Airport Security is Killing Us!

Nov. 14, 2010
The most recent round of al-qaeda attacks using bombs disguised as toner cartridges reminds us that the frontline of the fight with global terrorists lies within the air transport system. As we embark once again on the predictable and tiresome ...

The most recent round of al-qaeda attacks using bombs disguised as toner cartridges reminds us that the frontline of the fight with global terrorists lies within the air transport system. As we embark once again on the predictable and tiresome post-attack phase, where calls for more "extensive security measures" are rampant, we would do well to remember that more is not better when it comes to aviation security.

In fact, the more measures put in place to protect passengers will actually result in greater numbers of their deaths.

The recent announcement by TSA that enhanced "pat-down procedures" will now take place at our nation's airports, along with the deployment of a larger number of the intrusive "naked X-ray" machines, is leaving those of us planning holiday travel with a big decision: Should I just bite the bullet and accept all the humiliation and hassle with security and fly to my destination? Or, if I can, isn't it better to drive?

Of course, if you're going cross-country or over oceans, flying is the only option. Still, for tens of millions of us who are going to a place within a manageable car trip, driving is becoming a far more attractive option.

Recent surveys about the "hassle factor" caused by the aviation security process reveal the tipping point for many Americans about whether to fly or drive is now six hours.

But here is the rub: driving is logarithmically more dangerous than taking a plane. Since September 2001, about 350,000 Americans have been killed on our nation's roads. Conversely, less than a dozen individuals have been killed in terrorist-related attacks against our national aviation system; while the number of air passengers lost in mechanical or weather-related accidents is in the hundreds.

In short, the less people fly and the more they drive, the bigger numbers that are killed.

This reveals that the greatest damage inflicted in the age of terrorism comes most often from what we do to ourselves. While al-qaeda and their cohorts are highly motivated, they simply do not pose an existential threat to our way of life. The reason they used our cargo aircraft to deliver the toner cartridge bombs is because they don't possess the platforms to deliver destruction on their own. The longer-lasting impact from an attack comes within. Whether it is spending billions of dollars to take away nail clippers or forcing more people onto the roads, our reactions are what cause the most ache.

No one understands this better than the terrorists themselves. And the best "bang for the buck" is to attack aviation. Targeting airports and airplanes provides a powerful, symbolic target on a unique, global stage with guarantees of widespread international media coverage. This attention compels our political leaders to do something anything to better secure the skies after an attack. But no one ever asks: Just because we can roll out new measures, does it mean we should? And, equally important, are these "new" measures preventing the last attack or dealing with the next one?

This is critical.

In our future lies a day in which multiple suicide passengers on multiple planes blow themselves up through the detonation of body-cavity bombs hidden within them.

Having already tested and deployed the body-cavity bomb, it will be only be a matter of time before al-qaeda uses this "innovation" against commercial airplanes. All of the current and future security measures at our nation's airports- even the "naked x-ray machines"- would not be able to locate a body-cavity bomb.

The current aviation security strategy of doing more and subjecting passengers to worse is not sustainable. The logical conclusion to the current path is the body cavity search of millions of passengers. Imagine that...

Before we get to this Kafkaesque outcome, we have the opportunity to change course; to implement the kind of aviation security system that is malleable, dynamic, risk-based, and efficient.

To get there will take leadership from the President, the new Congress, and all stakeholders of the aviation system. Let's hope this happens.

The alternative in the form of the status quo is increasingly unacceptable and dangerous.

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