Israel predicted Chicago parcel bombs plot

By Anshel Pfeffer, November 4, 2010
Ever ready: Israelis simulating an emergency landing. Cargo planes need the same attention that passenger aircraft get, say security experts

Ever ready: Israelis simulating an emergency landing. Cargo planes need the same attention that passenger aircraft get, say security experts

"We were not aware of the precise timing," said a very senior Israeli security official this week, on the discovery of the two parcel bombs on America-bound cargo planes and addressed to shuls in Chicago, "but the platform and the method they used was certainly no surprise."

The official went on to explain that Yemen is now one of the major sources of international terror operations and that the successful location of the bombs was the result of co-operation between the intelligence services of various countries.

Israeli officials were careful this week not to speak on-record about the Yemeni bombs for two main reasons. The first is traditional - a potential attack against a Jewish community abroad is the responsibility of the government of that country, and while Israeli security services are involved in countering such attacks, they do not want to draw attention to their involvement. The second reason is connected to the source of the intelligence that foiled the attack, the Saudis, and neither side likes to highlight co-operation on those levels.

Unofficially though, veteran security experts in Israel were more forthcoming. "Some airlines and airports do not attach sufficient importance to the possibility of cargo being used for terror purposes," said one former security officer in El AL, "our attitude has been for years that you have to treat cargo with the same seriousness you treat the passengers."

"There is a constant race between us and the terror organisations who come up with new combinations of legal substances that can make a bomb capable of bringing down a plane if it's just mixed together the right way," said one explosives expert. "As much as we try to stay in front of the curve, there are going to be new methods that we have not yet developed the appropriate sensors for, even if we know what direction they are going in. Ultimately, only a combined approach of advanced detection instruments and intelligence shared between the various countries can counter the threat."

"One of the most important developments so far has been an improved database that enables us to pool information regarding the threats to civil aviation," says another security expert. "Too often in the past, we found only after an attack took place that some security agency somewhere already had information, but there was no method for quickly sharing this information. Now we have a much better chance of moving crucial information to the relevant agency in real time."

But this technology is not just a tool in foiling terror attacks. In a rare speech on Monday, Yuval Diskin, the head of the Shin Bet, Israel's internal security agency, with the responsibility for preventing attacks on Israel's civil aviation, emphasised the advantages terror organisations now get from widely available technology.

"Internet technology provides terrorists with intelligence at an unprecedented level that in the past was available only to governments," he said. "For example, Google Earth, web-cameras or iPhone applications can all be used by terrorists to provide quality intelligence."

According to Mr Diskin, "the 21st century is characterised by a diminished reluctance on the part of the terror groups to carry out mega-terror attacks. We need a new concept of
global co-operation, intelligence-sharing, joint development and a new legal infrastructure that will enable democratic nations to effectively fight terror."

Last updated: 4:49pm, November 4 2010