The Obama Administration is failing to tackle the problem of gaping holes in airline security, according to two leading American security experts.
After the failed al-Qaeda attempt to blow up Northwest Airlines passenger flight 253 over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, US authorities announced new airline security measures. However, these measures are inadequate, argue Fred Burton and Ben West, writing for Stratfor (January 13, 2010).
Stratfor is published by the Texas-based private intelligence and security think tank, Strategic Forecasting, which sells its security assessments to American and international clients.
In the article, Burton and West commented: “Whatever changes actually result from the most recent bombing attempt, they will likely be more successful at pacifying the public and politicians than preventing future attacks.”
Unless airline security is greatly improved, senior American executives may prefer to fly in to Canadian and even Mexican airports, after which they could commute by hire car or private charter to head offices in the US – an option unlikely to be affordable to millions of economy-class travellers.
About the recent promised changes Burton and West said: “While such measures are certainly important, they will not go far enough, by themselves, to meaningfully address the aviation security challenges the United States still faces almost nine years after 9/11.
“For one thing, technology must not be seen as a panacea. It can be a very useful tool for finding explosive devices and weapons concealed on a person or in luggage, but it is predictable and reactive. In terms of aviation security, the federal government has consistently been fighting the last war and continues to do so.
“Certain practical and effective steps have been taken. Hardening the cockpit door, deploying air marshals and increasing crew and passenger awareness countered the airline hijacking threat after 9/11; requiring passengers to remove their shoes and scanning them prior to boarding followed [Richard] Reid’s 2001 shoe-bombing attempt; and restrictions on liquids and gels followed the 2006 trans-Atlantic plot.
“Not enacting these measures would have meant not learning from past mistakes, and they do ensure that unsophisticated ‘copycat’ attackers are not successful. But such measures – even those that are less technological – fail to take into account innovative militants, who are eager and able to exploit inevitable weaknesses in the process.”
As long as American airport security relied on screening techniques that were “only moderately invasive”, gaps would remain which innovative attackers would inevitably exploit.
Stratfor‘s assessment confirms the views of American commentator, Professor Thomas Sowell, of the Hoover Institution, who has scoffed at the Obama Administration’s aviation security moves.
Writing for Creators Syndicate (January 12, 2010), Sowell said: “The latest ‘screw-up’ that let a man with explosives get on a plane on Christmas day is only part of a larger laxness and irresponsibility when it comes to national security. This administration pays lip service to national security and gives out with a lot of rhetorical notions that makes it notional security instead of national security. …
“This is because we have become so obsessed with political correctness that both common sense and self-preservation have to take a back seat. We don’t dare ‘profile’ anybody going through security checks because that’s not politically correct. Far better to be blown to smithereens than to be politically incorrect.”
He commended Israeli-style stringency, saying: “Probably the country with the strongest security checks for airline passengers – and the strongest reason for such checks – is Israel. Israel profiles. I have been to Israel more than once and it is clear that they profile.”
He reported how an Israeli official recently testified before US Congress and suggested how American airports could be made safer.
“Apparently the only response he got from American security officials was a polite letter. ‘They didn’t tell me to go to Hell,’ the Israeli said. ‘They were polite’.
“There is no stronger indication of danger than officials who don’t want to hear what anybody else has to say, even when those who offer to help have a system that works better than ours.”
Burton and West described the exemplary thoroughness of Israel’s aviation security. They said: “El Al, Israel’s national airline, is one international carrier that conducts thorough searches of every passenger and every handbag, runs checked luggage through a decompression chamber and has two air marshals on each flight. The airline also refuses to let some people (including many Muslims) on board.”
However, they conceded: “While these practices have been successful in preventing terrorist attacks against the airline, they are not in line with American and European culture and President Obama’s insistence that measures remain consistent with privacy rights and civil liberties.
“It is also economically and politically unfeasible for major US airlines operating hundreds of flights per day from hundreds of different cities to impose measures such as those followed by El Al, an airline with fewer planes and a smaller area of operation.”
Unfortunately Australia’s Rudd Government has more in common with America’s approach than Israel’s.
Joseph Poprzeczny is a Perth-based historian and writer.
Fred Burton and Ben West, “Airline security: gentle solutions to a vexing problem”, Stratfor (Strategic Forecasting, Inc., Austin, Texas), January 13, 2010.
Thomas Sowell, “‘Notional’ security”, Creators Syndicate (Los Angeles), January 12, 2010.