Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Navel intelligence

The latest attempted plane bombing caught my interest because of the way perception seems to trump reality in our media-saturated age.

It wouldn't be surprising if holiday travel to the CNMI takes a hit. One incident on one of the thousands of daily flights can do that. Airline travel is ridiculously safe, particularly immediately after an incident like this, but who cares about statistics?

The system worked, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano reportedly said. With all due respect... no. (UPDATE: she agrees) Her unspoken assumption is that the system can work all of the time, every where. That's a very American assumption: if we throw billions of dollars at a problem it will go away.

It won't. We can, and have, added multiple layers of security. They work very well and they can undoubtedly work better. Not perfectly, though. Sorry.

Realistically, it's been eight years since Richard Reid the shoe bomber. Both men used very small amounts of a high explosive-- and failed. We've been very lucky. There are thousands of fanatics out there and they are going to keep trying.

Let the hand-wringing begin

'What went wrong?' the politicians are howling as they put on television make-up and schedule hearings, meaning 'who can we blame?'

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was on the lowest-level database, evidently because there was 'insufficient derogatory information' to classify him higher. Supposedly his father told the American Embassy his son had extremist views. That's it-- though maybe he followed up with emails that ended up in the spam folder with other Nigerian bankers.

Seriously, Abdulmutallab probably would have earned more suspicion if there had been other factoids about him. We simply don't have the resources to investigate more than 500,000 'suspicious' people. The reports I've read say that even now, authorities are still checking out his claim of a Yemeni connection, possibly to Al Qaeda.

Degrees of separation

That Yemeni link intrigues me: evidently the poor little rich kid's mother is from Yemen and he says he studied with a radical internet cleric there. The Detroit area is home to a large number of Yemenis (and Moslems) and there have just been two air strikes against radicals in that country.

One of the targets in the second strike was a former Guantanamo detainee who went through the highly-touted Saudi Arabian 're-education' program for radicals-- he is one of the few recidivists to-date. Since almost half of the remaining prisoners are from Yemen, that's a monkey wrench in plans to close Gitmo.

Honestly, I probably wouldn't have bothered reading the Washington Post and New York Times articles on the second bombing if their lead sentences hadn't pissed me off by referring to the "suspect in the Fort Hood shootings". Innocent until proven guilty, sure, but what a namby-pamby politically correct way of putting it.

Mostly, I'm concerned that we're drawing closer to a semi-free failing state that tortures its opposition, locks up its journalists and appears to survive because the majority of the population is in a self-medicated khat-chewing stupor.


bigsoxfan said...

He he. I'm not too sure that all the reality shows aren't our equivlant to kwat, alahh, etc. God forbid the government should actually profile anyone or slow down ticket sales.
I have to admit, allowing the flight crew to determine standards of allowing passengers to hold a book or blanket on their lap isn't so bad. They do have their butts on the line and should be better judges of their passengers, than big butted blood soaked ticks sitting in an office back in DC. Nice job of passing the buck, however. Jeez, with all the money and effort spent on onerous security measures and new agencies, you would think they could do a little better further up the line.

Best news I've heard so far is... Nothing.
Oh well, the system worked. A big high five to the Dutchman in 5B.

KAP said...

I dunno. Just in the tiny slice of fliers I've met, there are quite a few who were pulled aside for having names similar to 'watchees' and others who get pulled aside frequently for a little chat. Multiply those misunderstandings by a thousand if they go for a bigger watch list. I'm not convinced we can be 100% safe unless everyone gets a cavity search.

Even profiling has its limits. These guys clean up to lose that Grizzly Adams look. This one looks like a 13-year-old choirboy.

Also, it seems like they're keeping people in their seats for the last hour or so just to make it look like they're doing something. One of the first talking head experts on CNN said he was surprised the bomb wasn't detonated (fizzled) over the ocean.

bigsoxfan said...

I really really hate to link to anything involving the extreme media channels, but this interview with a former head of El Al security, speaks volumes towards our insanity. Just ignore the nattering heads and listen to the insight from what must be the far right wing of airline security. http://cdrsalamander.blogspot.com/2009/12/profiling-this-is-how-it-is-done.html
I doubt we have the fortitude, patience or will to invest in an El Al system, however, their approach is fair and broad based. Oh and did I mention successful?

Anonymous said...

I congratulate, what necessary words..., a magnificent idea

KAP said...

I'm still not convinced that throwing in another billion or two is the answer.

Maybe they could check that list of 550,000 or so 'suspects' if somebody buys a one-way ticket with cash. That wouldn't cost much.

Maybe the visa could have been flagged better. Why 'check before it's renewed' instead of 'search this guy when he uses it'?

I see a lot of over-reaction instead of 'how can we reduce the human error in the existing system'.