Monday, December 28, 2009

Terrorism exposes absurdities of the security bureaucrats

The attempt to blow up a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit has exposed the ongoing risk there has been, for some years, of Islamist thugs seeking to murder civilians en masse for political/religious purposes. It has exposed enormous flaws in the screening process for airline passengers, that someone on a "watch" list gets no particular attention, not too surprising in Nigeria, but appalling in Amsterdam. More disconcertingly it has given the aviation security goons an excuse to persecute all airline passengers flying to the US with such absurdities as:

- Prohibiting people from moving in the cabin in the last hour of flight, when the 9/11 terrorists made their move in the beginning of the flight (next the security goons will be demanding passengers be strapped in seats with "bed pans" to urinate in);
- Banning the use of laptops and portable audio equipment on flights, effectively making business flights largely unproductive and boosting book sales at airports;
- Requiring some airline in flight entertainment systems to be shut down early, contrasting to Air NZ's successful and popular "gate to gate" continuous running of the systems.

Christopher Hitchens in Slate says:

The fault here is not just with our endlessly incompetent security services, who give the benefit of the doubt to people who should have been arrested long ago or at least had their visas and travel rights revoked. It is also with a public opinion that sheepishly bleats to be made to "feel safe." The demand to satisfy that sad illusion can be met with relative ease if you pay enough people to stand around and stare significantly at the citizens' toothpaste.

We have already had to put up with the absurdity of being unable to take bottled drinks through airline security, but we can buy the same ones "airside" which means being price gouged at many airports (thankfully not Heathrow which has enough competing shops to make this no problem). Replacement of stainless steel cutlery with plastic was one of the most stupid, as anyone who got a glass of champagne could well figure out how a weapon could be created.

New Zealand of course coped for decades without any domestic security screening, until 9/11, and security goons were "shocked" at the knives and various objects people used to take on flights from Auckland to Christchurch. The unspoken truth is that the people who did this had no intention of using them against their fellow citizens anymore than they do on trains, buses, in shopping centres or walking the streets. It's a blessing that the Government ignored some calls for security screening for domestic flights using aircraft of less than 90 seats.

The case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab wont see anyone fired from their jobs in Nigeria, Schiphol Airport or elsewhere in the security sector. There isn't accountability for failures, just as there isn't for the stupidity of the measures imposed on everyone else.

It should have been obvious to connect the likes of Abdulmutallab to needing additional screening, he was, after all, already on a list. However, that incompetence is now shrouded by adding hours of delays to travellers, hours of inconvenience and discomfort because some control freak has decided to make people "feel safe".

What the security goons and the politicians wont point out is that the risks of attacks remains constant, and ever present. In London, there is little difference today compared with 2004 in terms of the ease of being able to launch an attack on the underground or on a bus. The sheer numbers of people are so great, and the same applies to all metro rail systems. Fast intercity trains are also sitting targets, but then so are crowded downtown areas. The IRA didn't waste energy on transport networks, but waged much fear and death by using bombs on cars and vans, or in public areas.

So the message is, you can't be wholly safe anywhere. Islamist thugs will seek to attack as they see fit, when and wherever they wish. Some on the left wish to minimise this, and it should not be exagerrated, but it is real, it will exist for many years to come. Even lasting success in Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel will only reduce, not eliminate the risk.

It is reasonable to take steps with aviation to stop people taking on board weapons, to screen for explosives and to use intelligence to stop those who there is good reason for suspicion, but someone needs to be responsible for the abject failings in this case and there should NOT be ridiculous kneejerk reactions just to be seen to be "doing something".

It's about time politicians and the public said no to being literally bent over and buggered by the incompetent and the inane. Aviation security is a serious business, it should be driven by real rational assessment of risk and the detailed use of intelligence to screen out passengers. Sadly what we seem to have is the sledgehammer trying to crack a seed, we deserve better from these ever burgeoning monopolies.


ZenTiger said...

It's a new form of terrorism - bureaucratic morass that punishes everyone. The trigger for blowing up this particular bomb is one incident every 7 years.

Heisenbug said...

The other side of this mess is that instead of trained security staff, they've got monkeys following stupid procedures. Trained people and profiling would deal with the vast majority of risks, but of course profiling is not politically correct... There's a reason El Al has such a good security record and it's not because of stupid antics like the current "security" requirements.

Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling said...

They should just start religious profiling, it would make life so much easier for everyone.

Libertyscott said...

In effect the terrorists "win" by imposing barriers to travel and inconvenience for millions of innocent people. However, perhaps we are expecting security people to do more intelligent things than apply the same rules to everyone. It's about time it was lifted up a level of intelligence rather than being a job that attracts a lot of drones.