Parcel Plot Exposes Softness in UK Security

Posted: November 3, 2010 in HSToday
Tags: , , , , , , ,

A new reaction piece to the recent parcel/ink bomb plot out of Yemen for HSToday. Lots more interesting information on this one still to come.

Parcel Plot Exposes Softness in UK Security

by Raff Pantucci

Tuesday, 02 November 2010

UK rushes to tighten up cargo security processes.

Weekend revelations by British Prime Minister David Cameron that the bombs being delivered from Yemen to the United States using the international postal service were meant to blow up in the air have added a further dimension to the already confusing flow of information emerging from the Yemen cargo parcel bomb incident.

The details of how the plot was uncovered are still filtering into the public domain. One report in the British press which was independently corroborated, suggested that one of the first streams for the plot came from a message picked up by GCHQ (Britain’s answer to the National Security Agency), which seemed to suggest that something was afoot. In parallel to this, information reached American and British forces from Saudi Arabia which pointed more specifically to a threat from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). According to the BBC, the Saudi’s intelligence came from information obtained from Jabr al-Faifi, a Saudi Guantanamo returnee who had been through the Saudi de-radicalisation program, returned to the battlefield alongside AQAP, before once again changing his mind and surrendering to Saudi authorities. Information from al-Faifi appears to have also been behind an earlier statement by the French Interior Minister in mid-October that his nation had received a threat warning from the Saudi’s about AQAP targeting “the European continent and France in particular.”

The combination of information from al-Faifi and GCHQ (and doubtless other sources) appears to have provided a rich picture to security forces to go and check a specific package which was tracked down to Dubai airport. It also sent a warning to British police in Leicestershire to go and check the cargo in an airplane at East Midlands Airport outside Nottingham. British police rushed to the scene with sniffer dogs and explosives experts, but were initially unable to find anything until they received specific information about what had been discovered in the Emirates. At this point, they went looking in a more targeted manner and were able to uncover a package which had originated in Yemen and passed through Germany prior to the UK. Similar to its Emirati partner, the parcel was headed for a Jewish institution in Chicago.

The devices, fabricated from PETN and carefully concealed inside printer cartridges, were undetectable by current technology. But it is uncertain when they were primed to go off: initial suspicions were that the target was the Chicago synagogues they were addressed to. The Prime Minister and John Brennan’s comments over the weekend were backed on Monday in Parliament when the Home Secretary Theresa May announced, “the devices were probably intended to detonate mid-air and to destroy the cargo aircraft on which they were being transported.” Disturbingly for security services, it now seems as though the packages may have spent some time on planes filled with passengers as well as freight – meaning a disaster was barely avoided.

While on the one hand British services deserve congratulation, it seems equally clear that there were some flaws in the system which allowed the package onto a plane in the United Kingdom and secondly that police were unable in the first instance to discover the device. As the former police head of counter-terrorism Andy Hayman characterized it to the BBC, “there was some indecision, first the cordons were on, then they were off, then they were on.”

This has led to a tightening of measures announced by the Home Secretary:

• A review of all aspects of air freight security;

• Updating of information given to airport personnel which includes the new relevant information;

• From midnight Monday the suspension of all “unaccompanied” air freight from Yemen and Somalia, and the suspension of printer toner cartridges larger than 500g in hand luggage;

• Finally, the prohibition of “air cargo into, via or from the UK unless they originate from a known consignor – a regular shipper with security arrangements approved by the Department for Transport.”

For Britain this plot exposed some weaknesses in the security blanket, while at the same time highlighting the impressive and effective work that counter-terrorist’s undertake. Nevertheless, the reality remains that the plot was effectively underway when the security services latched onto it. As the Home Secretary put it to the house, “at this stage we have no information to suggest that another attack of a similar type by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is imminent. But this organisation is very active.” It remains to be seen when they are next able to be effective.

 

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Comments
  1. […] Europe, France, parcel bomb, terrorism, UK, Yemen 0 Another new post over at Free Rad!cals again looking at the parcel/ink bomb scare, this time taking a slightly more historical view. Hat tip to James B for his tips on the Al Hayat […]

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