Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Reason #183: Risk Management

Remember when they caught Umar Abdulmutallab, the Underpants Bomber, a couple years back trying to blow up a plane over Detroit? A lot of hay was made at the time over all the circumstantial evidence that failed to raise alarms, like that he paid for his ticket with cash, and didn't bring a coat even though he was on his way to Michigan in December.

Kip Hawley, the former head of the Transportation Security Administration, has a new book out called Permanent Emergency in which he uses this kind of attack as the model for what airport security should really be focusing on. As ridiculous as shoe and underpants bombs seem on the nightly news, those are the things that could actually take down a plane, whereas pocket knives and bottles of shampoo cannot.

Hawley points out that not only does combing through luggage for shaving kits distract security personnel from more serious concerns, but even if a crazy person brought a knife on a plane, that's not that big of a deal in a post-9/11 world--where a dozen people would tackle him at the first sign of trouble, and even in the worst-case scenario he'd never be able to get into the cockpit.

He also suggests Israel's system of pre-flight passenger interviews as a good way of catching someone like Abdulmutallab, because let's be honest - if anyone had bothered to spend five minutes with that kid, it would've been clear what he was up to. Flying out of an American airport, though, he'd barely have had to say a word to anyone.

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