Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Future of Travel Will Remain Unkind To Travelers Because of Terrorism

The Retorican isn't alone in suggesting that traveling commando may be the future of air travel (traveling naked has also been suggested).

So much about air security and preventing terrorism is about the perception of security and safety than actual security and safety. Techniques that might actually prevent terrorism are not adopted or employed because of privacy concerns or discrimination, when there are clear profiles of individuals who have committed acts of terrorism in the past.

NY State Assemblyman Dov Hikind was looking to introduce legislation requiring profiling, but his statement shows that he doesn't get the security situation either.

He was talking about profiling people from the Middle East and South East Asia, when Mutallab was from Nigeria (which is in Africa) and had a Nigerian passport along with a valid US visa. Profiling based on location by itself doesn't work; the Fort Dix Six were originally from Albania (Europe). Other terrorists were home-grown.

The main issue is that the overwhelming majority of those seeking to engage in mass casualty attacks aboard aircraft are engaged in jihad. That means looking for those who would fit that profile.

Christopher Hitchens encapsulates the issue more succinctly and deftly than I could.
What nobody in authority thinks us grown-up enough to be told is this: We had better get used to being the civilians who are under a relentless and planned assault from the pledged supporters of a wicked theocratic ideology. These people will kill themselves to attack hotels, weddings, buses, subways, cinemas, and trains. They consider Jews, Christians, Hindus, women, homosexuals, and dissident Muslims (to give only the main instances) to be divinely mandated slaughter victims. Our civil aviation is only the most psychologically frightening symbol of a plethora of potential targets. The future murderers will generally not be from refugee camps or slums (though they are being indoctrinated every day in our prisons); they will frequently be from educated backgrounds, and they will often not be from overseas at all. They are already in our suburbs and even in our military. We can expect to take casualties. The battle will go on for the rest of our lives. Those who plan our destruction know what they want, and they are prepared to kill and die for it. Those who don't get the point prefer to whine about "endless war," accidentally speaking the truth about something of which the attempted Christmas bombing over Michigan was only a foretaste. While we fumble with bureaucracy and euphemism, they are flying high.
The idea of patting down and going through the security checkpoints are more for providing the veneer of safety and security. With limited resources at our disposal, the need to focus them where they can do the most good is needed.

Regulations that limit who can get up to go to the bathroom and when during a flight makes no sense as a terrorist can simply blow up the plane from his or her seat. Screeners asking whether you packed your own bags is another inane issue; it does little to separate out true threats from those who aren't. On this point, the Israelis have made it an art form of screening out threats based on asking a series of questions that can weed out those who are traveling for business or pleasure and those who have another agenda. It takes a different level of training, and an acceptance by the flying public to accept more invasive questioning over itiniaries than many are accustomed to today when flying on US domestic airlines (and indeed much of the world's airlines).

Still, when it comes down to it, it is up to each individual to look out for their own security because you can't expect the security procedures in place to catch every terrorist every time; the Northwest Airlines Flight 253 outcome is proof positive that individual passengers have to act to save themselves and their fellow passengers. That really remains the last line of defense against terrorism when the terrorist tries to smuggle explosives on board on his person. We can only hope that the security measures in place prevent terrorists from bringing those explosives on board in their checked luggage - a situation that the other passengers have no control over.

And while much of the focus remains on aircraft security, other forms of mass transit remain exposed to the threat; buses and rail traffic can just as surely be attacked by terrorists with deadly consequences. Ignoring that threat is at our continued peril.

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