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October 10, 2005

Practically Obvious

Turnstile1

After London authorities discovered that that the July 7th bombers had cased the underground two weeks prior to their actual attack, you would think this was the only picture made available to the media.

Not true.  Video and stills revealed three of the four perpetrators in various places and poses.  They could be seen entering the system at Luton Street, arriving at King’s Cross, and also moving around the Baker Street station.  However, in a search of many on-line news sites when this story broke on September 20th, this image was featured almost unanimously.

Of course, it’s typical for the media to lock on to a single, iconic
image to represent a particular story or event — especially when that
image is singled out for circulation by a newswire. I was interested, however, in why — at least, psychologically — this shot was an obvious choice.

Out of the miles of closed circuit footage available, I believe this
scene stands out because it reassures us such acts are more predictable
and identifiable than they really are. When you see three of the four
bombers still outside the subway entrance, clearly observable in one place, and interacting with one another in a fashion that seems openly conspiratorial, with those "seemingly incriminating" backpacks standing out like red flags, it’s easy to imagine that guys like this would be easy to spot.

Just like there are those — in perfect hindsight — who claim that the
pre-9/11 activities of Muhammed Atta were fairly detectable, it is also
natural (at least unconsciously) to make a similar deduction here.

Boarding1

This is why an image such as this one — of the bombers moving
through King’s Cross station at the end of their trial run — could
never have circulated in a serious way. If it did, we would have no
choice but to keep thinking about the fact that the next Shahzad
Tanweer could easily be that nice looking student in the glasses,
sitting beside us on the train, suddenly sweating profusely as if had
forgotten his term paper.

Video and additional images available here via the BBC.

(Image 1: London Metropolitan Police CCTV
video image. London, England. September 20, 2005. ABC News; WAPO; ITN;
etc., etc., etc. image 2: London Metropolitan Police CCTV video image.
London, England. September 20, 2005. BBC.uk.)

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