back to article Trouser-bomb clown attacks - how much should we laugh?

As the smoke clears following the case of Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, the failed Christmas Day "underpants bomber" of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 fame, there are just three simple points for us Westerners to take away. First: It is completely impossible to prevent terrorists from attacking airliners. Second: This does not …

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Black Helicopters

Forget the tinfoil hat!

Where are my tinfoil knickers??

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That's awesome!

'Heathrow was reduced to giggling chaos this afternoon when a passenger was found to have written 'Fuck You Alan Johnson' across his buttocks in magnetic poetry'.

And getting hold of the image would be the best DPA request ever made.

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Problem

Even most of the new security measures brought in after 9/11 aren't "needed" in a sense, because the awareness of what a hijacked plane can do will make passengers and pilots behave differently.

One post noted that part of the cause for the paucity of successful terrorist attacks is that al-Qaeda is being kept busy. But there's another missing piece of the puzzle.

Now that al-Qaeda has shown us how it's done, it is not beyond a stretch of the imagination that some man, distraught because his wife has left him, will decide to go out with a bang. Without tight security, there could be enough such attempts for one to succeed.

The terrorists, when not kept busy, may look for other force multipliers becides airplanes. Some news stories questioned whether India did enough to investigate the possibility that Soviet agents, rather than Union Carbide, were really responsible for the Bhopal disaster. Deliberately causing something like that is very likely to be one possible plan they're investigating.

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re: Fighter planes

But denies the terrorists the far greater potential kill count, should they crash the airplane into a building packed with people.

When worst comes to worst, it's better to shoot it down over uninhabited areas than to let it fly into a highly populated region and kill hundreds or even thousands more.

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Birdseed

Who needs a bomb? Just throw out birdseed around the airports, and then wait. What happens? Birds are attracted to the birdseed, silly. Birds get sucked into the engines. Down goes the jet, or at least various flight travel plans are disrupted because an engine is out. Bird strikes can be quite a problem.

But of course, that isn't as glamorous as a big, firey explosion. Which is why the terrorists want big, firey explosions.

As for IRA terrorists being on-the-ball, there was a TV program back in appx 1996 about the IRA. All of us at work happened to watch it, and we all decided that any of us could do a far better job than any of that lot, and it was a good thing that intelligent people went into lucrative careers, rather than hang out with losers and kill people for sport.

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Pint

"fighter pilots"

I think that's exactly what we need. Fighter pilots with the guts to shoot. Should be one in every plane actually, taking out the terr'ists with the HK417 in his right hand while emergency-landing the plane with his left hand alone (and without even looking). Awesome.

Oh wait. That was not what you meant, was it?

Cheers

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Coat

@Vincent Ballard

"I would have thought that to be a great outcome from the terrorists' point of view. Having the plane shot down kills as many people as blowing it up and probably causes far more political (and diplomatic) rumpus"

Not really. More like <600 mixed (I some non US citizens) Vs 4500 from the good ol US of A.

No contest really.

Ever wondered fhwt the phrase "The needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few."

You can guess what DVD's in my side pocket.

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My only question is ... and a side note.

Why in the fuck are we spending so damn much money on machines to find explosives? Any scent hound can be trained to sniff out explosives, and the shelters are full of them! For a couple thousand dollars in food, water, vet bills, and training I'll give you a machine that you can not (that's CAN NOT!) get explosives past. The fact that you'll have a wonderful family pet is just gravy.

And as a side note, the completely pants bomber didn't have a weapon of mass destruction.He had a weapon of ASS destruction ... which became a weapon of mass distrAction.

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sniffer dogs

Maybe there's some sort of chemical that can mask the odours in the same "register". For all I know (and I don't), something as low tech as crushed nettle leaves might do the trick.

On a related topic, though, I wonder if any risk assessment data has been published for the expected rate of cancer increase due to use of x-ray scanners in airports. I would guess that even if the numbers are very, very low, there's a distinct possibility that they could cause more loss of life than they're supposed to prevent. Of course, as the article suggests, a lot of these security measures don't really make sense anyway.

