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Security Theater

James Kellerman

Well I managed to make it back to my home country despite the best efforts of airport security around the world. I think once upon a time I used to actually enjoy flying, now it has become a series of queues where you are regularly shouted at by PA systems, miserable security staff and automated machines. The purpose of this is to prepare yourself for being required to partially undress, be scanned, hand searched and then pushed off to try and find somewhere to put your clothes back on and gather your possessions together if you are actually allowed to keep any of them with you at all. Next time you are at the airport imagine you are looking at the scene through a blue/grey filter, it will suddenly appear as though you are looking at a sci-fi film set in a near future totalitarian state. Heavily armed guards herd cowed people carrying their shoes and belts, through machines. What have these poor people done wrong, yes they have chosen to use one particular form of transport to go from A to B. There is no doubt an appropriate level of airport security, however this is not it, this is security theater which both reassures travelers whilst at the same time maintaining the illusion that they are at constant threat of being blown up/killed/hijacked or some other unimaginable horror. The irony of all this is that the current attack, would not have been picked up by the security procedures that were in place at the time, it was stopped by the intelligence and police forces well before an attack took place. Determined terrorists do not plan attacks that wont work, they make use of the security scenarios that exist at the time of their intended attack as they did in 9/11. These people will not be discouraged by additional airport security, they will just go and attack another high value target, or the long lines in airport security areas. As I posted earlier last week, and it seems somewhat presciently, it is not terrorists we need to be afraid of but those people who would overreact to the threat of terrorism, taking away our rights, our liberties and telling us to be in fear of our life all the time. Bruce Schneier, security researcher, often has excellent commentary about security theater at his blog. He makes the point:
None of the airplane security measures implemented because of 9/11 -- no-fly lists, secondary screening, prohibitions against pocket knives and corkscrews -- had anything to do with last week's arrests. And they wouldn't have prevented the planned attacks, had the terrorists not been arrested. A national ID card wouldn't have made a difference, either.
and again:
Airport security is the last line of defense, and not a very good one at that. Sure, it'll catch the sloppy and the stupid -- and that's a good enough reason not to do away with it entirely -- but it won't catch a well-planned plot. We can't keep weapons out of prisons; we can't possibly keep them off airplanes.
and finally:
Last week's arrests demonstrate how real security doesn't focus on possible terrorist tactics, but on the terrorists themselves. It's a victory for intelligence and investigation, and a dramatic demonstration of how investments in these areas pay off.
This is probably my longest post, to date and one of my most passionate, don't let airline travel and life in general become one of perpetual fear, just because we are told to be scared, that accomplishes the goals of the terrorist. Think for yourself and evaluate the risks sensibly and in context.