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.

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NEXT: Will We Get Serious About Aviation Security?

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  1. 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.

    Why do you hate America?

  2. The TSA’s equivalent of Duck and Cover makes me feel safe.

  3. Terrorist groups commit acts of terror not to kill people, but to create unreasonable fear.

    That sounds strangely like 1/2 of the definition of “politicians”

    The other half being “unreasonable expectations”

  4. The TSA is utterly convinced it can fight asymmyetrical warfare with a top-down, centralized approach.

    1. But the top-down, centralized approach works for everything! Didn’t you get My memo?

      1. Bob Poole did.

      2. damn – now you’re trying to take credit for GWB’s approach? mein gott.

        I’m glad I voted, “none of the above” you south-of-Roosevelt-Road silly person.

      3. But the top-down, centralized approach works for everything! Didn’t you get My memo?

        You sounded almost surprised in your press conference. I think there’s a word for that.

  5. 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.

    Thousands of people die every year from airline meals? Or are they only comparing these instances to the numbers of people killed in terror attacks on airlines, specifically?

    In any case this argument misses an important, and not silly, aspect of human psychology. Let’s say there are two towns, one where an average of 10 people die in auto accidents every year, and another with no auto accidents, but where a serial killer murders an average of 10 people every year. By pure statistics, the towns are equally safe, but where would most people rather live? I don’t think it’s entirely irrational to fear intentional killers more than accidents.

    1. What’s up with airline food, anyway/.

    2. In any case this argument misses an important, and not silly, aspect of human psychology. Let’s say there are two towns, one where an average of 10 people die in auto accidents every year, and another with no auto accidents, but where a serial killer murders an average of 10 people every year.

      Wouldn’t it be a more accurate analogy to describe one city where 500 people die annually from car accidents, and another town where 1 person was killed by a serial killer every 10 years?

    3. What if the serial killer was a bad driver and he was the guy who hit and killed the 10 citizens of city A while he was on his way to snuff the citizens of city B?

      Personally, I’d choose city A with the car accidents. City B with no car accidents sounds like a tree-hugger community that is built along some crazy plan that gets people out of their cars (and thus are more vulnerable to serial killers.) Even if the serial killer didn’t get you, I’d guess that you would wish that he would after having to deal with the smug citizens of Goreville for a year.

    4. I think you missed the point.

      Given the fact that food poisoning, transmittable illness, and automobile travel all have far higher death rates than flying, it’s mathematically more likely that you would die from a poisoned sandwich from the airplane galley, patient zero in 16G, or the cab ride/drive to the airport.

      Your comparison is deliberately flawed by having the same number dying in car crashes and serial killers.

      (I assumed that serial killers was a proxy for the externality present in terrorist caused plane crash.)

      More realistic would be along the lines of:
      Imagine two cities each with 100,000 people where between 50 and 100 people die each year from car crashes each year and another town where 0 people die from car crashes, but serial killers average 7-10 deaths a year.

      The latter is safer but would be perceived by many (not me) as much more dangerous.

      1. Well, the original comparison is so sloppily worded that it’s hard to construct a perfectly fair analogy in response. E.g., no doubt many more people die in car accidents than terror attacks, but the number who die in accidents “during the drive to the airport” is some tiny fraction of that, so tiny that it might actually be close to the number who die in terror attacks on airlines, and is likely much smaller than the number who die in terror attacks in general. Similarly, food poisoning and transmittable illnesses may kill more people overall, but the number killed by food poisoning and transmittable illnesses associated with airlines is some small fraction of that.

        1. Tony is claiming 45K people die every year because government doesn’t run health care. Top THAT!

        2. I think the point was that the chance of dying in a car accident on a trip of, say, 10 miles is still higher than your chance of dying in a terrorist attack on the average plane trip. I doubt that it matters whether the car trip is to the airport or somewhere else.

    5. This analogy is completely spurious. If the serial killer was targeting young blond women, and you were a young blond woman who didn’t drive, then Auto Accident-ville would be for you. If you were a 40-year-old male who drove all day for his job, Serial Killer Junction would be for you.

      Next goofy analogy, please.

      1. who didn’t drive, then Auto Accident-ville would be for you

        As a nondriver, pretty much how i balanced my hypothetical choice of area to reside.

      2. *Sigh* The point was about the difference between death-by-pure-accident and death-by-random-murder, but never mind….

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

    WRONG!

    Terrorists group TRY to kill people AND create fear.

    It is the police that try (not very hard) not to kill people but try to create fear.

    1. You don’t have to kill anyone to be a terrorist.

      You could be just as much of a terrorist by going on a spree of kidnappings, or arsons, or even robberies.

      What differentiates these regular crimes from terrorism is the motivation.

      1. Problem with that is, Fearless Leader can declare any Tea Party or FairTax rally a terrorist act.

        Not that they don’t treat it that way as it is.

  7. 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.

    “Ground” them? You mean, like this, or this?