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@AC 00:53

"Maybe there's some sort of chemical that can mask the odours in the same "register"."

Nobody, ever, has been able to fool the dogs I train. And they keep trying.

Drugs, explosives, cadavers, live humans, bones, all have very specific scents to a dog.

Try to remember, when you drive past a hamburger joint with your dog, he doesn't smell toasted bread, cooking meat and deep fried potatoes ... He smells the wheat in the bun, the canola in the bun, the yeast in the bun, the ethanol in the bun (and assorted sugars, esters, fusals, aldehydes and occasionally methyl mercaptin in the less reputable outfit's offerings). He also smells the beef cooking, and the pork fat in the bacon (along with the corresponding individual various sugars caramelizing into their components as a result of the Maillard reaction). He smells the individual components of the pickling spices in the pickle, and the different chlorophyll in the pickles, lettuce and tomato. I could go on (vinegar varietal in the ketchup, the bird the eggs came from to make the aioli, and the lemon and mustard varietals in same, the milk (or lack thereof) in the cheese, etc. ...) but I'll spare you.

Trust me, dogs can sniff out explosives and their not-so-explosive components far better than any machine made by man can. You can't fool them in any way that isn't immediately apparent to the observer.

Today I heard on the news one explanation, from Dianne Feinstein: Apparently the .gov thinks that having dogs around to sniff out explosives in people's knickers is somehow "intrusive" ... As if a rather severe matron, hair pulled back tighter than a chavette's, white latex gloves at the ready, going over my nether regions in search of ... whatever ... is somehow less intrusive? (I was transferring from a Chicago flight at Denver, heading for San Francisco last week.) Yeah, sure, right, Dianne.

Face it folks, the .gov is either full of shit, or they have drunk the coolaid. Or both.

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Sniffer dogs

I believe you can't (easily) confuse/trick a sniffer dog as their sense of smell is highly developed, but surely you can mask it entirely with a strong odour (chilli, peppers?) in same the way that despite our superior vision we can't read the number plate of an oncoming car if its headlights are on.

Wait and see, next we'll be banned from wearing aftershave/perfume/deodorant when flying.

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@Fatty

Nope. Not even the proverbial "ground coffee", as much loved by Hollywood. Dogs are capable of sorting it all out, essentially focusing on whatever specific scents you train them to alert on. Mythbusters tried with all the variations you mention, including dousing Adam with perfume (aftershave? I don't remember), the dog still had no trouble tracking him. Works with explosives, too. Basically, you train the dog to ignore everything except what you want them to tell you about.

Once the dog is properly trained to alert on <substance(s)>, you cannot mask it. Not in any way that wouldn't be immediately suspicious, anyway. One of the police dog training areas here in the BayArea has half an ounce of plastic explosives buried under about a foot of concrete, in the middle of a driveway. Most of the dogs alert on it.

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Pint

I liked the text...

"But people who are willing to kill innocents en masse as a primary goal are fairly rare birds.". I might be mistaken but that actually sounds like somebody talking UP humans for a change - good. Hmmm? I guess I'll never get a look oot a pilots window now. Waah, waah, moan - Jim'll fix it maybe?

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Heart

Can we get an icon specifically for Lewis Page fanbois/girlz?

That way we wouldn't have to type out how much we love, admire, and agree with everything he writes every time he writes a new article.

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Happy

Darwin award?

Well, someone's got to ask!

Did he do enough damage to himself to qualify for a Darwin award?

(i.e.did he remove himself from the gene pool?)

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Highly likely ...

... even if he didn't toast his tackle to the point of no return, he is unlikley ever to see the outside outside of a prison this side of total senility. Chances of reproduction are. therefore, very slim!

