Are You Planning to Fly Soon? Think Twice! (Part Three of Three)

by JOHN W. MILLER December 13, 2010

Written in association with Christopher J. Ward (PhD)*.


Part One can be read here, and Part Two here.

Authors’ apologia
The conclusion to this short series is not designed to win friends and influence people [1].  I have always maintained during a long career in intelligence that however unpalatable it may appear, the truth must be confronted.  It is a subject I will perhaps write about on another occasion when it seems more appropriate but for the moment, I would like to assure readers once more that I am not intending to insult their intelligence or create a deliberate controversy.  The matter of security and air travel is far too important than personal egos. JM
I mentioned the excellent STRATFOR [2] article by Scott Stewart in Parts One and Two; and commented on the number of people checked through airports everyday in the U.S.  As you will see, that figure was averaged out at 1.9 million passengers each day [3].  I indicated that averaging is not always the best method of analysing figures and there are other statistical techniques, the technicalities of which I will not dwell on, that indicate certain days of the week or the year would have a much higher travel rate than 1.9 million. For example, if we were to use an offer a statistical method and look at the median, another method of analysis, we can expect to find peak travel clustered around various holidays, public, religious and those connected with the university year This is a 24 x 7 x 365 operation across the various time zones of the U.S.  And the same applies for most western countries. 
The point that we are both making is that air travel is ubiquitous and there are cultural differences in both the implementation of various screening methods of passengers, their luggage and air cargo on the one hand, and the question of human rights on the other. We both respect American adherence to the Constitution but being non-American, we do not necessarily share the abhorrence of intrusive search methods. So much has been written about the alternatives to intrusive search methods that this article includes looking at some of the statements made and some of the alternatives. CJW.
The Fabric of Nightmares
This particular term was coined by someone known to both of us as being highly intelligent and articulate. It was used to describe a situation where there was quite literally no safe or secure exit. Such a situation might be seen  where people held by terrorists  find themselves impotent when the building is stormed by counterterrorist forces. At best, you might walk away physically intact but very few would not be scarred by the incident. At worst, needless to say, your body would be carried out in a bag: in other words, we are considering thinking the unthinkable and it’s not pretty. So far, we have agreed that Al Qaeda and associated organizations are carrying the war to the West and that means Europe, North America, and Australasia along with Japan, Israel and any functioning democracy by the standards we accept today.
Quite rightly, whenever terrorism is discussed, there is a strong temptation to turn to what we might call the Israeli solution. It is perhaps axiomatic that to fly safely, the Israeli national airline El Al would be considered the safest because among the passengers are usually armed guards and counterterrorist experts whose job it is to ensure that no one, but no one, gets to interfere with their aircraft. Since 9/11, the notion of sky marshals has been around and of late, it appears they are conspicuous by their absence. It needs to be said once more that a hijacking could be stopped by several methods including reducing oxygen in the cabin; pumping in an immobilizing gas or alternatively having a sky marshal with a pistol. However, that thin-skinned aircraft can have its structural integrity breached quite easily and while we have no doubts that plenty of weapons exist to take out a terrorist, they all carry a risk which may or may not be acceptable.
In something of a tour de force, Mr. Alan Caruba recently wrote about the TSA requirements for searching at airports. In a somewhat rhetorical vein, he asked when was the last time an American terrorist got on a commercial airliner and attempted to blow it up mid-flight? His answer was never.  The thrust of his argument turned on the cases of Richard Reid, the shoe bomber and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian who is more popularly known as the underwear bomber and we should remember, it was Christmas Day last year that this man intended to bring down an aircraft en route to Detroit.
Mr. Caruba’s logic is impeccable in one sense and grossly deficient in another. For many years, the United States has accepted migrants from all parts of the world, as have most Western liberal democracies, while Japan and Israel are probably less disposed to follow suit for various reasons. As one of the co-writers of this article has said on many occasions, just because a migrant stands in a ceremony, and swears allegiance to the flag and the Constitution (and equivalent measures in other countries) it does not by definition make them any more of an American, Canadian, British citizen, Australian, New Zealander and so on. The point has been made that not all Muslims are terrorists but most terrorists are Muslims and obtaining citizenship of a Western country enables them to travel and engage in terrorist training and conduct operations overseas. The most striking example lies with Somali migrants or refugees who become naturalized, obtain a passport and other in documents and the next thing we hear about is that they are engaged in terrorism on behalf of Al Shabaab, one of the groups associated with Al Qaeda.
The fact that a migrant with full documentation - or someone during the period of probation leading up to citizenship - can travel freely within the US and other countries means that the problem of trying to discern whether they are motivated towards terrorism is well-nigh impossible. For example, taking an internal shuttle flight in the US, Mr. Caruba might well find himself with a couple of hundred other passengers of various skin colors and modes of dress. Any one of them could be a terrorist, and although we think that hijacking is on the back burner at present, carrying explosives as couriers is very much on the cards. This is particularly the case with PETN, distinguished by its difficulty to detect. It is also known to be easily secreted in body cavities. Carried to a ludicrous extent, the only solution would be to fly naked, with everyone being given a laxative or enema before they travel. Who would tolerate that nonsense?
