Just as interesting as the attackers’ plans is the government response of beefing up airport security. The immediate security changes made sense in the short run, on the theory that the situation was uncertain and the arrests might trigger immediate attacks by unarrested co-conspirators. But it seems likely that at least some of the new restrictions will continue indefinitely, even though they’re mostly just security theater.
Which suggests another reason the bad guys wanted to attack planes: perhaps it was because planes are so intensively secured; perhaps they wanted to send the message that nowhere is safe. Let’s assume, just for the sake of argument, that this speculation is right, and that visible security measures actually invite attacks. If this is right, then we’re playing a very unusual security game. Should we reduce airport security theater, on the theory that it may be making air travel riskier? Or should we beef it up even more, to draw attacks away from more vulnerable points? Fortunately (for me) I don’t have space here to suggest answers to these questions. (And don’t get me started on the flaws in our current airport screening system.)
The bad guys’ decision to attack planes tells us something interesting about them. And our decision to exhaustively defend planes tells us something interesting about ourselves.