In the wake of a terror attempt on NW Flight 253
, New Years travelers will run into new security measures
to ward off additional attacks. Longtime critics of tedious "security theater" measures at airports are grousing that the new measures--which forbid
passengers to leave their seats, have items on their lap, or access carry-on items in the final hour of flight--are as ineffective as they are inconvenient. Here are the primary objections, as well as one defense mounted on behalf of the government:
- What Is Left of Flying Now? The conservative National Review's John Miller
mocks the latest restrictions: "We may not be allowed to read books
during the final hour of flights anymore, but at least we can look out
the windows. It will be best, however," he writes, referring to new
rules forbidding flight crews from announcing the location of the
plane, "if we don't know where we are ... Wouldn't it be safer just to
board up the windows?" His colleague Mark Steyn
looks ahead to each new restriction as "some enterprising jihadist"
figures out a new way to attack: "Another couple of attempted
takedowns and they might as well ship us freight ..." In a show of
bipartisan exasperation, liberal Kevin Drum asks "why not just ban air flight
entirely and be done with it?"
- Is This Overkill? "There have been precisely three attempts over the last eight years," writes an irate James Joyner
at Outside the Beltway, "to commit acts of terrorism aboard commercial
aircraft. All of them clownishly inept and easily thwarted by the
passengers." He's not sure the current response is warranted. At
FiveThirtyEight, number cruncher Nate Silver
puts it in starker terms, calculating total number of terrorist
attempts at attack per airborne hours, days, and years. He concludes
that "the odds of being on given departure which is the subject of a
terrorist incident have been 1 in 10,408,947 over the past decade. By
contrast, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are
about 1 in 500,000. This means that you could board 20 flights per year
and still be less likely to be the subject of an attempted terrorist
attack than to be struck by lightning."
- This Won't Even Work Longtime critic of TSA Jeffrey Goldberg repeats his usual points that "by the time the terrorist arrives at the airport, it's generally too late to stop him," and that "unless and until the TSA begins invasive body searches, most measures
taken at security checkpoints in U.S. airports should be considered
mere security theater." Law professor Stephen Bainbridge points out that "none of [the] new restrictions would have impeded the bomber. He was fine with staying in his seat. To the contrary, it was
the passenger who subdued the bomber that left his seat. Extra
screening of carry on luggage would have been no problem for the
bomber, since the bomber had the bomb sewn into his underwear."
- The Measures That Do Work Jon Clements at the Daily Mirror reports a conversation with a U.S. Homeland Security official in which the official admitted
that one of the most effective security measures is simply "passenger
vigilance, in the spirit of Flight 93," the flight on September 11 in
which passengers charged the terrorist-run cockpit.Security commentator Bruce Schneier
reiterates his usual point that "only two things have made flying safer
[since 9/11]: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that
passengers know now to resist hijackers."
- Back Off, Folks: This Actually Makes Some Sense The Volokh Conspiracy's Orin Kerr
is one of the few to defend the measures. Writing that "emotions run
high when it comes to commenting on air travel security restrictions,"
likely because "they are among the few examples" of government
anti-terrorist actions "that have a clear impact on the convenience of
regular people," Kerr argues that "there may be a strategy going on
here that goes beyond just 'security theater,'" as so many critics call
it. At least the after-the-fact changes in security "force Al Qaeda to
change tactics," he writes, noting that "experience suggests that the
terrorists associated with Al Qaeda like to try the same thing again."
- The Crippling of the Airline Industry "So, to recap," writes Laura Clawson at The Daily Kos, "Improvements in airport security have historically not worked. Yet, in response to a failed
terrorism attempt, a struggling industry in a struggling economy, and
the poor saps stuck as its customers, will have to deal with more
restrictions imposed not because there's any empirical support for
their effectiveness, but so the TSA can appear to be Vigilant and
Responsive." She argues that "if some terrorist organization wanted to change its stated goals to
killing the US airline industry, they could probably declare victory
relatively soon." Stephen Bainbridge wonders if, in fact, crippling the airline industry really is the goal.
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