    1. Well, it would make the AVIATION system safe. As for the rail system…

  8. Shit happens. Bad things happen in reality. Once we learn to accept that life has risks, we’ll all start living longer due to less stress.

    1. Fearist!

      Unfortunately, since we’ll live longer, we’ll put a greater stress on the Universal Health Care system and thus, the govt will need to do more to promote terrorism, so that we can better control health care costs.

  9. The fear is unreasonable because your chances of dying from a terrorist attack essentially rounds to zero.

    This pseudo-argument is still a ripe pile of shit, even the n-millionth time it gets re-shat.

    People who aren’t in situations where terrorism might make an appearance don’t “fear” it, except empathetically (or hypothetically, based on consequences they “fear”). They think it’s bad and that different degrees of prevention are worthwhile. It’s usually more like advocating schools’ telling kids not to start smoking than like cowering from a ghost. And it’s never like cowering from a ghost.

    People in or expecting to be in situations where terrorism might possibly kill them consider the possibility. That consideration colors their perceptions and preparations (and the preparations they expect from others), and makes some not-otherwise-scary things seem worse than they would to someone without that consideration in mind. The consideration itself isn’t “fear.” And some essentially-rounds-to-zero number of times, via alertness or aversion, it saves the considerer from getting killed.

    None of that is “unreasonable.” It can be reasoned just fine. But trying to sound macho or unflappable by pretending to regard life purely statistically is a-rational.

    (Drink?)

    1. No fear? Just watch all the conservatives shit themselves every time someone suggests a civilian trial for a gitmo detainee.

      O NOES WE R DUUMED!

      1. Should the latest would-be terrorist get a civilian trial?

        1. Sure…it shouldn’t be too hard to convict him, as there were several eye witnesses to a clear crime. (Or is setting fire to your crotch on a plane not illegal?)

          1. Sorry, but I say shoot the bastard. No need to use the term “alleged”, either – he DID it. Plug his noggin with a lead slug, move on to the next problem.

            1. Have to agree with you here. Would have been ok wtih me if they would have dragged his ass of the plane, shot him in the head on the runway and left him there for the birds to eat. Better yet, Take him out in a field and give him at least part of his wishes, put a grenade in his shorts. May sound harsh, but get real people, this POS tried to kill 300 innocent people, there is no amount of ignorance that excuses that, and there is only one solution, and it is not about being nice.

            2. So you would combat attempted murder with murder? Very clever but, as much of our conduct of the war has shown, ineffective. Not only ineffective but counterproductive.

              Better that he spend the rest of his life in jail as a criminal rather than eternity as a martyr.

              1. Eye for an eye. That misanthrope wanted to kill, he deserves no compassion.

                Fine… let the inmates do it, then he won’t be a martyr. Spread a rumor he not only tried to blow up a plane full of innocents, but he also diddled kindergarten-age kids, give the guards an extra fifteen minutes on their break, and let prison justice take this scum out.

            3. When the rights and protections enumerated in the constitution are not extended to the most despised and despicable, they essentially become an arbitrary decree. Rights become fiat to be given and taken away at the whimsy of bureaucrats. But, hey, shoot the guy if it makes you feel better, when you’re the “problem” it will be that much easier to take your natural rights away.

              1. If guilt is 100% established, what’s the problem?

                As for extending Constitutional rights to non-citizens, that’s another argument.

                1. What about unalienable rights we hear so much about?

                2. If you believe that guilt is proven 100% by government press releases and media coverage than I see no need to argue with you.

                  Furthermore, if the rights and protections guaranteed under the constitution aren’t natural rights then they are arbitrary. By “natural rights” I mean rights that should be inherent in being born a human.

                  I win because this is old news and you will not respond.

        2. I think so, but aren’t there jurisdictional issues here? Was he actually in US airspace when he is said to have committed the crime?

          1. IANAL, but I don’t think it makes a difference. He was on a US carrier, and the doors were closed. (Yes, stuff like that sometimes makes a difference in international law.)

  10. just as many people have re-discovered “small government” principles.

    1. Hey VikingMoose, are you one of those damn Nordic capitalist that caused the Medieval warm period with all your big SUVs, driving around Greenland in your big SUVs with horns on the hoods? Capitalist bastard, you realize how many polar bears you killed?

      1. that would be correct.

        And I own and operate a baby seal clubbing organization.

        The best part of doing all of that in Gr?nland is that it’s also a colony! I’m also exploiting the locals!

  11. Serious question: Has a (potential) suicide bomber ever been dissuaded by the (minuscule) probability of going to hell?

  12. Hell hath no virgins, or maybe it’s the other way around – Hell is being stuck in infinity with 72 virgins… I get mixed up sometimes, and in my experience sex with virgins is highly over rated.

    1. The whole sex with virgins thing is just about the perverted joy of deflowering someone, its not about the sex actually being better.

      Noobs suck at everything they do, even sucking.

      1. So you’re saying that even their heaven is perverted?

  13. Get government out of airlines and allow the companies to discriminate at will.

    Terrorist attacks will come to a screeching halt and rights will not be violated. This is basically what Israel did, but the problem there is it was government doing it, which brings up the rights issue.

