and onto up to a dozen planes bound from London's Heathrow airport for the U.S. "We have disrupted a plan by terrorists . . . to commit, quite frankly, mass murder," Deputy Commissioner of Scotland Yard, Paul Stephenson, said.
Terror knows no borders, so no credible fight can be limited by them. "As is so often the case in these investigations, the alleged plot has global dimensions," said Peter Clarke, the head of Metropolitan Police antiterrorist branch. Officials emphasized how closely the U.S. worked closely with the British. Last night, Pakistani officials said they helped break up the plans, which some reports claimed were drawn up in Pakistan. Both Ramzi Yousef, who tried but failed to bring down 11 American passenger planes over the Pacific in 1995, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who masterminded that plot as well as 9/11, were caught in Pakistan. Neither the source, nor the general notion of simultaneously striking symbolically important targets, has changed.
Yet al Qaeda, if that's who's behind the Heathrow plans, continues to innovate, and we better too. While airport security looked for box cutters of the sort used by hijackers on 9/11, the British group planned to sneak explosives aboard in receptacles like plastic perfume bottles and possibly detonate them with cell phones. The new security rules introduced yesterday that put tough restrictions on carry-on luggage are an unfortunate but necessary response.
But terrorism won't be defeated at the boarding gate. The best tools to accomplish that include covert information sharing -- about passengers or bank accounts -- and data mining. It is also why the U.S. hasn't treated al Qaeda suspects as ordinary prisoners of war, and why it can't rely on its civilian courts to try them. And it's why people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed are held at secret locations and perhaps "water-boarded" to get the most information possible out of them.
Yet these means are rejected by large segments of the European and American political classes -- as an overreaction, as a threat to civil liberties, or worse. A basic divide in Western society today is between those who view terrorism as new threat that must be fought with new means, and those who dismiss it as a law enforcement headache. September 11, Bali, Madrid, London and the other places terrorists have struck in the past five years were supposed to have settled this debate. But memories proved to be short. Yesterday offered the latest wake-up call, this time without tears. Who'll answer it?
Editorial publicado en el diario THE WALL STREET JOURNAL el viernes 11 de agosto de 2006. Por su interés informativo reproducimos íntegramente su contenido.