26/12/2009 – US Travel Security Changes That Do Little To Provide Any Security
As of today new security procedures are in place for all international flights headed to the United States…but due these new procedures offer us any additional security?
On Christmas Day 23 year old Nigerian national Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly set off an incendiary device on board Delta Airlines Flight NW253 (the flight still carries a Northwest Airlines flight number). Rather than cause an explosion, the device caught fire and caused Abdulmutallab to receive significant burns on his leg.
While Abdulmutallab began his journey in Lagos Nigeria, where airport security is known to be questionable, he changed planes in Amsterdam at Schiphol Airport. Security screening for all US bound flights from Schiphol is conducted at the gate, and it is quite thorough (I speak from multiple personal experiences). It appears that Abdulmutallab had either sews the items into his clothing, or had hidden the device in a ‘body cavity.’ Either way, unless Abdulmutallab set off an alarm he would not have been searched. A millimeter-wave machine would have possibly caught the item sewn into clothing however, if in deed Abdulmutallab had the device hidden in a body cavity it would not have been detected by airport security.
Using the information currently known regarding the NW253 incident, the new security procedures in place do nothing to prevent this type of incident from occurring again.
– A physical pat down by security at the gate prior to boarding all flights to the United States (A terrorist is just as likely to enter the travel-stream domestically as they are internationally; this check can miss individual components and items hidden in a body cavity)
– A complete physical inspection of all bags being carried on flights to the United States. (This check is useless unless bags are swabbed for signs of explosives, individual components can easily be disguised or hidden in a variety of ways)
– Requirement that all passengers remain seated in the final hour of flight into the United States (This does nothing to present a terrorist from detonating a device from their seat)
– No items allowed in lap, including pillow, blanket, laptop, etc in the final hour of flight into the United States (This does nothing to prevent a terrorist from detonating a device previously hidden in a seat-back pocket or a jacket pocket)
– All electronics be switched off in the final hour of flight into the United States (This does nothing to prevent the detonation of a device)
– No access to carry-on baggage stowed in the overhead on flights into the United States (This does nothing to prevent a terrorist from retrieving the device they intend to detonate prior to the 1-hour mark)
– If you’re flying an airline that offers in-flight wifi on US bound flights, this service will be terminated in the final hour of flight into the United States (This does nothing to prevent a terrorist from detonating a device)
– Travel and security domestically within the United States remains unchanged, with some airports increasing their security precautions. (This is problematic, as security may be ‘random’ in nature, but an increase must be universal or you risk terrorists exploiting a smaller regional airport to enter the passenger stream in an undetected manner)
The security changes in place as of today are for public relations; it is the Dept of Homeland Security deploying what is known as ‘Security Theater.’
What could have prevented Abdulmutallab from boarding NW253 and attempting to blow the aircraft up? Something very simple…
…In November 2009 Abdulmutallab’s father walked into the United States Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria to inform the United States that his son planned a terrorist action on the United States. Abdulmutallab’s father was aware his son had a valid travel Visa for the United States and an airline ticket. US Intelligence did not believe the threat was credible, left Abdulmutallab’s visa intact and didn’t even have his boarding pass tagged for secondary screening.
In this day and age security threats are very real. International security should be a top priority for the airline industry and this incident could have been prevented had someone taken a moment to listen to Abdulmutallab’s father.
The new security measures will increase passenger travel times, they will increase mis-connected flights for passenger connecting to flights to the United States, they will cost the airlines millions of dollars and they will do nothing to actually catch terrorists who are seeking to take an aircraft out of the sky.
I appreciate the need for a show-of-force, however actual security measures are preferable to those that are merely a house of cards based in a game of smoke & mirrors.