The recent arrest of 2 men on an Emirates Airlines flight for making a verbal bomb threat and for being drunk and disorderly is really nothing new; it’s happened a few times since 9/11. Up until about 1999, I was one of those smart alecs who would make the witty comment about being careful with my bag because I had an atom-bomb in it, but around the end of the last century (even before 9/11) everyone was getting jumpy so I just started being sensible.
Obviously, after the Christmas Day bomb attempt people are naturally ‘twitchy’, but is it really that difficult to tell the difference between a bunch of drunks and a genuine bomber? Bombers tend not to joke about their bombs. Bombers tend to wait until the plane is in the air. Bombers do not tend to be middle aged white men in Western clothes – especially DRUNKEN middle aged white men. This doesn’t detract from the absolute feckin’ stupidity of the individuals concerned – after all, they could have easily been shot by the security services. However, it did set me thinking as to whether this case, and our whole reaction to the threat of suicide bombers on our air routes, has been met by over-reaction or appropriate response by the authorities.
I think in this particular case, given the proximity of the Christmas Day attack, I’d go on the side of slightly hysterical appropriate response. Over-reaction would have involved the men being shot and killed on the spot rather than arrested. However, the wider picture is much more worrying. Let’s take a step back and look at the situation.
Profiling – we’re told that our intelligence service profile travellers and put bombers on watch lists. The Christmas Day bomber got on to such a list and still managed to get on the place. these fellows would never have been on such a list. So…profiling is ignored in the Heathrow case – these men didn’t fit the profile but were still treated as bombers – and the result of accurate intelligence profiling and listing was ignored due to error on Christmas Day. Perhaps we need to be told just how many bombers profiling / no flight lists have prevented boarding with explosives?
Acceptable Risk – if you want to avoid any risk of bombers downing an aircraft, easy. Don’t fly. If you want to fly, then everybody goes on board in paper pyjamas and is strapped in to their seat – or maybe anaesthetised for the fight? And your baggage is either flown in unmanned drones or separate cargo aircraft. Daft, isn’t it? But by introducing new measures all the time whilst existing measures are either not being followed through or are being ignored, this sort of daftness is becoming more likely.
Privacy – forget it if you wish to fly. You will now be scanned at a level of intrusion that have raised fears of images of children being regarded as child pornography by some legislation. Your travelling history is already reviewed. You may be interviewed based on your race, creed, religious beliefs, the book you’re reading.
Basically, the reaction to the authorities to the threats of terrorist bombers on civilian airliners increasingly seems to lack common sense and ‘follow through’ of existing policies and procedures, with repeated attempts to improve security after any incident by a combination of technological fix (Gigahertz Scanners, for example) and sociological / procedural changes (no hand baggage, profiling, etc.) Whilst any deaths from terrorism are unacceptable, just what price do we intend to pay within our society to try and meet the unreachable target of zero risk?
Because it’s unlikely that there will ever be zero risk when you fly on a plane that it won’t be downed by terrorism. It’s a dangerous world, and we need to realise that, and ascertain what are reasonable risks that we can deal with against increasingly intrusive and authoritarian powers invoked by the State to try and meet the nonsensical target of ‘zero risk’.
In his ‘Art of War’, Sun Tzu states : “Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” Our Governments spend a lot of time, effort and money and very little judgement and common sense on trying to win every battle, and are effectively doing the work of the terrorists for them by reducing the freedom of citizens inch by inch.