Aviation Security: An Update

  When I wrote the aviation security post last year I had several people suggest to me that I was maybe a bit too glib - too willing to take risks. Some suggested I may not have learned enough from past terrorist attacks.

In the wake of the Paris attacks, the San Bernardino, California attacks, attacks in Turkey and elsewhere I am guessing some of the same people may wonder if I would like to take back anything I said in the original piece.

I'm sorry to disappoint, but if anything I believe the past year has only gone to further prove my point.

I never said that we should not do all we can to find terrorists, uncover their plots and stop them. We should absolutely do that.  But we should be smart about it, and we should resist the temptation to take steps that would get press attention or satisfy some urge, but would do nothing to make us safe. I also ended the article by saying that our fear, and the associated rhetoric, is the oxygen upon which the terrorists depend; and I expressed the hope that we would deprive them of that oxygen and not allow the terrorists to breathe.

Right now, I think, the terrorists are having no trouble catching their breath. Certainly in the United States, the images and rhetoric are full of fear, and of "ideas" that would not make us safer. Some want to get rid of visa waiver and various trusted traveler programs that in reality allow us to focus on the most dangerous people and waste precious little time on folks that do not need our attention. Indeed, these programs provide us better information on travelers, and in the case of visa waiver, allow better information sharing between and among countries. Getting rid of such initiatives does not make us safer.

And then of course there are proposals such as that about banning Muslims from even entering the country. It is "ideas" such as this that provide ISIS not just with oxygen but with a massive shot of adrenaline.

I said that we have lost the ability to avoid being terrorized by every incident. That is not to say that people should not be concerned or anxious.  Indeed, a major mistake President Obama has made has been not doing enough to understand that anxiety. In this, he could use a bit of Bill Clinton empathy.

But that is different than being, and remaining, terrorized. Two deranged idiots killed 14 people at a holiday party and posted a message saying they pledged their allegiance to ISIS. This is the kind of thing that should concern counterterrorism officials, and the kind of thing that presents a major challenge. But, as President Obama said in his State of the Union address, it is not an existential threat and it does not mean that ISIS is "on the move." And it should not lead to rhetoric or actions that will actually make us less safe, and will give the terrorists that oxygen they crave.

Many of the things I said a year ago I was concerned about have come to pass in the United States, and our presidential election has served to magnify them. We are, in many ways, less safe than we were then. Not because of what happened in Paris or San Bernardino. But because of the way we might be reacting to those, and other, incidents.

So, let's keep in place programs that work. Let's avoid rhetoric or actions that allow the terrorists to say to those they are trying to convert that we are acting just as they say we will act. Let's surprise them. And then let's suffocate them.

These are difficult and controversial issues, worthy of discussion and debate. Please let me know your thoughts. I look forward to discussing them with you.

 


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