The odds against being hijacked in an operation similar to 9/11 are more remote than PETN being carried in the cargo hold, having been packed by the army of underpaid, poorly supervised baggage handlers that are common to most airports around the world. It would appear that high-level penetration of Al Qaeda by Western intelligence is nonexistent and recent incidents suggest that bombings are more likely to be on the ground and strategically placed by gullible amateurs such as those planned in Portland, Oregon and Virginia, Washington DC etc.
The simple fact remains for all of us in Western countries, without exception; there is a clear and present danger in the form of terrorism, and some groups or individuals will attack airliners. The logical corollary of this argument is that there is no effective defense against such activity: a perfect defense system does not exist. Furthermore, as Stratfor noted, those who attack aircraft have proven to be resourceful and adaptive and - as we have  consistently maintained - the initiative always lies with the attacker. Some suggestions have been made that profilers should be working around the clock in conjunction with the Viper list and similar databases to facilitate identification of terrorists who travel by air. One writer has suggested that the behavior of individuals might be a giveaway. The problem is that equally, it might not because many nervous people fly and behave somewhat erratically. It does not make them terrorists or anything more than a confounded nuisance and the very civil rights we all enjoy, could well be infringed if such people who have a fear of flying are depicted as potential terrorists.
As sure as night follows day, it is not possible to say that the swarthy gentleman or lady on the same flight as yourself is a terrorist. They are just as likely to be clean-shaven, appear quite cosmopolitan and quite calm. The behavior of Richard Reid and the underwear bomber was noted by aircrew but what of those who travel and are indistinguishable because they behave and look as normal as Joe Average, your next-door neighbor.  Both of us have had experiences in different fields with profiling and it requires a high degree of skill and immense concentration if you are looking at passenger volumes mentioned earlier. In fact, the authorities could not afford the services of professional profilers and airline companies would similarly balk at the cost. The price of tickets would go sky high (no pun intended) and pretty soon, it would be seen as the impossible option. You can forget it because it won’t happen: only if the authorities have a tip-off can they start to conduct intense scrutiny on certain flights because it would be impossible to cover each and every aircraft flight.
The fuss and bother surrounding aircraft security and various threats have led to degrees of near panic by some people and absurd statements by others, who should probably know better. It seems to us that the basic problem is that the whole affair has become highly politicized. Quite recently, a writer known to one of the co-authors posed the question of whether the intrusive measures and techniques used by the TSA would have been acceptable had George W. Bush been US president [4].  It is an interesting and in some ways tantalizing suggestion to consider the proposition because the TSA stance on airline security has been sheeted home to the Obama administration. Never was a person more aptly named than one John Pistole, TSA administrator who was photographed speaking to the media just before the holiday travel season in Washington, with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano looking on approvingly: this is one occasion where a picture is worth a thousand words and each time the picture appears, there is a tendency to guffaw.  Not that this is a particularly humorous situation but it certainly has a photo opportunity stamped all over it and was it effective? We think not, given that the TSA pulled back on full body checks during the Thanksgiving holiday period.
In this Nov. 15, 2010, photo (from Associated Press), Transportation Security Administration Administrator John Pistole, right, accompanied by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, left, speaks to the media during a news conference to kick off the holiday travel season at Washington's Ronald Reagan National Airport. Pistole told the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Tuesday, Nov. 16, that passengers who refuse to go through a whole-body scanner machine and get a pat-down won't be allowed on planes, even if they turned down the in-depth screening for religious reasons. Source : Washington Times.
Probably the reaction would have been just as fierce had it been introduced by the Bush administration only quite possibly, it would’ve come from a different direction. The highly political nature of the TSA searches especially pat downs and the reaction by passengers was well described by a journalist, Ms. Kelly O’Connell [5] who regards the TSA has been plagued by the nonsensical mixing of political correctness, which has governed the measures and in turn, as we all know, political correctness is a Marxist invention.   Under normal circumstances such an argument would not be countenanced but Ms. O’Connell traces political correctness back to cultural Marxism exported to the US by Germans after World War II. Her argument is based on a fairly erudite description of the genesis of political correctness by William S. Lind, euphemistically described as a pundit on cultural conservatism and something of an expert on American military matters [6].   And if it really matters to anyone, the reference given is quite readable and perhaps there is some justification to the claim that political correctness is the child of  a German think tank established in 1923 with intellectual inspiration from the works of Marxist  “theoreticians” Antonio Gramsci (one of the driving forces behind the long march through the institutions notions that erupted in the 1970s) and the Hungarian communist, Georg Lukacs.