    1. You can say that again.

      1. No clue why my laptop double posts. I tap once and I still get two posts 1/3 of the time. Fucking annoying.

  14. Get government out of airlines and allow the companies to discriminate at will.

    Terrorist attacks will come to a screeching halt and rights will not be violated. This is basically what Israel did, but the problem there is it was government doing it, which brings up the rights issue.

  15. Back by popular demand (not really, but what the hell) The Mohammed Song .

  16. The most dangerous weapon in a terrorist’s tool kit is our own bureaucracy.

  17. And they ain’t all stoopid – the terrorists I mean, not the bureaucracy.

    http://www.rnw.nl/english/article/“al-qaeda-practises-beating-body-scanners”

  18. [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?

    I heard the in-flight entertainment was disabled because so many of the systems provide passengers with the plane’s current location. Perfect information for a terrorist waiting for just the right moment to set off his bomb…….

    Of course, that doesn’t make it a good policy, but it does have some logic behind it.

    1. I heard the in-flight entertainment was disabled because so many of the systems provide passengers with the plane’s current location. Perfect information for a terrorist waiting for just the right moment to set off his bomb……

      Like if he doesn’t have a GPS fix on the plane he’s just going to say “Aw, fuck it. Now I can’t blow up my underwear.”?

  19. Why does the government try to protect people from miniscule risks? Because those risks can be prevented. You can’t stop people from dying, sometime. But you can reduce the chances that they’ll be murdered/ die in a fire/ get polio…..

    1. Just wondering, how many murders does our Amazing American Police System prevent?

      Face it, they’re a clean-up crew. And hey, if they happen to pull over the guy for a random sobriety check later, they’ll go ahead and charge him with your murder too. But yeah, mainly cleanup.

      “To Protect and Serve Clean Up And Collect Revenue”

      1. Just wondering, how many murders does our Amazing American Police System prevent?

        Well, as noted elsewhere today, total murders are less than one-fourth in NYC what they were twenty years ago, despite an increased population. I’d have to think that different police tactics played somewhat of a role in that, even if not the entire role.

        Not that the proper tactic in all cases is more control, or tasing diabetics.

        1. “””Not that the proper tactic in all cases is more control,””

          Yet, that’s what worked in your NYC example. Much greater crackdown on quality of life crimes by the Guiliani admin, which was continued by the Bloomberg admin.

  20. was shocked to have a female flight attendant barge in on him in the restroom

    Obviously the solution is bathroom cameras. It’s for the children (especially when their little pants are down….ummmm, i mean, uhhhh, SECURITY!)

  21. 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….

    My uned-ma-cated guess is that if someone kills someone else, you can identify a “villain.” If someone slips and cracks his skull on some stairs, no one can be directly blamed; vengeance or justice cannot be exacted. Therefore, the second scenario is much less sexy in our monkey minds.

    1. Yes, that’s close to what I was trying to get at above: it’s the difference between something bad happening to you accidentally, and something bad happening to you because someone intentionally did it to you. We consider the latter more worrisome, and I don’t think it’s wrong to do so. In the first instance it’s a risk that’s largely or entirely out of your control, so it’s not worth much worry, but in the second instance you’re more likely to be able to do something about it.

      1. Yes, but the people responsible for safety in the air have to consider the actual risks of passengers dying in terrorist attacks vs. passengers dying from whacking their heads in the bathroom. That’s how they know where to focus their limited resources. Shouldn’t this be something their insurers get involved in?

  22. And they ain’t all stoopid – the terrorists I mean, not the bureaucracy.

    http://www.rnw.nl/english/article/“al-qaeda-practises-beating-body-scanners”

    Practicing the “getting on board” phase of the operation, but not the “igniting explosive” phase is at least a little bit stupid

  23. Just wondering, how many murders does our Amazing American Police System prevent?

    While I see where you are going with this the answer is probably pretty high. In addition to the vanishingly small number they actually intercept in progress, they provide a deterrent for those who can be deterred, and to the extent that they actually catch violent criminal and that those people are high risks for repeat offenses, they reduce the number of subsequent killings.

    You don’t need a hard-on for the government to see that an organized response to inter-mural violence is a good thing.

    Any attempt to deal with the ills of our big police agencies is going to have to address the basic problem of violent crime somehow if it is to work.

    1. Well, if our big police agencies actually focused on violent and property crime instead of ‘vice’ we’d all be safer.

      1. Except there is a nexus between vice, and violent and property crimes.

        Guiliani made NYC safer by cracking down on vices. Not that I agree with his methods, but they did produce results. Bloomberg has continued what Rudy started and it has shown success.

        1. There is a nexus between minor law breaking and major law breaking.

          If the vice wasn’t a crime it would be conducted much more like the rest of the legitimate economy.

          The broken window effect isn’t about arrests or police presence. It is about the perception that things aren’t being looked after and there will be no consequences.

          It has nothing to do with vice.

  24. But Michael Moynihan told me I need to be scared!

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