Saturday, January 02, 2010

Security in the time of the underwear bomber

Given this blog's past interest in the TSA no fly list, I suppose I ought to have some commentary on the Nigerian underwear bomber. Actually the subject seems mostly boring -- it is not exactly news there are people who want to kill people -- but here goes:
  • This aspirational terrorist was on some "watch list," but that didn't do anything to protect anyone. Why? -- well, a million or so names, many of them shared with perfectly harmless people, makes the list useless. When almost all matches are false, those charged with using the list will begin to ignore it. The U.S. can "watch list" people all it likes, but that's just for show, not to protect anyone.
  • As security guru Bruce Schneier has been saying for years, the episode proves that the most important security improvement since 9/11 works: passengers and crew, at whatever risk to themselves, will jump to incapacitate anyone doing anything that seems suspicious. Now that we know that there are nuts who are willing to bring themselves down along with us to get the world's attention, we won't sit around to let it happen. This may not stop a more competent terrorist, but it worked with this asshole and the shoe bomber.
  • Concern over full body image scanning is not new. See this and this.
  • It's still worthwhile to terrorist masterminds to send incompetent clowns to create air travel terror incidents, even if they fail, because international air travel is easy to screw up. I passed through Ezeiza International Airport in Buenos Aires on December 28 -- what a miserable mob scene! In addition to the apparently common two hour check-in lines, we were all subjected to extra personal wanding, hand luggage searches, individual questioning ... by harried airline personnel who also were also expected to carry out their usual duties. I'm pretty sure that a smart terrorist would have slid right through, but thousands were inconvenienced and even humiliated in long lines. You have to really want to travel to go through this kind of thing; do we really want a society made up of United States residents who have been convinced that visiting the rest of the world is so difficult? Or a United States that no sensible foreigner would visit because getting in requires abuse and humiliation? We're working on it.
When "security" is just theater, it helps the terrorists more than it serves us.

The photo is from a Sydney Morning Herald travel blog that labels Ezeisa one of "the world's worst airports." That was in "normal" times; I concur. Given the atmosphere on the 28th, I didn't think it a good idea to shoot my own photo of the chaos.

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