Monday, January 25, 2010

On Flying and Security

The post-9/11 "improvement" in the "security" that is "enjoyed" by passengers was summed up a few years ago by a dearly departed friend of mine after it became clear how onerous and vapid the new programs were. He refused to get on another plane as long as he lived.

And when he died in 2006, he'd been as good as his word.

Jonah Goldberg's recent opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times confirms that things are no better. If there's a no-fly list, you're best off signing up. In it, he entertainingly quotes an Israeli security expert to make a point I've been preaching for years: "The United States does not have a security system; it has a system for bothering people."

The appearance of guards and the imposition of inconvenience is no substitute for a properly-designed and competently-implemented security policy. And the irony in all this is that as bad as that "security" system is, it's apparently enough to thwart what terrorists are currently capable of attempting.

The primary security improvement actually achieved in the United States is the elimination of the ridiculous notion that passengers should meekly go along with whatever criminals require, in the outrageous expectation that they will be rescued by competent professionals. The only competent anti-terrorist activity apparent on September 11, 2001, was the conduct of civilian passengers on Flight 93. The "shoe bomber" and the "Christmas bomber" were not subdued by some crack team of security specialists but by their co-passengers – who no longer believe dangerous mischief on aircraft is someone else's problem. The second useful move toward airline security was putting firearms on the planes.

Still, screening for explosives needs improvement.

So far, we have improved security by making passengers aware of the risk of criminals and ensuring they are not fooled into thinking compliance is a route to safety; and we have armed some of the planes. These may be consistent with airline security, but they are not themselves airline security. Barring Cat Stevens, author of the song Peace Train, from entering the United States is the kind of idiocy that contributes not at all to security, but undermines it by making a mockery of other aspects of an attempted security program.

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