In this Stratfor article Scott Stewart examines the various bits and pieces of information we know about recent terrorist activity and considers where the clues may lead.
Transnational terrorist continue to be fixated on airplanes. As Scott points out there has been a series of moves and counter-moves between security forces and jihadists as the jihadists continue to probe for methods to get concealed bombs aboard airplanes.
The beginning of the article is excerpted below, with a link to the full article at the end of the excerpt.
Since bombs are involved, I turned to Hollywood blonde bombshells for the article's Hot Stratfor Babe. After much research and careful deliberation I selected Cleo Moore for the honor.
Ms Moore was one of many actresses promoted as being another Marylin Monroe. However, regardless of the studio's PR, she primarily acted in B movies, where she frequently payed the "bad" girl. Her movie career was unspectacular, and she retired from acting in 1957 at the age of 33. She was to go on to have a successful career in real estate.
Of interest, at the age of 15 she married Palmer Long, the son of the Huey "Kingfish" Long. Her family was apparently deeply involved in Louisiana's Democratic party. She divorced Palmer 6 weeks after marrying him.
Searching for Connections Amid Terrorist Threats
By Scott Stewart, May 10, 2012
In past Security Weeklies we have often noted how analyzing terrorism is like assembling a puzzle. After an attack has transpired, it is easier to piece the disparate clues together because you have the luxury of knowing what the finished puzzle should look like. You know the target, the method of attack, the time, the place, etc. These factors frame your approach to the bits of evidence you gather and allow you to assemble them into a cohesive, logical framework. While there will certainly be missing pieces at times, having the reference point of the attack itself is helpful to investigators and analysts.
On the other hand, analyzing a potential threat before an attack takes place is far more difficult. It is like sifting through pieces of thousands of different puzzles, all jumbled together in one big pile, and attempting to create a complete picture without knowing what the end result -- the attack -- will look like. Sometimes pieces look like they could be related, but it is often difficult to determine if they really are without having the picture of the finished attack and the important framework for investigative reference: target, method of attack, time and place. It is often easy to look back after an attack and criticize authorities for not making a critical connection, but it is difficult to piece things together before the attack occurs without the assistance of hindsight.
Over the past few weeks we have been studying a number of interesting puzzle pieces pertaining to potential threats to U.S. interests by transnational jihadists. It is currently unclear if they all fit together to form a seamless narrative, but the implications of a potential convergence are too big to ignore. We feel compelled to write about this potential convergence in much the same way we did in September 2009, when we discussed the possibility of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) using innovative bomb designs to bring down passenger aircraft rather than to assassinate individuals. The earlier convergence came to fruition on Dec. 25, 2009, when AQAP attempted to destroy a Northwest/Delta flight from Amsterdam to Detroit using an improvised explosive device (IED) concealed in the suicide operative's underwear. Time will tell if the current grouping of events is a true picture of what is about to happen or is simply a false positive.
The pieces of the current case began emerging a few weeks ago, before the May 2 anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death. Reports began to surface that AQAP's lead bombmaker, Ibrahim Hassan Tali al-Asiri, had been seen again. American officials originally said al-Asiri was killed in the Sept. 30, 2011, airstrike that also resulted in the death of AQAP's English-speaking ideologue, Anwar al-Awlaki. A few days after the strike, reports surfaced that al-Asiri had in fact survived the attack, but he has maintained a low profile since then.
While al-Asiri is certainly not AQAP's only bombmaker, he is an innovative, out-of-the-box thinker. Not only was he behind the device that his brother, Abdullah al-Asiri, used in his suicide bombing attempt against Saudi Deputy Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef on Aug. 27, 2009, and the underwear bomb used in December 2009, he was also responsible for the attempted attack against two U.S. cargo aircraft in October 2010 using IEDs hidden in computer printer ink cartridges. Indeed, he is the technical author of every AQAP transnational attack attempted so far. Even though all of those attacks have failed, he is still considered a threat. This fact was highlighted by the May 7 reports of a thwarted bomb plot using an improved version of al-Asiri's underwear device.
A second, AQAP-related piece of the puzzle surfaced on May 2, when the group published two editions of its English-language Inspire magazine, ending the publishing hiatus that began after the magazine's editor, Samir Khan, died in the same Sept. 30, 2011, airstrike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki. AQAP watchers wondered why the group released two editions of the magazine so closely together, and the revelation of a plan for another transnational bomb plot directed against American aircraft appears to provide the answer to that question.
Last week, we wrote about the third piece of the puzzle: the proliferation of Libyan shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, also known as MANPADS, among jihadist militants in Africa and perhaps elsewhere. Many of these missiles are older SA-7s that have limited utility against modern military aircraft equipped with countermeasures, but they could be employed effectively against a commercial airliner during the vulnerable takeoff or landing phases of a flight. While this threat has existed for some time, we are hearing recent reports of missile dissemination and planning discussions.
Another important piece of the puzzle is the ongoing trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed before a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Mohammed, better known by his initials KSM, is the captured al Qaeda operational planner who was named the principal architect of the 9/11 operation in the 9/11 Commission Report. He was also involved in a number of other plots prior to 9/11, including the 1994 Operation Bojinka plot in the Philippines, the 2001 shoe-bomb plot and the 2002 Library Tower plot.
KSM's operational style had several distinctive hallmarks, including the frequent choice of aircraft as targets; the notion of multiple, simultaneous strikes; and the use of modular IEDs smuggled aboard the aircraft. Although KSM was arrested in March 2003, he continued to influence other jihadist planners. This influence was clearly seen in the August 2006 Heathrow liquid-bomb plot, which targeted nine American airliners. AQAP's cargo bombing attempt, which targeted multiple aircraft, reflected KSM's preference for multi-pronged plots, and the reports of the thwarted May 7 bombing attempt indicate that aircraft are still considered desirable targets for jihadist groups.
KSM's trial began May 5, three days after the anniversary of bin Laden's death. With the trial in the world's media spotlight, it is quite possible that jihadists are planning an operation in homage to KSM and bin Laden, and that KSM's operational hallmarks could be seen again.
Of course, this is nothing new. Commercial aviation has been threatened by terrorism for decades now, and as discussed above, airliners have been under constant threat from jihadist groups because they are highly visible targets that are readily associated with specific nations, and a successful attack generates a large number of casualties and a high level of press coverage.
But as airline security measures have shifted in response to threats, so too have the modes of attack. When security measures were put in place to protect against Bojinka-style attacks in the 1990s -- attacks that involved modular explosive devices smuggled onto planes and left on board -- the jihadists adapted and conducted 9/11-style attacks. When security measures were put in place to counter 9/11-style attacks, jihadists quickly responded by shifting to onboard suicide attacks with concealed IEDs inside shoes. When that tactic was discovered and shoes began to be screened, they switched to camouflaging containers filled with liquid explosives. When security measures were adjusted to restrict the quantity of liquids that people could take aboard aircraft, jihadists altered the paradigm once more and attempted the underwear bombing using a device with no metal components. When security measures were taken to increase passenger screening in response to the underwear bombing, AQAP decided to attack cargo aircraft with IEDs hidden in printer cartridges.