US Airline Security

December 28th, 2009 at 10:31 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Airline passengers to the United States will be isolated from other travellers at Auckland Airport and face a rigorous second set of security checks following the suspected terrorist attack on a Christmas Day flight to the US. …

The Aviation Security Service’s northern regional manager, Peter Pilley, said passengers should allow an extra hour before the departure time for their flight.

He advised people to take as little carry-on luggage as possible to speed the process.

The TSA directive also says passengers must remain seated for the final hour of their US-bound flight and are not allowed access to carry-on baggage or to have any items on their laps.

Eric Crampton is not impressed:

Can we reject the null hypothesis that Osama’s crew have agents inside the TSA and that their whole objective is to give these agents reasons to make travelers’ lives hell?

Heh. Not impossible. He quotes other bloggers:

Seems to me that what this, Flight 93, and the Richard Reid incident have shown us is that the best line of defense against airplane-based is us. Alert, aware, informed passengers.

TSA, on the other hand, equates hassle with safety. For all the crap they put us through, this guy still got some sort of explosive material on the plane from Amsterdam. He was stopped by law-abiding passengers. So TSA responds to all of this by . . . announcing plans to hassle law-abiding U.S. passengers even more.

9/11 did change everything. Passengers will take action now – even take on armed hostiles, rather than let them gain control of a plane. Crampton comments:

Only two things have made flying safer [since 9/11]: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers.

He offers three theories for the new flight restrictions:

  1. The TSA are in it with the terrorists to create maximum inconvenience for travelers and augment the TSA budget
  2. The TSA are complete idiots
  3. There’s nothing the TSA can really do, but idiots demand they do something and the only something that passengers can observe is how much they’re being inconvenienced?

I agree with Eric that (3) is marginally the most likely.

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21 Responses to “US Airline Security”

  1. MajorBloodnok (361 comments) says:

    This man was known to authorities as a potential security risk. (Along with half a million others.)

    So why not:
    * frisk him completely (cavity search, too)
    * seat a mufti air marshal next to him for the entire flight

    and let the rest of the travelling public alone.

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  2. reid (15,603 comments) says:

    Obama after hearing about it went to the gym then had a game of golf.

    Missed the boat.

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  3. metcalph (1,293 comments) says:

    I can’t help thinking that the choice of a flight to Detroit was significant. After all Washington, LA, New York and Chicago are high value targets but Detroit has effectively become a run down slum with a mean household property value of $15,000. If anything TSA may have decided that it didn’t warrant the security measures required elsewhere for who in their right mind would want to damage Detroit? If he blew up a building there, it could considered urban renewal…

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  4. MajorBloodnok (361 comments) says:

    From your link, reid, I discovered a profound eye-witness account from a passenger on the flight — a sometimes practising Jew in partnership with a Muslim in a startup solar company in Uganda, called Village Energy. This is very well written, and fills in lots of background information that you won’t find in the MSM.

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  5. Razork (374 comments) says:

    reid (3593) Says:

    December 28th, 2009 at 11:12 am
    Obama after hearing about it went to the gym then had a game of golf.

    Missed the boat.

    AS OPPOSED TO?
    What did you want him to do?
    Rush back and interview the guy?
    He’s not Jack Ryan.

    You do know that don’t you?

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  6. eszett (2,272 comments) says:

    That’s more than a naive view by Eric Crampton.

    Primarily it was the incompetence of the terrorists that saved everyone, on this latest incidence as well as with the show bomber Reid. Only the fact that the detonators did not work properly did give the passengers enough time to overpower him. And only because of airport security weren’t they able to bring proper detonators on board in the first place.

    They probably had no doubt in their minds that the bombs would go off immediately. Why else would they not go to the lavatory to set off these bombs. It seems the obvious choice.

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  7. side show bob (3,660 comments) says:

    Every new security measure is another tick in the terrorist book. Yes there must be security but there must come a stage when the security becomes so great society ceases to function, they’re to bloody sacred to. Besides I suspect the present US administration would welcome more and more controls on its population, it’s in their genes.

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  8. reid (15,603 comments) says:

    “Missed the boat. AS OPPOSED TO? What did you want him to do? Rush back and interview the guy? He’s not Jack Ryan.”

    Razork, this could easily have been a Christmas Day tragedy. The timing of this guys action, 10 mins from landing, indicates he wanted it to blow up over Detroit and crash into the city. On Christmas Day.

    Obama is sending a message to America both with his lack of response and this new policy that requires passengers to sit in their seats. The message is: it’s OK to do nothing.

    If he can’t see that’s not right, he doesn’t deserve to be President.

    That’s the point.

    BTW, I gave you that particular link because it was coming from a liberal, thus showing that his inaction is being condemned across the spectrum and is not just a partisan move from the usual suspects.

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  9. Repton (769 comments) says:

    It’s called “CYA security”. As in, “cover your ass”.

    Suppose you’ve a TSA manager with some decision-making power. You make the intelligent decision (i.e. you get rid of some of this pointless “security”, or decline to increase it), but then later, an attack happens and succeeds. People will be calling for your head. Do you think you can win an argument in the media about probabilities and complex trade-offs? It’s not likely. So you order the increase. It won’t cost _you_ much personally, and at least you keep your job if the unthinkable does happen.

