US claims to foil new Al Qaeda underwear-bomb plot

Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo at the Associated Press were first to report today that the CIA claims to have "thwarted an ambitious plot by al-Qaida's affiliate in Yemen" to bomb a plane headed for the US, using a bomb with "a sophisticated new design" that would not contain metal. The attack was to have taken place near the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden. The design is said to have been an improvement over the plot that failed on a plane over Detroit around Christmas, 2009. Because it did not contain metal, the new design may have thwarted current airport screening protocols, but it's possible that the newer forms of full-body scanners could detect such a device... or not.

(image: Shutterstock)


  1. Really how…convenient….that a “new” type of bomb has suddenly been discovered that only the new types of scanners can detect just as there popularity has decresed to a level that they are at risk.

    1. The actual AP quote is: “But it was not clear whether new body scanners used in many airports would have detected it.”

    2. It is… particularly curious… given the fact that low-metal and no-metal explosives design, while no doubt tricky, has been very popular in landmine production circles for decades, also to make detection a great deal more difficult. Given the incredible popularity of land mines in the late 20th century, one would think that cloning the necessary design features would not be the world’s hardest espionage exercise.

    3. What I think is the most interesting, is the BBC’s story uses a photo of a body scanner next to the headline. I think this implies to someone skimming the site that the scanner is what found the bomb, not overseas intelligence programs.

      Why isn’t there a photo a CIA or FBI agent or the CIA’s headquarters next to the headline? This would make more sense.

  2.  Beat me to it by 7 seconds… I was just thinking that it was a rather large coincidence that the TSA had been getting a huge amount of negative press recently…

    1.  Since the TSA had nothing to do with it, and since the story speaks of a bomb designed to defeat the TSA’s methods, I’d say that even if it is made up it really doesn’t mean much for their publicity. It tells me that the CIA is doing all the real work in counter- terrorism (as they should be).

      1. Hey, we’re trying to uncover conspiracies here. Back to the reptoids, please.

  3. “Ambitious plot” = “we found a Post-It note with a sketch of underwear and an arrow pointing to the crotch labeled ‘undetectable bomb’ in Arabic”

      1. My sincerety meter on the news bottomed out.

        TSA has spent all of it’s good will moments after it was born. Anything that might give them credibility is going to be viewed as propaganda and FUD to try making us hate them less.

        1. It was renamed “Urectum” in 2620 for this very reason, thank you very much.

  4. A certain amount of skepticism is healthy, but I’m not sure if the knee-jerk snark in some of these comments is the right response. If Bruce Schneier et al. are to be believed, we place too much emphasis on airport screening and security, and we should instead focus on intelligence and investigation in preventing terrorist attacks. This story, if accurate, would seem to vindicate that point of view: this is a case where an attack was planned, and then successfully prevented by strong intelligence despite the fact that the TSA didn’t foresee it or plan screening procedures to detect it.  This is how we want the system to work.

    1.  Whether it is a success story or a failure story, and no matter which branch or method was involved in foiling / discovery, you must understand this:

      There is money to be made here.  This story provides the justification for more of our tax dollars to be delivered directly to friends, allies, and those who’s stock is held by this nation’s senators and top bureaucrats.  New pornoscanners to replace the old ones?  A legion of additional TSA agents armed with speculums?  Maybe something really ambitious, like a new line of “Air Travel Approved” undergarments that are compulsory wear next year…  There is money to be made from the captive public’s tax dollars.  The “justifications” must be trotted out every once in a while.  Expect it again next time it looks like the TSA and lucrative pornoscanner contracts are threatened.  The 9/11 method of attack was removed from viability on 9/11 itself… it very much matters not where the actual solutions come from, not when there’s money to be made.

  5. US air travels will have to brace for more pubic scrutiny in public TSA area’s?

  6. From what I understand, the biggest change is that Al Qaeda is now using a leopard print brief to confuse TSA screeners because it doesn’t fit in with the jihadist profile.

  7. I’d like to believe TSA as an agency can be reformed. However it would have to be a ‘scrap and rebuild’ reform. Better training. Oversight, accountability, consistency, and better defined goals and procedures. You know. Everything we don’t seem to have now.

  8. The terrorists will just move the bombs into their stovepipe hats, cummerbunds, or cuff links.

  9. Sorry, there is a credibility problem here… Yes, the CIA may have foiled a terror plot, but any details that would allow for independent verification of both the existence of the plot and the degree of danger it posed are “classified”.

    Furthermore in light of recent press-reports concerning the FBI, how sure can we be that the CIA didn’t create this situation themselves?

    I would very much like to take the US government at face value and believe that they are working in our best interests, but with looming budget cuts and the politicalization of security, various government departments have motive to either exaggerate or outright lie inorder to bolster themselves.

    No.. until we have more transparency from the executive branch, anything statements concerning terrorism, 9/11, Gitmo, The wars in Iraq and Afganistan, torture, or the military tribunals are highly suspect.

    Stories like this would do better to be reported in People Magazine or Teen Vogue as it would be more on par with their standards of journalism and believability.

  10. IMHO,this is not about TSA or underwear bombs. It is about an undeclared war consisting of drone attacks in Yemen and a boost for the Nobel Laureate and his manly military ways. Have a happy election year!

