Air terrorism – don’t be scared

I know I just don’t let this drop.  It’s a matter I find very important.  If you are scared to live a normal life, the terrorists have succeeded in terrorizing you.  That’s all those people are trying to do.  They are more concerned about the terror than the body count.  Here’s a write-up from Kung Fu Monkey saying that in more depth and with more style than I have been able to say it.

No false bravado and it’s not that I don’t take terrorism seriously. I do, which I why I voted for the guy who believed in securing our ports and fighting terrorism with criminal investigation methods — which is, if we may remind everybody, how this particular plot was busted.

I am just not going to wet my pants every time some guys get arrested in a terror plot. I will do my best to stay informed. I will support the necessary law enforcement agencies. I will take whatever reasonable precautions seem, um, reasonable. But I will not be terrorized. I assume that the terror-ists would like me to be terror-ized, as that is what is says on their nametag, rather than, say, wanting me to surrender to ennui or negative body image, and they’re just coming the long way around.

[tags]Aren’t you afraid?, Terrorists seek to terrorize – duh![/tags]

5 thoughts on “Air terrorism – don’t be scared”

  1. Sure… no reason to be worry about liquid explosives. Oh wait! Maybe there is:

    CEREDO, W.Va. (AP) – A West Virginia airport terminal was evacuated Thursday after two bottles of liquid found in a woman’s carry-on luggage twice tested positive for explosives residue, a Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman said.

    “It looks like there were four items containing liquids,” said TSA spokeswoman Amy von Walter. “Two of those containers tested positive.”

    A machine that security checkpoint screeners use to test for explosives registered positive, and a canine team also got a positive hit, von Walter said.

    Larry Salyers, manager of Tri-State Airport, said the bottles would be moved by robot to a remote area of the airport where officials would attempt to detonate them. National Guard and State Police explosives experts will conduct chemical field tests to determine their contents, he said.

    Salyers said he was told the woman was a 28-year-old of Pakistani descent who had moved to Huntington from Jackson, Mich. He did not know how long she had lived in Huntington.

    Full article here:


  2. Ahhh, yes, it was a horrible thing. Everyone on board could have been blown to smithereens. Why just imagine what could have happened. Only, let’s look at what did happen instead:

    Ceredo, West Virginia – A Pakistani woman whose daughter’s carry-on luggage caused an airport to shut down for nine-and-a-half hours says it was her ethnic background, not a few bottles of suspicious liquids, that set off security officials.

    Initial laboratory testing by the FBI turned up no evidence of explosive materials in the bottles carried at Tri-State Airport in West Virginia by Rima Qayyum, a 28-year-old Pakistani woman dressed in the traditional Islamic headcover.

    No charges were filed against the woman, who was never detained and was cooperative when interviewed by the FBI.

    Qayyum’s mother, Mian Qayyum of Jackson, Michigan, told The Associated Press that her daughter is four months pregnant, lives in Barboursville and is innocent.

    “It was not only a false alarm, it was racial discrimination because there was nothing,” Mian Qayyum said. “They should clear her name and apologise on national TV.”

    False alarm. And what did intelligence prior to the flight reveal about this? Nothing. But every foiled plot so far has been due to human intelligence work or detection by people who saw something out of the ordinary. For example, the shoe bomber was caught because someone saw him trying to ignite something in his shoe. Our strength is in intelligence work. It’s already been documented that the plot in the UK was not actually planned to happen, but planned for a test run. It was stopped by British intelligence finding out in advance – the intelligence agents had been tracking the suspects for nearly a year.

    And this is the same kind of event that caused evacuations of buildings all over the US a few years ago when confectioner’s sugar from powdered doughnuts was found in offices or on elevators. People over-react to the most recent threat, rather then trying to think and understand if something is a real threat.

    It’s not that I think there is no risk of terrorism from liquids on a plane. I just believe the risk is the same as it was 10 years ago – maybe slightly higher now that copycats will try to steal the mode of operation, but basically the same as it’s always been. Why has there been no screening before? Why were there no screening changes put in place in US airports weeks ago when the US government found out from the British government about this plot?

    The only reason that could in any way justify the newly implemented security measures is a short-term ban on liquids because there are concerns that not all the original members of the foiled plot have been captured. Maybe, for a short time, the restrictions could be maintained to catch any who try to follow through with those who haven’t been captured yet. But I don’t even think that’s going to help anything, and it sure will inconvenience hundreds of thousands of travellers, and cause false accusations to be made which are then used as proof of the wisdom of these limitations.

    Furthermore, what measures are our leaders taking to protect us from explosive liquids at the Super Bowl? Or at any large college football game? Or guests at the Mall of America? Or guests at Disney World or Disney Land? Reacting to the latest threat and treating it as the greatest threat is an expensive and losing move. What this says is we cannot fight the war on terrorism except to stop the most recent attack from being used in the future. But this leaves us open to attacks on buses, attacks on the national mall in our capital, attacks at amusement parks, attacks in our tunnels and on our bridges in and out of major cities, and on and on and on. We can’t possibly defend against every possible attack. We can’t even defend against every previously used or attempted attack – at some point, there will be too many attacks to do this. We have to depend on our intelligence services to do the job they have done successfully for so long . Yes, sometime there will be misses (Oklahoma Federal Building bombing, for instance), but no matter what we do, we cannot have 100% prevention, and money directed at specific attacks is money not spent on general safety.

