Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Why Airline Security Doesn't Work

Three men go on a camping trip. On the way there they're told by a park ranger to be careful because their campsite is located near some dangerous animals. What dangerous animals? The park ranger won't say, because that would be profiling. "Just keep in mind", he tells them, "that people who camped there in the past never made it back alive."

As the sun goes down, they pick up their hunting rifles and stand watch for dangerous animals. But they don't know what dangerous animals, they're watching out for. And they don't want to profile. So they keep watch for crickets as much as for bears, and for deer as much as for mountain lions. A rabbit, an owl or a bullfrog all equally frighten them out of their wits. They open fire on mosquitoes and stand watch against monstrous raccoons. By the end of the night, they can hardly see anything or react to danger. That morning, a pair of mountain lions stroll lazily into their camp and find them snoring away.

This little story illustrates why we can't do things this way. Because it's stupid and it's suicidal. Human survival is based on recognizing threats, not on reacting to all stimuli because one of them might be threatening, but we don't want to single it out and make it feel bad. If we actually did things that way, we'd all be dead by now.

There are three stages to coping with a threat. First you have to recognize the threat. Second, you have to formulate a plan for dealing with the threat. Third, you have to implement the plan.

So far we haven't even made to the first stage. We haven't recognized the threat. At the airline security level, we insist that the threat is completely random. Anyone at all could be a terrorist. There's no specific ideology or countries that are sources of terrorism. Instead terrorism is like some sort of disease. Anyone at all could be a carrier. And so we have to watch out for everyone. All the time. And like those hunters, we're either on alert all the time or we're completely apathetic. We're either security manic or security depressive. We go from letting everyone pass to strip searching everybody. There's no rational approach to danger, because we don't have a rational plan. We just go from 0 to 60 every time there's a new threat.

Since we failed the first stage, we can't move on to the second stage. We can't recognize the threat, so every plan we formulate to deal with is doomed from the start. Instead of addressing a known threat, we go down a lot of blind alleys. Technology keeps getting abused as a shortcut in another episode of security theater, as new machines are bought and installed. But technology is 'dumb'. Machines are a tool, not a plan. Like any tool, they can let us do more. But like all tools, they're only as smart as the people using them. And the people using them are trained to be dumb.

'Dumb' is the only policy that can exist in the absence of intelligent threat recognition. To be 'smart' you have to make it to the second stage. When you can't even identify the threat, then you're hopelessly stuck on stupid, no matter what your IQ might be, or how many diplomas are hanging on your wall. And if you're just a glorified security guard following a 'dumb' policy, then the outcome is going to be really dumb.

Technological solutions to terrorism driven by 'dumb' policy are a dead end. No machine can defeat a human being, because the human being can step outside the box and cheat. Any automated security approach might work 99 times out of a 100, but it won't work 100 times out of a 100. Because it has a weakness. And that weakness is inflexibility. Every automated solution has a way around it. It's just a matter of finding it and exploiting it.

When human beings play a game of cat and mouse, they think about what their opponent will do. Machines can't think. Neither can bureaucracies. They can only enact policies. And when those policies are 'dumb' in addition to inflexible, then the bureaucracy is no better than a machine. And a machine can be beaten. The people we're up against don't have to think about what we will do. They know what we will do. All they have to do is find a way around it. Then in response to their latest attempt, we look for a way to close the hangar, after the plane has already flown away.

In response to 9/11, we obsessively focused on preventing anyone from carrying sharp objects onto domestic flights. Every time the terrorists tried something, we responded with new 'dumb' security regimes. We banned liquids in carry on luggage, made fliers take off their shoes and now we run passengers through naked scanners. When the terrorists think of something else, we'll have to ban that too or find some new way to inconvenience and humiliate anyone who exercises the "privilege" of flying. As plans go, this is as dumb as buying a bulletproof vest, 6 months after you've been shot.

