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Monday, December 28, 2009

Why can't the Americans get airline security straight?

The Economist rips the new 'security precautions' on US airlines and on international flights into the US:
The most ridiculous new rule prohibits passengers on US-bound international flights from leaving their seats or having anything on their laps—even a laptop or a pillow—during the final hour of flight. You're probably thinking "Wait, what?" Indeed. The New York Times elaborates:
In effect, the restrictions mean that passengers on flights of 90 minutes or less would most likely not be able to leave their seats at all, since airlines do not allow passengers to walk around the cabin while a plane is climbing to its cruising altitude.
Gulliver looks forward to the barrage of lawsuits from the first people who are forced to use the bathroom in their airplane seats. This is the absolute worst sort of security theatre: inconvenient, absurd, and, crucially, ineffective.What's to stop a terrorist from doing whatever he's going to do before the one-hour deadline? The answer is what it's always been: other passengers. That's what stopped the alleged would-be bomber, 23-year-old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, on Friday. Vigilantism poses a serious barrier to any other plotters. Making passengers more reluctant to leave their seats seems counterproductive.

As security expert Bruce Schneier told The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg last year (and repeated on Friday), almost every increased security measure since 9/11 has been mostly for show. "Only two things have made flying safer: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers."
There's a third thing that could make flying safer: Profiling. Until the US and other Western countries are willing to admit that they have to profile terrorists (read: search most male Muslims between the ages of 18-50) and take control of security for flights into and out of their own countries wherever necessary, flying will continue to be less than safe.

Look at the grossly negligent willfully negligent treatment of 23-year-old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
Brian Jenkins, who studies terrorism for the Rand Corporation, says there were more terror incidents (12), including thwarted plots, on U.S. soil in 2009 than in any year since 2001. The jihadists don't seem to like Americans any better because we're closing down Guantanamo.

This increasing terror tempo makes the Obama Administration's reflexive impulse to treat terrorists like routine criminal suspects all the more worrisome. It immediately indicted Mr. Abdulmutallab on criminal charges of trying to destroy an aircraft, despite reports that he told officials he had ties to al Qaeda and had picked up his PETN explosive in Yemen. The charges mean the Nigerian can only be interrogated like any other defendant in a criminal case, subject to having a lawyer present and his Miranda rights read.

Yet he is precisely the kind of illegal enemy combatant who should be interrogated first with the goal of preventing future attacks and learning more about terror networks rather than gaining a single conviction. We now have to hope he cooperates voluntarily.

Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, told CNN yesterday that "one thing I'd like to point out is that the system worked." Yet the terrorist screening system seems to have failed in at least two crucial ways: first, in failing to revoke a visa to the U.S. that Mr. Abdulmutallab had obtained last June despite a later warning to U.S. consular officials from his own father that he was becoming radicalized and might have terror network ties; and second, in not adding him to a no-fly list from a lower-level watch list.
Those aren't problems that are going to be resolved by having people sit in their seats for the last hour of their flights. Letting people get on flights without checking their passports isn't going to be resolved by putting people in their seats for the last hour either.

Here in Israel, your passport is checked FIVE TIMES before you get on the plane:

1. You have to present your ticket and passport to security before you get near the ticket counter.

2. You have to present your ticket and passport at the ticket counter.

3. You have to present your boarding pass and passport at the security check entrance.

4. You have to present your passport at the passport control booth that's between security and the terminal.

5. You have to present your passport and boarding pass to get on the plane.

There is no way someone here could get through all those checks without showing a passport. How many times does a passport have to be presented in Amsterdam? Are there any 'redundancies' like we have here to act as security checks? Why not? That's the sort of thing that can keep a terrorist from ever boarding a flight.


I should probably establish my bona fides for being familiar with Ben Gurion Airport security to those of you who are not long-time readers. I have traveled internationally from Ben Gurion eleven times since January 1997, ten of them to the United States.


At 6:24 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Carl - Israel checks people while the US checks objects. The Israeli approach is fast and efficient. Only about 10% of passengers fit a terrorist profile. It makes no sense to harass and inconvenience innocent passenger with invasive checks - and its a waste of time, money and resources. The US system is rooted in a fear of profiling Muslims and in political correctness. No matter how much the US tightens it down, it will fail again the future because it will never stop the kind of people who do turn to terrorism in the first place.


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