You Can't Hunt What Doesn't Exist
The inevitable reams of analysis on the three bomb attacks in the UK once again miss the point. While there's no denying that there is a large and well-funded network known as Al-Qaeda - which is certainly still in existence notably in the Afghan-Pakistan border area, Iraq and doubtless many other countries in the Muslim world and the West - Al-Qaeda in itself is not really the threat any more.
The incompetence of the June plots indicates that the perpetrators were effectively 'freelancing' more than anything. They could well be a bunch of disparate people with a point to make about Britain's foreign policy - not even necessarily 'Islamists' as is widely assumed, though quite probably disgruntled about the fate of Muslims in the wider world. Had they been 'linked to Al-Qaeda' as the newspapers would love to report, there would have been two symptoms:
1. A greater sophistication of techniques and materiels, and a willingness to die;
2. A greater chance of detection prior to the attacks being carried out.
The truble with freelancers is that, without financial or organisational links to known terror networks, they are that much harder to detect. Intelligence needs a starting point somewhere, and one lead leads to more which lead to more. The readiness of the press and public to assume that all terrorists are somehow 'linked to Al-Qaeda' diminishes the significance of what is going on. These guys are working independently, and though this means greater incompetence it also means they are much harder to find in time.
Sadly, their lack of professionalism is not necessarily heartening. We know already that the al-Qaida hard core of Osama bin Laden and the few dozen senior militants around him has been seriously degraded in recent years. Experienced, competent bomb-makers are now few and far between.
However, instead there are scores - if not hundreds - of young men who have been radicalised by al-Qaida's propaganda. Al-Qaida has traded competence and discipline for resilience and dispersion. Both are effective in their way. The threat has evolved but remains relatively constant - ie severe.