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  10. Repton (769 comments) says:

    Incidentally, what do you think is the best time for a terrorist to attempt to hijack or blow up a plane?

    Is it:

    (a) Immediately after a previous hijack or bomb attempt.
    (b) After a long quiet period since the last hijack or bomb attempt.

    If you answered (a), congratulations, you are qualified for a public service career in airline security!

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  11. Crampton (213 comments) says:

    If anyone’s trying to hit the link through to my piece, apologies. Google currently thinks that I’m a spam blog; apparently it takes a couple of days for them to get an actual human to review their bot’s decision.

    @Repton: you’ve nailed it. CYA.

    @Eszett: Naive? Maybe. But even if the attack succeeded, that doesn’t make the case for tighter security! Millions of flights run every year. Don’t give me any of this “Even one is too much” crap. Because if that’s the case, then EVERYBODY gets a full strip search full body cavity search before every flight and nobody gets any luggage, carry on or checked. It’s all about the margin.

    The risk is very very low. At the current margin, we’re doing WAY too much security. Here’s Nate Silver, who’s run the numbers (with which I’d be updating my prior post absent GOOGLEFAIL):

    http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2009/12/odds-of-airborne-terror.html

    “the odds of being on given departure which is the subject of a terrorist incident have been 1 in 10,408,947 over the past decade. By contrast, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are about 1 in 500,000. This means that you could board 20 flights per year and still be less likely to be the subject of an attempted terrorist attack than to be struck by lightning.”

    Read the whole thing to get his ballpark calculations. We are spending insane amounts of money and time on airport security relative to the risk. How much did you spend this year to keep yourself from being hit by lighting? If zero, ask yourself why the hell you’re being forced to spend infinitely more than that to avoid something that’s two orders of magnitude smaller risk.

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  12. Crampton (213 comments) says:

    See also Josh Gans, here, who offers helpful suggestions for the terrorists: figure out some way to make blackberries blow up and then everyone will have to have them in checked luggage….

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  13. noodle (151 comments) says:

    Bring on sensible profiling and to hell with finer Muslim sensitivities. Have we learned nothing from experience? We should not have been taking knitting needles off grandma. just sticking to the obvious all along.
    btw, it gives me some pleasure to consider that what’s his name may not have derived any pleasure from his 72 virgins; what with burned balls and all.

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  14. Repton (769 comments) says:

    Read the whole thing to get his ballpark calculations. We are spending insane amounts of money and time on airport security relative to the risk.

    An interesting thought experiment: take the amount of time people spend dealing with airport security across (say) America over a year, and divide it by the average human life-span..

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  15. noodle (151 comments) says:

    When travellers are more pissed off by airport “security” measures than they are scared of being atomised by terrorists, then we may see some intelligence being applied to the whole issue of flight security.
    But that requires harder and less politically correct thinking than has previously been applied.
    I repeat, we don’t need to strip search “grandma”. … unless she starts wearing semtex in her corsets.

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  16. francis (712 comments) says:

    Oddly, none of the new TSA initiatives would have actually prevented this bomber from setting off his bomb.

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  17. eszett (2,272 comments) says:

    “the odds of being on given departure which is the subject of a terrorist incident have been 1 in 10,408,947 over the past decade. By contrast, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are about 1 in 500,000. This means that you could board 20 flights per year and still be less likely to be the subject of an attempted terrorist attack than to be struck by lightning.”

    I haven’t looked at the numbers too closely, but there is a very obvious error in his assumptions. Terrorist attacks are not independent and random events like a lightning strike. In fact they are very much connected to the airport security. You can’t by any reason think that the likelihood of being subject to a terrorist attack is the same with current security or with zero security.

    Maybe the low likelihood is because of current security.

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  18. Crampton (213 comments) says:

    Umm…I wasn’t saying that no security is optimal, just that we have too much currently.

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  19. MikeNZ (3,234 comments) says:

    In the light of too much security affecting passengers, why authorities don’t deal to those they know of I don’t understand as Melanie Phillips argues.
    http://www.melaniephillips.com/articles-new/?p=705

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  20. Fale Andrew Lesa (473 comments) says:

    Reid I think its pretty far-fetched to assert that Obama doesn’t deserve to be president based on a reluctant response from his administration.
    No one “deserves” to be president, most politicians earn the title through the relevant education, skills and experience. The democratic process throughout the Western world ensures that the very best candidate is elected into office – clearly the other candidates also “deserved” to be president. Should we place them in cue for the next available term? Should we award them with a certificate of “deserving the highest position in America”?

    Obama’s officials represent the president, it seems you fail to acknowledge this fundamental fact. If security officials are on the job – Obama is effectively on the job because he is their employer after all.
    Unless you prefer Obama to leave behind the Christmas turkey in favour of immediate interviews with the press than I see no real reasoning behind your comments or any others along such lines for that matter.

    Apart from the bleak lapse in airport security I find it premature to criticize Obama as president for a somewhat belittled response.

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  21. freethinker (648 comments) says:

    Reason 999 not to visit/pass through the US.

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