War on Terror

'It's No Problem. It's More Control.'

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Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think Kip Hawley said anything like this when he was still head of the Transportation Security Administration:

It is a fool's errand to try to make the aviation system terrorist proof. The only way to do that is ground the airplanes.

Tech writer Mike Elgan likewise tries to lower expectations about how much can be accomplished by new security measures:

Terrorist groups commit acts of terror not to kill people, but to create unreasonable fear. That's why they call it terror.

The fear is unreasonable because your chances of dying from a terrorist attack essentially rounds to zero. According to Bureau of Transportation Statistics, your chances of being victimized by a "terrorist incident" when you board an airplane are about 1 in 10,408,947. The risk of death from a car accident during the drive to the airport, the airplane meal and the exposure to pathogens in the cabin are all far higher than the risk of dying from a terrorist attack….

Why does the government work so hard to keep us scared over such a minuscule risk?

Specifically, Elgan scratches his head over the TSA's recent instructions to airlines regarding U.S.-bound flights:

[Underwear bomber Umar Farouk] Abdulmutallab apparently used neither TV nor Wi-Fi while committing this act. As a result, authorities are cracking down on in-flight entertainment and Wi-Fi. Wait, what?

Speaking of puzzling new restrictions, here are a few excerpts from a New York Times story about passenger reactions:

Tightened security at Narita International Airport in Tokyo came as a surprise to Wen-Lung Huang, of Ann Arbor, Mich., who traveled from Taipei with his wife, Linda, and infant daughter, Catherine. The Huangs, who had two carts loaded with baggage, had to check Catherine's car seat and portable stroller. Japanese airport officials wrapped each in plastic and heavy tape.

Mr. Huang was skeptical of the new measures, saying, "I don't know that storing everything and not going to the lavatory for the last hour is going to help."…

Henry Chen, 48, a businessman who lives in San Francisco, said he was shocked to have a female flight attendant barge in on him in the restroom while he was washing his face during a flight from Seoul. "It was kind of weird, to have a lady try to get in," he said. "She said that they had to watch people being in the restroom too long."…

[Two passengers arriving in L.A. from Australia] recounted how an hour before landing an announcement had been made that no one could get up for the remainder of the flight.

"It was kind of funny," Mr. Barnes said, "because the previous announcement had been about the danger of deep-vein thrombosis or strombosis or whatever you get from sitting for too long. We laughed."

But there was also this:

"It's no problem," said Eleonora Gomarasca, who traveled to New York from Milan on Monday. "It's more control."

Earlier today, the Reason Foundation's Bob Poole asked what it would mean to "get serious about aviation security." For more on the government's response to the underwear bomber, see my column tomorrow. And if your skepticism needs any more feeding, check out James Bovard's classic TSA exposé for Reason.