Saturday, January 9, 2010

I'd Rather Be Sniffed Than Irradiated

I don't fly much.  For a while there I had to quite a bit, but I don't see myself or the fam getting on a plane more than once or twice a year for the foreseeable future.  Airline security then isn't really all that high on my list of concerns except in that, like everyone else, I don't want to see another plane blown up or crashed by a religous wackjob.  Nor do I want my nightly news to be wall-to-wall nonsense about airline security every time a homicidal lunatic hids some explosives in his underpants and tries to kill a bunch of people by blowing his junk to smithereens.

So, there's all this noise about stepping up the profiling, putting more scanners in airports, and having intelligence agencies be able to connect the dots better.  You don't have to do to much research to see how much more at risk we all from any number of other threats (lightning strikes, drunk drivers, etc.) than we are from terrorist attacks so any approach to airline security should be looked at in the context of understanding the risk (in terms of likelihood and impact) we are trying to mitigate and the cost of our mitigation efforts. It doesn't make sense to pay too much for insurance against a risk that is minimal (in frequency) though great in impact when you get essentially the same efficacy from lower-cost  measures.  After all, it seems our greatest defense against these underpants bombers and their ilk is actually our fellow travellers.  (As has been pointed out to humorous effect by Stewart, Maddow, et al.) 

The teabaggers would have us believe everyone named Mohammed should get an anal probe at airport.  Others want to install a bunch of full body scanners (is it Total Recall I'm thinking of?) to irradiate millions of people on a daily basis.  (Granted the radiation levels are low, lower even than your last dental x-ray -- but there's a reason you shouldn't get x-rayed all the time, it's dangerous radiation that makes it more likely you're going to get all manner of bizarre cancers.)  Meanwhile, dumbfounding rules to make flying more of a hassle without actually having any demonstrable effect on safety are implemented. 

Here's my humble for suggestion: more dogs, strict adherence to what I'll call common-sense guidelines, and courtesy for those inconvenienced. 

The dogs are for sniffing.  I don't think dogs are a perfect solution, mind you.  False positives for dog-biscuits and bacon would likely increase as more bomb-sniffing dogs are deployed.  Still, I'd wager they're at least as effective at detecting underpants bombs as people looking at fuzzy scans all day long.  Let's not shut down entire wings of airports and hold up the world while a bag or person is checked.  I mean, can't we have the guy with the dog just take the person and their bag aside, do some further checking and analyze the actual situation without putting us all on red alert?

We have watch lists.  We have databases.  We have the interwebs.  Let's just get a little better at linking those things up so when someone has a name that's on a watchlist, has a denied visa application somewhere, is traveling one-way from a country we are currently bombing for being full of terrorist training camps, pays cash day of the flight, and has no bags to check, in that case a competent security person takes that person aside and has a nice chat with them while they are searched, mildly irradiated, and sniffed by dogs who know what explosives smell like. 

I think the idea that somehow someone was supposed to link all the disparate facts (that the underpants bomber's dad made a report in Nigeria, he had a denied visa application on file the UK, he didn't check bags and paid cash when he bought ticket, his name was on a watch-list) and use all that information to stop him from boarding the plane unless it was all readily accessible to the security personnel at the airport.  That's a lot of people all over the world doing their jobs properly, making timely updates to databases whose information can be accessed easily where the rubber meets the road.  

There may be people with common names, travelling on short notice for a perfectly valid reasons, who would be inconvenienced by this sort of security.  Once we've established there is nothing in their carry-on, nothing in their bung hole, a convincing and verified story to explain why their otherwise suspicious behavior makes sense, how about we comp them with cocktail on the plane, or if we've made them miss their flight, make sure they get help getting on the next one? I think it's important that the measures we take to keep us all safe are applied to everyone respectfully.  I'm supposing it really is inevitable that folks named Mohammed are going to be more likely to be impacted by whatever security measures are taken, so let's not do more to anger and alienate that segment of the world population.

Nothing will remove all risk of terrorism.  Until everyone in the world is free (from hunger, oppression, the deleterious effects of religous indoctorination) and has no reason to want to lash out at the world, there will always be risk of terrorism.  Even if we achieved a utopian world, there would still be mental defectives looking to kill for no real reason; we could never stop them all. All we can do is deal with the risk intelligently. When politicians and pundits propose reactionary nonsense, let's call them out and dress them down. When those same blowhards have somethinge else to say once they've proven they're idiots, let's ignore them and let the adults get on with the business of trying to make a better world for us all.  Can we do that?
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...