Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bad idea of the week

The response to the very real threat posed by the prospect of terrorists strapping hard-to-detect PETN to their bodies and then blowing themselves up mid-air has served up some mind-boggling inanity since Christmas Day, starting with the proviso that passengers flying into the US must remain seated, are not allowed access to carry-on bags, and may not have personal objects on their laps - for the final hour of the flight. Because that, you see, is when the Christmas Day bomber chose to try to ignite his explosive device. So it stands to reason that that is when all future bombers will do the same. But we've foiled them! They'll be forbidden from putting a blanket on their laps during that last hour! How will they ever respond to such a cunning foil?

But one of the single dumbest Monday-morning-quarterbacking comments since the incident I heard last night on CNN's "The Situation Room". They were discussing the rightly disturbing trail of clues and information that was given US security agencies about this individual, and how breakdowns in communication meant that he was never flagged for special security at the airport even when he bought a one-way ticket to the US. With cash. And no checked luggage.

That's all bad enough, but Frances Fragos Townsend, CNN "National Security Contributor", was all worked into a lather by the fact that, according to the reporter, "British authorities did refuse [him] a visa and put him on a watch list. A Britain source tells CNN it was because he lied on a student visa application, claiming he went to a bogus college. That information, however, was never passed on to U.S. authorities, he says, because it wasn't linked to terrorism." Ms. Townsend's incredulous reaction:

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: I think we have to ask why wouldn't our allies have shared this information, even if it was not terrorism related. If this individual lied on their visa application in their visa application process, why wouldn't they have shared that with us? Because frankly if an individual is known to have lied to another immigration authority around the world, I would want to know that.
Really? You want every one of the US's ally countries to share with you information about every single person who lies on a visa application by claiming they went to a school they didn't, or a school that didn't exist? Really? Or, I suppose, who lies about anything else on their visa application? Even if it isn't remotely terrorism-related?

Does this person have the vaguest notion of the gigantic tsunami of extra, useless, inactionable information this practice would bring crashing down on US anti-terrorism task force heads? A group who can't even manage to properly share the information they're collecting on real terrorists now, particularly with their potential targets, like airports? Thousands of reports from around the world annually. Because anybody in the immigration biz can tell you that people lie on these forms, accidentally or intentionally, and get caught, a lot.

We run around like chickens with our heads cut off every time something like this happens, spouting utterly inane opinions on what should've been done and should be done and should not be done, without taking ten seconds to weigh the implications of the actual adoption of our pontifications. It's enough that the talking heads sound important and like they're smarter than the people making the actual decisions.

There aren't any easy answers. But for the love of God, can people think before they engage their mouths?

ronnie

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4 Comments:

Blogger Xtreme English said...

I agree, Ronnie...there's an interesting interview on Hot Air http://hotair.com/archives/2009/12/29/video-former-el-al-security-official-explains-common-sense/ with the former head of of El Al airlines. El Al has never had an explosion on one of their planes. And basically, it's because El Al doesn't let freaks fly in their planes. If the US put all the people on their WATCH list in a NO FLY list, that would solve a lot of this. There is no "right to fly." People can be allowed to fly if they jump through all the right hoops.

12:24 AM  
Blogger Carl said...

"But for the love of God, can people think before they engage their mouths?"

No.

Someone with a brain did look at the "no blankets in the last hour" rule, because it is apparently already optional and will presumably be allowed to gradually fade into nonexistence.

9:55 AM  
Blogger Brian Fies said...

Well, I have an iota of sympathy for the idiot rulemakers, because it seems the alternative is conceding that if enough people really want to blow up planes, once in a while they'll succeed. Statistically, losing one plane in a million is still safer than freeway driving; psychologically, it's probably unacceptable, so better something stupid than nothing. But it's still stupid. I'm kind of surprised they haven't started stripping everyone to their underwear.

XE, El Al's common-sense approach wouldn't survive its first lawsuit in the U.S. That's why we frisk 90-year-old Norwegian nuns.

1:08 PM  
Blogger Sherwood Harrington said...

BF: I'm kind of surprised they haven't started stripping everyone to their underwear.

I doubt that such a protocol would last very long even if implemented -- not because of any privacy concerns, but for the mental well-being of the security personnel. Maybe even their financial well-being: I'm not sure that most health insurance covers self-gouged eyeballs.

9:40 PM  

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