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Anonymous Coward

Drip, drip, drip

Mr Page regards the attack as a failure because the bomb didn't / couldn't go off. Au contrair, the attack was a magnificent success. Look at the panic, the hysteria, the money wasted on futile high-tech machinery, the further degradation of us 'citizens'. All for a few thousand pounds in cost. Look at the return on investment of the 9/11 attack - 19 blokes, a million dollars in costs (generous estimate) and the yanks have spent hundreds of billions, possibly trillion ultimately, on futile folly in Afghanistan and Iraq, now Somalia and Yemen. And that's just the US. Keep dribbling the intrusions through and eventually we will be bled dry financially and enslaved by our own leaders and our own stupidity. The March of Folly is eternal.

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The attack WAS a failure

It is only the government using the attack as fodder to increase surveillance that makes it a success. It is only the media's morbid interest in anything remotely scary that can be printed or broadcast that makes it important.

Which clearly means that our governments are the true terrorists. Bin Laden & Co are giggling with glee in their Hilton suite - uh, cave. They spend, oh, $2000 telling fibs to an idiot and let him fool around with moderately dangerous, inexpensive components, and our enlightened leaders budget $20,000,000 to "improve" our security.

The true terrorism is economic, and we're doing the job on ourselves.

Winston Churchill would round up the lot of them and have them shot in the backyard for treason, no trial required.

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WMD in pants

Perhaps that's why they didn't find Saddam's "Weapons of Mass Destruction"? - they were probably in his underpants!

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Coat

The bomb didn't have to work to be successful

The whole point is to have people and governments running scared. You don't actually have to blow anything up to do this, its optional (and probably the reason why the attempt was made during the end of the flight -- if the plain disappeared over the Atlantic like the Air France one did who's to know it was a bomb?).

The biggest deterrent to a wannabe terrorist is the certain knowledge that they're quite likely to get torn to pieces by the rest of the passengers.

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Bravo Lewis!

Whilst I may not agree with a lot of what you write, in this article you have hit the nail squarely on the head.

Those who are implementing and carrying out the Security Theatre are not interested in the real risks involved, they just want to be seen to be Doing Something in order to justify their "need" for greater powers and more money in order to build their personal empires a bit bigger.

Several of the possible threats you mention are ones that I have thought up myself as potential attack methods and I don't even have the background you do, just an interest in science and a knowledge of how people think (or don't think!) so we're left with the conclusion that either a) the terrorists have nobody with any brains to think of these things or b) they have thought of them, but simply do not have anyone able or willing to carry them out.

I know which my money is on...

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Anonymous Coward

Not laughing?

Really, I've hardly stopped, although my initial laughter at the complete munter of a bomber has been subsequently equalled by the humour of the headless chicken response.

If you're doing this for a 'cause', surely you'd really want a PR fallback position if it went titsup, whereby you'd end up some sort of moderately dignified martyr, who, whether dead or jailed, would have people printing your image on posters of saying a prayer of thanks for your sacrifice. But I can't imagine them queuing in the aisles to piously give thanks in memory of how you gloriously ended up with your cacks and wedding tackle painfully ablaze at 20,000 feet. Damage to western imperialism; one slightly scorched blanket. Does god even allow people that fucking useless access to one slightly soiled and dubious virgin, let alone the full Gods Little Warrior retirement package?

Along with the Arsehole Bomber and the brain dead Richard Reid, I don't think Mutallab will be sitting anywhere near the right hand of god, who surely has at least some standards.

In the same vein, I doubt any of the three will be much use as material in recruiting more muppets for potential self-detonation; nothing to show but a scorch mark that could be mistaken for a skid mark and a lifetime of enforced sexual activity of the kind generally proscribed by religious scholars hardly qualifies as "glorious".

But funniest of all is the "why"; trying to take the lives of several hundred people inspired by the medieval equivalent of a 419 scam is just plain humorous.

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Coffee/keyboard

#include <requiredtitle>

"inspired by the medieval equivalent of a 419 scam"

Phrase of the year so far.

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Grenade

Soon to be available on Amazon.com...

"The Autoerotic Manual for Fapping with PETN, Sulpuric Acid and Fire"

by Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab

"How to Imitate Headless Poultry, While Shutting the Barn Door After the Equine Occupants Have Escaped", offical DHS PR manual on managing unknown attacks by preventing prior attacks.

