Kvatch Kvestions - Security Measures And The Drive To Keep Us Afraid

This morning Schneier on Security gave voice to a notion that's been kicking around in my head ever since the last terrorist scare: What is the purpose of all these extra security precautions? Do they make us any safer? And why the hell do our governments insist on playing up each new incident, each new, arguably useless, response?

In a recent article, the Atlantic Monthly noted that the most intelligent response to 9/11 was the strengthening of airliner cockpit doors, and the reasoning went something like this: Though people may die in a terrorist hijacking, intrusion proof cockpits mean that a plane can never again be used as a flying bomb. And I might add that if all a terrorist wants to do is kill people, blowing oneself up at San Francisco's United Economy check-in counter would be far more effective. In other words, all of this new TSA nonsense is mostly security window-dressing that helps to reassure the flying public.

So it seems that today will be a day for "what if's?" What if every bag larger than 1 cubic foot in volume had to be checked? What if you were only allowed 1 such bag on board (or maybe two at half that size)? What if TSA searched every single carry-on...by hand? What if attempting to sneak a weapon on board meant you didn't take your trip...that trip...period? What if the threats, the investigations, and the responses were kept quiet? What if causing a disturbance, any disturbance, on an airplane were grounds for restraint? And what if airlines employed private visible security personnel to enforce the rule?

Would you still fly? Would you feel more safe? Less safe?

UPDATED, 2006/08/24, 9:15 am PDT

Cartledge @ Grub Street Journal, does an excellent job of tackling this very issue from the perspective of the airlines and how it affects their bottom line. Take a look.


I just canvassed the same broad issue. My question was, how long will (non US) airlines and airport corporations tolerate this disruption to their bottom lines?
It's clearly a political game and the cracks are starting to show in Europe where governments aren't engaged in that game.
In the end it all boils down to that old American aphorism - you pays your money and you takes your chances.
I don't really know many people who "like" to fly - they do it because its a means to an end.

I've always wondered about something. Do airports have security personnel watching the baggage handlers, mechanics, cleaners, etc.? Do they people with binoculars scanning the area for people with shoulder launched missles? Do they run security checks on the outside vendors who prepare the food and deliver it to the airports? Do they check the liquid drinks the vendors bring in? In my opinion, a terrorist will look for vulnerabilites and avoid the obvious places where security is already in place.
Airport support personnel (vendors, food service, etc) are not pre-screened at all.

I fly a lot - mostly internationally. Comments from a pilot on a Qantas flight: "Normally, we encourage people to get up and walk around, as long as you don't block the aisles. But the US government doesn't like people to congregate any longer, so you'd bloody well better sit down."

At a security line in Auckland, New Zealand, the security guard said "Quit yer whinging, or else change your President. It's not my fault."
Kathy, for a while after 9/11 San Francisco International had divers checking the bay near the south eastern and north western approaches, but I don't know what else they were doing.

I think there is a distinction to be made between congregating and causing a disruption. Take that woman on the New York flight, for example. There was no reason that plane had to put down in Boston. She should have been restrained and well before they made the request to divert. Perhaps the presence of private security personnel would deter people who don't want to 'play by the rules'.
Actually, if someone wants to kill a lot of people and cause a lot of destruction, they could do very much like our domestic terrorists did in Oklahoma. A truck bomb driven into a large crowd would kill a lot of people. There were a couple of hundred thousand people a year ago in DC to protest the Iraq fiasco. I large truck bomb careening into the area around the mall, into the massive crowd, would have killed hundreds and, blowing it up on the doorstep of the White House and next to the Washington Monument would have been the number one headline for a month at least.

No, we aren't really safer at the airports, except that we have succeeded in getting a lot of people to wear slip-on shoes. That ought to help...something...I guess.
I don't this TSA craps reassures the "flying public" at all. It just pisses 'em off.

I does, however, reassure the Stock Market types.

And isn't that all that matters anyhow?

When I was in Moscow last month, my luggage was all hand-checked by security personnel before I could check it. Everybody's luggage was hand-checked, thoroughly, before they could check it in. And that was after it had been X-rayed. My carry-on was X-rayed once when we had the luggage hand-checked and then again when I reached the boarding gate. When I left the gate to find a snack, I was subject to yet another search before I could go back into the waiting area. I gathered that this happens for pretty much every single flight originating at that airport, and probably at every airport in Russia.
DBK, you're right, of course. But part of the terrorist's aim is to sow fear and going after travellers seems to be...somehow...more fear inducing than other forms of terror.

Michael, pisses me off, but part of that is that TSA is pretty arbitrary about who they seach. Sometimes it seems that they tell you to take off a belt, your shoes, or search your bag just to be assholes. That's why I suggested that we just search every damn bag. That might actually provide some deterance.

Generik, that was exactly my experience at St. Petersburg.
I got another question for the folk of the blogisphere - Why is it the terror threat level always goes up as we "bring more terrorists to justice?" Shouldn't it go down correspondingly?
All of this so-called "terrorism" is nothing more than the govt (i.e. most Western govt's) trying to (and suceeding) make us all scared of the "terrorist threat". The fact of the matter is that if someone is determined enough to cause a catastrophe, they are going to find a way to do it.

And another thing, whats with all of the "false alarm" airline terrorist threats that have taken place recently? There's been four such incidents in the past week alone! See: http://livingin1984.blogspot.com/2006/08/terror-hysteria.html

Lets face it the more scared we become the more willingly we give up our civil liberties, it really is as simple as that!
WS, in answer to your question, I think that Chuck (Bushmerica) has the answer. The number can only go down with fewer terrorists, right? But it looks as though we're helping to mint them faster than we can bring 'em in.

MOB...welcome. Right you are. We're seeing a succession of monthly 'surprises' designed to reinforce in our minds that Republicans can best take care of America.
Well, they can't campaign on the truth, that security is a myth. Politicians don't get elected by saying "just hope you're lucky."

And then you've got the makers of those cockpit doors...

I just read on Schneier's blog about a guy who accidentally dropped his iPod in an airplane toilet and nearly got locked away for it. I agree with Bruce--the way we are running around terrified shows that the terrorists have won (that's the point of terrorism). The utter stupidity of everything they are doing in the name of "security" right now does little to secure the situation.

Actually, the whole situation makes me more afraid of the US and British governments than anyone else.

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