Our security agencies are actually pretending that this hopelessly reactive approach is a "plan". It's not a plan, it's a high tech buzzword rich version of Keystone Kops. We don't have a plan. We have an approach. And our approach is to try and interdict weapons and bombs that terrorists might try to smuggle on board. Since we're focusing on the tools, not the terrorists-- everyone is a suspect. Imagine if after every stabbing, we disregarded the physical description of the perpetrator, and instead went after everyone who owns a knife. An hour later, there would be thousands of angry citizens arrested for having kitchen knives, bread knives, boxcutters and anything with a blade. And then the police department would be doing things, the same way that the TSA operates now.

The problem isn't knives or bombs. It's Muslim terrorists. The knives or bombs are just some of the tools they use. But it's the terrorists who are the threat, not the tools. By now we know that explosives can be smuggled in liquid containers and shoes and powder and body cavities and countless other ways. Even if everyone actually flew naked and without luggage, there would still potentially be a way to blow up a plane, including surgical implants. The TSA has not actually stopped a single act of terrorism. All it has done is inconvenience and humiliate travelers.

Saddled with a political taboo against identifying Muslim terrorists as the threat, security agencies have been left with no choice except to focus on the tools. If we don't know anything about the attacker, then we have to think about the weapons. But from a security standpoint, it's not possible to reliably interdict a weapon before it's used. Not when the weapon can be almost anything at all.

Law enforcement exists to interdict perpetrators during a crime or to capture them afterward. Trying to prevent a crime from being carried, when we can't even identify the potential perpetrators, and to do so only based on outdated information about the potential weapons they might use, while trying to screen them from among tens of thousands of other people, without actually slowing down airline travel or inconveniencing anybody-- is functionally impossible. Such a system will always be broken from the start. And it won't accomplish any of its goals.

Liberalism created a taboo against identifying criminals, blaming the tools they used, rather than the men themselves. This led to the farce of 'Gun Control' which insisted that guns are to blame for violent crime in urban areas, not the residents themselves. The UK is living out the Gun Control fantasy, and now it's busy fighting "Knife Crime" and asking residents to turn in their knives. Security cameras are everywhere. There's a national DNA database. Everything short of Minority Report's Pre-Crime psychics is in play, and yet violent crime in the UK is worse than it is in the US.

The TSA's policies aid and abet the same fantasy, that it's not Muslim terrorists we should be worried about, but bottles of liquid, shoes and personal privacy. But bottles of liquid and shoes don't blow up planes, Muslims do.

The first stage of fighting terrorism is to identify the terrorists. We haven't done that. The second stage is to formulate a plan for fighting them. Instead we've formulated a plan to try and stop them from doing the things they tried to do six months ago. The third stage is to implement the plan. Since we don't have a plan, we just randomly terrorize people in the hopes that the terrorists will be so impressed by our security theater that they'll give up and go away, and if they don't, then at least none of the bureaucrats and politicians in the loop will be held responsible for the next 3,000 dead.

We can stop the terrorists and keep America safe. And we can do it without treating everyone who flies like a criminal or demand that fliers accept the unacceptable. But to do that we have to go through those three stages. We have to identify the problem, formulate a plan for dealing with it and implement that plan. To do that requires going back to the beginning and remember why we're at war.

We weren't attacked by boxcutters in 9/11. We were attacked by Muslims who were acting in the name of Islam. They were not lone gunmen. And their creed goes beyond a few men living in caves in Afghanistan. They did what they did, because their religion and their bible commanded them to do it. This is the enemy. Every mosque on our soil is another base for terror. Every Muslim at the gate is another potential terrorist. You may not like hearing that, but those are the facts.

In the 1930's most Europeans did not like hearing that they would soon have to fight another World War. All educated and moral people back then knew that wars were bad. The "real enemy" was the government and the capitalists who wanted to make the working class fight another war. So they denied it for as long as they could. Until the enemy was at their gates and the bombs were falling on their cities. Their politics blinded them to the threat. Just as they blind us today. And the blind are vulnerable. When violence happens, the blind have to suspect everyone and grope everyone. Because they can't see who their enemies are.