So are the measures implemented by the TSA part of the Communist plot to take over the world and as such, greeted by hand rubbing from the left, which sees victory and hand and the right, which condemns it out of hand. Of course, airlines and government could do absolutely nothing in terms of mere basic security: searching hand luggage and occasionally asking a passenger who looks suspicious to step out of line and be questioned or possibly searched. Given the current threat level, this would be totally unacceptable if not in the US, then certainly in other parts of the world.
Then there was a rather curious argument that certain categories of people should not be subjected to searches. It has been said that the influence of American Muslims is such that the Muslim female airline passenger should only be searched by another Muslim woman and away from the regular flow of passengers. Would that be acceptable to other airline passengers? The unsinkable Ms. O’Connell complains mightily about the prospects of an 89-year-old nun or a five-year-old child being patted down or strip-searched, the implication being that this is the same treatment accorded to a Saudi Arabian male traveler. Is it necessary to point out that women in religious dress have been known to act as couriers for all manner of tasks and certain terrorist groups make extensive use of children?
With the coming of the Christmas season, there will be no diminution of the terrorist threat and the authorities will be faced with the dilemma of maintaining the current level of screening and searching or scaling it back because either they can’t afford to pay for extra staff or alternatively, there is a worry about the political backlash.
Americans have every reason to get into a lather about their rights under the Constitution and perhaps the rest of us would share the rage that has been expressed in the media. Before you travel, you have to ask if your trip is really necessary and if so, how much/many of your civil rights are you prepared to have infringed (or abused depending on your viewpoint) in order to fly safely. Flying today carries all sorts of dangers which cannot necessarily be ranked but terrorist activity is more likely than systemic failure causing a crash, although some Australians are rightly worried about engines on certain aircraft, which have recently caused dangerous events. Is the immigrant traveling with you (at least in the same aircraft) a potential terrorist or a loyal citizen? We have spent countless hours workshopping some of the ideas thrown around rather loosely in the media and in conclusion we have come back to the words of Daniel Greenfield [7].  As he pointed out, we (and that includes all Western societies for we are all in the same situation) haven’t made it to square one. The first stage of fighting terrorism is to identify terrorists and we have not done that. The second is to formulate a plan to fight them but instead, we’ve taken the easy bureaucratic way of formulating plans to try and stop putative terrorists from repeating previous tactics by the randomized implementation of TSA measures. Mr. Greenfield believes, with some degree of certainty that some people hope that the security measures will be so daunting as to prevent terrorists from traveling and if the measures don’t work: “and at least none of the bureaucrats and politicians in the loop will be held responsible for the next 3000 dead.” But for all his erudition, Mr. Greenfield is unable to state how he would identify a Muslim terrorist. These guys don’t get around with a luminescent capital ‘M’ emblazoned on their forehead and the same applies to his argument as we applied to that of Mr. Caruba: the person next to you could be a terrorist.
Finally, we can only conclude that air travel is here to stay; will continue to be widely used throughout the world and in the final analysis, terrorism is an ongoing threat and those who mean us ill, will have the initiative. It won’t make much difference if an amateur is able to assemble a bomb in an aircraft or if the same act is conducted by a professionally-trained Al Qaeda terrorist. In some respects, it is to the detriment of counterterrorism that partisan politics has entered the equation and the measures devised by the TSA lack popular support. Do you really want to fly? Are you prepared for searches? Will you forgo civil rights in order to spend time with your family at Christmas or any other holiday? Only you can make that decision but you can rest assured that someone somewhere is plotting yet another atrocity.
The Achilles’ heel of Western democracy has been lax immigration and the disastrous policy of multiculturalism, which have combined to make matters easier for terrorists of every stripe and there would appear to be no clearly defined countermeasures to effect political change and even if that change came tomorrow, of itself, that does not guarantee no more bombs and no more terrorist incidents. With that in mind we hope all who travel reach their destinations in safety and without undue distress but the threat remains. The political will and courage to address the problem is equally elusive.
[1]  The focus in this article is essentially on Islamic fundamentalist terrorists or jihadists but the same applies to extremists from a number of other countries and of course, disturbed or mentally affected individuals who have decided to take lethal action.
[2] Scott Stewart, Airline Security: Gentle Solutions to a Vexing Problem. Stratfor November 23, 2010. Mr. Stewart argues that the threat to commercial aviation has remained constant since the  late 1960s. He cited Inspire Magazine, the product of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) noted that the decision to send explosive devices in air cargo was a direct result of increased passenger screening following the Christmas Day bombing attempt last year.
[3]  Ibid.
[5] TSA Circus Reveals Dangers of Marxist Politically Correct Security Rules By Kelly O'Connell  Sunday, November 28, 2010
[6] The Origins of Political Correctness  W.S.Bill Lind, February 5, 2000
[7] Airline Security Doesn’t Work  By Daniel Greenfield  Thursday, November 25, 2010
* Dr. Christopher J. Ward is an empirical social scientist with an interest in immigration; the assimilation of migrants and associated cultural problems. Contributing Editor John W. Miller is a former senior intelligence officer with NATO and allied forces, with considerable experience in Russian (Soviet) affairs and counterterrorism.

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