November 23, 2010


A Waste of Money and Time (Bruce Schneier, 11/23/10, NY Times)

[A]irplanes require a special level of security for several reasons: they’re a favored terrorist target; their failure characteristics mean more deaths than a comparable bomb on a bus or train; they tend to be national symbols; and they often fly to foreign countries where terrorists can operate with more impunity.

But all that can be handled with pre-9/11 security. Exactly two things have made airplane travel safer since 9/11: reinforcing the cockpit door, and convincing passengers they need to fight back. Everything else has been a waste of money. Add screening of checked bags and airport workers and we’re done. Take all the rest of the money and spend it on investigation and intelligence.

Immediately after the Christmas Day Underwear Bomber’s plot failed, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano called airplane security a success. She was pilloried in the press and quickly backpedaled, but I think it was one of the most sensible things said on the subject. Plane lands safely, terrorist in custody, nobody injured except the terrorist: what more do people want out of a security success?

Look at what succeeded. Because even pre-9/11 security screened for obvious bombs, Abdulmutallab had to construct a far less reliable bomb than he would have otherwise. Instead of using a timer or a plunger or a reliable detonation mechanism, as would any commercial user of PETN, Abdulmutallab had to resort to an ad hoc and much more inefficient detonation mechanism involving a syringe, 20 minutes in the lavatory, and setting his pants on fire. As a result, his actions came to the notice of the other passengers, who subdued him.

Put two planes at the airport gate and offer Mr. Schneier a flight on the one where passengers have been thoroughly searched or on the one where it is assumed that's a waste of time and money and which one is he getting on? 'Nuff said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 23, 2010 5:38 PM
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