Monday, December 28, 2009

Futility, thy name is 'security'

After a failed attempt to blow up an airplane on approach to Detroit Metro, the Department of Homeland Security decided to ramp up security measures at airports across the nation, telling travelers to arrive four hours ahead of time.

The problem is that increased screening of Americans isn't going to address the problem.

Every time the government sees a potential way to do harm to people on an airplane, they institute some new restriction or screening measure. Of course, people who really want to do harm will quickly find out about the new procedure/process and promptly begin to develop another method to get around it.

We're not allowed to bring more than three ounces of liquids on a plane. That didn't stop the idiot on Christmas Day from finding a way to get more than that amount on board - he just figured out a way around the screening.

The issue is not - and never has been - the materials. It's the behavior.

Anyone who has paid attention to security matters when traveling since 2001 will know that one-way tickets, paid with cash, and no luggage are huge warnings that should set off alarms all across the airport. Add to those tell-tale signs the fact that the man's father warned the U.S. about his son's radical ideas and you can see that the problem isn't the 'rules' but how the government failed to do anything with key facts that should have at least led to further questioning of an individual prior to getting on a plane, or having his name on a no-fly list.

Instead, we're all going to be subject to further intrusion in our lives, long delays in travel and the erosion of our liberties so the government can look like it's doing something to help keep us safe. Of course, no government can ever 'keep us safe' when they're more interested in little old ladies and how much shampoo they've got than in actually evaluating intelligence data that is pertinent to the safety issue.

Our government creates new laws or rules for travel and then goes about enforcing them. (The most recent ones are that you can't have a coat or blanket in your lap or go to the restroom one hour before landing.) That's a much different process than preventing terrorist attacks. Law enforcement focuses on catching a criminal after a crime has been committed. Stopping terrorism depends upon noticing, and then stopping, harmful intentions before they occur.

The travel security measures all look for the 'bomb' ... not the 'bomber.'

The Israelis have it right when it comes to screening for potential terrorists: they look for behavior, not supplies. They look for 'threats,' not 'risk.'

For instance, knives, scissors and other sharp objects are prohibited from carry-on luggage. If I happened to be traveling with said items, I would be a risk. But I'm not a threat. I have no intention of hurting myself or others or of committing an act of terrorism. So while those items would be 'safe' in my possession, they wouldn't be if in the possession of a terrorist.

Ah, but detecting who is and isn't a terrorist is much harder work than just forbidding everyone from carrying scissors on board a plane. And that's why terrorists will continue to find a way around the rules created to avert 'risk' and why we'll continue to have attempts from people who pose a 'threat.'

Our approach is futile. It won't stop terrorism, but does infringe upon everyone in the process. It reminds me of Benjamin Franklin's famous quote:

"They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security."


Tim Higgins said...


I thank goodness these days that I am no longer spending a lot of time flying, especially to foreign lands.

For if they ever do begin profiling, heaven knows the roadblocks that those in power will place in the path of a Constitutional Conservative, fearful of him committing what might be considered terrorism (or at least heresy) by spreading his message.

Mad Jack said...

You drilled this one dead center. Worse than current security is that the legislators don't want to do anything different - they want more of the same.

skeeter1107 said...

Ah, the response by politicians to punish the masses for the sins of a few. It reminds me of grade school where the teacher would make everyone sit in their seats because one kid was a horse's behind. Is that where they got the ideas for security on planes?

I think it's important that we explain to terrorists that they really have to follow the rules and that they can't commit their atrocities in the last hour of the flight. Of course it will work as well as it did in second grade when the bad kid screwed it up for the rest of the class.

As an aside, if you have or ever had small children on a plane, that "one hour" rule won't work too well. Your children will suddenly announce to you that they "gotta go." Now, they can go in the plane bathroom or they can go where they are at in the "last hour."

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