Do Reactionary Security Measures Make us safer?

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m having a tough time understanding why the so called increased security restrictions with inbound US air travel would help improve the “systematic failure” of security that lead to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab being able to get explosives onto a US bound Delta flight. I would like to first mention kudos to the passengers and staff on Flight 253 for their bravery. Thanks also of course to security staff at airports and all those working every single day to make us safer as we travel. And personal heartfelt thanks to SEATAC Staff who were outstanding for our outbound trip.

The new restrictions to bring inconveniences but the problem is greater this. The personal pinch for us is that we’re traveling with our 3 month old baby from Heathrow to the US soon and the lack of leniency for families is a pain. We certainly support security measures. It seems airport security are not being given any autonomy on these things? Is it that the government(s) doesn’t trust them? Either way this raises some concerns I have with the both state of airport security in general and what the latest increased restrictions result in which at best doesn’t make us safer and at worst put us at more risk. Is it just security theater to make us feel safer vs. something that actually does?

What I’m trying to understand is how this apparently reactive approach helps keep us safe. Obama’s commented “systematic failure” points primarily to the intelligence agencies not getting Abdulmutallab on the restricted lists. That seems like a pretty big error, doesn’t it? I must be missing something as it doesn’t appear to be something that would be that hard to get right. My mind is cast off to think of the complexities of the Iraq and Afghan campaigns that are being executed “to protect the citizens of the US and allies” from terrorists in the “war on terrorism”. Yet when it comes to terrorists executing this reality such as they have done with air travel shouldn’t the people that keep us safe do so with outstanding excellence? Then again I’ve not seen any statistics about the number of flights "saved” due to the success of airport security. And as a frequent traveler I’m prepared to be educated on the matter.

Secondarily it points to comments like “security equipment did not detect the bomb-making devices and materials he allegedly carried on board”. How do the new restrictions make any difference? Seeing as the bomb was in Abdulmutallab’s underwear “The world’s governments, not just the TSA (Transportation Security Administration), are interested in any technology that can detect the substance that was hidden in the terrorist’s underwear”. Doesn’t that speak to a much larger problem? No one is suggesting not checking bags with x-rays and metal detectors and the occasional chemical test. Especially for those on “watch lists”. However if people can and do bring bombs on their body don’t we need an different or enhanced approach? Cracking down on carry on bags, forcing checking of more luggage, using the metal detectors and x-rays and manual searches is surely just more of the same is it not? And we know what Albert Einstein had to say about that “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

Personally I’m in 100% support of sensible, well designed consistent security measures that make us safer. Has the threat really changed since last week? The rhetoric of government around al-qaeda would seem to imply otherwise. And isn’t the threat of random insane lone bombers always the same? So shouldn’t always have consistent security measures in place? This back and forth doesn’t really inspire confidence.

Which leads us back to the original question: does all this make us safer? And if it is the only way to make us safe why was it not enforced before? Either way forcing paying travelers (who by in large are not terrorists) into “more restrictions” surly sends a message that this is what should have been happening two weeks ago, a month ago, forever. Right? If that’s the only way to keep us safe they why doesn’t it happen all the time? Then again my experience in traveling extensively in the US, Europe and even a collection of African countries, Israel and United Arab Emirates has shown one consistency… and this is an inconsistency in security at airports.

Does it make us less safe? Not only should we question if the measures makes us safer, does it do the opposite? If security are indiscriminately checking every person and every bag will they be at the top of their game and able to pick up on the problems? After all security didn’t have Abdulmutallab checked, despite him having being flagged as a threat. Does the increased arbitrary checking mean security are less able to apply their expertise at spotting the true threat? What about impacting their ability to check the lists of known terrorists even further letting more and more “Abdulmutallab’s” slip through. Or is it all just theater to try make us feel safer?

I welcome your thoughts and would love to know that what is being done, does in fact make us safer. And again thank you to all of you who work to make us safer as we travel. It’s much appreciated.

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