“The devastation that would be caused had this plot succeeded is just unthinkable.”

–Roslyn Mauskopf, U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, announcing alleged conspiracy to attack jet-fuel facilities at Kennedy airport.

First: Let it be noted in passing that Mauskopf translates from German as Mousehead. That’s just for the record.

Second: Last summer, when British authorities announced they had uncovered a plot to bomb as many as nine transatlantic airliners with some sort of liquid explosives brought aboard in carry-on luggage, a police official said the plot “was intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale.”

“Unthinkable”? “Unimaginable”? What world are these people living in? Where I live, in the land of the National Threat Advisory, it’s much, much too easy to contemplate and imagine mass slaughter and devastation.

But back to the Kennedy airport plot: The cops and prosecutors paint a picture of a terrorist crew reducing JFK to a smoking hole in the ground. Sure, that’s the vision the alleged plotters had in mind. But how real was the threat? One anonymous law enforcement official quoted by The New York Times describes the plot’s leader as “a sad sack” and “not a Grade A terrorist.”

The sad sack knew all about facilities at JFK, but was apparently uninformed that blowing up a fuel tank or a section of fuel pipeline would not lead to a chain-reaction explosion. The sad sack was also under the impression that an attack on JFK would be especially devastating because we Americans are all so attached to the late president’s memory.The sad sack and his associates were looking for financial backing from a terrorist group in Trinidad whose greatest hit was 17 years ago.

None of which is to say that at some point, with just the right tumblers falling into place, the sad sack’s plan might have won support and led to something. Even if the guy and his pals are numbskulls, it’s good that someone has taken them by the necks and put them someplace where they can’t hurt anyone for the time being. And sure, maybe all these plots sound laughable at some point because they do contain elements of the unbelievable. If the FBI had picked up Mohammed Atta and company on September 10, 2001, I’m sure their plans for New York and Washington would have sounded a little outlandish.

But that gets to what’s unsettling about this. The prosecutors and cops put on a show in which they seem to make the most of what appears, from what they’ve made public, to be very little. Meantime, you wonder what’s stirring in the shadows — thinkable, imaginable — while the sad sack is at center stage.

One Reply to “Inconceivable”

  1. “Unthinkable”, “inconceivable” are words Condi Rice used in her explanation (to the 9/11 commission)of why the administration didn’t get after the 9/11 crew. To me that shows how little imagination she has.
    That said, the guys who did the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center were caught (in a few days) after one of the conspirators went to the Ryder truck rental office in Jersey City to get his fifty or hundred dollar deposit back on the truck he rented to deliver the bomb. Talk about a sad sack. That was a great piece of detective work by FBI guys to find the truck’s “VIN” number in all that debris. When the guy showed up for his deposit the cops were waiting for him with the handcuffs.
    But I do know what you mean. There is a bit too much of triumphalism over this latest conspiracy. You know, careers have to be made and tax expenditures justified.

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