Do Terrorists Get Frequent Flyer Miles?

The news is currently dominated by the "Christmas Day Bomber". Missed signs, missed cues, and missed opportunities on behalf of the U.S. Government. It is all very interesting, and frankly sad that we couldn't prevent this man from boarding an airplane after his own father warned the CIA of radical behavior. Outside of the obvious story highlighting our vulnerability, I found the continued fixation on airline terrorism very interesting. Why, in attacks on American civilians, are foreign terrorists so focused on airplanes?
After watching all the intense coverage of this latest terrorist act, I have to admit the underwear bomb is pretty clever, but I can’t help but wonder why a terrorist would put in the extra effort, risking failure, to attack a relatively difficult target. Having a bomb shaped and positioned in an anatomically sensitive area is a pretty sure way to get through airport security, even with a pat down body search. A passenger would be required to strip completely naked to even have a chance of finding this bomb. I have never seen such enthusiasm for a search in airport security (although it may exist for someone who should have been on a terrorist watch list) so I am not surprised it was successful. Anyone can admit (except for John Stewart) this was a creative method, one which fortunately has not been perfected. I am thankful for the concentration on a single target, but why do foreign terrorists employ these extraordinary efforts to attack an airplane? Living in New York City I may have a unique perspective but I see crowds of more than 200 (roughly the number of people on the flight) everyday. There are probably many more than 200 people in the subway I am currently riding in, which required far less than a metal detector to enter, all you need is $2.25. With so many soft targets there must be some x-factor gained by attacking an airplane, otherwise it doesn't make any sense.
In other countries the car bomb seems to be the weapon of choice for a terrorist plot, but in America I suppose planes have been iconic foreign terrorist targets for years[1]. My first real image of terrorism comes from watching footage of the hijacking of TWA flight 847 in Lebanon. There was also the more recent rehashing of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988, which was brought back to the world stage this year with the release of the "Lockerbie Bomber". Americans are no strangers to airline terror, I was too young to really comprehend what was happening at the time but my very concept of terrorism starts with these images which I viewed years after they happened on the History Channel. These events stayed with me with the unrealistic comfort that they occurred in "another time" in the past. This all, of course, abruptly changed by the real time horrific images on September 11, 2001. A plane to me, and maybe many Americans, are a symbol of terrorism, and that might be why they are an ideal target.
I suppose it is possible that the symbol of terrorism is much stronger than the actual act of terrorism, hence the concentrated focus on airlines. This is an attack on our psyche. If the self proclaimed strongest military in the world can't keep its citizens safe from even a repeat target what hope do any of us have from being safe in our daily lives, when we ride the subway, go to school, to work.
Oddly enough, in the face of all the hysteria I have a strange feeling of indifference. I feel like the odds of stopping a determined terrorist are so low that I would be overwhelmed if I was constantly concerned with it, so I choose not to be. Instead I am personally vigilant and hope others are as well. I will take a page out of the book of the guy who apprehended the latest terrorist suspect as he attempted to set off his bomb. I vow that if someone tries to set off a bomb on the next plane I take I am going to throw down! But I am still going to fly without thinking twice. Is that arrogance or the American way?

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[1] The U.S. has also had experience with car bombs but it does not seem strongly connected with foreign terrorism. The Oklahoma City bombing was unfortunately the largest successful car bomb by size and impact, but this was a domestic act of terrorism. I would also be remiss not to also mention the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, which was an act of foreign terrorism, but it does not seem to carry the same scale of impact relative to other more recent terrorist acts.


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