Terrorist Plot Involving Remote-Control Planes Imitates Art (Sort Of)

A 26-year-old man named Rezwan Ferdaus has been arrested for plotting to attack the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon. His weapon of choice? Remote-controlled aircrafts. According to Politico, Ferdaus’s plan involved “small drone airplanes” packed with explosives and guided by GPS. He had ordered a remote-controlled F-86 Sabre (perhaps like this one) for use in the plot.

The idea of using remote-control planes in a terrorist attack immediately made me think of the excellent 2010 novel Intelligence. Set in the CIA, Intelligence is closer to The Office than 24; author Susan Hasler, who spent 21 years working for the agency, tells a story of an impending terrorist attack and the bureaucracy-burdened intelligence officers trying to put together the pieces and sound the alarm.  (Warning: Some spoilers ahead.) What’s relevant here is the M.O. Hasler’s fictional terrorists kill many, mostly children, in an attack involving high-end remote-controlled planes. There today’s plot diverges from Intelligence’s: While Ferdaus reportedly hoped to unleash bombs, the R.C. planes of Intelligence emitted gas during a Washington Nationals game—and, more importantly, the planes served as a psychological weapon, not a real one, as the gas was harmless—a mere special effect. Instead, the victims of the Intelligence attack die as a result of eating poisoned hot dogs distributed by a terrorist working the concession stand.

Around Intelligence’s release, Hasler spoke with NPR’s Morning Edition. The conversation is strangely applicable to today’s news.

[Host Mary Louise Kelly]: Let me set the stage a little bit. The book follows Maddie and the team she’s leading of CIA counterterrorism analysts. They are racing to thwart a new threat from al-Qaida, and this one involves not big planes, but little remote-controlled toy planes—hundreds of them.

Ms. HASLER: Right. I wanted something that was plausible but something I didn’t think could actually—a terrorist could actually use. You wouldn’t want to inspire anything. But I wanted to use planes because the idea was to create fear. And with everyone having the planes from the 9/11 attack in their mind, it had to be planes to raise that fear again.

Hasler thought that remote-control planes—at least, those carrying gas in a psych-out move—weren’t something “a terrorist could actually use.” Ferdaus, it seems, thought otherwise. According to Politico, Ferdaus began his plotting in early 2010, while Intelligence came out in the summer of 2010. Perhaps he had his RC plane idea in mind well before the book was released; perhaps he didn’t even hear about it. Still, it’s interesting to see how Hasler, as a CIA veteran, was able to anticipate remote-controlled planes sparking a would-be terrorist’s imagination.