Wednesday, January 6, 2010

How To Win the War on Terror - Airlines

I've been watching all the recent developments in the war against the radical Islamic terrorist movement since the failed attack of the Undiebomber (love that one).  And what I've seen and heard tells me the inevitability of what will happen before 2012 is through.  It involves dead American civilian bodies, by the way.

First, while the Bush administration was successful in keeping us safe once they recovered from the 9/11 aftermath, they fell short in really putting long-term solutions to protecting the borders and the people.  Partially this was due to political pressure and political correctness.  But it also was because of a reliance on the early post-9/11 strategeries, which were successful at a loss of some freedom, which would not be an issue if we had a conventional enemy that wasn't going to take decades to defeat. More on that in a bit.

Enter the Obama administration, which on the war front, came in on the decidedly anti-Bush side, with a focus (other than dismantling the Bush era war effort) on most everything other than the war.  Enter more political correctness, and a fear in the intelligence community that trouble could be coming for what was then determined to be legal activities conducted during the Bush administration.  And I won't even go into the foolishness highlighted by the Secretary of Homeland Securiy, Janet Incompetano (another good line).

Add to that the perception that the focus of the war was Iraq and Afghanistan, and the usual incorrect overreaction we have any time anything happens, and you can guess what the problems are going to be.

So we come to Tuesday, where President Obama *surprise* holds another press conference (no, I didn't watch it, as I need to lessen my cursing in front of my daughter) to discuss the situation.

"The system has failed in a potentially disastrous way," Obama said. "The bottom line is this: the U.S. government had sufficient information to have uncovered this plot and potentially disrupt the Christmas Day attack. But our intelligence community failed to connect those dots, which would have placed the suspect on the no-fly list." 

"This was not a failure to collect intelligence. It was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had," Obama said. "That's not acceptable, and I will not tolerate it."

Well, it's a start.  I'll also give him credit for not sending terrorists to the unsecure mess that is Yemen.  Thankfully, a failed terrorist attack is just about as good as a successful one for moving public opinion and getting politicians of their asses, with the added benefit of no bodies on the deck.

But like the post-post-9/11 era (which really started somewhere after operations began in Iraq), we (and the administration) will forget and sink back into the domestic mess, the Super Bowl, and another retarded-assed season of American Idol, at least until the next attack.

The problems we face in fighting the war are numerous.  First, we face an enemy that is patient, works for years for a single attack, and can just send someone to attack and have no ties with any other part of the network.  They watch our responses, they look for weaknesses, they manipulate the political environment, and they use the freedom our society still protects as weapons.

Second is the aforementioned myopia.  We deal with terrorism in a reactionary fashion.  We fight the last war and the last battle every time.  On 9/10/2001, the thought was that a airline hijacking involved guns, ransom demands, and hostages.  Now our security is designed to protect from exploding shoes, shampoo, and nail files (or anything that might look sharp) because we think terrorists would be stupid enough to try a 9/11 repeat (they won't).  Next, we'll be doing random wedgies.

Third, we rely on technology and policy to stop terrorism.  While technology is a great tool, and needs to be constantly upgraded and evolved to keep up with our enemy's tech, it's only as good as the people operating it.  And if we become complacent (and we always do), then the technology becomes a crutch.  As for the policies, the result is stupid shit like strip searching a granny because you do a detailed search of every nth person.

Thankfully, there's me to come up with additional solutions (assuming we fix the intel problems and keep the tech rolling) to the specific challenge of  securing our airways.  Of course, since no one in the administration knows about me or has the balls to do what I'm about to suggest, and since I've been turned and corrupted into a total liberal pansy or something (at least according to some "true" "conservatives"), I might just be spinning my wheels here.  But since I've gotten this far....

1.  Profiling, Profiling, Profiling - I said it three times because, in stupid circles, the word and concept has become a bad word.  Even worse, it's NOT something that can be made into a policy.  Any time we do anything that even approaches profiling, someone bitches.  Well, fuck 'em.  Profiling is the most effective tool we can give to security screeners to root out threats. So it's a choice of offending someone and not losing a plane or ten, or sucking off political groups until it starts raining body parts and fuselage.  That's not really a choice.

