By now you should know that an idiot tried to ignite an incendiary device aboard Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas day. The terrorist, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab of Nigeria, tried to ignite a set of explosive powder that he had strapped in his underwear. He failed, of course. This is the most high profile attempt at taking out a jet liner since Richard Reids’ rather smart shoe bomb attempt, but I have some doubts.
First, the fact that Abdulmutallab was able to get the explosives past security should surprise no one. At the screening point your belongings, shoes, bags, and coats are sent through an x-ray machine. You, however, walk through a metal detector. I’ve carried sandwiches in my pants through the metal detector for a long time. Plastic explosives, powers, and even liquids strategically placed on the body will sail right through the metal detectors.
Oh, wait, what about the puffer machine? The silly mechanism is designed to blast you with puffs of air in the hopes of dislodging residues. Seriously? Does the TSA think terrorists don’t take showers? What a joke. The short of it is anyone could take through security a significant amount of explosive powder or plastic and no one would know until the plane fell from the sky. Get 5 people on the same flight and that plane is dead.
Second, I believe this guy was a groupie, a terrorist wanna-be and not the real McCoy.The first mistake the idiot made was trying to ignite the explosive while sitting in his seat, as the plane was landing. Why didn’t he try it at around 14,000 feet? As soon as the captain said we’re going to be starting our approach soon, he should have jumped up, said he has an overactive bladder (which the stewards would have smiled and said no problem), high tailed it to the front bathroom, packed the explosives against the wall, and set it off. Oh, the smoke detector? Big deal. Means nothing when the bomb goes off. The second act of stupidity the guy did was to declare as soon as they seized upon him that he was Al Qaeda, had been sent by Al Qaeda and all that bullshit. We can’t even get these guys to confess after years at Guantanamo Bay – do you really think a REAL Al Qaeda terrorist would fess up so easily?!
Third, if someone really wanted to take a plane out of the sky, right now, it could be done, under current TSA and Homeland Security rules – and there’s not very much to stop them. Think about what a plane is. Light weight aluminum. Your seat is the best part of the plane to blow a hole in it because there’s about 3-4 inches separating you from the air. The key is to blow out, not in, and that’s why it’s difficult to pack the explosive. But if someone used plastic explosive, well, the hole is going to rip open.
But taking a modern jet lining out of the sky is a lot harder than you might think. If a hole suddenly opened up in the aircraft, sure the suction would rip the guy without his seat belt and the 4 year old in seat 14B right out into space, but by and large the captain’s oxygen mask would drop down, he’d put it on, and make a beeline for 10,000 feet. There have been several examples (Qantas) of fuselage failure (Southwest) but the planes remained aloft. What will take out a plane is if the control systems (hydraulics, engines, fuel lines, fly wires etc.) are damaged, if there is separation midair (ie. Lockerbie) or if an engine is lost (Miracle on the Hudson).
My point here is not that the plane itself can be taken out by a small, rudimentary device like the one being described on Northwest 253, but the right device, with the right power, at the right place can, and it’s only a matter of time until it does.
Fourth, and most importantly, airport security is a joke. It is the illusion of safety, designed to intimidate, coddle, and elicit the illusion that you are being screened, checked out, compared to lists, and made safe. It’s all right here in the latest TSA security screening manual. For a year I traveled with a credit card sized multi-tool. The only reason I don’t anymore is because someone at IAD actually said “wait a second, what’s that?” and took it from me. On December 26 I flew from Louisville to BWI.I anticipated heavy screening. Instead the TSA officials on “high alert” were goofing off and didn’t even look at my bags as they went through the x-ray machine – as in the guy wasn’t even looking at the screen, at all, as the items sailed through.
TSA screeners are, by and large, a massive group of morons with only the slightest bit of education, intelligence, and training. Those that are trained, dedicated, and care about their job, are subjected to daily harassment, warnings against political, cultural, racial, gender, and sexual discrimination (real or imagined), vilified by the media and the public, hamstringed by the government, and by and large made ineffective and useless.
Ever traveled outside the US? I have and it’s fantastic. You will be profiled, discriminated against, and set aside. You will see heavily armed guards. You have no rights and should never expect to have any. This is not the norm, nor will it happen to everyone, but when it comes to the safety of 150 people on a jet plane, your civil liberties as you may call them, your personal rights and privacy, are nothing, and that is precisely what we should be doing in this country. We could vastly improve airport security in this country by following these easy steps, and no I didn’t come up with all of them:
1) Profile. Stop searching granny and the wheelchair and feeling up the 5 year old. Single out men and women from Middle Eastern and North African countries and those from areas of the world where terrorist activities are engaged, such as Chechnya, Yugoslavia, Venezuela, Colombia, etc. If profiling works for serial killers, shopping customers, and employment, it can work for security. But we must, and I say this with all urgency, we must be willing to close the civil liberties loop, to cut out the lawyers, and treat airports like nuclear missile sites. You are not important, we and they, are.
2) Whole-Body Imaging. What would have stopped Abdulmutallab in his tracks? Whole body imaging and scanning. Basically this is a high-tech imaging x-ray of your entire body. YOU become the one going through the machine and the screener can see everything you’ve got, and then some. Unfortunately so-called “privacy advocates” have rallied against this. Well guess what: Without this technology I can continue to sneak my sandwiches on board, and the next terrorist who packs a pound of Semtex in his undies will take a plane out of the sky.
3) TSA employees should not be federal employees, they should instead be a branch of the military, subjected to military rules, discipline, and responsibility. As a federal employee you can screw up a dozen times and not get fired. As a federal employee you are essentially guaranteed a job. Remember my anger at the postal service? If a USPS employee reaches across the counter and slaps you, the most that can be done to that employee is a referral to anger management. He will not lose his job. The same applies to TSA. The employees are our biggest weakness.
4) Fourth and finally, and this is really simple, we must reach the point in this country where we see air travel as not a “right”, or an every day thing. We must consider it a luxury, something that we are NOT entitled to. Air travel is one of the few instances where I believe the American ideal of the individual must give way to the collective. This means your civil rights are strictly limited. Your carry on item sizes are strictly enforced. Your behavior is scrutinized. Your bags and belongings are searched. You are considered a threat first, human second, passenger third, and citizen fourth. If you don’t like it, rent a car, take a bus, or get on a train. This country is too large, too free and lose with it’s immigration policies, and our government is too inept to protect you otherwise.
Now I don’t mean to harp on air travel and its security. I love flying…for the most part. I really like airports, especially the major ones like ATL, SFO, LAX, and DEN. Where else can I get a burger and fries at 7am or a waffle at 10pm? Sure we’re treated like cattle on most airlines. Sure we have to share our seat with 800 pounds of flesh, crying babies, people who haven’t’ bathed in a month, the seat in front of us cracking our knees, and all around general instabilities. But compared to the threat of a terrorist attack and those are so insignificant we really shouldn’t complain…too much… Until we’re all rich and can fly ourselves, or learn to fly, we’re stuck with it.