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Security, Convenience, and Freedom

We’ve just seen another terrorist plot stopped, perhaps at a very late stage, and suddenly we have new security restrictions. The question is, are these new security measures adequate? More importantly, are they all that likely to do any good?

I was thinking of writing about this, and I looked around on MSNBC, and found an interview with someone who has said most of the things I wanted to say, and also added some points from his expertise that I wouldn’t know. The interview is by Jennifer Barrett and is with Douglas Laird, a security expert.

He ended with the point I want to start with:

The problem is that we respond to what happened yesterday today. Richard Reid shows up with a shoe bomb and we start making people take off their shoes, which was silly. Reid was not a bright bulb, but these guys out there today know what they’re doing. Remember: it wasn’t the checkpoint that caught them, but the intelligence work done by the Brits. The real game is played in the intelligence arena, not at the checkpoint. If these guys make it to the checkpoint, you have a much greater challenge.

He’s absolutely right. If we continue to respond after the fact, it’s only a matter of time until one of these attacks succeeds. There were previous incidents with liquid explosives, and yet security measures are first taken against such explosives after this latest plot was revealed. And it is questionable whether the security measures that have now been taken would necessarily have prevented this attack, had not good intelligence work done so.

I think we need to pick up on another lesson from this attack. It was not based on the soil of a terrorist nation, but rather in Great Britain and in Pakistan. Simply dealing with countries that sponsor terrorists will not stop their attacks. I believe that our strategic thinking about terrorism is too dependent on a bureaucratic picture of what it would take to accomplish a particular mission. These guys don’t think like bureaucrats. They are not stopped by inconveniences or by the limits of bureaucratic thinking. They think outside the box. It’s good to deal with state sponsors of terrorism and to get at their money. But we should not be complacent about the safetry provided by such things.

We need to make some decisions as to what we’re willing to put up with in order to be secure. If we don’t make conscious decisions we’re simply going to slide into massive inconvenience and still lack security. For example, commenting on how one might still get banned items onto an aircraft, Laird said:

But saying, “Take no liquids on board

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