Saturday, January 2, 2010

What to Do About Air Travel?

The close call in the thwarted bombing attempt of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 over Detroit woke us from our slumber of complacency about the safety of air travel in this age of terrorist attacks on civilians.

Once again, the terrorists have succeeded in creating fear and apprehension with the American public.

And once again, a terrorist had a plan that was one step ahead of the imagination of the bureaucrats of Homeland Security, who often impress me as lacking in a solid understanding of the laws of physics. Their methods have always mixed "planning for the last attack attempt" with putting adherence to politically-correct procedures ahead of proven effective methods.

What Went Wrong?
  1. The perpetrator was known as a potential threat, but was not on the “no fly” list.
  2. Instead of hiding the materials in his shoe or carry-on, it was hidden in his clothes.

As with 9/11 and the "shoe bomber," the terrorist was one step about security procedures. And the lack of communication among agencies is as still a problem today as it was on 9/11.

What To Do?
First, look at what works.

  • Once in the air, only one method has thwarted the attempts of terrorists: the intervention of passengers and/or crew. The score is 3-3 and in all 3 "thwarts" passengers and/or crew stepped up.
  • Israli security experts agree: screening technology alone doesn't work; interviewing and even profiling must complement screening techniques.

Second, what could be implemented? Here's a couple of easy ones.

  • The success of in-flight intervention is a call for marshals on at least selected flights if not all of them.
  • Any person of concern, even if not on the "no fly" list, should only be allowed on flights with marshals.

The issues of screening and profiling comes up against issues of personal liberty. The whole approach of screening everyone inherently reeks of "guilty unto proven innocent" which runs counter to the basis of constitutional rights and the basic principles of libertarianism.

Still, the terrorists have many Americans afraid enough to say "screen me" and I'll feel safe. The sad thing is not only is the evident of the erosion of our constitutional rights, but in reality even full body scans won't make us safe.

It doesn't take much imagination to see that the terrorists will come up with some way to fool even full body scans. In the prisons they have strip searches, but it does not reveal contraband hid in body cavities. It takes not much imagination that on a suicide mission, the body could be the bomb.

So, what to do?

Here are my thoughts on a broad spectrum approach:

  1. Business travel needs to migrate more to private aircrafts. Likewise, vacation travel should migrate more to charter flights. It's much harder for a terrorist to "blend in" on these types of flights, often where everyone knows who belongs and who doesn't.
  2. Internationally, make less enemies. The Bush Administration raised the ire of most of the world's governments and citizens. A more reasonable approach will reduce the number of people who hate the US. It won't completely solve the problem, but let's not help add to the ranks of the terrorists by our arrogant foreign policy.
  3. For the fewer commercial flights (after implementing #1 above), integrate a program that mixes screening technology, with knowledge-based interviewing of passengers, some random-based interviewing, all based on an improved sharing of information.
  4. Within Homeland Security, there needs to be more technically savvy staff (engineers and scientists) who can try to be a step ahead of the terrorists.

1 comment:

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