The timing of Broughton's statement was not without a little irony, given the revelation that two days later packages originating from Yemen and containing sophisticated explosive devices were discovered at Dubai and East Midlands Airports.
On Sunday, it was revealed that one of the bombs was transported on two passenger planes on its journey from Sanaa in Yemen to Dubai. The devices were equipped with sim-cards to permit remote detonation. They are suspected to be the work of Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri who has been implicated in several other high profile terrorist attacks. These discoveries constitute a major wake-up call.
The explosive could not be detected by X-ray scans or sniffer dogs and the suspect package at East Midlands Airport was first declared safe before the PETN explosive was discovered during a second examination.
The packages were not prevented from being loaded on to aircraft at their location of origin and were not investigated in transit at Doha International Airport. In fact, the entire system failed to detect these devices. Their discovery was due to intelligence received from Saudi sources.
The shocking truth is that the international air transport system was revealed to be wide open for the smuggling of such devices that can be detonated remotely to explode either on aircraft in flight or on the ground in targeted locations.
The recent events demonstrate the fact that al-Qaida remains obsessed with causing mass casualties in Western countries and continues to target international air travel. It is true that its major plots such as the attempt to detonate several planes over the Atlantic using liquids smuggled on board or the attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to detonate plastic explosives in a plane over Chicago last Christmas failed.
The successes of the intelligence services and security are remarkable. And yet it is clear that we are in an arms race with very determined and sophisticated opponents.
Despite the rigorous screening that passengers are subjected to at airports, dangerous items do get through. Most of these are blades or liquids carried by passengers with no malicious intent, but some are not.
The fact that there has been no successful attack since 2001 is not for want of trying on the part of terrorists, but rather due to a
combination of good intelligence and luck. The difficulties of
detecting PETN means that security measures at airports will have to be reviewed. Even so, Michael Broughton is not alone. Yesterday, Michael O'Leary, the CEO of Ryanair, also ridiculed the existing security measures as over the top, claiming that there had been no attack on European airlines in 20 years.
This sentiment was also supported by the panel of the BBC radio
programme Any Questions on Friday in a rare instance of unanimity. But in my opinion they are dead wrong. We need more stringent security procedures to include hold luggage and cargo.
The purpose of such measures must not only be to continue to make it as difficult as possible for terrorists to launch attacks on civilian aircraft or targets on Western countries using aircraft. It must also be to convince the general public that they are protected. If we stop flying, the terrorists will have won.
Passive security measures are not enough. The threat has to be
addressed at its source. It has been known for some time now that al-Qaida on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is now the main source of terrorist threats against Western Europe and the United States. But the support given to the Yemeni government in their fight against the terrorists has been laughable.
The total spent by the US on providing hardware and training to Yemeni armed forces last year came to $155m. This is not nearly enough to enable the Saleh government, which has been supportive of the US "war against terror" since the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, to halt the advance of al-Qaida in the tribal areas. The stability of the Yemeni government is further undermined by the extreme poverty of the country in which nearly one in three of its citizens go hungry every day.
International donors have been reluctant to provide funds for a country that is considered to be unstable and whose government they view with suspicion. But unless there is a serious commitment to support Yemen, we may find ourselves fighting another major counter-insurgency operation.
This is a development we should do everything possible to avoid.
Passive security measures are not enough. The threat has to be addressed at its source.