If you were in charge of security, you had 10 people, and you had to pick the most likely person to be carrying a bomb to do a detailed search, and you had only the information you could see in front of you, who would you pick?  The 90-year-old granny?  Her flaming male nurse and his even gayer boyfriend?  A nuclear family of four (father, mother, boy, 8 and girl, 6?  A black rapper (w/giant Flava Flav clock necklace) and his white bitch? Or the Arab-looking guy with a one-way ticket with the name Mohammed on it, no luggage, and a sweaty nervous look on his face?

Now an important point here is that profiling can't be a policy, i.e. anything we're doing now.  It's a piece of a puzzle that means you need to look at a couple more pieces of the puzzle, and then you know who to pull out and check out.  Which brings me to....

2. The Human Factor - One thing that, combined with profiling and technology, can get more people through with less hassle and probing and more safely than they are now is a skill that salesmen, store security, police, politicians, and psychologists, as well as many other people already possess: the ability to read people.  It's something I use talking to people on the phone, listening for tells as to a person's competence in operating a computer and following directions.  I usually have an idea before I have the most basic info is in my computer and I've started the actual tech support(username, real name, phone number, operating system).  We're not talking rocket science.  We're talking instinct, judgment, and the simple ability to look someone in the eye and see if they are nervous as hell because they're trying to sneak a biological weapon onto a plane (they could probably kill a planeload of people with a 1oz clear bottle of anthrax or something).  It's the antithesis of a government security policy.  It relies on individuals.  And it's the only thing that can work.

That's it.  You can take out all the stupid shit the TSA puts fliers through in a futile attempt to stop a terrorist attack that won't come (because they'll come up with a different way to attack us (hello? undies?)).  And the point is to take out the bad guys, and not sacrifice our freedoms in the process.


Vanceone said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Patrick M said...

Vanceone: Your comment go the boot because it didn't address the post until the very end, and I suspect you added that just to avoid deletion. So here's the limit of your contribution, saved below:

Just change your name to Muhammad al-Farruppanjkn and you'll fly right through those checkpoints. Unless of course you are white and Christian.

Suzy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dee said...

"no, I didn't watch it, as I need to lessen my cursing in front of my daughter"

LOL, I hear ya, my blood pressure can only handle so much!!

Patrick M said...

Suzy: One could only wonder what he had written.

I'm assuming you're referring to the first comment, which was deleted for being off-topic. The fact your comment, with the exception of the last paragraph (also off topic, but mostly positive) is deleted should give you an idea why the other was deleted.

Two words: OFF TOPIC. I don't care what the ideology is and/or whether I agree. Off-topic rants will be deleted.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! to all my blogland friends.
Special love and blessings to our soldiers on the wall here and abroad for our freedom. God bless your families for their sacrifice today and everyday. Let us keep America safe and lets hope we can get rid of this Socialist In Chief as soon as possible.

Patrick M said...

Dee: That's why it's easier to just read a transcript, or just the excerpts. Clears away all the mindlessly pompous clutter and bullshittery.

There's a reason we remember Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and not the address of the famed orator of the day, Edward Everett. Because Lincoln's speech was short and concise.

rockync said...

Patrick - First, this whole terrorist problem didn't just start with 9/11. Entebbe,Lockerbee, Munich...
It's just that it hadn't happened on AMERICAN soil yet, so we Americans went around blissfully ignorant of our vulnerability. But it has always existed; being a free country with open borders pretty much guarantees that.
Close the borders and limit travel and you have - COMMUNISM! TYRANNY! DICTATORSHIP!
Profiling isn't worth a shit and that human factor is pretty lame, even for you.
We are never going to be "safe" and travel is going to be a bitch forever.
I was in the airport in Frankfurt in 1973 which would have been a year after the Munich massacre. I flew in from New York and was stripped searched - a 17 year old girl as was my middle aged mother.
In fact, every passenger was searched in exactly the same manner. And guess what? A month later when I left through that same airport, I was searched again. It's all about global consistency. Safety needs to be everyone's primary goal and even then there will be no guarantees.
BTW - our flight out of NYC was delayed for almost two hours and it was not until I reached Europe that I learned on of the passengersclaimed to have placed a bomb on our plane - 1973.
The idea that the government is going to be able to keep us safe is laughable.
And what happened to that right wing rag about less government interference? If your going to take a position, you are going to have to stay in one place...

