Monday, December 28, 2009

Another victory for Terrorism

It’s worth watching U.S. Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano rationalizing the Christmas Day attack on an Amsterdam to Detroit airliner with these words:
“The system worked, everybody played an important role here. The passengers and crew of the flight took appropriate action. Within literally an hour to ninety minutes of the incident occurring all 128 flights in the air had been notified to take some special measures.”

Who knew that passengers are part of the system, deputized by the situation to act on behalf of American Homeland Security? Too bad the hero was a Dutchman; I hope he receives honorary U.S. citizenship as soon as he passes the security check.

This latest terror attack highlights the gaping holes in airport security that still exists despite a couple of generations of airliner hijackings culminating with the 9/11 attacks, the shoe bomber etc…etc... Has there been a single attack that has been foiled by airport security measures in use today? Not that I could find.

Sure there was the liquid explosive plot that the British foiled, but that did not happen during an airport security check. That incident and all the others have resulted in passengers being subjected to some pretty stupid rules. But removing your shoes will be just a tiny indignity imposed on us compared to the Full-Body Scanners that the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) intends to implement at all major airports. If Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam had this device, maybe this latest incident on Fight 253 would have been foiled, maybe not. Reading the Globe and Mail this morning I came across the story of one passenger on Flight 253, Shama Chopra, who lives in MontrĂ©al. Prior to boarding she noticed Adulmutallab the accused on Flight 253 acting strangely.

“I was looking at this guy and his hands were on his forehead,” she recounted to CTV about her encounter with him in the airport. “He was thinking very hard. I was thinking, ‘Why is he standing like this?' They checked him again. He's the last one they let on the plane,” she said. Too bad.

So here we have a Canadian deputy of Homeland Security, who like anyone getting on an airplane these days has a heightened sense of foreboding about the flight, but in this case she was prescient beyond her wildest nightmares.

Almost 40 years ago I took a flight from Tel Aviv back home. Prior to boarding I was questioned by Israeli Security. A young very fit man with a distinctive Israeli accent searched though my luggage and carry-on and asked me series of questions about my business in Israel. Some of the questions were repeated, he was trying to trip me up and I was getting annoyed, I shouldn’t have been. “Open your transistor radio, let me see your watch, let me see your camera”, and on and on. There were no high-tech search devices, just a well trained, persistent questioner. My answers were not recorded; he was not really interested in my personal life, just the way I acted, my body language, speech patterns, ticks, whatever.
No airplane leaving Tel Aviv has ever been hijacked. Ms. Chopra from MontrĂ©al points the way to real airline security. Use the Israeli model and just as important let the airlines take care of their own security. They have much to lose if people become more fearful of flying than they already are. Airlines will develop reputations like Israel’s EL AL; safety records can be compared and passengers can be treated with dignity. Water bottles and toothpaste will be allowed again, bathroom breaks prior to landing will be allowed, security, speed and courtesy will be improved under competitive market conditions. As evidenced again, the current model is not working.

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