Last Saturday, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Roslynn Mauskopf, went on TV with FBI and police officials to announce that four men had been charged in “one of the most chilling plots imaginable.” The plot to blow up JFK International Airport. she said, could have “resulted in unfathomable damage, deaths and destruction.” Time says the legal omplaint against the men issued by Mauskopf’s office, describes a plan that is somewhat less impressive. It was actually a scheme to blow up jet fuel tanks. “Jet fuel is flammable and can be made to explode, but it’s difficult,” says Richard Kuprewicz, a energy consultant who has worked with pipeline operators for 33 years and who doubts that the scheme would have resulted in a JFK shutdown.
“There’s incredible pressure to bring high-profile cases that show that the government is doing its job,” says Brian Levin, of California State University-San Bernadino, who trains prosecutors and is himself a former New York City Police Department officer. Nefarious plots help justify more federal counter-terrorism resources. Said U.S. Representative Peter King (R-NY): “It certainly demonstrates that New York needs more money, and that New York is the No. 1 target.” Time notes that prosecutors can overstate terror cases because there’s no risk in doing so: “Prosecutors do not tend to get rebuked for using strong language when describing would-be terrorists. And they figure that if they later find out they were wrong, the public record will show that the charges were dropped.”