Patrick M said...

Rocky: First of all, I'm aware that Islamic terrorism has been going on for a while (one of my early memories is of the Iranian hostage crisis). 9/11, though was the event that finally got America really awake to the threat (for a little while). Even the 1993 WTC attack didn't have much impact. But you are right that we could take the "close the borders" approach and then we lose freedom. Terrorists win on that.

It reminds me of a post on the Swash Zone which makes the point that we usually react stupidly every time there's an attack, giving said terrorists the victory.

As for using profiling and actually looking people in the eye, they are two tools we don't effectively use, because one is a politically uncomfortable idea and the other requires individuals with balls to discriminate between trustworthy people and terrorist scumbags. When intel fail (as it did in with the Fruit of the Boom Bomber), the security screener is the last line of defense. And getting good people (rather than government automatons) in that last line is what may have made the difference.

The alternative is randomly strip searching 17 year old girls and their mothers.

A couple other points: Consistency is something that terrorists can exploit, because if they know what to expect, they can work around it.

As for the government keeping us safe, of course they can't. Not completely. But the key is to have them do as much as they can with as little impact on our freedom as possible.

And as for less government, that's the point I'm trying to make. With the combination of tech and the items I list above (as well as more scrutiny of people coming in), we can be more effective with less impact on the individual.

But I do expect some interference in individual lives here, because protecting us from attack IS a Constitutional role of the government. Where government needs cut most is where their role is not Constitutionally mandated (Education, welfare (of all stripes), mandate rule over states).

Finally, you know I don't wave the right wing rag. Just ask some of the "conservatives" that visit here (wait, never mind, they went home in a huff).

rockync said...

Profiling and body language analysis are inexact sciences to say the least. The same argument you used against consistency can also be used here since terrorist groups could also study how these methods were being applied and find a way to circumvent it.
To leave this in the hands of the current screeners would be disastrous, to hire professionals to do this job would be equally disastrous – have you ever seen profilers or behaviorists in action? Or should I say, inaction?

“But I do expect some interference in individual lives here, because protecting us from attack IS a Constitutional role of the government.”

You mean like that hellacious piece of freedom sucking legislation called the Patriot Act? Talk about an oxymoron!

There are no easy answers, no fool proof measures that will keep us “safe”. If we are going to have searches, then everyone should be searched; even 17 year old girls and their mothers because, as is historically documented, women and children have been used as explosive transporters. To me, this is much less invasive than having some government shadow agency “profile” me the minute I buy my airline ticket.

“Where government needs cut most is where their role is not Constitutionally mandated (Education, welfare (of all stripes), mandate rule over states).”

I also would like a streamlined, more efficient government but you do realize that many of these “interferences” you complain about actually came about because of states that insisted on denying certain Americans their civil rights.

Without that government interference black students would have been denied the right to attend decent schools and murderers would have gotten away with torturing and killing unarmed civil rights workers.

Some of those crying and gnashing their teeth over “all this gov’ment” today are the same vile bigots who brought it to bear in the first place.

You can’t compartmentalize freedoms and rights into isolated pockets that you can assign. Usually the triggering factor cascades into other life areas and in order to ensure equal freedoms and rights, the government has to branch out.

That Constitution is not a pick and choose your cause document. It was meant to be taken as a whole. And it was meant to ensure the rights of ALL Americans.

dmarks said...

"You mean like that hellacious piece of freedom sucking legislation called the Patriot Act?"

Where do you get this?

rockync said...

dmarks – I have read the Patriot Act and paid close attention to how it has been used. Among other things, the act gives agents of the federal government the authority to not only intercept wire, oral and electronic communications “related to terrorism” (who determines what qualifies; are there guidelines?) but also those communications related to “computer fraud and abuse offenses.” Where are the checks and balances to keep this act from being wantonly abused.
For instance, at least 1 million financial records were obtained from certain Las Vegas businesses using this act and the act has been used to prosecute drug dealers and those who kept meth labs.