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Bombs Don't Kill People...

Wretchard of the Belmont Club has always been one of my favorite "big thinkers." And he has a discussion on two different models in airport security that is well worth the read.

The model we in the United States use is to attempt to control what gets on the plane. The theory is that if we detect the terrorists' weapons, we not only keep the weapons off the plane, but we can identify and capture the terrorists before they can strike.

The alternate model is to control who gets on the plane. This is the Israeli model -- they have found ways in which terrorists give themselves away to skilled questioners and observers, and their screeners are exceptionally competent at these arts.

Since 9/11 and the ensuing US emphasis on airplane security, we've had the Shoe Bomber, the Underwear Bomber, the Toner Bombs, and several other threats were addressed before an incident could occur (the limits on liquids in carry-on baggage, for one). In the three specific cases, the responses were reactive -- the plots were attempted, but failed thanks to the incompetence of the bombers. They were not stopped or even detected by security measures.

Meanwhile, Israel has gone over 40 years without an incident on an airliner.

This should come as no suprise. With two notable exceptions, every single terrorist attack on an airliner has had one common element: the presence of a terrorist on the plane. The toner plot used cargo shipping, and on Pan Am 103 the bomber concealed the bomb in the baggage of his unknowing and pregnant girlfriend. In that latter case, measures are now in place to catch that -- increased screening of electronics, the repeated "anyone else touch your baggage?" questions, and the like.

The weapons the terrorists use are constantly changing. Guns fell out of fashion in the 1970's. The 9/11 hijackers used box cutters and utility knives -- pretty much standard, everyday tools. So they were banned. Next, a really dumb guy packed his shoes with explosives. So we now look at shoes. The bad guys planned to use small amounts of liquids to mix up explosives, so now we can't take small amounts of shampoo and other liquids into the airplane with us. Another non-rocket-scientist stitched a bomb into his underwear, but only managed to geld himself -- so now we all get our junk grabbed and our nether regions bombarded with radiation.

In brief, the threat is constantly evolving, so our defenses must as well.

But as noted, the weapons change, but the attackers don't. That is the one constant element, the one unchanging factor, the one thing we need to detect even more than the latest weapons.

It's the old truism about gun control laws writ large: guns don't kill people, people kill people. A gun, in and of itself, is harmless. It will not crawl around and shoot someone at random. Conversely, if someone is dead set on killing another and is denied a gun, they will find some other way to carry out their plan.

Let's take it further. The mere presence of a knife or a gun on an airplane is, in and of itself, not a danger to the passengers or the plane itself. Yeah, accidents might happen, but by and large that's true. It takes someone with the skill and will to use those weapons to make them a threat.

We need to maintain our efforts on the physical security (but not quite to the "turn your head and cough" level), but we need to take off our ideological blinders and start looking at the people we let on to the planes. Only by profiling (a legitimate and valuable tool that we have let be slurred by people who conflate psychological and behavioral profiling with "racial profiling," and get hysterical at the mention of the p-word) can we start looking at the real threat.

Under our current system, the best we can hope for is to allow unarmed terrorists on to the plane. And another term for "unarmed terrorist" is "a terrorist either with a weapon we haven't detected, or looking for an improvised weapon on board."

The most deadly weapon in the terrorist's arsenal is his mind. That is precisely the weapon we scrupulously avoid looking for, and the first one the Israelis look for.

We've failed countless times, leading to the deaths of thousands and the needless inconveniencing and harassment of millions. They've never had a major failure.

We need to look at what's working. And what hasn't.


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Comments (22)

Give 'em enough rope and th... (Below threshold)

Give 'em enough rope and they hang themselves.

The "politically correct" crowd has gotten enough rope to hang themselves and this is only one of the places where the average American is finally saying "Hey! Wait just a minute!"

But..but..but....Jay Tea, t... (Below threshold)

But..but..but....Jay Tea, the Israeli method would mean that we'd have to hire competent and thinking people. That goes against the grain of "one size fits all". This country has invested heavily in incompetence. Why change now?

Ha. I had been drafting a ... (Below threshold)

Ha. I had been drafting a piece similar to this one but hadn't had time to fully develop it. So I guess I should say "thanks".

The bottom line is that a defensive or reactionary approach to stopping terrorists is limited to strategies based on previous terror attacks -- terrorists bring knives or metal objects on airplanes, so now we have metal detectors; terrorists put bombs in their shoes, so now we have to have our shoes inspected; terrorists put a bomb in a shampoo bottle, so now we can only take tiny travel-size liquid containers on board; terrorists put bombs in their underwear, so now we have full body scans or pat-downs, etc.

Under such a scheme we can be pretty confident that there will be no more shampoo bombs or knives or shoe bombs or underwear bombs.

But as you say, terrorists are always one step ahead of us. The recent toner cartridge bombs were intercepted only because of good intelligence (a point worth remembering the next time liberals complain about electronic surveillance). Airport detection systems utterly failed to detect those bombs. We were apparently only minutes away from a major disaster.

