Airplane Security/Bomb Plots

10:32 Fri 11 Aug 2006
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Yesterday’s apparent prevention of a major attack on UK-to-US flights is on my mind right now.

It’s fantastically good news that such an attack was prevented, obviously. So far it looks legitimate, but there have been previous cases of the authorities lying about this kind of thing—many of the previous American arrests were announced with fanfare and then quietly slipped into unimportance, the recent Canadian arrests look like they broke up a ring of loudmouths rather than a bona fide underground cell, and of course the UK police did kill an entirely innocent Brazilian man and then lie about a lot of the details. So I’m naturally skeptical about what the authorities tell us. In this case it looks like there was something to it.

The first response, of course, is a kind of hysteria, both in terms of airplane security and in terms of the President of the United States blathering on about “Islamic fascism”. In the US they’re apparently not allowing any liquids on planes, and in the UK they’re allowing almost nothing on planes. And this really bothers me, especially since they’re refusing to allow people to bring books on the planes. Books! “Better safe than sorry” can only be taken so far… if people could make books into deadly weapons then they could also make clothes into deadly weapons. Should we all be forced to board naked? That seems in line with what I see as knee-jerk flailing around. What a lot of it comes down to, of course, is money. It would cost airlines a tremendous amount of money to intitute truly effective security, which depends on highly-skilled, highly-trained personnel. In the US, you instead get people who confiscate tiny GI Joe toy weapons.

As zefrank and the Cato Institute (via BoingBoing) point out, what’s required is a calm assessment of risk. Calm and restraint would really help a lot more than fearmongering. Fearmongering is what we’re going to get, though. That works better with warmongering, and too many powerful interests favor war of one kind or another, and a fearful populace. (I’ll probably post more on that soon.)

I don’t know what the answer for airplane security is. Sufficiently determined, clever, and resourceful people are going to be able to defeat almost any security measure eventually. Dealing with the motivation for attacks is both absolutely necessary and spectacularly unlikely. Knee-jerk responses to the last attack, especially ones governed by the twin principles of “cover your ass” and “make it look like you’re doing something”, are not going to help prevent the next attack. Simplification of what’s going on will cause more problems.

On a much more selfish note, I have to say that the thought of a long flight without books, laptop, or even my own music, is quite disturbing. You might be able to make an argument for why the music player and/or laptop are too high-risk. Good luck on making that argument for books.

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