Saturday, October 30, 2010

Cargo fo' Sho.

For the past 60 years, the security of the United States has been viewed as largely dependent upon the security of everywhere else. There has also been much criticism against this perception of our security because it has resulted in a variety of U.S. peccadilloes abroad intended to keep our country safe(r). Wars, coups, and rigged elections notwithstanding, there is something that the United States genuinely needs to work on abroad in order to improve national security at home: airport security.

Speaking as someone who once accidentally (I must stress the accidental part) carried TWO pocketknives through all security checkpoints in a foreign airport, I know that the stringency level of airport security varies from place to place. Since the September 11 attacks, there has been significant pressure from the United to States to improve security measures abroad, specifically to flights going to the U.S. Like fellow blogger "greenmountains" mentioned a couple posts prior to this, the security measures that the U.S. wants enacted abroad have been labeled as redundant and overly expensive.

The bottom line is that successful and foiled terrorist attacks alike are the primary tests of our airport security. The September 11 attacks showed how easily it was to smuggle handheld, edged weapons onto a plane and also how to gain access to the cockpit. Richard Reid's failed shoe bombing caper resulted in us all taking our shoes off at security checkpoints, shuffling around like we're visiting grandma's house (why is her carpet stark white? It's so impractical!). Umar Farouk Abdulmatallab's willingness to sacrifice his manhood helped usher in the widespread use of the body scanners that undress us with their evil, undiscriminating, robot eyes.

And that brings us to the suspicious packages that were en route to synagogues in the Chicago area.

Depending on who is reporting the facts, the recovered packages contained bombs, explosive material, or something that sure looked like a bomb. Originating from Yemen, the discovered packages were found in the United Arab Emirates and Britain, respectively. While some have criticized the significance of these threats, there are many who are uncomfortable with the distance that the packages traveled before being detected. On top of that, at least one of the packages was discovered after a tip from an unnamed source, not after being detected independently by established security measures.

The question we must ask now is: how much more money is going to be spent to keep this from happening again? I hate mail bombs as much as the next gal and would greatly appreciate additional measures to keep them away from airplanes. But if the rest of the world protests the removal of their belts, shoes, and dignity on our behalf, I can only assume they would protest even more loudly at expensive technology, increased training, and loss of productivity as a result of implementing an increased security system for cargo packages.

The Obama administration will have to play this one carefully. No democrat wants to be perceived as soft on al-Qaeda(ish) terrorist attacks, but no president wants to accuse other nations (many of whom are important allies) that they aren't doing enough to ensure our safety.


Cassandra said...

Both packages were stopped before reaching American soil so we can't judge whether our system would have caught them or not.

But do you think we need more airport security? And how far would be too far?

Whenever I think of airport security I wonder is if it's a mousetrap problem: you build a better mousetrap and the mouse gets smarter. But without any mousetraps you never catch any mice at all.

Dirty Hairy said...

Even though the packages never went through our security checkpoints, the fact that they got airborne in the first place is my main concern. These two packages are probably not going to be the last, and it doesn't matter how great our system is at home if everyone else's isn't. A flight with a bomb on it going to the United States is as much as a threat to innocent lives as one leaving from there.

You ask if I think we need more mousetraps at the airport... I think these recent events prove that we do, especially abroad. How far would be too far when buying and distributing mousetraps? That's a harder question to answer because I can't speak for everyone.

However, if I COULD speak for everyone, I would probably side with the over-cautious bunch. The good ol' days of arriving for your transatlantic flight only 1 hour in advance is gone, as is smoking and shaving and knitting and singing Blue Moon during the flight (BOMB BOMB BOMB BOMB BOMB BOMB BOMB BOMB BA DANG A DANG DANG, A DING A DONG DING BLOOOOOOOOOOOOOO MOOOOOON).

If the airlines start a whole new rash of security measures that inconvenience me terribly, I'll think this: "What a tremendous pain in the neck. But it beats driving for 16 hours, and it beats plummeting to my death because somebody I don't know wants me dead."

Security is an illusion. But I'll take all I can get, thanks.