LONDON - British authorities said Thursday they thwarted a terrorist plot to simultaneously blow up 10 aircraft heading to the U.S. using explosives smuggled in hand luggage, averting what police described as "mass murder on an unimaginable scale."What's so unimaginable about that? Ten airliners stuffed to capacity is about 5000 people. How is that unimaginable? 9/11 was about 3000. Genocides go in the millions. To call that "unimaginable" shows a lack of imagination.
Other early reports are describing the plot as follows:
The plot had been in the works for months, and its goal was horrific. One after another, planes would have exploded in the sky, sending hundreds of men, women and children to their deaths.Horrific, certainly. "The Big One," not even close. I'll give three reasons:
Counterterrorism officials said Thursday the plan thwarted in London appears to bear the fingerprints of al-Qaida, and may even have been "the Big One" they have been dreading since Sept. 11, 2001, particularly as the five-year anniversary of the attacks on the United States approaches.
- The death toll wouldn't be much higher than 9/11.
- Property damage would be much smaller than 9/11. A new commercial airplane goes for about $250 million. So 10 airplanes are $2.5 billion and change. That's not much compared to 4 airplanes, two skyscrapers, and a chunk of the Pentagon, to say nothing of the economic impact of 9/11 associated with the loss of the ability to generate economic activity in New York City after 9/11. (See this report for a discussion.)
- Most importantly for terrorists, there would be little to no sensational video. To match 9/11, they would need to be on a par with airplanes smashing into buildings, those buildings collapsing, and innocent people jumping from those buildings to their deaths. How are they going to get that with detonations over the Atlantic? Would they risk the mission by waiting until the planes were on approach over the Eastern Seaboard? I doubt it.