This past week the Central Intelligence Agency was able to stop an attempt by Al-Qaeda to bomb a U.S.-bound plan. The plan was for the suicide bomber to wear the latest style in subversive explosive clothing so as to pass through airport security undetected. Al-Qaeda had hoped to wreak havoc on the one year anniversary of the killing of Osama Bin Laden, which was on May 2, reinvigorating terror on the West. It was foiled in the end by a Saudi Arabian intelligence informant who volunteered to deploy the undergarments of terror. This is no doubt a great victory for the U.S. and the War on Terror, however, it reveals that one year after Bin Laden’s assassination, the threat of terrorism still exists and continues to evolve.
FBI Director Robert Mueller, at a congressional hearing about these events, stated clearly that the biggest terrorist threat to the U.S. remains Al-Qaeda, in particular the operations of the organization that exist in the Arabian peninsula, and specifically the country of Yemen. It is clear that the death of Bin Laden did not eliminate Al-Qaeda, but instead changed the means by which they conduct terrorist activity.
In particular it is the types of threats that have and continue to evolve as Al-Qaeda attempts to adapt to security measures put in place to stop them.
The underwear bomb was created to circumvent security measures put in place after the shoe bomb plot to blow up another U.S.-bound plane was foiled, and after increased security measures were implemented in general after the attacks on September 11, 2001.
A previous failed underwear attack was attempted by Al-Qaeda in 2009, and it is for that reason that the TSA does full pat downs today. The latest device may have been designed to be more conspicuous and less noticeable to the touch.
It is clear though, that Al-Qaeda has some weaknesses that prevent them from succeeding with most targeted attacks in the years since 2001. CIA and FBI operations to infiltrate the organization have largely worked. There also appear to be some quality problems with the bombs they make. The explosive device in 2009 fizzled and smoked, but did not explode.
Some experts have predicted that the next step for Al-Qaeda would be to move past the placing of explosives in clothing or other modular devices, and instead hiding them inside body cavities or being ingested by suicide bombers. Just as the terrorists have adapted to security measures laid against them, U.S. authorities must adapt as well. It is clear that the threat from Al-Qaeda persists, and US authorities will have to be just as creative as they are.