Right now our security setup is blind, deaf and dumb. It's three little monkeys in a row. One who can't see any evil. One who can't hear any evil. And one can't speak out and identify any evil. Only when it can see, hear and speak-- will we have any shot at fighting the terrorists, instead of terrorizing our own.


dee said...

Another excellent piece, and congratulations to the Sultan for raising the alarm that the supposedly advanced West is heading for the edge of a cliff - even though it throws dust in his face and reviles his petulance as it proceeds full steam ahead.

I would add acknowledgement of an existing threat, as the first of the (now) four stages proposed early in the piece.

Sounds easy enough, but not when we are confounded and prevented from doing so by our leaders and the libtards that have turn such a hypothesis into a social and political taboo.

All is well, we are told, and the unthinking masses sleep soundly at night.

Keep it up, Sultan, and don't let the bastards get you down.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

the people know, the leaders don't

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to know if the political correctness that is preventing airlines from profiling passengers that could be a threat has also at play in employment.

I can imagine an Arab Muslim getting a job with an airline in any position without anyone expressing concerns because it's not politically correct.

Th terrorists wouldn't have to set a foot on a plane to sabotage it.


Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

We did see that photo of a Muslim TSA agent frisking a nun

Mikec said...

Only Islam affords the suicide killer "martyr" status, and a "get into heaven's brothel free" card.

In everyone else's book it is mass murder.

Except for the perverted 'religion' of socialism, which seems to see mass murder as an acceptable form of re-creation.

But each and every one of us accepts this political correctness and does nothing about it, we get what we deserve......

Until we, each one of us, are prepared to stand up and fight the political correctness, to go to prison for it if neccessary, there will be no plan.

Anonymous said...

Humiliation is part of the 'punishment' for kuffir. The objective of Islam is to cause chaos, humiliation and 'feeling we are subdued' as written in the Qur'an along with the destruction of kuffir nations, of which humiliation is just another 'spin-off' from the tools used by devout Islam ie Islam done properly.

It's the reason why you don't see burkad men and women frisked. The airport itself would be razed to the ground, probaly with a suppository bomb. Yes, Daniel, even if we flew naked, a bomb could go off. El Al type profiling only will work - but read the short piece below, including the comments which are very telling; the piece is not about Israel but about the tools of subtle, crippling Islamic terror, but the blame is, as always turned to the Jews, worse, people it.

kate b

Ab Sinistro said...

I've been reading your posts with some interest and agree with your general philosphy on this subject.
However, I don't believe bringing left/right politics into the conversation serves your cause. I am a European 'lefty', someone Americans would disparagingly call a liberal. I also believe that political correctness is a reasonable idea and is based on being polite, a laudable concept in almost anyone's book.
That said, this politeness must have limits and I am as appalled as anyone about how it is being (mis)interpreted and implemented by jobsworth bureaucrats and control freaks. It is used as an excuse to push agendas and to control others by the sort of people who would be just as happy pouring the zykon B into the air-vents as requiring everything in triplicate or insisting on not calling Islamic terrorism what it is.
I fully admit that many, even most, of these 'types' (I'm trying to stick to the no swearing thing) classify themselves as of the left but I'm sure you'll agree that there are plenty on the right you'd rather not have as fellow travellers either.
My point is, we are children of the Enlightenment, ultimately on the same side and fighting amongst ourselves at this point is not going to help people to see this islamofascism problem for what it is. Others need to be educated to the problem and using terms used in the left/right debate causes most people on the other side of that divide to immediately disregard everything said. Either just more right-wing racist bilge or left-wing mind-everyone-elses-business control freakery.
It is possible to consider oneself left wing and still feel that we face a serious threat to our way of life and to understand that many of us can't see this due to relativism and a strange sort of self-hate. These concepts are not compulsory to the lefty but due to a particularly odd conversation (post-modernism) that has been happening within the the left-wing commentariat may sometimes appear so to those outside.
I believe our democratic societies are the best mankind has ever produced and our self-awareness is one of our greatest strengths. However, our tolerance is being subverted by ignorant cultists who look at our internal criticism of our own system and see it as a weakness.
I think we are heading into a time of struggle where our values, fuzzy as they are, are facing a fundamental threat.
You need people like me on your side, not with our backs up. For example, I believe profiling is a necessity. I supported the war in Afghanistan and I fully support the right of Israel to exist and defend itself (even if I don't always agree with the tactics). I believe we need to be very careful about the Muslim populations we have, through our good will and guilt, implanted into our society. Of course most people of the Islamic faith are 'good' people but they are brainwashed from an early age into this superiority/inferiority complex that makes their belief system a seriously dangerous threat to ours. We need to convince rather than accuse those of the left, and right, to enable us all to see the problem for what it is. Whenever I think about whether I am perhaps being xenophobic I remind myself how Muslims generally view homosexuals and women and I know who my adversary is in this war of ideas.
We can fight our struggles at the ballot box, the larger struggle needs us all reading from the same hymnsheet.