    I am working on a very long article on this and other thoughts on the war on terrorism and the latest over-reaction. But it takes time to get such a long article written and checked over. Look for it soon. However, in a concession to the folks who I know are tired of reading about this, I will cut most of it from the front page and just put a few short sentences to introduce it.


  3. What do you mean “buy into this” exactly? I believe there are liquid explosive threats to aircraft. If that’s the buy-in anyone is looking for me, you’ve got it. However, I also believe there are liquid explosive threats to our airports, our malls, our libraries, our sports arenas, our college campuses, our bus terminals, our national monuments, our beaches, and anywhere else large masses of people are found and predictable times. Are you proposing that we only need to save air-travellers once in the air? That’s certainly the message sent by the current government regulations for travel. I’m sure it’s not the intent, but it’s the message being put out.

    Our governments current plan for dealing with the liquid explosive threat on airplanes is to make people either dump containers with liquids or which could contain liquids all together into large bins, or dump the liquids all together and throw away the containers. Both of these moves tell me the government wants to protect airplanes in flight, potentially with dozens to hundreds of passengers, at the expense of exposing all travellers passing through the liquid-removal checkpoints, potentially exposing hundreds to thousands to these dangers. What’s worse – Losing a plane and 300 people, or saving the plane, but exposing 5000 people to mustard gas when passing through the checkpoints at the airport?

    If you think that’s just a stupid example, consider that the explanation of the planned attack last week was for two liquids stored in a container with a weak separating wall which would be somehow disolved in flight. With the new checkpoints, the terrorists can have two different people approach at two very different times, dumping the two liquids into the same container. Provided they move in close enough to insure the same container is used for both, the can still get the explosion, on a larger scale since they can carry larger quantities, perhaps even taking a couple of water bottles full each. So tell me why it is more important to protect the few hundred in the plane in the air than to protect the few hundred to few thousand that could be victimized by doing this at the dumping points instead? Or is it acceptable for us to protect the air travellers so long as we’re only exposing the sanitation workers responsible for disposing of the confiscated fluids to the potential dangers? In other words, is it acceptable to redirect the danger from the people who paid to travel and place the danger with the people paid to clean up after them?

    I don’t propose that the threat is not real. I don’t propose that it’s solvable by ignoring it. I propose that we citizens need to continue trying to live life as we always have – without fear – so the terrorists don’t succeed in spreading terror. And I propose that the government continue to focus on general intelligence work and training agents to recognize suspicious behavior rather than people carrying the same kind of bottle used in the last attack.

    It is almost guaranteed that there will be another successful terrorist attack. To prevent every attack, our intelligence would have to be 100% accurate and exceptionally efficient. The 9/11 attacks showed that even when our intelligence is good, if the efficiency is bad, then processing the correct intelligence may come too late. By putting so much energy in protecting the highest visibility targets from the most recent attack, we are hurting our overall efficiency.

    Similarly, targetting just people of middle-eastern descent or only specific age groups isn’t the right thing to do. I know you haven’t suggested that and no one that I know of in government has either, but I know people who have. “Just quit letting the middle-easterners fly and we won’t have any more terrorist attacks on planes” is a claim I’ve heard from more than one person. Again – targeting based on prior instances is sure to fail. The terrorists learn they can’t send in their normal recruits, so they start getting others who don’t fit the now blocked profile. And thinking this won’t work means one doesn’t know about Velvalee Dickinson spying for Japan, Aldrich Aimes spying for Russia, Emil Julius Klaus Fuchs and Harry Gold spying for Russia, or any of the many, many cases where native citizens or those who appear to be native citizens are used to carry out the desired illegal activites.

    A millenium celebration bomber was caught coming in from Canada by a border guard who thought the suspect was acting in a manner inconsistent with someone heading to a big party. If she had instead been told to watch for item X or behavior Y, she could have easily missed the general acts which made her think something was wrong. And it’s just natural that most people when given a focus to alert on tend to concentrate so much on finding that that they miss the general actions that can also be indicative (as evidenced in the gorilla in the basketball players video). I want more work on general intelligence, and less focus on the last attack to succeed or fail. The latest attackers were identified by ongoing activities, data-signal intelligence gathering, and/or monitoring due to previous concerns or activities – not because they carried iPods and bottles of liquid, although that potential for attack has been known for years and possibly decades. We will catch more attackers through those same methods, for less investment, than we will by targeting attack-of-the-week profiling.


  4. Let me say right now that this had NOTHING to do with securing the ports. I don’t care what the government tells you. The odds are much higher that it was a located plot that the various intelligence organizations had found out about, and already knew who was involved and how it was to occur. This wasn’t some random plot they intercepted at the border.

    So frankly, be more worried about your agencies ability to filter out the useful from nonuseful information than the ability to frisk every person that comes through an airport.

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