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Pint

Excellent article

This was an excellent article. Now I will simply link people to this, rather than arguing with republicans.

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11/9

Just because I find it annoying when us British continue using an American date order.

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9/11

We get to name it, because it happened in the United States.

Remember, names are just convenient handles to describe something. If you talk to anyone, anywhere about the 11/9 events, they will look at you blankly. Talk to the same people about 9/11 and they will know exactly what you are talking about.

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Happy

Yeah!

They're talking about a back-heavy German sports car!

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@AC 18:31

"They're talking about a back-heavy German sports car!"

Sorry, but "9/11 events" does not equal "penis compensation", no matter how you look at it.

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Happy

Naah...

It's an emergency phone number, innit?

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tangentially

@Lewis. an article on the viability of dirty bombs/dimethylmercury at major sporting events and why hasn't that happened yet(?) and when would it be apparent, given the apparent lack of joined up thinking we do in this country? or is that just a cunning ploy: 'we're too dis-organised as a country to spot it ' but really we're sh1t hot..

just your perspective would be entertaining..

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WTF?

Odd, isn't it?

How someone managed to pay for a flight to the US in cash, board with no luggage and make his way through all the 'security' before trying to set fire to himself on the plane.

And the very next day, the genuine privacy issues surrounding these body scanners are swept aside with one fell swoop and we will all be subject to them.

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Lovely

Great article.. something people should already know, but you laid it out just right.

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Joke

Pants bomber jokes

Right on Lewis, as usual. We need some 'pants bomber' jokes. I offer these poor attempts in the hopes that someone with a real sense of humour will improve on them:

q: What's the preferred brand of underwear for terrorists?

a: Fruit of the BOOM!

How stupid do you have to be to show up in heaven for your 72-virgin payoff having blown off the equipment?

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boom boom

Check out first post on page 1 of this thread. That should tickle your testes.

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Anonymous Coward

Must have had an MBA

"Engineering with Business Finance" --- Probably had an MBA, in which case he was sure to be incompetent.

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Insightful

I follow many "papers of record" various "well regarded alternative news sources", and this is the most insightful, in depth and realistic take on this issue I've seen.

Interesting the register decided to write about security policy issues, glad you did.

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Well done.

Did i mention i laughed when i read the news?

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Joke

for the todd

I got a weapon of mas destrcution IN MY PANTS

exploisive 5

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FAIL

security is pants

i inadvertantly carried 2 liters of water throught a US airport in a bladerpack of a backpack it went through 4 times as there were some wire cutters in aside pocket(also forgotten about).

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IT Angle

anti terrorism act

hmmm, i note the disclaimer at the end of the article...however the ATA specifies:

>providing instruction or training in the use of firearms, explosives or chemical, biological or nuclear weapons

that Act doesnt specify how much training or how EFFECTIVE the training needs to be - I think just giving someone the right direction to go in and a suitable method might be enough to find someone in trouble. hope the Reg towers are clear of any interesting chemicals this afternoon! ;-)

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Who benefits?

Lewis,

great article.

You forgot the key results:

Tabloid TV gets more advertising revenue

'Security experts' get paid more commissions. They naturally conclude that you need more security, guaranteeing their existence

The defence [sic] industry makes more money from selling overpriced scanners

Government ministers line up another company to whose board they will shortly be sitting (come May this year)

Government gets to collect more data on its citizens

I'll get my coat...

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Benefits 'Industry'

It's so effective that you wonder why some government somewhere doesn't 'fake' an attack, as the 'benefit's' that accrue from hugely increased security budgets, identity cards and databases, and the ability to use the 'Distracting the Masses Weapon' are huge.

Naaahhh, they wouldn't do that, would they?

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@Security is pants

So let me get this right then, you carried your 4 litres (liters (for harmonious reg posting)) of water and wire cutters around the US and I got stopped for putting a half litre bottle of water I bought at the airport shop which they sealed in a bag so I could take it on the plane when I last flew to the Czech Republic......

US need to get some better scanners/staff it seems.