gsw said...

Actually, as soon as the TSA/UN government are given the choice between 'offending' 350 million American non-muslims - or offending a few million American muslims - I think there is no doubt which way a politician would jump.

Imagine 1 million people suing the TSA for assault, 4th. amendment rights grievances & sexual abuse.

If that does not work - the next time you see a Niqub go straight through without being searched - threaten to sue them for profiling (non-muslim = guilty).

Anonymous said...

I sincerely believe they (the ruling elite) are doing all of this deliberately. You wrote:

"All it has done is inconvenience and humiliate travelers."

A goal of marxism is to completely demoralize society, to crush the spirit of the people and take away the threat of opposition. I also think the ludicrous airline security measures are more ways for those who want absolute power to eradicate yet more of our freedoms. And they are winning, the West is being routed.

Proud Brit.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

MikeC = Muslims committing mass murder = hope and change for socialists

Kate - this is one of the reasons why things are so bad. Few can identify the real enemy. And some are still so hung up on the Jews, that they'll be getting their heads sawed off by Ahmed, while still blaming the Jews for making Ahmed so mad.

Ab Sinistro - I understand what you're saying, but rather unfortunately the left, with a few notable exceptions such as Nick Cohen or Christopher Hitchens, tend to side with the Muslim side. And it's hard to write as if that's not so, because I would be ignoring reality. Plenty on the right do side with Islam or ignore the threat, but the situation is far worse on the left, particularly because of its degree of cultural influence.

So while I would very much like to see such an alliance, I can't write as if it actually exists.

Maria Louisa said...

Thank you for this incredible post. I especially loved this:

"...We weren't attacked by boxcutters in 9/11. We were attacked by Muslims who were acting in the name of Islam...They did what they did, because their religion and their bible commanded them to do it..."

I am constantly amazed at how uninformed people are on this - in general.

Thank you, again. Keep up the good fight.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...


thank you. Propaganda exists to make people miss the obvious.

Black_Rain said...

the only difference in extremist muslims and so called moderate muslims is their "Methods", because their goals are the same..

the Moderates would rather use women as baby factories to out birth the Infadels and Demographically overwhelm them..

the cowards way out of Jihad...

Black_Rain said...

....hey, Ab Sinistro, there is really no conflict between Left and Right.

the problem with both sides, especially the Right is that they have quit thinking.. and take way too much delight in Parroting the Daily Talking points of their Handlers, the Fascist Corporatist's who are manipulating both side's weaknesses for their own benefit.
the top 1% richest hold 42% of Americas Financial Wealth..6 times what the bottom 80% hold..7%. so the top 20% hold 93% of Americas financial wealth.. and that 80% is being brainwashed to fight each other instead of their tormentors.

the Tea Party blames the Liberals and taxes.. the Liberals fell for it..

