Security Failure Again

When will the authorities in the US and Europe pursue an intelligent approach to airline security instead of the current one that has so far failed to catch any would-be terrorist at airports or preparing to board planes? Predictably, the authorities have reacted with more of the same in the wake of the attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit.  Air travellers worldwide, especially those flying across the Atlantic, will now face longer delays at departure gates and greater restrictions on what they can take on to aircraft.

The new security measures will entail more hand searches, less hand luggage, and some airlines are going to require passengers to stay seated for the last hour of flights with no access to bathrooms. Good luck with that one!

The plain fact is that the authorities are searching for a needle in a haystack they way they are going about things. They need to be more far more forensic and better at communicating significant information with each other.

First, the fact that the would-be Nigerian Muslim martyr even got a US visa is a disgrace. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had been barred from returning to the UK and he had been put on a low-level US terrorist watch list after his father had warned the US embassy in Lagos of his son’s activities and extremist thinking. He should not have got a visa with the ease he did. Far more work has to be done to get US immigration and intelligence services sharing information — in other words all the efforts so far since 9/11 to do that still are not resulting in success.

What other intelligent measures should be introduced? Profiling, of course, Whether one likes it or not, the failure to profile rigorously is hampering airline security and counter-terrorism efforts generally. Obviously, there are civil rights concerns here, especially when the US and UK authorities can be so wrong about people they place on watch lists. However, I am not advocating barring all people who are on watch lists from being able to travel — they just need to be watched more closely.

Another measure that should be introduced at minimal cost to the public is a voluntary safe passenger list — minimal cost because in the long run this will save money and lives. The details of safe passengers can be placed on databases so when flight passenger lists are being examined the investigators can place more attention on those not on the list.

Lastly, there should now be a tiered airport security list. Passengers flying from airports that are not in tier one and transferring on to other international flights need automatically to go through extra security during their transfers. I would wager right now that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab travelled from Lagos with the explosive and syringes and didn’t pick them up at Amsterdam. I flew to and and from Amsterdam only a few weeks ago and security at that airport was excellent.