BTW - Notice I said to the Czech Republic, I also remember flying back from the Czech Republic once with my wife and sister-in-law a couple of years ago when they found a cutlery set in my sister-in-law's bag which had been given to her as a gift. The security personnel found it and said she couldn't take it on the plane, so she told them to throw it away. They gave it back to her and told her to put it at the bottom of her bag. I couldn't believe it, but she just shrugged and said we are Czech we won't throw anything away....

I guess if there had been any terrorists on that plane then at least we could have taken them on with our knives and forks!

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Well done, Lewis

One thing Lewis didn't mention, but I'm guessing he's well aware of, is that the trash who embark on such pointless (because yes, it is pointless) slaughter have been as obsessed with creating 'prestigious' events as the Provos were, once upon a time. ('Spectaculars', as they're known.)

Thus the spectactularly cretinous Christmas Day bomber was aiming to do just that: not merely blow up the plane, but blow it up close to an urban area.

But a swing away from the 'spectacular' is now more likely than not.

Currently, the only thing that increased airport security will achieve is to ensure that even more people are gathered together in one specific place. That doesn't add up to an appropriate context for the kind of "spectaculars" so long in vogue, but it's as equally lethal to human life and international commerce.

Of course, trying to even hint at that to po-faced security guards earning overtime checking out all those potential terrorists on a Thos Cook flight to Malaga is pointless: make 'em queue; make 'em group together all in one place -- whoa-hey, that's the way to ensure everyone's safe!

Centuries ago it was the case that an entire population could be made pliant either by whispering 'Papist Plotters' or even 'Bonaparte is coming'

Nowadays all that's necessary for any totalitarian regime to achieve the destruction of individual liberty is to spread fear and terror about exploding underpants.

And unbelievably, it's 2010 now.

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FAIL

RE: Peacenik

"I think you'l find that after the USS Cole was attacked the Clinton administration had a pretty full-on bombing campaign against training camps in Afganistan. That was only brought to a close when that famous peacenik George Walker Bush took power in 2001. That's when Bin Lauden was given the space to dream up his jolly 9/11 japes!

Actually, Bill became prez in 1993, the year before the Taliban started their rise to power in Afghanistan. In his first term, his administration stood by and did nothing whilst the Taliban and their AQ chums set about dragging the country into the dark ages, much like Carter did with Iran. In his second term, when not spilling sauce on Ms Lewinsky's dress, he botched three clear opportunities by insisting that the CIA had to kidnap Bin Laden, not kill him, before finally trying to hide the Monica affair by generating some headlines by firing cruise missiles at known (and often deserted) AQ camps and villages. The latter were often selected as targets upon ISI advice, the last being not very smart as the ISI had just spent ten years cultivating and developing the Taliban and AQ in the Pakistani madrassas. This was even worse considering that he had refused to act on good intel supplied by the Sudanese (who were seriously worried that the US was going to push for an UN force to topple their regime), despite this giving good info later used to target AQ in Kenya and Somalia. Instead, Clinton insisted the CIA share everything with the same ISI people helping AQ plan their way round US security.

When Bush Jr got in the completely ineffective bombing offensive was already over. At that point, planning and preparations for the 9/11 attacks was already complete, and Clinton's misdirection of the CIA had left the vital clues that could have prevented the attack undetected.

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Joke

As Benny said

The odds against there being a bomb on a plane are a million to one, and against two bombs a million times a million to one. Next time you fly, cut the odds and take a bomb.

— Benny Hill

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Comedy gold

Another breath of fresh air from Lewis

If we don't laugh at these fools (preferably reporting their antics with the Benny Hill chase theme playing in the background) and instead we act terrified, then the terrorists have achieved their goal: terror.

So come on news media, next time an idiot sets his wig on fire in an attempt to scare people, get the canned laughter track out. And the PMs/Presidents should get their best scriptwriters to craft some oneliners, rather than the ponderous "we will not be defeated" line.

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@JSP - comedy gold

unfortunately there's more money to be made in scaring than there is in fun

at least for people with governmental links & especially tabloid media (as well as most other media)

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