here is what the REAL Boston Tea Party was about.. Briton got into a war with France over who owned the Ohio valley, etc.. 7 year war was expensive.. the British thought the Colonists benefited most so they should pay the most for it.. thus the Taxes without Representation.. and the resulting conflict over them that led to war..
our Present day Tea Party should realize that our present problems are caused by the Taxes to pay for a Protracted Needless war planned for corporate profit before Bu$h's election.. the tax cut of 4Trillion dollars to the people who hold 93% 0f America's wealth on top of needless war costs IS THE PROBLEM.. WAKE THE HELL UP FOLKS

you can be a Liberal/Progressive and an Anti-Fascist. BUT I REALLY DINT THINK THE RIGHT WILL EVER FIGURE IT OUT.. THEIR PARTY'S AGENDA IS BASED ON WEALTH REDISTRIBUTION TO THE WORLDS RICHEST OCD WEALTH HOARDERS AND NOT TAXING THEM.. wealth is proof of gods favor of a man so it is a sin to tax them, and the poor are being punished by god so it is a sin to help them in any way.

DP111 said...

DG wrote: This is the enemy. Every mosque on our soil is another base for terror.

Therefore no mosques and thus no Muslims in the West. Problem solved.

A. Zoroaster said...

Daniel, well said!

Yet, I agree with Ab Sinistro: the left/right division was a distraction. You stated "Liberalism created a taboo against identifying criminals, blaming the tools they used, rather than the men themselves."

First, I doubt that many liberals (including myself) would agree with that statement. Second, the statement poisons the well, failing to mention that essentially all the rights we enjoy were championed by "liberals". Third, as Ab Sinistro wrote, your statement promotes animosity between left and right, when what we need to do is work together to defeat terrorist threats (e.g., in the manner you described, as well as by other means, such as those described by Hugh Fitzgerald and even as I have described at one of my blogs).

In your response to Ab Sinistro, you stated: "it's hard to write as if that's not so (i.e., "the left… tends to side with the Muslim side")." Again, however, I think that you're continuing to encourage the use of an unnecessary and inappropriate division. Agreeing with Ab Sinistro, I think that you should emphasize that political correctness has gone way too far. I don't consider anyone who disagrees with that statement to be playing in left field, or even in the game, or even in the ball park: such a person is just plain dumb.

Paul said...

There is dumb and then there is belligerantly dumb. It is not just that our civil protection system is calculatingly ignorant, it is also that it actually deliberately directs hostility in the wrong direction. Notice that some of our Muslim terrorists are now beginning to be "home grown". Timothy McVie was a "home grown" terrorist. Somebody trips into this country and has a few kids, sends them off to school in the Middle East, they come back to the US and they are terrorists, Is that "home grown"? Not even the president is that "home grown".

And so also is this protection caluclating stupid in the more basic problem of illegal immigration. Even the most "conservative" activists will not show any backbone in policing anything but "dangerous" illegal aliens, ones who have commited some other crime besides being in the country illegally. They won't even dodge the accusation of racism in a crime that has nothing at all whatsoever do with race.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

The division isn't random. I'm commenting on the basic fact that this is where most liberals in the anglosphere at least line up. There are prominent exceptions, such as the Anti-Germans, but overall this is the way it is. I have no problem being proven wrong with counter-examples.

Anonymous said...

The TSA exists because the USA is too corrupted by socialism to defend itself. The USA is tired after WW1, WW2, and the Cold War, and isn't up to an even bigger world war where Islam is treated like what it is: a phony religion almost indistinguishable from Nazism.

No one in the USA wants to fight such a war. The world, the USA, everything would be irrevocably changed; billions would would be dead; and our happy and reasonably quiet life in Baltimore, Cleveland, Tulsa, and Albuquerque would be over.

And so the stresses of reality cannot be responded to openly; instead the justifiable fears are sublimated into self-mutilation.

A. Zoroaster said...

Daniel, I'm not challenging your assessments: I know that there are many out there similar to Michael Moore. What I question, instead, is your tactic: it breeds hostility in many who potentially are powerful allies (e.g., Sam Harris).

Besides, the "left-right division" is too crude. For example, most people would consider Bush-II to be on the right, but he promoted the myth that "Islam is a religion of peace".

It would be better, in my view, to focus our efforts on solving the problems: Islam as a supremacist political ideology and western PC gone amok.

Simon in London said...

Excellent article. This should be syndicated.

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