I used to fly. A lot. And the recent near-miss by yet another radicalized terrorist has me happier than ever that I’m not flying much.

But that’s not because I’m worried about being killed in a terrorist attack in the air.  I’m worried that my head will explode while I’m going through the performance art that is labeled by the government as “security”.

Let’s recap what happened on Christmas Day.

  1. a young Muslim man from a 3rd world country is radicalized
  2. his concerned parents contact the US Embassy, and this information eventually goes to the CIA
  3. he pays $2831 cash for a ticket from Laos->Amsterdam->Detroit, travels alone, and checks no bags on this cross the globe trip
  4. he hides some highly explosive PETN in his tighty whities.
  5. a Dutch passenger comes to the rescue when he tries to ignite the explosives

The response by the various security agencies has been quite interesting.  Initially, in-flight entertainment systems were shut down because they showed where the aircraft’s location.  Let’s think about that for a minute.  Somebody in a position of authority (let’s call him Mr. Beane) believed we were better protected on a flight if a terrorist doesn’t have a GPS map telling him where he is.

Is Mr. Beane aware that there are windows on a plane?  Did he take high school physics and learn that you can derive distance by multiplying speed (airliner flies ~ 450mph) x time.  Does he know that we’re still allowed (as of today, anyway), to have timing devices on our person.  Insane.  So we all miss the movies that make the horrid, cramped and squalid service a little less tortuous because some “security expert” decides that it’s too dangerous.

Next, Mr. Beane decided that it’s safest if we all sit on our bums for the last 60 minutes of a flight.  This one was very familiar to me, because I flew on the first non-US originating flight into Washington’s Reagan National Airport after 9/11.  I went through 4 different security checkpoints in Toronto, and there was an Air Marshall on that flight.  We were instructed at the start of the flight that due to the sensitive route this flight takes down the Potomac, that we must remain seated for the last 45 minutes of the flight.  No biggie, I thought.  Especially since it was only an hour and a half long flight.  I was certainly in a heightened emotional state on that flight, and watched every passenger around me for any signs of mischief.  In this specific flight’s case, the assumption is that an attacker would want to do harm to a major US government facility, thus having people stuck in their seats as we’re approaching those makes more sense.

So after Christmas day,  we weren’t allowed to have anything on our laps for those remaining 60 minutes either.  Why didn’t they just have the captain announce, “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking.  It is now 60 minutes to our landing in Newark, so you are all now required to remain in your seats with your hands on your heads.  Flight attendants will be coming down the aisle and affixing blindfolds and ball gags to you for the remainder of the flight.  We recognize you have choices when you fly, and we want you to know that we appreciate your business.”

However, in the general case, terrorists just want to inflict terror.  Does it really matter if a plane blows up over the Atlantic, over a field or over a city.  Yes, there will be more damage, and possibly more media coverage if it’s over land, but you don’t need specific locations to assure that.  And you sure don’t need a GPS.  So they asked terrorists to kindly remain in their seats for the remaining 60 minutes of the flight.  But please feel free to get up 62 minutes before the end of the flight and blow things up.

This approach to security is akin to the famous Maginot Line.  Set the fence up at 60 minutes, and the bad guys just walk around it at 62 minutes.  Wow, who saw that coming?  I pity those folks who drank too much in 1st class and need a bathroom break. Oh wait, 1st class was exempt from this restriction.  Oh crap, now the terrorists know that.  “Wow, this security stuff is hard” mumbles Mr. Beane.

Let’s turn to another one of Mr. Beane’s security brainstorms.  No more roller-bag carry ons.  In fact, nothing more than a small laptop bag or purse.  Let’s reflect back on this and identify what security benefit there is in this action.

Terrorists will not be able to bring on board roller bags.  Yes, that’s right.  We’ve won.  The code has been cracked.  Perhaps the theory behind this one is that terrorists will be so pissed off with the crappy service they get from the airlines that they start attacking trains again.  Well played, Mr. Beane.

Noted Security expert Bruce Schneier has correctly stated that the government focuses on the “last attack” and not the “next one”.  This is very true, but I think it is important that you try to make it as difficult as possible to replay the last attack.  Doing nothing is akin to leaving your car door unlocked after repeated thefts.  Wise up, and lock the door. But don’t order all cars to be painted yellow.  That might look like action, but we clearly don’t all want yellow cars.

However, the actions being taken now don’t address the last attack, or the next one.  They are a complete replay of the goat rodeo we went through after 9/11, whose sole purpose was to put bums back in seats and keep the airline industry from complete collapse.

If we were serious about security, we’d have a much greater pre-screening process, that starts well before people check in, or even buy a ticket.  And it wouldn’t depend on me taking off my shoes and not bringing on board a roller bag.

In any event, these actions have frustrated me, and I don’t have to fly very often now.  And when I do, it’s generally for pleasure.  That’s ironic.  Flying for pleasure.  Who does that any more?

Oh, and by the way Mr. Beane – YOU’RE FIRED.

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