When terrorists strike airlines again they will use a method cleverly designed to evade our current security -- including body scans and pat-downs -- and surprise us just the way we were shocked by the 9/11 suicide hijackers.

Laura Ingraham has beat thi... (Below threshold)
gary gulrud:

Laura Ingraham has beat this Israeli drum, this week in fact, as well as have others.

Even Mpls/St.P is rethinking the private contract security route.

Hey, Michael: Welcome to Wi... (Below threshold)

Hey, Michael: Welcome to Wizbang.

That's the problem with a site written by compatible people: we occasionally step on each others' articles. For a while there, DJ and I were inadvertently ripping each others' topics on an almost daily basis. Same story (but not so frequently) with Shawn. And more than a couple times, in the Old Days, I scooped Paul. (He bitched about my pieces on armor for a couple of months.)

Stuff happens, colleague o' mine. But if you think your piece is different enough from mine, and you have either a different take or other info or just want to run it anyway, go for it.


"terrorists are always one ... (Below threshold)

"terrorists are always one step ahead of us" IF you practice a reactive approach instead of a proactive approach.

Loose the PC beliefs that profiling certain groups is discriminatory and tell the offended parties if they want to fly they are going to be singled out for additional scrutiny because they DO match a group that has been determined DO commit terrorist acts.

Also, take away their abilities to use the courts to prevent the higher levels of attention because they are offended.

The problem is that idiots ... (Below threshold)
John S:

The problem is that idiots run the administration. (Joe Biden is the smart one.) Airline safety is easy: all the enemy look alike. Simply strip search and sexually violate every Muslim male that attempts to board a U.S. flagged carrier. They can fly Air France if they object.

And for God's sake, abolish the TSA before they form their union. What's worse than a $70,000 a year government worker thrusting his finger in your six-year old's vagina? The same government worker who CANNOT BE FIRED!

Eh - what should we expect ... (Below threshold)

Eh - what should we expect from a government that's top-loaded with equivocating douchebags like Holder? These are the scrunts that have decided it's OK for racist minorities to intimidate votes without punishment; Justice didn't target the actual criminals the same way they refuse to target murdering jihadis. It's Whitey's fault that the NBP acted that way; it's America's fault the jihadis hate us.

I would have no problem wit... (Below threshold)
Bruce Henry:

I would have no problem with psychological profiling in the Israeli style. I read somewhere that it would be unwieldy to do this here because of the vastly higher volume of passengers, but I don't know whether that's accurate or not.

Again, psychological profiling as done on El Al flights wouldn't bother me as a liberal. But profiling someone because they "look Muslim" doesn't make sense. You're simply doing what you decry in another paragraph - reacting to an attack that has already been attempted. Terrorists packed shoes with explosives, so now we must take off our shoes. They tried liquids, so now, no shampoo bottles. And they tried, and succeeded, with swarthy young Arab-looking men, so now we must profile all swarthy young men?

Did the Christmas Day bomber "look Muslim"? Weren't the Entebbe hijackers, who did their deed "on behalf of the Palestinian people," blond, blue-eyed Germans? We are trying, here in NC, a suspected terror conspiracist who looks like your average Lynyrd Skynyrd fan. I believe his name is "Boyd."

Give the terrorists some credit, Wizbang commenters. They may not be geniuses, but they're smart enough not to send a Muhammad Atta lookalike to the airport for their next attempt.

Claire Berlinski had a piec... (Below threshold)

Claire Berlinski had a piece on this a day or two ago.

Bruce, profiling isn't so b... (Below threshold)

Bruce, profiling isn't so black and white and neither are "Wizbang commentors."

But your comments usually are.

Sorry, Dr Epador, I should ... (Below threshold)
Bruce Henry:

Sorry, Dr Epador, I should have said, "some of you Wizbang commenters." Just seemed like an unnecesary adornment on a sentence, but I guess it bumped your oversensitive spot. My apologies.

Bruce, I wasn't taking your... (Below threshold)

Bruce, I wasn't taking your comment as a personal one, as you suggest, but that only digs you in a hole deeper, doesn't it?

I object to the "pat-downs"... (Below threshold)

I object to the "pat-downs" and body scans because the power of the State over individuals is being abused. TSA agents are already being caught using their newly minted power to invade our privacy for their own amusement. If "random" searches are to be done, then it truly has to be random. Somehow, pretty co-eds in the line are getting pulled aside for screening at a much higher rate.

I also object because this doesn't solve the security problem. "Mules" smuggling drugs and prisoners smuggling contraband like weapons have a very simple way to defeat "pat-downs" and back-scatter devices, and they've been doing it for decades. Even worse, there is no security against bombs as long as they allow laptops on airplanes: the batteries can be replaced with explosives, the the x-ray machines will simply see the explosives as large, uniformly dense objects.

If you're looking for bombs, you have to sample the air for bombs. But more importantly, you can't control what goes onto the plane any more than you can control what gets into a prison -- even if you treat passengers like convicts.

