I don’t see why the NYTimes is in such a fluster about this supposed terrorist threat to the Brooklyn Bridge. I just wish everyone who plotted to attack NYC were as incompetent as Iyman Faris.
The guy’s a naturalized American citizen living in Columbus, and he’s alleged to have pleaded guilty to having provided support to terrorists. I say “alleged” because this took place in closed proceedings. The story is that he’s been traveling to Afghanistan and Pakistan since 2000, communicating with Al Qaeda operatives and even meeting with Osama bin Laden. And what was this group’s brilliant plan? They were going to use blowtorches to cut the suspension cables on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Yeah, right. Whadda buncha maroons. Have you ever looked at those things?
The Brooklyn Bridge has four main suspension cables. Each is a shade under sixteen inches in diameter, almost fifty inches around. They’re made of Mr. Roebling’s wire rope; that is, multiple twists of steel wire, which in the cables are under a considerable amount of tension. According to another story in the Times, the reason the terrorists were going after the Brooklyn Bridge was because it’s the only bridge whose main support cables all come together at the ends, in two small rooms 15 or 20 feet beneath the walkway. If you cut through one or two cables the bridge might come down, but I wouldn’t bet the mortgage on it. One of the many lovable features of the Brooklyn Bridge is that it’s notoriously over-engineered.
As it happens, the cable rooms are protected by security cams, sensors, alarms, 24-hour foot patrols, and a police boat that’s constantly kept nearby. The police can respond to a tripped alarm within seconds. On the Manhattan side, it would be embarrassing if they couldn’t respond quickly; the bridge comes down right next to the main police complex. But if Iyman Faris (et presumably al.) had somehow managed to neutralize all the security measures, which is extremely unlikely, and, dragging his cumbersome equipment behind him, had made his way into one of the cable rooms, he’d still have had a hell of a task before him.
Those cables are big. The workspace is small. The wire would conduct heat away from the working area, so you’d have to be pouring on the heat to get any cutting done. The room would rapidly get hot and fill with fumes. And while I might be mistaken about this, I do believe the older-style wire rope unlays itself, violently and almost instantaneously, when it’s cut or broken. You wouldn’t want to be anywhere near those wires as they came unlaid. You definitely wouldn’t want to be stuck in a small room with a volatile oxyacetylene torch setup when they did it.
But say you managed to cut through one cable. At that point, the effects would be visible from orbit. The bridge would not fall down. And you would not be given the opportunity to cut through the other cables.
It was a doofy idea. Nice to be reminded that these guys aren’t evil-genius supervillain masterminds.
Gene Healy and Jacob Sullum have both commented on one of the more disturbing aspects of this case: that Iyman Faris may have decided to plead guilty and tell all because the prosecutors threatened to declare him an “enemy combatant”—in which case, like Jose9 Padilla, he could have been subject to indefinite “preventive” detention without ever being charged, tried, or given access to legal counsel.
Here’s my question: Why is this happening at all? There may have been some compelling reason to bust this man, but I don’t see it. John Ashcroft’s been touting this case as a significant blow struck against terrorism, but Iyman Faris is small potatoes. He doesn’t seem to have been terribly effectual, and his Al Qaeda buddies are no prizes either. If we’d left him in situ and monitored the hell out of him, he could have been a worry and expense and distraction to Al Qaeda, and they to him, and we could have recorded all their contacts and message traffic to see what we could see. And if he’d ever looked like he was going to actually accomplish something, we could have collared him before he did it.
But let’s suppose it was necessary to arrest him. Why are we trumpeting it to the world? We have Faris dead to rights, and he’s cooperating. That could have been very useful. At absolute minimum, he would have continued to cost Al Qaeda whatever attention and resources it takes for them to maintain contact with an agent. They would have thought they had a working agent where they had none. And again, we could have gone on monitoring their contacts and communications. That’s at minimum. The additional benefits that might have accrued from our having turned one of Al Qaeda’s agents are incalculable, and unfortunately will now remain that way.
The conduct of this case does not appear to have increased security for the citizens of the United States as its primary goal.In closing, I give you the Telegraph:
Critics of Mr Ashcroft have accused him of exaggerating the importance of relatively low-level al-Qa’eda operatives. They say that he is intent on securing unprecedented powers for the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.And also the New York Times:
Justice Department officials decided to announce the case at a time when Mr. Ashcroft has been put on the defensive by charges from his own inspector general this month that the department mistreated many illegal immigrants after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in its aggressive pursuit of terrorist suspects.I can well believe that to have announced the case sooner—or, more pertinently, later—would have impaired some interests that Mr. Ashcroft considers important. Forgive me for thinking that those interests are primarily his own.
The Faris case allowed Mr. Ashcroft to claim another high-profile victory in the campaign against terrorism, and he compared it to other significant prosecutions against terrorist supporters in Detroit, Lackawanna, N.Y., and elsewhere. Although he declined to discuss details, he said the timing in making the case public was driven solely by law enforcement concerns.“I firmly believe that for us to have announced this case a day sooner would have carried with it the potential of impairing very important interests,” Mr. Ashcroft told reporters today.