After the arrest of 24 men and women in the plot to blow up 10 airliners on flights from the British Isles to the United States, we may be fortunate that the terror they envisioned was so apocalyptic.
With so many implicated, even more being pursued in Britain and Pakistan, the odds of a leak were high. Had the plot involved a single plane or two, the number of terrorists needed might have been fewer than a dozen. And the chances of "success" would have risen geometrically. Which suggests this may have been the "big one."
This may have been Act II, a planned massacre so shockingly costly in human life as to suspend air travel between America and Europe. If all 10 targeted planes had been blown out of the sky, the death toll could have been higher than the 3,000 on 9-11.
This may explain why there has been no al-Qaida attack here in five years. Al-Qaida may have wanted the next act of terror to be so horrendous as to show the world its ability to wreak 9-11 death and destruction had not been diminished by the Bush-Blair War on Terror.
We are still in the area of surmise. But given the enormity of the plot, the timing, on or near the fifth anniversary of 9-11, and the targets, America and Britain, this appears a plot a with political motive.
But besides the horror such an atrocity would engender and the martyrdom some of them sought, what was their goal?
It is known that the arrested include middle-class men and women, second-generation Pakistanis. That South Asian Muslims might be alienated from secular Britain is understandable, but to the extent that they would slaughter thousands and commit suicide because of it is not. There has to be something more behind this.
Had the plot succeeded, and five, seven or nine planes been blown up over the Atlantic, the initial U.S.-British reaction might have been to rally behind the president and prime minister. But then the questions would have begun.
"Who failed us?" "Who was asleep?" "Who told us we were safe?" "Who said we were winning the War on Terror?" "What are we doing in a civil war in Iraq when Americans are being slaughtered by the thousands over the Atlantic?" Americans would have been battling over these issues until Election Day.
Had thousands perished, the credibility of the U.S. and British governments would have been shattered. Critics would have mocked Bush-Blair claims to have made us safer. The FBI, CIA and Homeland Security would have come under savage attack. Bush would have been charged with failure to implement the recommendations of the 9-11 commission. Blair would have been ousted.