If you want real security look at what the Israelies do.
Enough with the security theatre.

Psych profiling is influenc... (Below threshold)

Psych profiling is influenced by race, gender and culture. But it is not racist, and the smoke you are blowing is more transparent than Paris Hilton's panties.

I don't get it, Dr Epador. ... (Below threshold)
Bruce Henry:

I don't get it, Dr Epador. Who's blowing smoke, and how so? Who are you disagreeing with so disagreeably? Why do you seem so angry? It's just a comment section on a blog.

If I'm misreading you, I apologise.

Mr. Tea,You know, ... (Below threshold)

Mr. Tea,

You know, I have an older brother with three Doctorates (he spent half his life in school), but the truth is he doesn't have a lick of common sense. Hell, he couldn't win an argument with a three year old - much less lead him or her to the crapper. Figured out long ago that when we debate - to toss him a bone - cause he's keeping score in his head, and that way he'll think he's won and be vindicated.

He lives in his own little world, and that's fine, as long as he remains there. But when he ventures away from his realm, then I seriously worry that someday reality will cause him serious harm...or worse.

Jay, you have common sense in spades. We need more folks like you in the world to solve problems and fix things. Let the intellectuals (or whatever label they affix to themselves these days) have their own space to feel good and do good in, while folks like you get on with the important stuff unencumbered.

Now, if we can just get the intellectuals to accept this division of responsibilities, then the world would improve considerably. Perhaps we can give them lots of shiny rockets, and send them to the international space station where they would be completely absorbed and enthralled with it all.

Semper Fidelis - the other Bruce

Hey, was that a shot? That ... (Below threshold)
Bruce Henry:

Hey, was that a shot? That was a shot, wasn't it?

Mr. Henry,Its not ... (Below threshold)

Mr. Henry,

Its not glib, he is a brilliant rocket scientist (literally). He just has no people skills...zero. zip, nada.

Semper Fidelis - the other Bruce

Mr. Henry,Mr. Tea ... (Below threshold)

Mr. Henry,

Mr. Tea is spot on. Its the same old argument, "Guns don't kill people...people kill people. Do you want to win debating points or do you want to stay alive?

I got robbed once by some Ugandan soldiers (thugs really) armed with AK-47s on a bus shake down in Western Kenya. You want my wallet? camera? pfffft. How bout my shoes too? And while we were lined up outside the bus, I noticed local folks behind this scene, taking the opportunity to make a break and sprint across the road and into the bush. They knew what was going on.

When my brother and I discussed this, he got hung up on his principals (again), argh! So, if it was him instead of me in that situation, he'd be dead instead of alive. Go figure.

Semper Fidelis - the other Bruce

Mr. Henry,I'm back... (Below threshold)

Mr. Henry,

I'm back from church with the family. There is more to this Kenyan story when I was headed out to the gold fields along the western border.

I know how to blend in, act local, be invisible (no ugly American I). But its kinda hard when your the only "white" person within a hundred miles, and the bandits are shaking everybody down for whatever they can get (money, chickens, sunglasses, watches - whatever).

It was pretty intense, and everybody...and I mean everybody is looking at me to see how I would react. So... I feigned indifference. Like it wasn't a big deal. My wallet? Sure (didn't even ask for my military ID in it back), pffft (its just gone, so what.) Backpack? Camera? I even started to remove my shoes. You want them too?

I was completely focused on the show, and so was everyone else...including the guns. Which gave those hiding in the bush before the road block a chance to make a break for it. Including men, women, children and babies. They knew, and I knew, completely what wasgoing on.

I couldn't have given two figs that these Ugandan soldiers hadn't been paid in a year, or that they were poor deprived human beings,or that some of them probably had only known the smelly end-of-the-stick all their lives, and so I should empathize with them.

They were hard scrabble men, armed to the teeth, willing to use force - to snatch and grab whatever they wanted...or worse. I mean, it was not the time to begin engaging in a deep philosophical discussion - shaking of hands - telling jokes, - or breaking out a round of Kume-bye-yah...if ya know what I mean?

Its different when its real...its not like opining from the comfort of your home with enmity about shades of this or that; but in that vein, I'll tell you that one's perception of the threat, is directly proportional to one's proximity to it.

The world can be cruel and unfair - so you deal with it - right now - best you can. Or when confronted, you can just whimper, pee in your pants, and beg to be shot on the spot so that your life will just end.

This thread of Mr. Tea's is all about fixing these situations by separating out the human threat from the general public...before it gets ugly...and Amen to that.

Semper Fidelis-

Does anyone remember it was... (Below threshold)
edmond dantes:

Does anyone remember it was Geo. W. Bush the U.S. President before Obama who ran for President in 2000 on a Pledge NOT to profile Arabs at U.S. airports, I REMEMBER thinking at the time what a jackass, it is precisely the Arabs that should be profiled. But he wanted to win the Arab Vote and thereupon did as much as anyone to give us 9-11.
Does anyone else remember, or am I alone in remembering his stupidity.






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