James K. Galbraith flew from Manchester to Boston on August 10, enduring eleven hours without a book.
Let’s see… It’s August. Bush is in Crawford on a “working vacation.” His polls are in the tank. Congress is in revolt. The economy is going soft. The next elections don’t look good. Cheney is off in Wyoming, or wherever he goes. It’s 2001. No, it’s 2006.
In The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Marx reports that “Hegel writes somewhere” that the great events of history tend to occur twice, first as tragedy and then as farce.
On September 11, nineteen hijackers commandeered four airplanes and succeeded in killing some 3,000 people. On August 10, we are told, British authorities upended a suicide-murder plot aimed at destroying twelve airplanes, killing everyone on board including the bombers, possibly with more fatalities than on 9/11. As a senior British police official put it, “This was intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale.”
From all official statements so far, we are led to believe that August 10 was a highly developed, far-advanced conspiracy, under surveillance for some time, which could have been put into action within just a few days. And perhaps 8/10 really was the biggest thing since 9/11. But then again, perhaps it wasn’t. We don’t know yet. And it’s not too early to ask the questions on which final judgment must depend.
Well, then. Here is a checklist of some things we should shortly be hearing about. Bombs. Chemicals. Detonators. Labs. A testing ground. Airline tickets. Passports. Witnesses. Suspicious neighbors. Suspicious parents. Suspicious friends. Threats. Confessions. Let me spell this out: By definition, you cannot bomb an aircraft unless you have a bomb. In this case, we are told that there were no bombs; rather, the conspirators planned to bring on board the makings of a bomb: chemicals and a detonator. These would be mixed on board.
Exactly what the chemicals were remains unclear. Nitroglycerin has been suggested, but it’s too likely to go off on the way to the airport. TATP, made of acetone and peroxide, has been suggested, but there are two problems. One is that the peroxide required is highly concentrated–it’s not the 3 percent solution from the drugstore. The other is that acetone is highly volatile. As anyone who flies knows, you can’t open a bottle of nail polish remover on an airplane without everyone within twenty feet knowing at once. It’s possible to imagine one truly dedicated and competent bomber pulling this off. But it is impossible to imagine twenty-four untrained people between the ages of 17 and 35 all getting away with the same trick at once.
So, there must have been training. That means there must be a lab, or labs. There must have been trial bombs. There must be various bits and pieces of equipment used to mix the chemicals and set them off. There must be a manual. There must be a testing ground. And each one of the young men under arrest must have been to these places. Interestingly, it must have all happened, too, without a serious accident, injury or death among the conspirators. If so, they are a lot more competent than the Weather Underground ever was, in my day.