  11. So.. it was a flat pack of explosive and a bit of wick? Thats all I can think of that would be undetectable.. and if done right I doubt a pat down would even find it.. Only thing that would have a chance is the hundreds of $600m sniffer machines that the TSA has stuffed in warehouses… Or you know.. a dog. :x

  12. Detecting bombs with science? Bah. Vote for Romney. He’s got experience with magic underwear.

  13. What I’m reading is that they can detect these bombs _without_ the invasive scanning done at airport checkpoints.

    So… We’ll see less of that, won’t we?

  14. Just a small  correction, the underwear bomber’s plane was over southwestern Ontario rather than Detroit when he set his crotch on fire. Assuming it had actually gone boom rather than just burning his balls and assuming that there was actually enough explosives in it to bring the plane down (there was a video soon afterwards of a test that showed it wouldn’t even blow a hole in the plane), it almost certainly would have crashed in a rural area.–airliner-drama-played-out-over-ontario

    1. Small-scale explosives like this or the shoe bomb aren’t intended to “bring the plane down.”

      They’re intended to breach the secured door to the cockpit.

      It’s not about crashing the plane, it’s about taking control of the plane to use it as a guided weapon.  Killing the passengers is just a bonus side-effect.

      1. lol.. So, a suicide operative would detonate a shaped charge with enough force to open the door, but not enough to damage the controls in the cockpit, and have enough time to accurately place the charge without being seen and then being beaten to death by a mod of terrified passengers? 

        That’s almost as funny (and as about as realistic) as a “binary liquid explosive” attack on an airplane.

        1. Enough force to open the door, but not damage controls?  Sure, that would be easy enough. 

          “Shaped charge”?  Umm, no.  That would be stupid.


          Clearly, you already know what you need to know to support the conclusions you’ve already reached. 

          So, hey… never mind, okay?  Sorry for the disturbance.

          1. True, my knowledge does fall short in the field of explosives, however that still dosen’t invalidate the nonsense/infeasibility of using said explosives to force open a door with the objective to hijacking an aircraft to use it as a guided weapon.

            I’ll gant you that some low level terrorest types may still talk about this as a possible plan while huddled around their camp fires deep in some cave in Afghanistan. But really, no.9/11 worked because the hijackers had history on their side. Before then, the public mindset about aircraft hijackings were focused on political statements. In the 1970s and 1980s guys with pistols/knifes/grenades rushed up front and told the pilot to land in Beirut, Havana, or some other backwater. The hijackers would get the local TV station on the runway and make a few statements. They would then “negotiate” with the local cops over the release of the passengers, or some SWAT-like team would storm the the aircraft.Passengers cooperated because they assumed it was the best way to make it out alive. The 9/11 hijackers used this to pacify the passengers in order to carry out their mission.  

            Now, post 9/11, passengers have a very different mindset, they will fight back. This makes the notion trying to capture a commercial passenger aircraft and use it as a guided weapon highly unrealistic.

            No, I would have to argue that any attempt to get bombs on commercial passenger aircraft are for the purpose of downing it and not capturing it. But it’s like P.T. Barnum said, there’s a sucker born every minute. 

  15. No, what this means is that the intelligence about the plot might have failed, and we might even now be confronting an army of bombers with explosives in their shorts, panties, diapers, Depends and kilts.  Which means that all those garments will have to be inspected intensively. And how do you know that Granny’s surgeon didn’t plant a bomb where her gall bladder used to be?

    Air travelers.  Nuke ’em from orbit.  Only way to be sure.

    (Alas, I suspect that our leaders might reach the point of nuking air travelers from orbit.)

  16. Please note when they foil or find out about terror plots – its the CIA or FBI. Not the TSA. Please fuck the TSA. Fuck it in a fire.

  17. This is crying out for a Mythbusters treatment – can you really get enough explosives  in your underwear to bring down a 767?

    “Tory, here’s what we’ve got lined up for you on the next ep…….”

  18. I think we will find that, just as in the past, the CIA has come up shorts again. [rimshot]
    Seriously, as has been said, it must be a fabricated event considering the convenient timing and the afore mentioned inadequacy of  bombs like this.

    1. Seriously, as has been said, it must be a fabricated event…

      Cotton or polyester blend?

  19. So much bullsh*t.  They can say what ever they want to self-justify anything, which usually seems to be more expenditure of money, and more erosion of civil rights.   This country sucks now.

  20. I find it hilarious (if true) that the terrorists are the only ones who really *get* security theatre and the media.

    They don’t even need suicide bombers any more. They just need to think of a way to hide the bomb that the media will love (breast implant bombs next? Or suppository bombs? Whichever would require the most TSA-invasion to prevent!)

    Then they use their chosen gov’t funded story-delivery-service, the CIA, FBI, etc… because if they delivered the story themselves in a press release, the story wouldn’t get as much coverage as if it comes from a gov’t agency.

    Then their de-facto US arm, the TSA, invades US citizens’ privacy, causing fear and making their cause uppermost in the minds of millions of travellers (exactly the aims of terrorism).

    They get it, and they’re using it, and it’s in the best interests of all involved to play along. Nobody loses!

    Well, except the citizens, I guess: but since when did they have any say?

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