Thursday, January 14, 2010

More "enhanced" security is not always the solution

An excellent op-ed at Time magazine.

There has been a lot of debate going on ever since the failed bombing attempt on Flight 253 to Detroit on Christmas day about security measures at airport.

Of course there is always a knee-jerk reaction everytime something like this happens. The public has a freakout, demands that more be done, the government imposes new draconian protocols at airports, the scare hubbub dies down within months and then the public is fed up with all the absurdities they have to deal with before they can board a plane. Eventually there is another terrorist attempt involving a plane, the public has a freakout... Rinse, lather, repeat.

After the so-called “shoe bomber”, Richard Reid, tried to use his sneakers as a weapon, the rest of us had to start taking off our shoes as we go through airport security lines, so they could be scanned for explosives. The latest moron, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, allegedly tried to blow up his undies on Flight 253. Fortunately, the TSA hasn't elected to have us strip down so we can give those a scan, but they do have plans to implement the next best thing — x-ray vision.

No, we don't have to put on a striptease at the airport, but they're still going to have voyeurs check us out in our birthday suits using sophisticated equipment like millimeter-wave or backscatter x-ray scanners.

I suppose I'm not terribly offended. I think people in this country are way too uptight about human anatomy anyway. (I am a bit thankful that the plan so far is to have those giving us the electric-eye once-over in a separate room, unable to actually see us or know our actual identity.) Oh, and supposedly, none of these images will be stored... Health concerns involving these scanners is probably worth keeping in mind for frequent fliers.

Ok, so this equipment might be necessary. In fact, it is probably a step we should have taken a long time ago, along with those machines that can scan your shoe while a foot is in it. This route is certainly better than “enhanced pat-downs”, which is rather self-explanatory. And since TSA has lost a capacity for common sense — as evidenced by 8-year-olds being on watch lists! — running us all through a machine might avoid more idiotic inconveniences than it creates.

Here's my question. What's next?

For every solution we implement to stop what terrorists tried last time, they implement plans that work around these security protocols. Obviously we have to do something, but at what point have we met one of their goals — getting us to alter our way of life; curtail our open-society?

What will we do when someone uses a cell phone or a laptop as a weapon? We won't be allowed to take them on the plane or at least get further access to them once the plane is in the air, that's what.

We're still in the realm of mere inconveniences, though. What happens when one of these goons uses himself as a weapon? A biological weapon, for instance? No one would know until the flight had long-ended. And the results could easily lead to hundreds, perhaps thousands or tens of thousands of people getting sick or dying. What will we do then?

Here is a reality that we all need to get accustomed to. As the article pointed out:
“[President] Bush liked to say that the authorities have to succeed 100% of the time and terrorists only once. The truth is, authorities never succeed 100% of the time at anything. And they never will.”
One of these days an extremist is going to try to attack a plane and he's going to succeed. People are going to die. It's going to be tragic. But we will move on. The question is, how will we move on.

Will we conduct an objective, calculated investigation as to whether there were egregious security lapses, as in the case of this latest attempt where one misspelled letter may have caused the breakdown, and close those gaps; fire those people?

Or will we have a knee-jerk reaction and hastily throw together whatever sort of idiotic security protocols we can think of to make the public feel safer?

I think the good news in these airplane terrorist attempts since 9/11 has been that: 1) these guys aren't too bright, 2) individual, untrained people have been able to thwart these would-be terrorists.

As the article clearly pointed out — weren't not helpless. How about spend a little more time and money on educating the public on what sort of threats we are facing, what sort of scenarios are likely to occur, how we can become more aware of our surroundings, and be better able to withstand and adapt when the unexpected happens.

No comments: